Advice from the Masters: Joshua Foer

Apr 19, 2017 | Better Writing

I admit it, I’m not good at remembering names. I come up with comical substitutes for real names, transpose letters, mix up first and last names, and mispronounce names in very creative ways. I guess that’s why I thought I’d found writing advice from Joshua Foer when what I found was great advice from his brother, Jonathan. Ah, well. I’ve remedied that.

I searched for Joshua because of a marvelous book he wrote titled Moonwalking with Einstein about mental athletes and how they do it. It’s kind of like Paper Lion for nerds except that, unlike George Plimpton, Joshua won the equivalent of the Lombardi Trophy for memory athletes. It’s a great book. Here’s Joshua’s description of how he works, straight from his web site.

“I have a woodshop in my garage. If I’ve made good progress in the morning, I’ll reward myself by going out back to spend an hour making sawdust, before returning to work for the afternoon. Woodworking requires a completely different kind of thinking and problem-solving ability than writing. With writing, you take a set of facts and ideas, and you reason your way forward to a story that pulls them together. With woodworking, you start with an end product in mind, and reason your way backward to the raw wood. If you can’t envision the entire journey that a plank of wood will take on its way to becoming something finished, you will make uncorrectable mistakes. With writing, each step of creation justifies the one that comes before. With woodworking, each step has to justify the one that comes after. On a good day, I’ve had a chance to exercise both kinds of reasoning.”

Want more? Check out the complete list of Advice from the Masters posts

If you want even more writing advice from writers, check out Jon Winokur’s blog, “AdvicetoWriters.”

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