How Tim Ferriss Ask For Writing Feedback

Tim Ferriss, the author and podcaster, is all about optimizing his performance in every way. His books The 4 Hour Chef (Amazon) and Tools of Titans (Amazon) have helped me tremendously and when he spoke about his process in acquiring feedback, I knew his approach was tried and true. 

In episode 538 of the Tim Ferriss Show, in a casual conversation with author Chris Hutchins, Tim explained how he gathered effective feedback, especially at the early stages of a project. 

If you’ve ever asked a friend to read your work and give feedback, you know how stressful, time-consuming, and unproductive that process can be. This is especially true if all you’ve given them is the manuscript and vague instructions like “give me feedback” or “let me know what you think.” Such an experience could cause unnecessary tension between friends. 

To avoid that scenario, allow me to share with you Tim’s method for getting clear, succinct, and useful feedback for his writing and interviews. 

Break Chapters Into “Self Sufficient” Pieces That Stand Alone

When writing, Tim makes sure that each of his chapters can stand on its own, as a “kind of modular” like a “feature magazine article.” 

If you’re writing non-fiction, each of your chapters can be treated like a blog post. If you’re writing fiction, each of your chapters could have a story arc and could be published as a short story. 

With each chapter as an individual piece, Tim’s friends and editors only need to read one chapter, instead of a whole book, to have the context necessary to give useful feedback. 

Share the Single Chapter with 3-4 Writer or Lawyer Friends 

When picking who he would share his work with, Tim usually chooses friends who are writers or lawyers or those who have attended law school. He picks these people because they have the proper training in reviewing text and spotting ambiguity. These professionals also have a keen eye for superfluous details that should be cut. 

While you might not have any writer or lawyer friends, who you choose to share your work with still matters. If your friend is not an avid reader or has no interest in your topic or genre, they can’t really help you. Understanding your network and the strengths and weaknesses of the individual is essential because you don’t want to waste time and get frustrated when the person sharing feedback isn’t qualified. In a scenario like that, it might be better to have no feedback at all. 

Sharp, observant, and capable of proofreading are qualities you look for in beta readers — and writers and lawyers tend to have those traits

However, getting a diverse sample of feedback is also important. That is why Tim doesn’t only share it with one person but with four. 

Love It Or Hate It, It Can’t Be Confusing

Once Tim has a team of reviewers, he approaches them with one or two asks. For the first, Tim requests:

“Please read this. And if anything is confusing, please note that. You can love it. You can hate it. I’m fine with either of those, but if it’s confusing, it’s no good for anyone. So if anything’s confusing, please note. If your mind starts to wander, please note where that is.” 

Whether with audio or text, the goal of the piece is to inform and captivate. If the reader or listener gets bored, distracted, or confused by a certain part, it’s important for Tim to know where that is so he could modify or remove it.

The point is not to get a rave review. The personal taste of the reader doesn’t matter at this point. The goal is to figure out whether it’s useful to anyone, and if it’s unclear or dull, it’s useless. 

Ask: Which 20% Should I Cut? 

His second and preferred request is to ask: “If I had to cut 20 percent, which 20 percent would I cut?” 

Knowing what’s the core and what’s excess is important. This gives you an idea of where you should focus your attention when you’re editing. How concise and succinct can you make it? This forces you to take a closer look at the remaining 80% and examine the substance of your piece. 

The thing is, when you ask four people, not all four will have the same opinion. So when a situation like that occurs, Tim has a firm rule. 

If 1 Out Of 4 Love It, Keep It

If 3 people tell Tim to cut out a section, while 1 person says that they love that section, he will keep it. He does this because something that resonated so strongly with one person is a good enough reason to keep it. If he cut it, it might’ve saved some room, but it would have potentially failed to impact 1 out of every 4 people, which is a big percentage. 

To cut a part out for the sake of the majority is not how Tim approaches his editing.

You cannot serve everyone, but when you know you can serve someone, serve them!

Don’t Ask For Feedback If You Don’t Plan On Taking It

Lastly, perhaps what I found to be the most important piece of advice is to not ask for feedback if you don’t plan on using it in some way. If you know you’re not willing to make changes, then why bother taking up someone else’s time? 

When Tim received his writer or lawyer friend’s feedback, and the suggestions are valid, he would apply it to his work and improve it. 

If you’ve picked the right beta readers, respect their opinions, and trust that they have your best interest, why wouldn’t you keep an open mind? When receiving feedback we need to lose the ego, otherwise, it might be better not to ask for their thoughts at all. 

When asking people for feedback, we’re requesting their time and energy. They’re doing us a favor and as such, we should be grateful. That is why I think Tim Ferriss’s process is solid because first, he makes the request digestible. Then he chooses those that are qualified for the job and ensures what he needs is clear. Finally, he prepares for how the feedback will be used so he doesn’t lose sight of the bigger picture, which is to provide captivating and valuable content to the largest group of people possible. 

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Waking Up Earlier to Write if You’re Not a Morning Person

If you’re working full-time like I am, it’s hard to find time to write. At the end of the day, you’re tired. You’ve depleted your creative energy. But not only that, by waiting until you’ve finished everything else, you’ve been carrying around this anxiety all day long. I hate that. And you probably do as well. It can make you resent all the other responsibilities you have. 

So, to make sure I can get some words down with guilt-free energy, I wake up an hour early each day to write. 

Before we get into the details of my experience, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Elliot and I’m a writer. I’m currently working on a novel and if you want to hear how that’s going, check out this video here or in the description, and if you are interested in following along on my journey, please subscribe. 

Now back to the current video. Here’s what I can tell you about my experience waking up an hour early to write. 

Get up 60 min, 90 min, or 110 min earlier

When I say I wake up an hour earlier, I don’t mean the break of dawn. I use to get up at 8 am, now I get up at 7 am. It’s not that impressive when I say it like that. But again, it doesn’t have to be a big deal. 

However, if you’re finding it hard to get up 60 minutes earlier, try getting up 90 or 110 minutes earlier. You might actually feel more refreshed. The reason is that a sleep cycle is between 90 to 110 min long, so by reducing your sleep, you may actually wake up at the end of a cycle instead of in the middle. 

When I write in the morning, I write longhand

For my job, I’m going to be spending my whole day in front of the computer. In order to reduce my screen time, especially first thing in the morning, I choose to write longhand. 

I find that writing physically in a notebook gives me a stronger connection with the words. Also, when I’m at the computer, it’s too easy to hit the delete key. I’d be damned that if I woke up early and did not get my words down. By writing it on paper, and not being able to erase it, I know that at the very least, I’ve made a mark on the day. 

Writing in the morning
Photo by Ioana Tabarcea on Unsplash

We are adaptable 

When I talk about waking up earlier, I know what many of you are thinking: “but I’m not a morning person.” Fair. I’m not a morning person either, but I used to work the opening shift at a Starbucks that opened at 5 am, which meant that I needed to be up by 3:30 am and out the door by 4am. It was brutal, but I adapted. I got to work on time every shift. 

I’m not superhuman, I just needed the money. It was my job. That job gave me evidence that I could wake up earlier if I had to. 

You’ve woken up early before, you can do it again. The more you do it, the more you’ll adapt to it. I will never be a morning person, but I could certainly suck it up if it means taking advantage of an optimal time to write. I treat it like a job. 

Writing is not the first thing I do when I get up

When I say I wake up early to write, you might think that I get up and go straight to writing. I don’t. I wake up and do my morning routines first, the ones I would do if I was heading directly to work after. I’d wake up, get clean, walk and feed my dog, say hi to my wife, make a cup of coffee, and then, at last, I sit down to write. 

My point here is to find your own routine. Waking up early doesn’t mean you need to spend every extra moment you get to write, it just means you get a headstart on the day, a little bonus time before you’re bombarded with other assignments. 

One morning won’t make a big difference

If you wake up early for one day and expect to see significant results, you’ll be disappointed. You won’t get a lot in one hour. But if you build upon this habit, the hours add up. 

There are days where you’ll wake up, spend the hour writing crap, and be exactly where you were before. Don’t be discouraged. Stick with the process

Yes, you could have slept in and achieved the same amount. However, if you wake up one hour earlier every day, then over the course of weeks and months, you’ll see that your good days will greatly increase. From there, you’ll gain momentum. 

These little headstarts add up. You might not see results after one day, but over the course of a year, you’ll notice. 

Many writers talk about a morning routine. There is a reason why so many prefer it. By getting writing checked off the list immediately, we don’t carry that anxiety along with us all day. We don’t expend all our energy on lower-priority tasks. 

As writers, we need to write and be creative so that the weight can be lifted. Some people exercise first thing in the morning to release the tension and feel normal. Some need to write. It’s not so much about productivity. Productivity is great, but it’s more about doing something for yourself as early as possible. You deserve days where you’ve written, so make sure it happens. 

For more videos about writing and the creative process, please check out my YouTube channel here!

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Overcome the Anxiety of Sharing Your Creative Works

I’ll admit this first, I’m not an expert on anxiety. While I do get stressed occasionally, I don’t suffer from anxiety in any chronic way. However, I recently read a book about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (or CBT)[Amazon] and found some mindset techniques useful for dealing with my own household stress, such as sharing my creative work. 

My creative work. I’ve put my heart and soul into it and the thought of someone disliking it tears me apart. Especially if I’m awaiting feedback from someone I respect. 

The reason for anxiety is because back in the cave people days, you needed to be ready in case a sabertooth tiger jumps out of the bush and attacks you. In that situation, anxiety raises your heart rate, heightens your senses, and speeds up your breathing to help you stay alert.

Today, anxiety is still useful when you get caught in tiger territory, however, it’s not that useful when you’re sitting safely at home contemplating publishing your work. While the triggers are different, the reaction within you is much the same. 

In the moments before, during, or after you’ve shared your creative work, you may feel your body firing up, preparing yourself for danger. But there’s no real danger. Yes, there is a possibility that your work will be negatively received, but it’s not a tiger, you’ll survive. These types of false alarms can cause you to panic, pull back, and hide your work from the world

To do that is a disservice to yourself and the world. You’re preventing yourself from growth, both personally and in your craft, and you’re robbing an audience of a chance to discover you. 

Okay, so here we are. Anxiety is a real barrier. Yet, with patience, practice, and the right frame of mind, you can overcome it by countering those reactive thoughts that trigger anxiety, which is what CBT is all about. 

There are two types of reactive thoughts: 

First are the thoughts you have when you jump to conclusions: 

  • They will all hate my work. 
  • They will laugh in my face. 
  • They will make fun of me to their friends. 
  • Someone will hate a passage and I’ll get canceled. 

These types of thoughts lead you to the worst-case scenarios, catastrophes. The likelihood of someone reading your work and reacting in such a way is unlikely. Can it happen? Yes, it’s possible. But it’s equally likely that they’ll love your work, congratulate you, and share it positively. In either case, the reaction of others is not something you can control. 

Accept it! Once you put it out there, it’s out of your hands. 

To combat the negative thoughts, remind yourself that you’re merely jumping to an unlikely conclusion. You’ll feel pressure to hide your work, but hang onto it — push through — and share it, submit it, publish it. The more you practice going through this process of sticking with it, the less scary it will feel. Especially when you see nobody’s laughing at you. 

Another thought that may flash in your mind and cause panic is that of misplaced responsibility. These thoughts cause guilty feelings about what you’ve created. 

  • My career would be more successful if I wasn’t working on this novel. 
  • I’d have better relationships with my friends if they didn’t think I was going to write about them. 
  • I should’ve been taking care of my family instead of writing. Even though they are fine, I know they are resentful. 

This type of thinking starts in childhood when parents or other adults blame or shame you for unrealistic expectations. Statements like “raising you is the reason we’re poor,” may have caused you to feel that the unhappiness or displeasure of others is your fault. That can certainly induce anxiety later in life and halt you from sharing or pursuing your creativity. 

Much like how you handle thoughts where you jump to conclusions, to counter your thoughts on misplaced responsibility, you must accept that other people’s expectations of your work are their business, not yours. Then acknowledge that your writing is something that you do for yourself. It’s not harming anyone, it’s done in your own well-deserved time, and it’s an expression of who you are. There’s no pressure. It’s doesn’t have to win the Nobel Prize, spark a revolution, or cure cancer for it to be meaningful. 

Should you need to, speak to those you care about or those who are dependent on you and explain how much writing means. They’d likely support that or at least, you would have started a conversation to build a healthier relationship. 

Know that even if your boss confronts you about your personal projects, you can show him your performance report, or if your family is in need, you can take a break from what you are doing to help them. But they’re fine. Everyone is fine. All these issues are thoughts and are not real — when they become real, you’ll deal with them then. 

Dealing with anxiety takes time and if you are feeling very overwhelmed, a professional, like a clinical counselor, can really help. With that being said, I encourage you to keep creating for the love of it, even when faced with the fear and stress of sharing your work. 

Understanding the sudden thoughts that trigger your anxiety is the first step to countering them. At any stage where you find yourself jumping to conclusions or taking on misplaced responsibilities — stop, breathe deeply — accept that you’re only in control of yourself, counter the unrealistic expectations, and push through. It might never be easy, but it’ll get easier. Good luck! 

For more videos about writing and the creative process, please check out my YouTube channel here!

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My Creative Process as a Kinesthetic Learner

Here’s my relationship with learning: I love learning but I hate being taught.

I’m a kinesthetic learner which means that I don’t learn from reading, watching tutorials, or listening to instructions. I learn by getting my hands dirty: doing and making mistakes over and over again.

That’s why in an effort to get better at drawing, I decided to draw every Pokemon. It’s been effective because I’m doing this every day.

I like the analogy of learning as a dimmer switch. It’s not a light switch you could flick on and off. It’s not one moment you have no knowledge of it and the next moment you’re an expert. It’s a dimmer switch and it’s very gradual.

Every time you practice. Every time you experience it. You increase the brightness a little bit more. This analogy was explained to me from a Great Courses audiobook (Amazon) about vocabulary and that tends to be how we learn vocabulary. We don’t hear a word once, immediately add it to our own mental dictionary, and be able to use it in a day-to-day scenario, especially if the word is very foreign to us. So I really like that analogy.

Every time I draw, I try to make it one percent better, or I try to learn a new technique, or I try to get really specific and very detailed, or I try to be one percent faster. I don’t always succeed. Sometimes, I mess up and I just have to get through with it. That is a learning experience. When you mess up, that’s actually when you learn. When you try to make it one percent better you don’t always.

I like the process of making mistakes. I like the process of challenging myself and the fact that I’m doing this every day makes it feel like there’s no risk because tomorrow I’ll get to sit down and try again. I’m always more of a process over progress type of person. I believe progress will happen if you have a process down.

I’m learning new software. I’m learning new techniques. I’m learning to apply different aspects and combine them together. I started doing some animation. I learned Illustrator just a few months ago. I never thought I’d be able to understand the pen tool. Now, I feel like I got it down pretty good, so that feels like quite an accomplishment.

For more videos about writing and the creative process, please check out my YouTube channel here!

For more writing and editing inspiration and stories, please sign up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, they’ll only include my proudest works.