Study Hacks Blog Posts from June, 2021 - Study Hacks - Cal Newport

Notes on Quentin Tarantino’s Writing Routine

June 30th, 2021 · 23 comments

About an hour into his recent interview on Joe Rogan’s podcast, Quentin Tarantino was asked about his writing habits.

“It all changed,” he revealed, “more or less around the writing of Inglorious Basterds.” Before starting work on the 2009 film, Tarantino described himself as “an amateur, mad little writer” who would work late at night, or by going to a restaurant, where he would “order some shit, and drink a lot of coffee, and be there for 4 hours with all my shit laid out.”

He decided he wanted a more “professional” routine. Here’s how he described it:

“I started writing during the day time. I get up, so you know, it’s 10:30, or 11:00 o’clock, or 11:30, and I sit down to write…Like a normal workday, I would sit down and I would write until 4, 5, 6, or 7. Somewhere around there, I would stop. And then, I have a pool, and I keep it heated, so it’s nice, so I go into it…and just kind of float around in the warm water and think about everything I’ve just written, how I can make it better, and what else can happen before the scene is over, and then a lot of shit would come to me, literally a lot of, a lot of things would come to me. Then I’d get out and make little notes on that, but not do it, and that would be my work for tomorrow.”

Here are three things that caught my attention about Tarantino’s routine…

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On the Dynamo and Email

June 22nd, 2021 · 10 comments

In an article about remote work that I wrote for the New Yorker last year, I pointed to an underground classic research paper titled “The Dynamo and the Computer: An Historical Perspective on the Modern Productivity Paradox.” It was written by a Stanford economist named Paul David, and published in the American Economic Review in 1989.

In the article, David performs a close study of the adoption of electric dynamos in factories at the turn of the twentieth century. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s obvious that the right way to leverage electric power in factories is to put a small individual motor on each piece of equipment. As David points out, however, it took decades after the introduction of practical electrical generation before this obvious shift finally occurred.

As I summarized:

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Haruki Murakami and the Scarcity of Serious Thought

June 16th, 2021 · 16 comments

I recently returned to Haruki Murakami’s 2007 pseudo-memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I first encountered this book back in 2009. It inspired me at the time to write an essay titled “On the Value of Hard Focus,” which laid the foundation on which I went on to build my theory of deep work. Which is all to say, Murakami’s short meditation on running and art holds a special place in my personal literary canon.

On my re-read, my attention was snagged by the following passage:

“Gradually, though, I found myself wanting to write a more substantial kind of novel. With the first two, Hear the Wind and Pinball, 1973, I basically enjoyed the process of writing, but there were parts I wasn’t too pleased with. With these first two novels I was only able to write in spurts, snatching bits of time here and there — a half hour here, an hour there — and because I was always tired and felt like I was competing against the clocks as I wrote, I was never able to concentrate. With this scattered approach I was able to write some interesting, fresh things, but the result was far from a complex or profound novel.”

Murakami wrote his first two novels late at night after closing down the bar he owned and ran near the Tokyo city center. These works were well-received: his first won a prize for new writers from a literary magazine, and his second also attracted positive reviews. But the effort both exhausted and frustrated him.

Murakami realized he was coasting on bursts of latent talent. He had caught the attention of the literary establishment because of inventive stretches in his prose, but he worried that if he kept producing these “instinctual novels,” he’d reach a dead end.

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Sebastian Junger’s Focused Retreat

June 4th, 2021 · 6 comments

In 1991, Sebastian Junger suddenly found himself with time to think. He had wounded himself with a chainsaw at his day job as a climber for a tree pruning company in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and was laid up recovering.

Morbidly inspired by the experience, Junger became interested in the idea of writing a book about dangerous jobs. In a tragic sense, his timing was good. That same year, a commercial fishing boat out of Gloucester named the Andrea Gail sunk off the coast of Nova Scotia in a historic storm. All six of her crew were lost.

Junger wrote a sample chapter about the Andrea Gail to include in a proposal for his dangerous jobs idea. It soon became clear, however, that the story of the lost fishing boat was rich enough to support an entire book on its own. The result was The Perfect Storm, which became an international bestseller after its release in 1997, and was subsequently adapted into a blockbuster movie staring George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg. Junger was credited with reviving the adventure non-fiction genre. Some even called him a new Hemingway.

The twist of this story that perhaps interests me most, however, is what Junger did next: he bought a dilapidated house in the woods. To be more specific, in 2000, Junger purchased a rundown residence, built in the early 1800s, and hidden at the end of a winding, unpaved lane in Truro, a small town in upper Cape Cod known as a refuge for writers and artists.

As Junger explains in a 2019 interview with CapeCod.com, he spends as much time there throughout the year as possible: “It’s a very good place to to work. It’s old and removed from humanity.”

As he elaborates:

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