Craig Burgess hasn’t touched coffee in eight years, bar a couple of decafs. Instead, he drinks Twinnings English Breakfast tea or fruit tea. He likes pens, though. Oof, we’ll have something to talk about after all.
Craig is the author of Extreme Production, Press Start and The Magic Visual. We discussed his learning curve, finding inspiration, journaling and habit creation.
Craig’s first book Extreme Production was and wasn’t intended to be a book. It started as a diary and a couple of blog posts while figuring things out about productivity and his daily podcasting challenge.
Writing a book was just another challenge he had taken on in 2017.
If you read Extreme Production, you’ll learn just how many challenges Craig takes on yearly and why he does it.
But let’s get back to his writing challenge. He started writing 1,000 words three days per week for 25 weeks. He’s the type of writer who thrives on inspiration. Writing should flow. That’s why he dislikes overediting. He claims you can feel the difference. “Writing is frozen speech”, and when you edit too much, you lose that effect. Instead of a text that makes you feel the writer’s presence, you get a piece of technical writing that appears to be written for aliens.
Despite his focus on making everything flow from the heart, he discovered how bad his first draft was. It felt like every other self-improvement guide without personality. At that point, however, he had never heard of the concept of a “shitty” first draft and thought it had to be perfect already. It was a big blow.
So he rewrote everything. And, yes, before the turn of the year, he released his book. Yet, he still felt imposter syndrome. He didn’t think it was good enough, so he didn’t promote it.
Extreme Production was left abandoned until 2020 when Craig said Fuck it, let’s promote it. And, of course, it was more popular than he imagined. Some people even liked it. I did.
Publishing in multiple formats
Like Arvid Kahl, Craig prefers simple tools. He used Ulysses, a markdown editor for Macbook, to write Extreme Production. The plain text editor made it easy to release the book in many formats. Besides, there were little distractions, so he could just sit down and write.
For his following books, he experimented with two other tools. One felt a bit like hell; the other one was heaven.
Scrivener, which he tried first, was too overwhelming. Craig spent too much time organising and almost no time writing. He can see its benefit for fiction (See Spenser) but not for his purpose.
Vellum, however, made the job even more accessible. With this writing tool, he did not have to worry about layout and output. It’s all taken care of.
Updating his writing process
As he moved from Extreme Production to The Magic Visual*, he made a few more changes. The Magic Visual isn’t just a memoir/self-improvement book; it’s a complete reference guide for online creation. As the price also reflects, this book was a way more serious endeavour.
To make this project work, it was essential to consider the outline first. Craig spent months preparing it to make sure everything flows. And before he started writing, he could see the book in front of him. Can you imagine how much easier the writing and editing process was?
Of course, he didn’t do it all by himself this time. He involved a couple of beta readers to tell him what they liked and what didn’t interest them.
And still, next time, he would hire an editor to help with the structuring. A different pair of professional eyes is vital to ensure it all makes sense. But a proofreader? Craig doesn’t think it’s necessary.
*In between, he also wrote Press start, a 100-page experiment to link his visuals to words.
Old books for the win
Craig doesn’t consider himself an author. He’s a creator. He’s a messenger who uses all the tools at his disposal to spread his message. Sometimes that’s words, sometimes it’s a podcast, sometimes a visual.
Before he can spread his message, he has to find ideas and inspiration, of course. While many are finding that on Twitter these days, he disagrees with that source of information. I see why. What you consume on Twitter has been said before, probably more recently than you think. “So if you only consume Twitter content and decide to write a book, you’ll probably write something that has been written already,” Craig says.
Instead, he tries to look for inspiration in unusual places, like old books. Here are some books that inspired him or that he recommends you to read:
- The Intellectual Life (1946) inspired the structure and layout of Extreme Production.
- The Emyth (1988) is about structuring a business, but it’s written like a story.
- Wanting (2021) is another book full of stories that make reading more engaging.
- Productivity is for Robots is a poetic masterpiece in a non-fiction jacket.
The power of daily habits
As we discussed Craig’s writing habits, his love-hate relationship with Twitter took on another dimension. He tweets ten to twenty times per day. That could be up to 5,600 characters, but he doesn’t consider it writing. He claims it requires a whole different part of the brain.
Other writing habits he struggles to maintain. Craig finds it challenging to write regularly unless he’s working on a long-form project like a book. That’s why he started a newsletter. At least, he’s writing 1,000 words on Mondays and Fridays now.
But if you want to improve, you need to write daily. Creating daily habits is Craig’s USP. He has done daily challenges for 365 days for over ten years, such as creating a poster per day or podcasting daily in 2017. And there’s more: he even created a community around daily habits: The Daily Visual.
So his number one tip for aspiring authors is to write daily.
“Should I journal then?” you might think. His answer is no. Craig has journaled a lot in the past years, but looking back, he finds it shallow. At a time, he used the Day One app. This app pulls in everything automatically: the weather, photos, calendar notifications etc. So he didn’t even see a point in writing down what he did anymore. There are so many touchpoints in our lives already that it makes little sense to journal about our daily activities.
Anyway, if you could only write 100 words per day, journaling isn’t the best use of your time. You’re better of doing some creative writing. Or you could experiment with Craig’s new journaling style. Instead of reflecting on his entire day, he zooms in on one part of it. He intends to sketch one idea focusing on the details. It’s something he can come back to later. Something more interesting than “I had an unproductive meeting.”
Recently, he bought a traveller’s notebook, and he now writes on paper each day. He even drafts tweet ideas in it and finds his tweets more insightful when he writes them on paper first.
Craig Burgess’ writing tips
Writing is thinking. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. You have to figure out what works for you. So don’t just trust what others say you should do and try it out for yourself. Having said this, here’s what Craig recommends to improve your writing:
- Read the section on writing in Schopenhauer’s Collected Works.
- Write how you speak. Literally. Craig thinks about how he would do a speech and writes in that style.
- Have a strong ending. The ending is what people most remember.
And finally, remember to create for yourself. Don’t worry about the audience. Make it because you want to make it. Don’t make it for anybody else but publish when you feel comfortable.