Neal Pollack’s Secrets To Cranking Out Creative Work

The author of Alternadad and Downward-Facing Death shares how his habits help him work at a healthy clip.

Neal Pollack’s Secrets To Cranking Out Creative Work
[Photo: Flickr user Simpleinsomnia]

Neal Pollack is the author of nine books, a three-time Jeopardy champion, a musician, and a yoga instructor. His newest novel Repeat is “a romantic comedy with some time travel in it,” as he describes it, and follows books including the nonfiction parenting odyssey Alternadad, World War II caper Jewball, and the first two mysteries in a series about a yoga detective. Later this year, the Austin-based writer will publish a serialized science fiction novel via Kindle.

Pollack is clearly at no loss for a wide range of ideas, but the challenge is turning those ideas into real books that sell. Pollack has been able to do that at a rate of one or two per year using a non-precious approach to creativity, a forward-looking business model for publishing, and a daily tool for mental focus. Here’s how he does it.

Neal PollackPhoto: John Keatley

CREATIVITY IS STILL WORK

“There are no blocks; I haven’t had a writer’s block yet,” says Pollack. “I just sit down. I do it.” That may sound easier said than done for many people, but Pollack says that he sets the same output-based intention for highly imaginitive work like fiction as he would for anything else.

“I’m trained as a journalist so I just treat it like a journalism deadline,” he says. I’m like, ‘I’ve got to pound out 1,500 words of fiction today.’ It’s not magic. I don’t treat fiction like something sacred. To me, it’s just like journalism, but you’re making it all up. I subscribe to the pulp model. I just keep pounding it out and if the books aren’t perfect, who cares? There’s usually going to be a few entertaining things in them.”

Pollack says that by approaching his writing this way, working fast becomes the default, not something forced by stress. “I write books in three months because that’s how long it takes me to write a book,” he says, “not because I have to.”

Nine of Pollack’s books

REMOVE BUSINESS BARRIERS

Pollack is signed to Amazon Publishing, which, unlike the Internet giant’s self-publishing platforms for authors, operates with more traditional book deals that provide advances, editing, design, and marketing services. What they do not have is traditional distribution.

“I can write a book generally in three to four months, and then it can be available for sale a couple months later because they cycle quickly. That’s part of their mission,” says Pollack. Amazon Publishing prints books on demand, meaning there’s no wait time or overhead for large print runs. For events, the company prints small runs that authors can sell on consignment.

The downside, of course, is that bookstores are not on good terms with Amazon, so most won’t carry or display the books for brick-and-mortar distribution. “[Repeat] is my fourth book for Amazon, and I’ve never seen one in a bookstore,” says Pollack. “Not even a used bookstore.”

What is Jeopardy?: Alex Trebek and Neal Pollack

But Pollack says that because he is able to write quickly, it’s worth the compromise to get his work to market quickly. “It’s almost entirely a digital operation for me,” he says. “Sell them fast and cheap and see what happens. The conventional way I used to do it was you publish a book, it takes a year and a half, then you wait, then you go on tour and then nothing happens. Now, no matter what, I still sell 10,000 books and then I can just write the next one.”

FIND YOUR BLISS AND USE IT

When Pollack discovered yoga several years ago, the benefits were so significant that it became part of his work–he wrote a book called Stretch about his transformation, and now has a mystery series about a yoga detective. He’s also a certified Ashtanga instructor whose classes include teaching weary entrepreneurs every year at SXSW.

“I owe yoga a lot, I owe it everything,” says Pollack, who focuses more on the meditation techniques than on pushing the physical aspect very hard. “It calms my mind and it puts me in a receptive place to just not stress about anything for too long. I don’t worry if I don’t get 2,000 words done, I have other stuff to do. It keeps me centered. And calm. That’s helpful when you have to sit down and write a book.”

About the author

Evie Nagy is a former staff writer at FastCompany.com, where she wrote features and news with a focus on culture and creativity. She was previously an editor at Billboard and Rolling Stone, and has written about music, business and culture for a variety of publications.

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