Write Now with Thom Hartmann
How this author collected a wall of rejections before age fifteen
Who Are You?
Thom Hartmann, writer and talk show host, based in Portland, OR.
What Do You Write?
I’ve been writing since I was around 7 or 8 years old, when my mom — an English major at Michigan State University — got me all fired up and inspired. My dad gave me an Underwood typewriter when I was around 10, and by the time I was 15 I’d collected a wall full of rejection slips, mostly from poetry magazines.
In the 1970s and ’80s, I taught advertising copywriting through the American Marketing Centers in seminars nationwide, and for most of the ’80s and early ’90s I was writing regularly for Ziff-Davis and other magazine publishers; around that time I started writing novels as well, producing 5 or so of them, following Arthur C. Clarke’s advice that “your first million words are practice.” My books on ADHD and climate change were published in the mid 90s and I’ve been writing books, averaging a bit more than one a year, ever since.
I’ve published 2 novels, although they’re not particularly good, and over 30 nonfiction books, several of which have become bestsellers. I love writing, and love writing about culture, politics and science, in particular.
Where Do You Write?
I write on my Mac laptop with MS Word or Apple Pages software. I learned to type as a child, so that’s been my default my whole life.
When Do You Write?
These days I write in my office every weekday from 1 to 5 pm, and on weekends generally from around 10 am to around 5 pm. I’ve compared writing to picking raspberries: sometimes I end up the day with lots of words, and sometimes not so many but with bloody fingers (metaphorically). My two basic rules for writing are to never get up and walk away when I’ve finished a section/thought/chapter, but to always try to stop mid-stream so it’s easier to pick up the next day, and to always write with a friend I know who will have an interest in my topic so my writing reads almost like a personal letter.
Why Do You Write?
I write because I believe some of the things I have to say will have a positive impact or effect on my readers or the world more generally. Those few books I’ve written where I didn’t feel that but my publisher wanted that title are among those that never did well, by the way. My greatest inspiration comes from novel ideas or new information.
How Do You Overcome Writer’s Block?
When I have writer’s block, I start writing to myself. “So, what the heck are we really trying to say here? And do you think Jerry will really find this interesting? Or should we instead go back to the idea of…” etc. Usually after a few paragraphs I end up answering my own questions and get back into the groove. Another strategy is to write to a person, literally, “Jerry, I have to tell you about this amazing new study I just read out of South Korea…” and then tear off the first paragraph when it all comes tumbling out and I’m done.
Bonus: What Do You Enjoy Doing When Not Writing?
When I’m not writing, my favorite pastime is reading. I’m now deep into Ace Atkins, having read everything ever written by Jack Vance, Robert B. Parker, Robert Crais, Ken Follett, Rex Stout, Daniel Quinn, and John D. MacDonald. My all-time favorite fiction book is Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward. My favorite author is Jack Vance, who I got to know well before he passed away. My favorite nonfiction book this year is Humankind by Rutger Bregman, which is a modern rewrite of another of my favorites from the 1970s, Humankind by Peter Farb. Farb’s Man’s Rise to Civilization is also a very, very important book to me, along with Quinn’s writings.
I also like walking in nature; my wife, Louise, and I try to walk at least a few miles a day. And talking philosophy with Louise and hanging out with our kids and grandkids.