Hello my friends today, my guest is Carl Honoré, author of a book called In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed.
Carl’s book came to me at the perfect time in my life. He was interested to explore and answer two questions. Number one – how did we get so fast, and two – is it possible or even desirable to slow down? Carl is an award winning writer, broadcaster, and TEDTalk speaker. He’s considered the voice of the global slow movement and talks about how to thrive in a fast world by slowing down. His TED talk on this same subject has been viewed more than 3 million times.
In his TED talk, he talks about bad slow versus good slow. The idea of time sickness and time exits, how we can get more out of time, slow time down. He talks about our tendency to race through life instead of truly living it.He spent a decade working as a journalist before really diving in to this slow movement thing.
He points out that we used to dial, now we speed dial. We used to read, now we speed read. We used to walk, now we speed walk, and we used to date, and now we speed date. He has explored what some people call the international slow movement, and he makes the point that when we slow down (at the right moments) that ultimately we’re able to do everything better. I hope you enjoy and benefit from this interview with Carl Honoré. Thanks so much for listening.
00:03:58 – What’s life about?
00:13:58 – Time Sickness
00:36:38 – Eigenzeit & Tempo giusto
00:41:41 – The Lightning Round
00:51:00 – Writing lesson
In Praise of Slowness: Changing the Cult of Speed
TedTalk: Carl Honoré – In Praise of Slowness
Bryan Miller: 00:00:00 A question asked, courageously answered honestly, and lived authentically can change your whole life. For me, that question was, how can I use what I have, what I love and what I know to bless the lives of others? The School For Good Living and this podcast are one answer to that question. Hi, I’m Bryan Miller. I know that the world can work for everyone, but that it won’t until it works for you. I’ve created this to help you make the difference you were born to make. It’s a series of conversations with thought leaders who are moving humanity forward, and in each episode I explore their lives and the work they do. I also ask them to break down how they’ve gotten their books written, published, and read. This podcast is all about exploring the magic and mystery and sometimes the misery of the creative process. So if you have a mission, a message, and a motivation to share it, this podcast is for you. Welcome to The School For Good Living.
Bryan Miller: 00:00:58 Hello my friends today, my guest is Carl Honore, who’s author of a book called In Praise of Slowness, Challenging the Cults of Speed. Carl’s book came to me at such the perfect time in my life. He was interested to explore and answer two questions. Number one, how did we get so fast and two, is it possible or even desirable to slow down? Carl is an award winning writer, broadcaster and TED speaker. He’s considered the voice of the global slow movement, talks about how to thrive in a fast world by slowing down. His TED talk on this same subject has been viewed more than 3 million times. He spent a decade working as a journalist before really diving in to this slow movement thing. He covered Europe and South America for the Economist, the Observer, the Miami Herald, Houston Chronicle, Time, National Post, and on and on. His book has been published in 35 languages. That tells you something, that people are interested in this. We didn’t talk about this in the interview, but in my research I read that while researching this book on slowness, he was slapped with a speeding ticket. Proof to me that we teach what we need to learn and Carl talks about this in the interview, how and why he came to this inquiry. He points out that, you know, we used to dial now we speed dial, we used to read now we speed read. We used to walk now we speed walk and we used to date and now we speed date. He has explored what some people call the international slow movement and he makes the point that when we slow down, at the right moments, that ultimately we’re able to do everything better. He talks about the slow food movement and again we didn’t dive into this in the interview but I just want to share this here. I love this perspective that we get more health and enjoyment from our food when we cultivate cooking, consume it at a reasonable pace. Something he talks about in his TED talk, he talks about bad slow versus good slow. The idea of time sickness and time exits. How we can get more out of time, slow time down. He talks about our tendency to race through life instead of truly living it. And then in the last part of the interview we have a lively discussion if you’re interested in writing and promoting writing. At the very end Carl shares some views that I think are really great and useful about that. Seems like a very nice human being. The kind of person that you might want to sit down and have a long dinner with. Just get to know and learn from. The last thing I’ll just share here in this intro is that we talk about a couple of terms one in German, one in Italian, eigenzeit and tempo giusto. And he shares what those mean, why they matter and how they can enhance the quality of our lives. So I hope you enjoy and benefit from this interview with Carl Honore. Thanks so much for listening. Carl, welcome to The School For Good Living.
Carl Honore: 00:03:56 Thank you very much. Great to be with you.
Bryan Miller: 00:03:58 Carl, tell me please, what’s life about?
Carl Honore: 00:04:02 I think of life as being a long novel, say lots of different chapters. A kind of journey. I think we’re trying to get to an end point, which is the essence of who we are. There’s a wonderful quote from David Bowie, which is that “aging is a wonderful process of becoming the person you were always meant to be.” And I think there’s, a lot of beauty in that, right? I think it gets to the core of what it is to be human is that as we move through our lives, we’re streamlining, we’re like taking a huge block of marble, Michelangelo, chipping away, chipping away what’s not important, what’s not essential, and getting to the heart of the matter, to the core, to the real essence of who we are. And so I, I think of it as a forward moving thing that’s what life is about to me.
Bryan Miller: 00:04:47 I love that perspective. So a few years back, you gave a TED talk. It’s been viewed more than 3 million times. You wrote a book around the idea, In Praise of Slowness. Will you share a little bit about why you wrote this book, who you wrote it for and what you want it to do for them?
Carl Honore: 00:05:07 Well, I discovered along the way that my books always start with the small existential crisis of my own. That’s where Praise of Slowness began. Back before I wrote the book, I was just stuck in fast forward. Every moment of my day was a race against the clock. I was running through my life instead of living it. And I think when we get stuck in fast forward like that, it often takes a shock the system to make you realize you’ve forgotten how to slow down and this is doing you serious harm. And for a lot of people that wake up call come in the form of an illness, you know, the body just packs it in one day. But my wake up call came when I started reading bedtime stories to my son. And back in those days I just wasn’t capable of slowing down. So I go into his room at the end of the day, sit on his bed with one foot on the floor and speed read Snow White. So I’m skipping lines, paragraphs. I became an expert about what I call the multiple page turn technique.
Bryan Miller: 00:05:58 I’m so glad to know I’m not the only parent who has done that.
Carl Honore: 00:06:02 You are not alone and you are also not alone in knowing that the technique never works. They catch you out. So my son would always say to me, you know, daddy, why are there only three dwarves in the story tonight? You know what happened to Grumpy and this lament state of affairs went on for some time until I caught myself flirting with buying a book I’d heard about called the One Minute Bedtime Story. So Snow White and other tales in 60 seconds. I remember thinking, how will you, that’s a really good idea. I need that book now. Amazon drone delivery. But then lightbulb over the head moment I thought, has it really come to this. I really in such a hurry, I’m prepared to fall off my little boy with a sound bite instead of a story at the end of the day. And that was when I, I realized that I just lost my compass and that I needed to rethink my whole, not only my whole approach to the time and pace and speed in my whole way of thinking about life. And then that was the spark for investigating not only my own addiction to speed, but the whole bigger picture in the world. And eventually writing my book In Praise of Slowness.
Bryan Miller: 00:07:01 So tell me what year roughly? What year did you have this, this insight about the one minute bedtime story?
Carl Honore: 00:07:08 My bedtime story epiphany was probably around 2001 and then I got on my writer, journalist horse and began investigating not long thereafter. And I guess In Praises of Slowness came out in 2004, TED talk 2005. And it’s funny, although that feels like a long time ago. To me, it feels incredibly fresh. I recently reread the book as an audio book and I went into the studio in a cold sweat thinking, you know, the ideas will feel anachronistic. The examples will be out of date. It won’t stand up. And I was trembling as I sat down to read the first page and by the end I thought, wow, you know, I actually wouldn’t change a word and of this. This completely stands the test of time. And in fact, I think the message of slowness that the power of and the wisdom and the beauty of slowing down in a world stuck in fast forward is if not as pertinent today, then more so. Because in some ways the world has accelerated. So I think the message is even more urgent today than it was back when I first put pen to paper. Well, you know, fingers to keyboard, right? No, I’m not a victim a Victorian writer. I am a man of the 21st century.
Bryan Miller: 00:08:20 And that, you know, I had that sense when, because I know when I initially reached out to you about doing this interview, I had just found the book on Amazon. First of all, I’m really glad I did, but I have no idea that it was written, you know, more than a decade ago as we record this, it’s 2019 and, and I can see the timelessness. I mean it’s, it is a fresh book and there’s no surprise when you look at the way it’s organized that, you know, you write about food, you write about cities, you write about mind, body, you write about medicine, sex, work, leisure and children. So these are the chapters, these are the topics within which you explore this concept of slowness. And those are, those are timeless, you know, so it’s no surprise that this book stands the test of time.
Carl Honore: 00:09:11 I mean, human beings have not experienced a great leap forward in evolution or a tectonic shift in their basic needs, limits, strengths and desires. Right? We’re the same, pretty much beasts as we were when I, when I wrote that book. So our priorities are the same. You know, we want to be well in ourselves. We want to live full lives. We want to have childhoods worthy of the name. We want to be healthy, we want to be happy, we want to be of service to others. We want to live our lives instead of dash through it. And so that, that’s, that’s not changed. And in fact, I also very recently wrote a new preface for the book again. And it just felt like the thing, you know, just feels very much of the moment and keeps people do keep discovering it. And so often I get readers, writers and they say, you know, I discovered your book. Someone gave it to me as a present or I stumbled across it on Amazon or I found it at a bookstore I read it. And then I was halfway through and I realized that it was, you know, it wasn’t written last year, although it felt like it was speaking to me right here, right now. So maybe in a lifetime you only as a writer get one book like that, that’s timeless. One of my editors, because the books now out in so 35 languages and keeps, you know, having the same effect around the world constantly. I’m always hearing from readers all the time about it. One editor from one of the publishers said to me, you know, this books in a way is your pension, right? Because it’s, it is timeless. It will be, you know, 30 years from now and I’m maybe hanging up my keyboard. I think people will still be having these conversations, still grappling with these, these demons of speed and hurry and description and busy-ness. I mean, I think we, yeah, I do on the upside field that, you know, we are turning a corner and we are kind of lining up to the folly of everything being faster. I think we probably, we’re not, we’re imperfect beings, right? We will always grapple with that temptation to go too fast. So I expect part of that conversation forever.
Bryan Miller: 00:11:03 Well I think you will be in… I’ve seen this as I’ve read about you online, that one descriptor is that Carl Honore is the voice of the slow movement. And I think that’s really appropriate and what you pull together through your research and your experience, I found it not only beautiful but, really useful. One of the things that you say, you know, you talk about that we as a society, you know, that we’re living in a way, and you touched on illness is often a wake up call, but we’re seeing it in the environment as well. You know, when you write that we are driving the planet and ourselves toward burnout. I mean, once the cost is, my experience is once we see the cost is so great of anything we will change, but not until then, so it seems to be this awakening now.
Carl Honore: 00:11:55 I think so I think we’re very stubborn beings and we can be quite selfish and very shortsighted. So it often does take some kind of shock, often doesn’t take a wake up call. It’s almost like we have to be in the, you know, one minute to midnight before, before we will figure out and actually do something or make big changes. And I feel like we’re kind of getting to that seismic moment now. If you look at what’s happening as you say environmentally around the world and this, it does feel like there is not only a personal awakening but a collective ongoing life. Look at the extinction rebellion and look at how, especially the younger generation are kind of just getting out and becoming much more politically aware and even militant and you know, you can quibble with some of the messaging and some of the things that people are doing in the way they’re going about it, but the fact that they’re standing up and shouting about how things are not going the way they ought to, I think that’s a, that’s a really healthy sign. And I certainly often when people talk about slowing down and the slower evolution and so on, often their way in is a very personal one. So it can be about enhancing your mental or physical health or becoming more productive or creative or strengthen your relationships or just being happier and all that. And that’s all wonderful. I mean, you know, we all have the right to aspire to those things and that’s what the stuff of a good life is. But there’s a, there’s a collective dimension, which I think sometimes we don’t get to till later on. A big part of the slow revolutionary thinking, the rules of the game, right? You know, how we interact with the environment, what’s the socioeconomic system look like, you know, how do we unwind this crisis that late capitalism seems to have stumbled into in the last decade or so. And I think slowly the idea of pace, the big picture, joining the dots, connection meaning all that stuff that different words to say, slow or slow is one shorthand for all of those things is a very important part of that conversation about how we redesign from the ground up, the macro architecture that we’re living in. Not just that this becomes some small individual thing for people to live better in their own lives. That’s, that’s the only the starting point I think.
Bryan Miller: 00:13:58 I think you’re right. And you quote Dr. Larry Dossey, an American physician who coined the term “time sickness.” Which, you know, I don’t know that I knew that before, but I, I recognized it, you know, in myself and others and so I realize that sometimes simply having a name for something can give us like an access to or maybe a hope that this thing is possible. You know, either and we want to avoid it or obtain it and so time sickness was one of those, time exits is another term Larry Dossey used. Will you tell me what does he mean? What do these mean, time sickness and time exits.
Carl Honore: 00:14:42 Well time sickness is the idea that which I think a lot of us will probably feel now, especially if we have a brace slow, if we’re stuck in that road runner way of living, that sense that there’s never enough time, you’re always pedaling faster and faster to stay still. Or even just you’re paddling as fast as you can and you’re still going backwards, right? Cause there’s never enough time to cram everything into the day. And I think that’s in a sense a hallmark of early 21st century living. The sense that there’s just, you know, the whole world has become this limitless smorgasbord of things to do, consume, experience, eat, buy, sell and the natural human instinct is to want to have it all right. That phrase we hear bandied about so much. The trouble with having it all is that you end up hurting it all and that’s where the time sickness comes in. I think that if you drill down through a lot of these conversations about pace. It comes down to time. We have a deeply neurotic relationship with time, which in a way was marked out by, another quote I’ll throw out there is time is money, right? Which is seems such an achingly modern turn of phrase, right? It’s an expression that trips off the lips now as it did, you know, 20 years ago. But actually it was Benjamin Franklin who first said it right, and it’s telling that he said at the dawn of the industrial era, because that whole idea of time being something that we could measure, commoditize, control and therefore accelerate to get more and more out of time is just the heartbeat of the modern world. And that whole time is money thing really in a sense reached its first surge, I guess with the industrial revolution and machines and all that stuff, helping us do things, but then it’s spread out and contaminated every corner of our lives so that we come with that idea. Whether you say it the time is money approach or the time sickness approach. We arrive at every single task, every moment of our day with the same spirit, the same yen, which is to do the thing as fast as possible. Right? Also possibly, possibly while I’m multitasking it with four other things and I think that’s kind of where we’ve wound ourselves up into this crazy hysterical state now where every moment of the day is a dash to the finish line. That of course we never ever reach.
Bryan Miller: 00:16:48 No doubt. And then the counter to that, the counterpoint perhaps is this idea then that Dossey also talked about about creating time exits. So what are those and how can we do it and why would we want to?
Carl Honore: 00:17:00 My understanding of Dossey’s thing, exits, is moving away from focusing on the passage of time somehow becoming timeless and people often talk about things like meditation or slow practices like mindfulness or yoga and stuff and there is a kind of stepping out of mechanical measured time. When you enter into those flow activities, people often use the phrase flow to be in a flow state. Also, when you forget the clock and you’re just totally in the moment, you’re fully present, you’re a hundred percent engaged in what you’re doing and having those little moments that pull you out of the world where you’re constantly with one on that clock or counting the minutes and seconds and you forget the passage of time and you just sort of inhabit habit time. I think that that’s much my understanding of how he spins a time exits. It’s not a phrase I use myself. I think more of shifting gears and so it’s taking these, they’re just metaphors, right? They’re different language for the same thing, which is to try and forge a more fluid and a more human and a more healthy relationship with time to think of it not as a precious resource or limited, it’s constantly running out. And we have to go faster and faster to make the most of it, but rather to think of it as something a bit more amorphous sort of like the element that we move around in, right? Like the air that we’re sort of swimming in. And I think you could try different ways of thinking about time, recasting it, reframing it in your mind and it can make a real difference in your day to day life. I’m an, I’m a perfect example of that. I used to be somebody who was very time sick and also somebody who, I think this goes hand in hand with time sick. This was always very aware of the passage of time. So I had a watch or phone. I was always looking at time thinking, you know, okay, I’ve got five minutes left til two, what can I do in those five minutes? Right? Or, Oh no, I’ve only got three. And it just became this never ending. like the Charlie Chaplin movie, it was in modern times, you know, we’re either on the clock score and I just felt like I was getting consumed by, not so much by time, but my obsession with time, my unhealthy obsession with it. And part of my slowing down was one of the first things I did when I began experimenting with a different approach to pace and time was to stop wearing a watch. Or it’s just not having clocks around me. And it made a very big difference. I’ve never gone back to it. I set myself a week to be without a watch. I’ve not want to watch since, and I don’t tend to have clocks around me. I don’t even have one on my computer screen usually. It’s just, and it does make a difference. They’ve shown, research has shown that seeing a clock can make us feel more rushed and more worried about the passage of time. So even just a small change like that and not having a clock within your line of sight can alter in a profound way your experience of moving through time.
Bryan Miller: 00:19:40 That makes me think about, and it is, I imagine, how would I get rid of time, you know, from my immediate surrounding because it’s your, if it’s not on my wrist, it’s on my phone, it’s on my computer, it’s on my stove and my microwave. It’s in my car. You know, if I maybe close my eyes or you know, totally change the way I live perhaps. But otherwise there’s no chance, you know.
Carl Honore: 00:20:02 Well, you could turn, I mean, all of those gadgets, most of them will give you the opportunity to turn off. And in fact that the paradox, the delicious paradox is that I never look at clocks really anymore, but I have a very good internal sense of what time it is. And I’m never late. I’m very punctual. I don’t miss deadlines. I arrive on time for stuff. But I do that without looking at the clock or without having clocks all around me. And so it means that I’m able to follow a schedule but with a much lighter touch, you know, without feeling that I’m enslaved by the schedule. Just thinking the schedule is giving me some light, sketchy architecture to my day. It’s not a straight jacket and there’s a very, it’s kind of a hard thing to, you know, draw on a piece of paper for someone. But it’s like a paradigm shifts and awful pompous way to put it. It’s like changing the chip in your head. On the surface people would look at my day and think, well maybe your life hasn’t changed that much from when you were fast. You know, you talk about having a before and after, but you like life looks very different, very much the same or very similar. It feels so different to me from the inside. Right. Cause I used to feel so worried about the passage of time and so rushed. Always. I almost never feel rushed. You know, I’m always very relaxed. If I’ve got to go fast, I can go as fast as anybody has to go. Right. They need me to, but I don’t go fast as the default option and I don’t feel compelled. And I don’t feel rushed when I’m going fast. I feel I still feel pretty calm when I’m accelerating, whatever it is to meet a deadline or to get from A to B more quickly. You know, I’m a very fast walker, but I don’t feel rushed when I’m walking. I’m just walking quickly. Right. So this is a palpable difference there.
Bryan Miller: 00:21:40 That’s beautiful and I was reflecting on this because, um, you know, my father who passed away about a decade ago, he, he was a very successful entrepreneur. One of the things that I think of when I look at his life is that he packed so much in, from my view, every second. And in fact, I think that’s part of why he died at 64 years old because he was so intense in what he did and he neglected his health and, you know, this kind of thing. But I think about this saying that a full life is better then a long life, you know, and making the most of whatever time we have without rushing, necessarily. But what’s interesting to me about my dad is even though he did accomplish so much and he did have a very full life, I never remember him rushing. My mom, you know, hurry up, you’re going to be late for school or get dressed, we’re late for church or things like that. But with my dad, he was like, I never one time remember him ever rushing or urging others to hurry. It was really interesting.
Carl Honore: 00:22:43 Yeah, that’s funny. That’s just so much like my parents who are both still alive and my mum is, is just a whirling dervish. Everything is speed, you know, hurry up, get things done. And my dad, although he’s had, you know, he’s a storied career as a pathologist and academic, very successful, got lots done, had a wonderful life, still enjoying his life. He’s always, I’ve never heard him, same thing. And I think some people are naturally wired differently. I think between when I look at my mum and dad, I guess I had two role models in the family and I went with my mom in the early part of my life and I just, I became the person who, you know, I think I remember my son’s first phrase when he first think he spoke, first words were hurry up. Right? I remember when he said that I thought, well dude, I know where you got that right. And I know where I got it. Right. But I look back now at that and I just think, well that’s, that was crazy that, you know, I’m naturally fast, but there’s different screaming fast and rushed. Right. And that it’s a step change between the two and there’s something else as well, just to go back to what you said earlier about wanting to live a whole life or full life rather than a long life, I would agree with that. But the question is how do you go about living a full life and a whole life? And I think the wrong way to go about it, which is the way that so many of us approach it now is to cram stuff in, right? To think I’m going to get as much packed into this week, this month, this year as possible. And that’s just quantity before quality. That’s skimming the surface of things. The way to get the most out of life, however long that life is going to be is by streamlining, right? It’s by prioritizing. It’s by giving, you know, focusing on the things that really light you up. Letting everything else go. Focus on the stuff that puts fire in your belly that you want to get up early in the morning to do and let everything else just fade away and give yourself fully to your time and attention to those things 100%. Being in the moment, being present, that is what living a whole and full life is about. Not, you know, racing from one thing to the next. And then as soon as you got through one thing, you look back and you can’t even remember what you did right. I mean, that’s the other thing. There’s a wonderful quote somewhere from Milan Kundera, right? Famous Czech writer talking about the intimate bond between slowness and memory. And I often think that one of the warning signs of that you’re living too fast is that you start to forget things, right? When you’re moving through your life in turbo, nothing sticks. Everything becomes a blur. So you get to the end of the year or let’s say get to the end of the month, you look back and you think, wow, that was October. You know, I don’t remember. I finished, I think a novel, but I can’t remember how it ended. I watched that Netflix series, but it actually, you know, I don’t remember really much about, I can’t remember what I ate last week, you know, with my best friend. And I think that’s a real sign that we’re racing through life instead of living in it. And I noticed that when I embrace this slow creed and began, you know, doing fewer things, giving them my full attention, really enjoying things, I began to remember stuff a lot better. You know, when I, when I wasn’t remembering, I thought, Oh no, this is early onset dementia. It’s not, it’s cause you’re just living too fast, right? You’re trying to squeeze too much in and it’s not sticking. And so a big part of that I think is, um, you know, just taking the time and that allows you not only therefore to enjoy the moment to its fullest, but you actually get the memory later to go back and enjoy it again repeatedly, you know? So there’s a double a double gain to be had. And also just one more write up just to round out that thought is people often say, you know, I can’t slow down, right? I can’t, if I slow down, life is gonna pass me by. Wrong. You know, if life is what’s happening right here right now, and the only way to make the most of it is to slow down, right? It’s the best way to for life to pass you by or actually for you to pass life by, is to get in that fast forward mode where you’re just rushing through everything. So it’s all about kind of thinking differently about pace, about how you arrive at each moment and try and just to be there. Right. Just be there, be present in a way that I think many of us find really hard to do nowadays.
Bryan Miller: 00:26:40 You used a quote to open the chapter on sex that had nothing to do with sex per se, but it’s right in line with what you’re saying now. I’d never heard it really moved me. “Most men pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that they hurry past it.” By Kierkegaard.
Carl Honore: 00:27:00 That was Kierkegaard from a very long time ago. And I think there’s, that is such an eternal truth that we, you know, we, it’s such an awful irony, you know, that we’re speeding up in order to make the most of our lives, but we’re actually wasting our time. It’s the worst way to waste of life is to rush through it. And you know, that is one of the things we regain when we slow down is pleasure. Right? I mean, so many pleasures. There’s another quote as well, I like very much, which is from May West who said “anything worth doing is worth doing slowly.” And there’s, you know, I think she was probably thinking about sex or maybe making a, a kind of mischievous wink towards it. But you know, at that, that principle I think holds across the board. That slowly when she said slowly she means in the sense, I think, of just giving that thing your time, your full time and your attention to get the most out of it. Whether it’s making love to your partner or you know, cooking a meal and sitting down and having it with your family, or just going for a walk around your neighborhood and looking at the sunset or reading a book or whatever it happens to be. Just giving it all of you, right all the time it deserves and requires. That sounds so simple to say it out loud now, but it is profoundly counter-cultural in this moment when people find they cannot do anything without bolting on something else. I mean, how many people sit down now and watch TV without a phone in their hand? I mean, just simple things like that, or read a meal without scrolling through Instagram and you just. It’s like people or walking down the street without listening to a podcast or music. I mean, it’s almost like we, it’s like this chronic compulsion to layer and pile more and more stuff on every moment and the moments cannot, they can’t take it. They’re groaning and collapsing under the weight of our expectations or excessive expectations. You know, don’t try to overload the moment, you know, just let the moment breathe, you know. Let it be full, fill up to its normal capacity, but don’t try and overload it. And I think that’s so much our problem now is that we just want more and more and more and we end up with less and less and less as a result.
Bryan Miller: 00:29:05 It’s like the cosmic irony for sure. And you write in the book that you write speed becomes a way of walling ourselves off from the deeper questions. Will you say more.
Carl Honore: 00:29:18 Yes, that’s absolutely true. I think that’s another thing when people talk about why do we eat so fast? Why do we keep ourselves busy. It’s a whole range of reasons. Part of it is, like we were saying before about the all the things that are out there in the world, we want to have them, there’s the pressure of work, there’s the temptation of technology, but I think there’s a deeper metaphysical driver here and that is that speed, busyness, that whole fast way of living can become an instrument of denial. It’s a way of cutting yourself off, blocking out those deeper, harder, bigger questions such as, who am I? Right? You know, am I living the right life or my family and loved ones? Well, is the society I’m living in moving the direction I think it should be moving in? Right? Really big naughty, tangled questions. The kind of questions that we need to be asking ourselves because it’s by asking those difficult questions that we forge a meaningful life, that we create a a life that we’re going to look back on fondly and proudly, right? It’s how we’re going to find out who we are and where we stand in the world. The trouble of course, is that it takes time. You need to reflect, you need to confront, you need to deal with the discomfort that arises confronting these questions, and it’s much easier just to cram one more thing into your schedule, run off and watch something else on Netflix. Multitask you’re way away from those questions. It’s much easier to confront the small questions, you know, sweat the small stuff like, you know. Where are my keys? I’m late for my 11:00 AM, right. That’s much easier to confront that question then who am I? You know, what’s my purpose here? What I want out of life. What about how can I give back? What can I make the world around me a better place? Those are big scary questions, but they’re the questions that define, I mean in my view, that defines a life worth living and that’s why, you know, therapists often talk about speed or the last stage before burnout is being one last burst of acceleration. So the person is desperately trying to outrun all those big questions and problems and so on. They haven’t, and then bang, they hit the wall and then they’re forced to slow down and face those questions. And it’s interesting, you know, most not many people have two burnouts, right? You know, usually people will have a burnout and there’ll be forced to slow down. I mean, really forced to slow down. Face some of those big questions. Ask them, try to find out some answers or just simply sit with those questions and then they will go back to their lives. Maybe the same career, maybe the same kind of job that they’ll go back into very different spirit and usually with what I would call a slow spirit because they’ve learned that lesson. The ideal is not to leave it to the very last minute and have a burnout. Right? You want to, you want to come to that realization and long before the burnout stage so that you can slow down and face those big questions. I certainly find in my own example that one of the things I feel I’ve gained by reconnecting with my inner tortoise, if you like, is that my life just feels much more just richer more. I feel like there’s more nuance, more layers to it and I know myself better because I do sit with those difficult questions I asked them and, I don’t always find an answer. I mean, maybe the point is not to find an answer. Maybe the point is simply to ask the question and deal with what bubbles up as a result. But I do that now, that metaphysical homework if you like, or housework that I never did before when I was always rushing around like a headless chicken and I just feel like I’m so much more alive to the world and myself than I ever was when all I was doing was ticking boxes on my to do list.
Bryan Miller: 00:32:51 That really resonates with me. And as I hear you, I’m reminded of the, what I experienced as the inadequacy of language to fully convey what’s available here because in this moment as we explore this concept, I’m thinking what might be a better word for slow is depth, is deep. You know these experiences, any experience from, you know, eating, like we’ve already talked about eating, making love, working, just living. When we do that with a depth, I think that’s, I’m going to sound maybe again a little metaphysical or philosophical here, but I think that’s what we’re really yearning for, you know, is like authenticity and depth and connection and meaning. And none of that is available when we’re just skimming over the, at least might not be literally true, but we, I think we typically don’t experience that when we’re zooming over the surface of things.
Carl Honore: 00:33:46 And I think language is uber important. I mean I’m someone who loves language and I’m a writer by trade, so I think a lot about words and words matter, right? They shape the way we feel about ourselves and the world and how we move in the world and how we behave and act and think. So it’s very important to get the right language. And it is, I mean, even now, you know, after all these years of talking about the importance of slow and this whole kind of, you know, slow revolution and all these movements that have sprung up, you know, everything from slow sex to slow education, to slow technology, slow travels, slow fashion, slow art, you know, every everything out there with the slow hanging on it. Even now I feel, you know, as you say, I mean slow, it’s a shorthand, right? It doesn’t tell the whole story. And who knows, maybe, I mean, you know, if I had a time machine and I went back, would there be a different word I’d use that you suggest to depth? So would we substitute, would you call it deep food or something? Deep eating, deep sex certainly sounds a lot. I wouldn’t want to Google that in an office. Right? It’s kind of, I feel like in a world, especially a world of, you know, for 140 characters where people are looking for quick hooks to hang things on, it’s useful to have a short pithy, maybe a countercultural word like slow that really you see it and it already jars. Cause we’re always being told everything has to be fast. And someone’s coming along and saying, I know what I want to hear, slow. Here’s the flag of slow. I’m planting the flag of slow and I’m doing so proudly and I’m going to change the world in a really good way with it. And so I think that’s useful as a kind of battering ram or conversation but a conversation starter, right? So that you do then open up to the other language, like those words that you tossed out a moment ago authentic, depth, purpose meaning, I think you have color, texture. There’s so many, people talk about striking a balance. That’s another way to think of. So I talk about shifting gears. You know, this is a million different ways of unpacking it linguistically, but, and it’s fun as well. I mean, as somebody who loves words, I loved having that conversation and you know, trying to find new ways to. I mean I do a lot of speaking now and public speaking and I never, I always, I’m always changing, right? I know a lot of speakers will have one talk and they’ve been given the same talk for 15 years and no, not a word has changed. Every time I get up there I’m changing words and moving, using new metaphors and playing around with a language cause I just feel A, it stops me from becoming stale and dying of boredom. But at the same time, I also feel like this is a moving target, right? Society’s changing, new ideas are coming up. The language is shifting, people’s view, you know, everything is moving, it’s moving, you know, it’s a live theater and I just feel like you always want to be finding new ways of new formulas of words and stuff. And so it’s, yes, it’s great to, to hear you talking about depth. I mean that’s, you know, I’ll probably, my next talk, I’ll probably put that word in there that maybe I wouldn’t have before. So, you know, we’re all, we’re all kind of moving in the same direction, so thank you for that.
Bryan Miller: 00:36:38 Maybe the last part of this this portion of the interview, just to stay on this topic of language a moment longer. I love, again, this and this part of what I referenced earlier when I said, when we have a word for something or we have a concept for something now perhaps suddenly becomes available to us that previously wasn’t available. We were ignorant to or, or didn’t know it was possible. And, and for me, I got a couple of those from your book. And I’d love if you would kind of explain from your view what these mean. And the one is this German word. I’m not sure I’ll say it right but “eigenzeit” and the other, “tempo giusto” which is obviously not German. Is that Italian?
Carl Honore: 00:37:22 Italian, yeah, the two phrases I love very much. When I’m talking, I often used to talk about tempo giusto, so I’ll talk about that first. That means, that’s a musical term for the, it means the correct tempo, right? The idea being that every piece of music has a natural tempo, right? Of course you can take any piece of music, any kind, whether it’s techno or classical or Mozart or whatever, or chamber music, and you can do it faster or slower and choose your tempo. But there’s the kind of tempo giusto movement idea, which is that there’s a natural sweet spot for every piece of music that just you get there and that’s where it should be. Doesn’t mean you can’t sometimes play it fast or slower, but there’s a kind of right tempo. And so in a way that’s a perfect metaphor for this whole slow philosophy, which is saying that there is a natural correct tempo for things and it’s gonna vary, right? You know, everybody is different. What’s fast for me might seem really slow to you and what seems super slow to you might seem kind of slow to me, right? Everybody has their own internal metronome, which means that everybody has their own tempo. So again, part of this whole slow revolution is giving people back the courage and the autonomy and freedom to reclaim their own temporal autonomy, their own tempo, you know, so they can choose whatever tempo works for them in the right context and try and work that out with other people’s tempos and stuff. So as a shorthand tempo giusto is a nice little catchall phrase that explains that idea of trying to find the natural right tempo for each moment.
Bryan Miller: 00:38:50 If I could just jump in and ad for a moment on that part of what I love about that is that you’re not saying, as I understand it, you’re not saying everyone categorically should slow down with everything they do all the time. But instead acknowledging that there is a uniqueness, there is an individuality and even moment to moment an individual might change the pace with which they engage in certain activity. But the point is to find that for ourselves.
Carl Honore: 00:39:21 Find that for yourself in the moment. Exactly. I mean you might do one thing very fast, you know, one day and then a week later actually that doesn’t work for you and you’re going to do it a little bit more slowly and yeah, and it’s very much, you know, I’m certainly not an extremist or a fundamentalist of slowness. I’m not advocating that everything be in slow motion. I mean that would just be absurd.
Bryan Miller: 00:39:42 We’re not asking listeners to put this on half speed.
Carl Honore: 00:39:45 Heaven forbid, or by the same token, I’ll put it on one and a half and two speed. You know, exactly. It’s about that kind of freedom to define what is the right tempo for you in that moment. And also understanding that other everybody’s different and what works for you might not work for someone else. And so you may have to accommodate other people’s tempos, right? If you’re in a work team or in a family and it’s not always, I mean, the world is imperfect and you cannot aspire to live every single moment at the perfect tempo guisto though for you. That’s just not going to happen, right? No man, no woman for that matter is an Island, right? You know, we’re all connected. That means we have to bump up against each other and deal with our different tempos and stuff. So you just want the starting point that you are aspiring to do whatever it is you’re doing at the right tempo and being present and giving that moment your full attention and you know. But understanding that you’re going to get buffeted and maybe knocked off course or have to compromise a little bit as well and not, and not feel like that’s some terrible failing. On the contrary, it’s, it’s slotting in and fitting in with other people. We are social animals after all.
Bryan Miller: 00:40:52 For sure. Okay and then with eigenzeit. How’s that different or the same?
Carl Honore: 00:40:58 In a sense it’s kind of, eigen is “own” and zeit is “time.” So it’s kind of “own time.” So in a sense, it’s sort of a German version of the idea of you know, taking your own time for things, doing things at your own pace. It’s a new coinage tempo guisto phrase goes way back in, in musical world. Eigenzeit, the Germans were always coining these words. They’re wonderful that way. These compound words that they put that they put together to mean new things. So eigenzeit is a fairly new coinage but it fits very much into this conversation about, you know, just trying to recognize and honor your own internal metronome, right. Your own tic-toc on the inside and doing it at your own pace, wherever possible.
Bryan Miller: 00:41:41 Well good, thank you for sharing that. That’s fantastic. I want to, with your permission, transition our conversation now to the enlightening lightning round.
Carl Honore: 00:41:54 Okay. We’re going to do this at the tempo giusto presumably. Perfect, lightning fast, that’s what this one’s all about.
Bryan Miller: 00:42:05 Please complete the following sentence with something other than a box of chocolates. Life is like a?
Carl Honore: 00:42:13 A rainbow.
Bryan Miller: 00:42:16 Number two. What’s something at which you wish you were better?
Carl Honore: 00:42:22 Skiing.
Bryan Miller: 00:42:25 Snow, water, both?
Carl Honore: 00:42:27 Downhill snow.
Bryan Miller: 00:42:29 Number three. If you were required every day for the rest of your life to wear a tee shirt with a slogan on it or a phrase or a saying, or a quote or a quip, what would the shirt say?
Carl Honore: 00:42:41 Don’t hurry, be happy.
Bryan Miller: 00:42:46 I love it. Number four. What book, other than one of your own, have you gifted or recommended most often?
Carl Honore: 00:42:53 The Secret History by Donna Tartt.
Bryan Miller: 00:42:56 Why that book?
Carl Honore: 00:42:59 Oh, it’s a tremendous novel. Brings together everything that I, it was beautifully written. It’s intellectually demanding. It’s about a murder in a campus and I mean, I’m a big reader of fiction. Love novels. That was one of the few novels that I found myself actually stopping work to go back and just allow myself one more chapter.
Bryan Miller: 00:43:20 Amazing. Number five. So you travel a ton. What’s one travel hack, meaning something you do or something you take with you when you travel to make your travel less painful or more enjoyable?
Carl Honore: 00:43:33 Swimming trunks.
Bryan Miller: 00:43:35 You always take swimming trunks.
Carl Honore: 00:43:36 I always take swimming trunks. I love swimming and I find swimming is, in between or in a new city, going to a pool even if the hotel doesn’t have a pool. You go to a local pool, get a sentence of what the local place is like where you go to the beach or something. I just love to be in water. And there’s something very soothing and healing about a body moving through water and it just feels like it kind of recalibrates me when I’m on the road, especially with jet lag and things.
Bryan Miller: 00:44:01 Number six. What’s one thing you’ve started or stopped doing in order to live or age well?
Carl Honore: 00:44:07 I’ve stopped eating for fun.
Bryan Miller: 00:44:11 That might be my favorite answer to that question in 60 interviews Carl, thank you.
Carl Honore: 00:44:18 I try to eat when I’m hungry rather than just because I want to.
Bryan Miller: 00:44:22 Number seven. I want to explore that.
Carl Honore: 00:44:29 Just to unpack that. I love food and I’m a big cook and I love to eat and I derive a lot of fun from eating, so I don’t want to make it sound like I just sit around eating big bowls of bran and kale. I’m a big foodie. But I guess what I changed in recent years is just, I think I used to just eat more than I needed to because I just really loved eating and now I’ll just stop, or I just stop now when I didn’t stop before.
Bryan Miller: 00:44:57 So I understand you were, you were born in Canada, is that right? And you now live in England?
Carl Honore: 00:45:05 I was born in Scotland, Edinburgh, but we emigrated to Canada when I was just a baby, so I grew up in Canada, feel Canadian, sound Canadian, play hockey still but I have lived in London now for over 20 years.
Bryan Miller: 00:45:18 Okay, awesome. Thanks for that background. And so I ask this next question, knowing that, but what’s one thing you wish every American knew?
Carl Honore: 00:45:29 That, that there’s a whole other world out there. Did that make sense? What I mean by that is, there’s a whole other world out there that’s not America, that’s not the United States. That’s very different from here.
Bryan Miller: 00:45:46 People speak something other than English somewhere.
Carl Honore: 00:45:48 All that kind of stuff and it’s just there, you know, there are different cultures. I mean a lot of Americans, I saw that statistic, it’s a while ago now, but how, how few Americans have passports and how rarely Americans travel out outside of the US or have foreign news. And I just feel it’s like the US is a very insular inward looking culture and I just wished the Americans would look out word more.
Bryan Miller: 00:46:11 Number eight. What’s the most important or useful advice you’ve ever received and successfully applied regarding relationships?
Carl Honore: 00:46:23 Listen. Exactly like so many one word answer. It sounds very easy, but yeah. I mean, listen as in, really listen. Which is, as you say, it’s hard to do, especially when you’re talking about relationships, but, um, it’s the lifeblood.
Bryan Miller: 00:46:47 It’s one of those maybe simple, not easy.
Carl Honore: 00:46:50 Yeah, of which there are legion.
Bryan Miller: 00:46:53 Number nine. Aside from compound interest, what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned about money or something you’re sure to always or never do with it?
Carl Honore: 00:47:05 I suppose what I would always do is I believe in very much in the old adage, count your pennies.
Bryan Miller: 00:47:13 What do you mean by that?
Carl Honore: 00:47:15 Just being, you know, never thinking, always being aware of even small purchases. I think just being aware that small purchases add up to medium purchases, add up to large purchases and just to be aware that. I’m not phrasing that quite right. I mean, I suppose the idea of just being careful in that sense and you know. You know, I think that kind of idea of the small purchases, you know, I’m just always aware of. I think that was some advice to got. You know, cause people will often focus on the, the big ticket items and so on and just end up spending, you know, $3 every day at Starbucks and not realizing that at that adds up to a few hundred a year, that kind of thing. Just small purchases that I think can swish across our screen without even noticing it. Just kind of whenever I’m spending any money, but it’s a small amount, I maybe take a little moment just to, acknowledge the fact that I’m spending money.
Bryan Miller: 00:48:17 That’s great, it kind of reminds me of that saying about if you take care of the pennies, the dollars take care of themselves kind of thing.
Carl Honore: 00:48:25 Well that’s in fact that’s, that may be the American version of, the British version I think is counting your pennies. Sort of a same idea. Take care of your pennies, what was it again? Take care of your pennies and the dollars will look after themselves.
Bryan Miller: 00:48:38 Something like that.
Carl Honore: 00:48:39 That’s, that’s kind of it.
Bryan Miller: 00:48:42 Great and so thank you for that. You have survived. Congratulations. You’ve successfully navigated the enlightening lightning round and I, and everyone listening, thank you. Well done.
Carl Honore: 00:48:53 Maybe a big surprise given that I came here to talk about slowness, right. I survived.
Bryan Miller: 00:48:58 So before we transition to our final few questions about creativity, writing, marketing, promotion. I want to make sure to ask this here to get it in here. If people want to learn more from you or they want to connect with you, what would you have them do?
Carl Honore: 00:49:17 That’s a nice easy question. I always direct people to my website, which is my name, Carlhonore.com and there you’ll find information about all my books, the writing I’ve done, there’s video clips, there’s audio to listen to. There’s lots of links to various sub strands of the slow movement. There’s an online course. It just, you know, that’s a pretty good starting point, a jumping off place to get started with some of the ideas that I have been grappling with all these years.
Bryan Miller: 00:49:48 Okay, great. And then I’ll also say this here to make sure I don’t leave it to the very end. In an effort to express my gratitude to you for making time and sharing of your knowledge and your experience and wisdom with me and everyone listening. I’ve gone online to kiva.org and I’ve made a micro loan to a woman entrepreneur in Nepal, in the amount of a $100 that she will use this money to help buy seeds and fertilizer for her vegetable growing business to support her family and improve quality of life for herself and people in her community. So thank you for giving me a reason to do that.
Carl Honore: 00:50:26 Thank you. And thank you for using Kiva. I’m a huge fan. I think it’s an extraordinary, magical phenomenon. Bravo Kiva.
Bryan Miller: 00:50:35 It’s pretty cool. They just crossed a billion dollars in micro loans.
Carl Honore: 00:50:40 Did they? I mean, they make you feel good about the future of humankind when you hear numbers like that.
Bryan Miller: 00:50:45 The internet is not just all porn and cat videos.
Carl Honore: 00:50:49 And when you hear a billion dollars, it’s not just what Goldman Sachs lost last week, right? Or paid out in bonuses. It’s actually something really, really meaningful and good. Hurray. That’s wonderful news.
Bryan Miller: 00:51:00 So the last few questions that I have for you, again, recognizing many people listening want to do what you have done, I believe, which is first of all, make a meaningful contribution to others. You use strengths, gifts and talents in writing and speaking and sharing ideas. So I want to start with this question. What have you learned about writing that has served you very well over the years?
Carl Honore: 00:51:36 Oh gosh, lots of things. But the first thing I would say, and this is a particularly relevant life lesson, a writing lesson these days, is check your facts. I come from a journalistic background. So I was a journalist and foreign correspondent for 11 years before I started writing. And I’ve always been almost boringly rigorous about, checking and making sure all the facts there. And I do that with all my books. Everything is double checked, fact checked, you know, footnoted, all the stuff is there. You can go find the studies and everything, you know, I got four books out. No one, I don’t think at any point, has ever come to me and said you’ve got this fact wrong. People may disagree with the conclusions or quibble with my interpretation of stuff, but the facts are right. And I think that’s such an important, especially you’re gonna write about nonfiction and the world around you to get your facts right, because you know, especially now in this time when people will come at you and bludgeoned you with talk of fake news and all this stuff. If you’ve got the facts and you’ve got somewhere solid to stand to begin with. So that would be my first suggestion. The other is, you know, I, I said earlier and I’ll say it again. I love language and I think a big part of writing is reading, you know, read, read widely, read lots of different kinds of writers in your area, outside your area, fiction, nonfiction, just bathe yourself in the English language and you’ll find that it enriches your own use of language in your own writing. So those would be two things that I would definitely suggest for someone thinking about starting out or somebody who’s maybe a little bit down the line but hasn’t thought that hard about how writing will work out for them.
Bryan Miller: 00:53:15 No, that about reading is one that I think is easy to overlook for people who aspire to write. I remember when I read Stephen King’s memoir on writing when he talked about when he got serious about writing that he made sure that every day he read and, or, it was an and or. He read and, or wrote I think for six hours every day, like seven days a week. That was interesting that for him it was almost like a parallel, like it was reading or writing, you know.
Carl Honore: 00:53:47 That’s interesting. Stephen King of course, is a, is a remarkable phenomenon. The other thing about reading about other writers ways of working and timetables and schedules is you mustn’t, everybody’s so different, right? Set six hours a day, seven days a week is going to work for Stephen King. Clearly has worked magnificently. It’s not, it would never work for me. I never write on or work on weekends and I don’t work in the evenings. When I’m writing a book, I’ll tell you how my day looks. I tend to go to a place where I’m writing and I will be there kind of almost an eight hour day and I aim to get 500 words, good words a day. If I don’t, I don’t. If I do, that’s great. But during that time, I don’t just sit there chained to the coalface, right? For the eight hours, I’ll get up, I go for long walks, let my mind wander just to slip into that kind of, psychologists call it slow thinking, right? That kind of deeper, richer, more nuanced motive thought that kicks in. When you stop pushing yourself, you stop rushing, you stop focusing hard on one task and how you just kind of just drift away. So I had a lot of gear changes during the workday, but I will also sometimes read as well if I feel a little bit blocked or I just feel like the words aren’t coming out of me, I’ll just go read somebody else’s words for a bit or you know, or go for a walk. So I think everybody has to find their own mélange of you know, writing, reading and then also other stuff as well. Getting away from the desk, the keyboard, to go do some knitting or whatever it is, you know, cook, have a chat, go for a walk, yoga, whatever it is, you know, just to mix it up. Not to feel like you’ve just got to stay there cranking it out. Cause I feel generally most writers don’t do that. They will have some kind of gear shift going on throughout the day. Most, I mean there might be somebody who cranks, but that seems to be pretty unusual. It doesn’t seem to fit with the science of what we know, how people, how people’s brains work, how creativity works. You need ups and downs, you need to flow. And then you lose your concentration, your going to come back again. You need to be going up and down all the time. I think it just to not to feel bad about that. Not to think, okay, I’ve run dry. How do I get through this dry patch? Put my head down and try really hard to write more. No. When you run dry, get up and go for a run. Go for a real run, go for a walk, do whatever, do something, and then you’ll come back and you find that the, the undermind, you know the mind, the back of the mind has been playing over those ideas and often I’ll be stuck on something, go for a walk. 40 minutes, 10 minutes, doesn’t matter what it depends on the day, come back, I’ve got the solution right. It’ll pop into my head while I’m walking or as soon as I sit down again. So it’s so important to have those gear shifts. So, so important.
Bryan Miller: 00:56:28 I recognize that and in my work for sure. When you are writing, when you’re in the act of writing, how strong is your connection? Whether it’s mentally, emotionally, maybe even spiritually, how strong is your sense of connection to the reader and to the difference you want that piece of writing to make in the world?
Carl Honore: 00:56:52 That’s a really good question. I know that when I’m writing, and this is going to sound horribly solipsistic and self centered, but I’m writing for myself. I’m writing as I said earlier on that my books always start with a small personal existential crisis. The whole journey afterwards, the investigation, the research, the writing, the editing. That is me trying to overcome that crisis, trying to resolve it so I’m in a way, I’m in a conversation with myself. I feel like I’m, and I also often feel with writing that for me, writing is how I make sense of the world. I don’t really know what I think until I’ve written it in a weird kind of way. I mean I obviously I’ve done the research and made some what I think are conclusions. It’s not until I actually write it out, get it down on the page or the screen in front of me that I know what I really think. And that’s a very personal dialogue. I’m not having that dialogue with an imaginary reader or an imaginary gallery of readers. It’s with myself, I think, to be honest, I think that’s the way I’m, I’m writing. Yeah, no, I think I am actually. And I mean I’ve been lucky. I suppose that I suppose I’m a person like anyone else. And so I suppose in a way that maybe I’ve just been lucky that my sensibility or the conclusions I’ve reached or the way I’ve reached them resonates with a lot of people. So that works. And maybe someone else will write for themselves and it’s not gonna have the same impact. I don’t know. That’s a, that’s a, that’s maybe another question, but definitely that’s, so that first part of your question, I think I’m writing for me. The second part of the question was, am I thinking about the impact in the world, I suppose not really. No I’m not. That’s not as I’m writing. I am really trying to make sense of all the, cause that’s another thing when I write a book in my nonfiction, I’m nonfiction, right. Is that I don’t, unlike other writers, I don’t do some research and then write things up and do some more. And I do all the research pretty much first. And I arrive at a blank page with a mountain of material and out of that mountain I have to hue a stone of hope, if you’d like to echo Martin Luther King, was a stone of something relevant and coherent. And so I’m not really thinking, no, I’m not thinking about the impact on the world. I don’t think I am. No, I’m trying to make sense of all that material, what I feel about it. And I guess maybe towards the end of the writing as I’m editing and then I’m also at that point it becomes a collective process. Cause I don’t tend to show my writing to anyone until the book is more or less done. And then it goes out to people who read it and stuff, and then I make my edits. So at that point there’s a conversation that goes beyond just me and myself. So I’m talking, I’m getting feedback. And then I guess I start to think a bit more about how that turn of phrase might land. How people might see, you know, I guess how it would affect the world. But I suppose I guess I’m always starting out trying to get to grips with something very personal, but at the same time I know that I, if it were only personal I’d write a diary, right? I’d keep a journal. I know that I’m trying to make, I know that I’m trying to help myself, but also help other people because I do have a save the world complex. I’ve always had it. I was earlier before I became a journalist, I worked with street children in Brazil and I almost went down that road and made my life. I came very close to doing that, but I ended up jumping into journalism thinking that I would save the world by writing about it and stuff. And now I’m writing books and giving talks and I still feel like I’m trying to save the world, but also myself. So I’m trying to save myself in the world at the same time but I think you can’t save the world unless you save yourself first, I suppose maybe as well. Think about it. And so that’s perhaps how my writing plays out and I’m sort of speaking to you as I’m thinking as I’m going along, but I think that’s probably how it is.
Bryan Miller: 01:00:48 No, thank you for sharing that. And you know, a couple of things come up for me in what you’re saying. I have a friend who’s fond of saying the intimate is the most universal, you know. So I hear when you describe, you know, that you’re something that’s a challenge or it’s interesting to you and you’re doing it in a really deep and authentic way, naturally that’s going to be.
Carl Honore: 01:01:12 Or you said that phrase, I liked that phrase. It’s also a bit like the idea of the personal is political, right? So you start off putting your own house in order, but in order to do that, that that affects the street you live on. Right. And the city you’re in and that’s the world you’d have been. So I think, yeah, that’s true.
Bryan Miller: 01:01:29 And then, and then it makes me, and then your response also makes me think about the writing advice I once heard attributed to Kurt Vonnegut where he said, “write for just one person.” And I always wondered like, and I’m sure he, I think he probably left that deliberately ambiguous, but you know, for yourself.
Carl Honore: 01:01:44 Whether it was him or another reader. I think that’s true because I think if you try and write for lots of people or write and always thinking on the, on your shoulder, you have this voice saying, well, what is this going to mean for the world and stuff? I think you’re, you’re probably gonna end up less with a book and more with marketing. Right? It feels like almost like you’re putting together a package for a focus group in that case, if you’re always thinking, well, how will this paragraph resonate with this type of reader? Or what will you know, women of the age of 40 to 50 make of this anecdote. Or what will men in their early thirties make of this simile. I think you’re going to just, I don’t know. I don’t know enough about how other people write. I sort of suspect from what I’ve, you know, other writers I speak to and people who’s books I’ve read who write about their own writing, I do feel that kind of idea of writing for one person or writing for yourself or writing quite a small. In a sense, keeping the lens, feeling that lens is small even though you’re dealing with and tackling big questions that are epic and global, you can do that on a very small canvas in a sense the way you’re writing.
Bryan Miller: 01:02:52 For sure. Well Carl, I know we’re at the time we’d agreed and, and I have three or four more questions I’d love to ask, but I also want to respect your time.
Carl Honore: 01:03:00 I’m happy to keep going.
Bryan Miller: 01:03:02 Thank you. Okay, so the next question is, so what misconception must aspiring writers be disabused of, if they are to be successful?
Carl Honore: 01:03:17 I’ll probably, the obvious one is that writing is easy. I think writing is hard. I mean, good writing is hard. It’s a bit of a illusion act because when you read good writing, it feels effortless. But what you’re seeing is the very final product at the end of a very long, painful, dark assembly line. You know, where the writer is probably stood on a rooftop wondering about jumping. Writing is hard, right? Good writing, you know. People could dash off a blog post in half an hour, we can all do that. That’s not the, I mean, I’m assuming you’re talking about kind of books that are going to stand the test of time. You know, nobody, I mean, what Tolstoy did not dash off War and Peace in three months. I mean it takes time and it takes and it’s painful, right? Cause you’re going to, you know, sometimes just the actual act of getting to the end of a sentence can be painful. You know, to finding the right words, but also assembling ideas, marshaling arguments, moving things around. I mean, I feel when I’m writing the book and I only, and this probably one reason why I only really write books every four or five years, I’m not on that treadmill of banging out a book every year. I just thought that would just be death to me. It’s because I, it takes so much out of me and I think that’s out of most writers who are producing, you know, what I consider to be good books. It takes a lot out of you. I mean, I feel like in the more or less 20 months from start to finish, that usually I put into a book, that for that 20 months, it’s like the whole book is in my head. It’s right there in the cerebral cortex just occupying this massive amount of space and bandwidth. And all the time I’m kind of wandering around and I’ll suddenly think, maybe I need to move that paragraph here or change this idea or talk to this person and it’s just, you’re carrying it around like this massive bag of boulders on your back. And it’s, you know, there are, and I don’t want to make it sound like an awful thing. It’s a great privilege to be able to write, especially write for a living and a joy. And, and there are, I mean it’s really hard to match the soaring musical breakthrough pleasure of nailing a line. Just getting a paragraph that just is perfect. There’s just sings on the page, right? That is, it’s just a perfect, almost orgasmic moment. So there are great highs involved in writing, but I just, you asked about what to disabuse young writers over new writers, it would be the idea that it’s somehow easy cause I think a lot of people, until you do it, you don’t realize how hard it is. And I think maybe some people who do do it and do it well, maybe don’t talk enough about how hard it is. And in fact, you know, you, we’ve also warped the whole idea of writing books. Now there’s a, you know, you get people like, you know, supermodels will write a book and they haven’t actually written it, right? And it’s just, in fact, they’ve coined a new verb. They call it to author a book. Which effectively means to get interviewed by somebody and then someone else goes and ghost writes it and then you put your name on it and promote it. And I think that that’s part of this fast forward shortcut culture we live in. Now, one of the things I remember and have noticed over the years is that when I first, Praise of Slowness first came out and I would do public events and talks, people would always come up and say, Oh man I’ve got a book I want to write. I’d love to write a book. How do I write a book? And they have all these questions about how you might and how you get an agent and do you approach. All of these questions about how to write a book. And then I began to notice a few years later, you know, so maybe eight or nine years ago, a few years in more recent and more near to now, I began noticing, people stopped asking me about writing a book and they started saying, how do you give a TED talk? I really want to give a TED talk. And it just sort of feels like they’ve cut out the whole two year pain thing of writing a book. They just want to go straight to the TED talk. And I think that’s very, very revealing of the age we live in now. We want comfort, we want everything to be fast and frictionless. But you want friction, right? It’s in the friction that the real, that’s the light and the smoke, the sparks and the heat that is produced by friction. And that’s where the real magic and the music happens. We want the friction. We don’t want just to go, laissez through. All that stuff. So long answer, but yeah, just to disabuse aspiring. It just, not to put you off, but just be ready for it and embrace it. I mean in a weird kind of way I kind of look forward to that tough slog. It’s kind of like train for a decathlon, marathon.
Bryan Miller: 01:07:42 I love that. And what you said about the, you know, shifting from writing a book to a TED talk. Somebody that I talked to who was in publishing said, you know, like a hundred years ago the aspiration for Americans was to write the great American novel where today people aspire to write a screenplay. I was like, that’s interesting. You know, so kind of a corollary from going from a, like a personal growth or self help book, something to like a TED talk. Maybe that’s the modern now it’s not even a screenplay. It’s a TED talk too.
Carl Honore: 01:08:12 Exactly and the thing of course about TED talks is even TED talks have gotten shorter. You know, they, in their earlier incarnation, mine was 18 minutes. Now they’re often 10, 11, 12 minutes. So even TED talks have accelerated and got shorter.
Bryan Miller: 01:08:29 So last last question about writing and then one about pitching and one about marketing. So this question is what in your opinion, what are the qualities of a great sentence and how can we write more of them?
Carl Honore: 01:08:46 That is possibly an impossible question to answer. I mean t’s a bit like art or pornography. It’s hard to define, but you know it when you see it. And I think good writing just, it sounds right. It feels, it looks right on the page. Weirdly, it feels right when you say it in your head, it also sounds right when you read it aloud. That can be a good measure for good writing, for good pros is, you know, bad pros often doesn’t. When you read it aloud falls apart, you realize that it’s just something’s missing and you don’t know exactly what, but the, the moving parts are not put together just right. But really good writing will often be very easy to read aloud very often. That’s one way to think about it, but yeah, no, I think essentially it’s already hard on that and not least because everybody writes differently. And in a perfect sentence, you know, beautiful sentence from say, I don’t know Jonathan Franzen will be quite different from a beautiful sentence from, I dunno Elizabeth Gilbert. Or somebody who’s more so self-helpy. There’s just different kinds of sentences, different kinds of writers, different platforms, different ways of being, but I think they, they all come down to that sort of just intense, tangible thing of you kind of know it when you see it, you know, when you hear you know it when you speak it out loud. And I would recommend that, to writers as well as to read your stuff out loud. You know, if you’re, if you’ve written a paragraph, you’re not quite sure how it sounds. What we tend to do is just sit there quietly reading it in our head, but read it out loud. You know, there’s something almost sensuous and tactile and physical about writing. You know, it’s, it’s about communication and that’s a corporeal thing. It’s something to do with the body as well. And so get it off the page, get it off the screen, get it out through your mouth. And that can sometimes help just, you know, move a clause around or drop a word or add another word or something or add a comma, that kind of thing. So play around with the way you edit and the way you experience your own sentences. And I think you’ll start to forge your own definition of what’s a really, really good sentence, a perfect luminous sentence for you.
Bryan Miller: 01:10:54 I love that. Thank you. What have you learned about successfully pitching a book?
Carl Honore: 01:10:59 That it’s hard and that a lot that a lot of people are pitching books nowadays. There’s a lot of noise out there and that I guess that you need something that’s gonna stand out. And I mean, that sounds easy to say, but it’s true. I mean when hundreds of thousands of books are being published every year, you know, agents, publishers are looking for something that, you know, it doesn’t have to be complete and there’s nothing completely original out in the world. Something that rotates the world and just sees things from a fresh angle. Maybe some fresh language, something to bring something new to the party. So something, something new but not new for the sake of it I think. Something new that feels relevant and in the moment is important, I think you’ve got to explain. You definitely have to do in book pitches now. You’ve got to explain how you fit into the market and how you’re going to be different and why the book, why the world needs you, your book. It can be an awkward. I mean, to be honest, I hate writing proposals. It’s one of the most difficult, it’s the same thing as after the book is published. You’ve often got to write, you know, the dust jacket copy or something that summarizes the whole book in a paragraph or two. And that you think should be child’s play after writing the book. But actually it’s all for the most painful and agonizing thing to do. And I think it’s a similar thing with the pitch. Somehow I find putting the pitch together very, very difficult. But you know, with the help of the agent who’s going to be selling it, who knows the market, who knows the editor, he or she wants to put the proposal in front of. I think you kind of took between the two of you you can kind of work out exactly how to package it in a way that sounds fresh and new and exciting and interesting.
Bryan Miller: 01:12:42 That totally reminds me of what Jobs said about simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean.
Carl Honore: 01:12:52 Exactly, I mean in a way, because it’s so true. And in a way you’ve got to remember that editors live in the world that we live in now, which is a world of executive summaries and tweets. And you know, if you can’t summarize your book, you know, in a few pithy punchy lines, then you’re going to struggle to cut through the noise. And I know that can maybe sounds a little at odds with, you know, the whole philosophy and stuff. But you know, in a way it is because there are times to be fast and times to be slow. There are times to be, you know, long winded and discursive really going deep into something. And there are times when you just have to get to the core of the idea and say, you know, this is the place I want to stand, this is what I want to say, this is how I want to say it. And if you get to there, you hone and polish and refine the idea enough so it’s clear in your head, you will be able to have a short summary at the top of your pitch that says this is what this book is about and it will be gripping. It will be, you know, inspiring. And it’s going to grab somebody cause it’s clear. And because as Jobs said it’s simple. You’ve taken something complex and you’ve made it simple and irresistible.
Bryan Miller: 01:13:59 Well then that leads exactly to my next question and final question, which is, what have you learned about successfully promoting and selling books?
Carl Honore: 01:14:09 That it never ends. I think the days, I mean maybe those days didn’t exist. I think we have this nostalgic idea that back in the old days that writers wrote books and then didn’t do anything. No, they went out there and you know. I forget his name now, Dylan Thomas. He famously went all around giving his era’s version of a TED talk. I think you’d need, you need to keep talking, right. You need it because there are so many books out there now and it’s very likely that if you choose a subject around the same time in the same year, over the same three year period, other books on that subject will come out and there’ll be a lot of noise. And to cut through that, you need to keep talking about the book. So that might be giving talks that, well maybe you know, be lucky if you get to TED, but maybe a TEDx. So you get a TEDx talk, or you podcasts as I’m doing now you do social media. I love social media. Social media is hugely entertaining and helpful way to keep abreast of what’s happening in this whole, you know, the area that I write about. It keeps me in touch with new ideas and so, but also keeps me in touch with people who want to collaborate on projects, who want help with their writing. And it just keeps the blood fresh. It keeps the ideas turning over and changing and evolving. So I guess the number one lesson is that when you talk about promotion is that it really never ends. I mean, your publisher will say, okay, you’re going to do a book tour of, I dunno, a week or three days or two weeks. And then that’s all you’ll hear from your publisher probably, but that it doesn’t end there. And you should keep going, writing blogs, writing for newspapers or whatever and just, you know, keep. So in other words, let’s go backward from there. Pick a subject that you, that really fires you up. Cause it’s going to be, it’s not done when the book is over.
Bryan Miller: 01:16:08 And I think that’s one thing a lot of writers kind of overlook. They think that finishing the book is the thing. And that’s true. It is a sort of finish line. But if nobody knows about it, if nobody ever picks it up, then how satisfying is that? Probably not very satisfying.
Carl Honore: 01:16:25 Exactly because even though we may be writing for an audience of one, we want to reach, once the book is done, an audience of, you know, many more than one, and in a world of millions of books, you know, you need to get out there. I mean, there’ll be differences, you know, it’s how to do that with, if you’re writing fiction, that’s gonna be different from nonfiction. But again, I think even fiction writers are, are more, I mean, I’ve got friends who write novels and it’s, you know, it’s much more now than it was, you know, say 30 years ago. They’re out there in social media. They’re doing a lot more book festivals. They’re doing book clubs, they’re doing things online, you know, just to keep the thing going. You know, some people are gonna find that harder than others. I think it’s useful for everyone. You could not do it and just let the book go out there and try and swim on its own. You’re less likely for the book to reach a wider audience, but you know, it doesn’t, that shouldn’t disqualify you from writing a book. You may be somebody who simply doesn’t want to do any promotion, and I wouldn’t want to discourage somebody writing a book that’s important to them or that might be important to the world or the people who read it just because they don’t want to do podcasts or blog or whatever or do a TED talk. So I don’t want to close the door and say in people’s faces and say, you know, unless you’re willing to get on that publicity wheel and be on it forever, that you should not write. No, I wouldn’t say that, but just be aware of that being on that, I’m going to call it a hamster wheel because in a sense it’s sort of is, is part of the game now very much part of the journey. You don’t have to use that word.
Bryan Miller: 01:17:59 Well, Carl, I know we’ve gone longer than I thought we would, but thank you so much for hanging in there and exploring these ideas in this way with me. I’ve really enjoyed our conversation. I suspect many, many, hopefully all but most of our listeners probably have as well. So thank you so much for, for sharing what you know and your gifts and your passion.
Carl Honore: 01:18:25 Thank you. Thank you very much. And you use the phrase hanging in there. It wasn’t like that at all for me. I enjoyed it from start to finish thoroughly and you’ve been a great host and I’ve enjoyed. It’s been, you know, questions that have made me think often you find people just rattle off questions and you just go, everybody’s going through the motions and could be doing with their eyes shut. But you know, you’ve obviously thought a lot about this and that makes me think and I like that that keeps, you know, keeps me on my toes. So thank you very much.
Bryan Miller: 01:18:50 Despite living in an age where we have more comforts and conveniences than ever before, life isn’t working for many people. Whether it’s in the developed world where we’re dealing with depression, anxiety, addiction, divorce jobs, we hate relationships that don’t work. Or people in the developing world who don’t have access to clean water or sanitation or healthcare or education or who live in conflict zones. There’s a lot of people on the planet that life isn’t working very well for. If you’re one of those people, I invite you to connect with me at goodliving.com. I’ve created life’s best practices, breakthrough coaching to help you navigate the transitions that we all go through. Whether you’ve just graduated school, you’re going through a divorce, you just got married, you’re headed into retirement, you’re starting a business, you just lost your job, whatever it is you’re facing. I’ve developed a 36 week course that you go through with me and a community of achievers and seekers who are committed to improving their own lives and the lives of others. So through this online program, you will have the opportunity to go deep into every area of your life, explore life’s big questions, create answers for yourself in community, get clarity and accountability. If that’s something you’re interested to learn about, I invite you to contact me directly at Bryan, at bryanmiller.com or by visiting goodliving.com.
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