Q: You’ve experienced more adventures than most people do in a lifetime. If you could give everyone in the world the opportunity to go on one of those adventures, what journey or experience would you pick and why?
A: Go dive with a whale. It’s the most paradigm-shifting experience you’ll ever have. Having your body clicked and vibrated by the world’s largest predator, communing these beasts eye-to-eye, and knowing that they can kill you in an instant but choose not to, and, instead come to you in peace, speaking their names or whatever, after all we’ve done to them, that’s something that sticks with you and will continue to give real context to our lame-distraction-filled day-to-day lives. In short, it reminds you that you are small and the universe is big. And that whales are the rightful kings of the universe.
Q: I believe you’re working on your fourth book, how has the experience changed over time? Does it ever get easier?
A: I’m working on my second book. DEEP was my first book. My new book will be out in late 2018 (Riverhead/Penguin). The other stuff I’ve done have been one-off humor/science books or film treatments. People mistake film treatments for books…and they definitely ain’t.
To answer your question, writing gets neither easier nor harder. It’s your attitude that changes. The first book is maddening because you don’t know what you’re doing and are filled with a lot of self-doubt, never really sure you’re going in the right direction. That’s why you need an editor, or editors, you can trust. They’ll flag you off dead ends and help steer the path.
The second book, I’ve found, is easier to piece together but you’re more critical of your beats, trying not to repeat yourself. It’s difficult, but in a different way, and much more pleasurable, I’ve found. But not easier.
Q: What are the most common myths about writing that you’ve run into?
A: Writer’s block. Anyone whose sole job is writing, and relies on writing to provide food/shelter, mysteriously, doesn’t suffer from writer’s block. People love excuses, and they love to procrastinate and complain. All problems in writing can be solved through focused work. Turn off your email, your phone, the world, and just sit there writing, thinking, until you figure it out.
That’s the thing few aspiring writers ever really want to hear: writing isn’t some gift, there’s no voodoo or magic to it. You won’t get any better at it going to countless workshops or moving to LA or whatever. Your style, your voice, there’s a bit of a gift in that, I suppose, finding and culturing it. But 89% of success in writing is manual and mental labor. There’s that 1% inspiration, and the other 10% is who you know.
James Nestor is an author and journalist who has written for Outside Magazine, Men’s Journal, National Public Radio, The New York Times, Scientific American, Dwell Magazine, The San Francisco Chronicle, and more. His book, DEEP: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What The Ocean Tells Us about Ourselves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) was released in the United States and UK in June 2014. Of all the books I’ve read in 2017, Deep has had the most profound impact on me. Ostensibly about freediving, its got me questioning everything I thought I knew about the human body, modern science and the animals we’re hastening to extinction. For all our technology, for the nearly 1 billion edits mankind has made on Wikipedia, our collected knowledge of the universe is small, our capacity for destruction enormous. Add it to your must-read list!