The Deep Life of John Grisham
As longtime readers know, I enjoy tracking down the deep work habits of well known and highly accomplished individuals. This is why I was happy to recently stumble across a pair of interviews (here and here) in which the novelist John Grisham describes his professional routines.
Here’s what I learned…
- Grisham primarily writes his novels during the winter months on his farm in Oxford, Mississippi. During this period he works five days a week, starting at 7 am and typically ending by 10 am.
- Grisham writes in a period outbuilding on his property that used to house an antebellum summer kitchen. He and his wife refurbished the kitchen to maintain its period details (with the main exception being that they added electricity and air conditioning). Crucially, as Grisham explains: “[the building has] no phone, faxes, or internet. I don’t want the distraction. I don’t work online. I keep it offline.”
- Grisham maintains strict rituals for his writing. He starts work on a novel on the same day each year, and starts writing each day at the same time. He works on the same computer. He drinks the same type of coffee out of the same cup. “My office routine rarely varies,” he explains. “It’s pretty structured.”
- Grisham starts a new novel on January 1st and is usually done with the bulk of the writing by the end of March. He aims to be completely done with the manuscript by July. This leaves a nice half year period to recharge and work on new ideas.
What I like about Grisham’s deep work habits — beyond the obvious romanticism of writing in a refurbished period farmhouse outbuilding — is that the novels that support his astoundingly successful and lucrative writing career require only 15 hours a week, 6 months out of the year.
This example underscores what I think is one of the most compelling attributes of deep work: it can produce a massive amount of value in a relatively small amount of time.
Unrelated Note: My friend Eric Barker, who is arguably one of the best (and certainly one of the most productive) science-based advice writers in the business, just released his first book: Barking Up The Wrong Tree (which includes a guest appearance by myself — so you know it must be good). I highly recommend checking it out.
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