Daily Routines

Michael Lewis: Daily Routine

On Daily Routines, we profile successful leaders, entrepreneurs, artists, executives and athletes to explore their routines, schedules, habits and day in the life.

Michael Lewis was just 28-years old when he quit his job as a bond salesman at investment bank Salomon Brothers to become a writer. It was a shot in the dark for someone who had no clue on what the writing path looked like. 

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“I had no idea of how to go about being a writer. I didn’t know any writers. I didn’t know anybody who knew any writers. There was no one in my family who could kind of provide guidance,” he told Tim Ferriss.

Lewis spent four years writing on the side as a freelancer, making a paltry sum of $3,000, then he decided to make the full-time move. It was also just after he received his $225,000 bonus from Salomon Brothers that he decided to trade in the lucrative investment life for a $40,000 book advance.

“There is an incredible serendipity in my career,” Lewis said at the 2017 National Book Festival. “The fact that I wanted to be a writer and I got this job in the very best place on Earth to write about Wall Street in the 1980s. I was given the leisure by my parents to fart around for two or three years after college. If they hadn’t done that, I doubt I would have become a writer.”

It would have seemed crazy at the time, but looking back at it now, it’s pretty safe to say Lewis made the right career choice. Since embarking on his writing career in 1989, he has published several bestselling books which have been turned into Oscar winning films, including MoneyballThe Big Short and The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game. He’s also been the contributing editor at Vanity Fair since 2009.

There’s no simple explanation for why I write. It changes over time. There’s no hole inside me to fill or anything like that, but once I started doing it, I couldn’t imagine wanting to do anything else for a living. I noticed very quickly that writing was the only way for me to lose track of the time.


Michael Lewis’ writing routine

In his conversation with Tim Ferriss, Lewis says that his natural writing routine “would be to kind of start about four in the afternoon and write until three in the morning, and sleep until noon.” Having kids changed those hours, although he still manages to sneak in some late night writing here and there.

In order to replicate his ideal writing conditions (midnight to 4am) during more normal hours, Lewis closes the blinds in his office and shuts everything out. “I used to get the total immersion feeling by writing at midnight,” he said in an interview for the book, Why We Write: Twenty Acclaimed Authors on What Gets Them Started and Keeps Them Going.

“The day is not structured to write, and so I unplug the phones. I pull down the blinds. I put my headset on and play the same soundtrack of twenty songs over and over and I don’t hear them. It shuts everything else out.”

Lewis changes the soundtrack of twenty songs for each project. “It changes book to book and it’s got to the point where both my wife and my kids will recommend songs for the soundtrack for whatever the next project is,” he told Ferriss. “And I’ll build a soundtrack out of — intentionally, and the music is, you know, it’s all over the map, it tends to be very up, but it tends to be music that I just stop hearing.”

In a conversation with Forbes about his 2016 release, The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds, Lewis described the long lead-time it usually takes for him to research and write a book. “In this case, I gathered string over eight years but really the intense part was maybe two years. Then it took me nine months to write,” he said.

“I drag all of my material back to my office. I write mainly in the mornings but as the deadline approaches I write all the time. I edit in the afternoons and the evenings. I edit it in my head a lot. I write it in the morning and then I go get on the bike or go for a swim or whatever. All kinds of things pop into my head. I’m scribbling notes all the time.”

For his writing space, Lewis prefers working in his office — an old redwood cabin close to his house in Berkeley — although he’s not fussy about it. “I’ve written in awful enough situations that I know that the quality of the prose doesn’t depend on the circumstance in which it is composed,” he said in an interview with Robert Boynton for The New New Journalism. “I don’t believe the muse visits you. I believe that you visit the muse.”

I used to get the total immersion feeling by writing at midnight. The day is not structured to write, and so I unplug the phones. I pull down the blinds. I put my headset on and play the same soundtrack of twenty songs over and over and I don’t hear them. It shuts everything else out. So I don’t hear myself as I’m writing and laughing and talking to myself. I’m not even aware I’m making noise. I’m having a physical reaction to a very engaging experience. It is not a detached process.

The Nature of Storytelling (or Why Does a Writer Write) | Faena

Whenever he’s stuck with a writing idea, Lewis turns to exercise to help him. “It’s the closest thing there is to a magic pill, it not only makes me feel just better all the time, but it makes me think better,” he told Ferriss. “If I have a problem with anything I’m writing, if I just go for a bike ride or go walk up a mountain, the problem is resolved by the end of it. It just resolves itself. So it’s central to my existence.”

Before you go…

Check out more daily routines from Barack Obama, Joe Rogan, Jeff Bezos, Michelle Obama, Sheryl Sandberg, Richard Branson, Warren Buffet and plenty others.

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Balance The Grind gives me a platform to talk to these people about how they're achieving their ideal lifestyle. I'm inspired by the passion, the work ethic, the hustle; and these conversations motivate me to live life the way I want to live it.