A Time to Focus

By Mario Fraioli

I’m not one for reading fiction but I have an appreciation for accomplished writers regardless of the genre they specialize in. John Grisham, who has popped onto my radar a couple times in recent weeks, falls into that category. The best-selling author has penned over 30 novels in the past 30 years. You don’t become that prolific by accident. The guy can focus.

“When I’m writing, it’s five days week. I start around 7 each morning in my office. The routine rarely varies, it’s pretty structured,” explains Grisham, who finished his first book at the age of 32. “It’s the same spot, the same computer. The office is a separate building with no phones, faxes or internet because I don’t want the distraction. I don’t work online. I keep it offline. It’s the same cup of coffee, the same type of coffee, the same everything.”

These two traits—being able to eliminate distractions so he can work with intent (and take the time to recover after big writing efforts), and establishing a routine that works for him—are consistent with two of the main themes found in Peak Performance, the book I reviewed in Issue 82. “That 4-5 hour period is crucial,” Grisham said in a 2014 interview with Amazon Books. “I never write after noon. I’m done. You write hard for 3-4 hours, your brain is pretty well done.”

+ Grisham was a recent guest on the always excellent Longform podcast, and I found his story of transitioning from overworked lawyer to best-selling author—he would carve out an hour or two every morning to write before going into work at the law office—to be super interesting and equally inspiring. Give it a listen. “I don’t want to write stuff that’s not going to find an audience,” Grisham says. “If I’m going to start losing two hours of sleep every morning, I’m going to write something that people enjoy reading.”

A version of this post first appeared in the morning shakeout, my weekly email newsletter covering running, writing, media and other topics that interest me. If you’d like for it to land in your inbox first thing on Tuesday mornings, subscribe here.