How to Write Your Best Book: Part Three (Clarity)

We often start out with a specific intent when we begin a new project. We’re out to prove an argument and make a point. But what happens when, in the course of writing, we discover new truths that derail our message?

How to Write Your Best Book: Part Three (Clarity)

When author and memoir consultant Marion Roach Smith worked at The New York Times, she was told, “Never go out with intent. Even when you know someone has committed a crime.”

The idea was that setting out to capture a story with a verdict already in mind would skew your writing. A good journalist is open to not proving what she thinks to be true. And authors are no exception.

In Part Three of our How to Write Your Best Book series on The Portfolio Life, Marion and I talk about what to do with the results of your research, how to change the position of your book with a publisher, and when you know your book is done.

Listen to the podcast

To listen to the show, click the player below (If you’re reading this via email, please click here).

Show highlights

In this episode, Marion and I discuss:

  • What I did wrong during the research phase of Real Artists Don’t Starve
  • How to get really clear on your argument
  • Why you should not pitch a book to your spouse
  • A key output that starving artists cannot create
  • Experiencing a pivot in writing based on research results
  • Two questions every agent and publisher asks
  • Why similar books seem to release at the same time
  • Throwing out your darlings
  • How to communicate counterpoints to your argument without refuting yourself
  • One thing no one ever says to a hedge fund manager
  • The origin of the Real Artists Don’t Starve book title
  • Accidentally writing two books
  • Leaning into controversy
  • Why the first draft is “vomit”
  • How to stop writing your book
  • When to start talking about your book in public
  • The danger of thinking about writing a bestseller


  • You can write any book, but you cannot write every book. You have to pick one.
  • See what you believe after you do the research.
  • “It’s good to acknowledge counter argument so you don’t sound like you live in a cloud.” –Marion Roach Smith
  • “Never refute yourself.” –Marion Roach Smith
  • If you want to be a real artist, you have to find a way to make a living.
  • “You may end up with a better argument after you go out and look.” –Marion Roach Smith
  • “You better enjoy the work because anything can happen after that.” –Marion Roach Smith
  • “It’s a gift to be asked to contribute to the pool of reading in the world so try to love it.” –Marion Roach Smith

Write what you believe. You don’t have to be right. You have to make me think.

Marion Roach Smith

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When did you last begin writing a piece and change your mind part way through? What happened? Share in the comments.