Meeting Joel Orr, author of How to Write a Book

This week I’d like to welcome Joel Orr to the Thursday Throng author interview hotseat. Joel is the author of How To Write a Book: The Simple System for Writing a Nonfiction Book in 30 Days or Less, a book which many writers and would be authors might like to get hold of to help them in their quest to attain authorly success. In addition to creating his Book Program Method, he is also an expert in engineering automation and computer technologies and is one of the founders of Cyon Research Corporation, a publishing and consulting firm.

The Review

How to write a bookEstablished writers and authors will know that it’s not actually possible to complete a non-fiction book in 30 days. First of all the research, then the thinking, next the writing and finally the editing – all before we get any where near considering publishing. Each of these steps takes time, how much time it takes is governed by many different factors, not all of them within the control of the author. However, there is one core component, which must be completed before anything else can happen – that’s the manuscript; the basic working document from which everything else evolves and that’s where Joel’s book comes in.

It doesn’t claim to be a 30 day journey to publishing and financial freedom, what it does do well though is get you to the point where you have a completed manuscript. After that other forces come into play.

It is of particular use to the new writer because it breaks down the steps into nice, easy segments. It also helps you to overcome many of the fears which undermine confidence and ability encouraging you to ‘just write’ because you can edit later. I’d agree that the most important thing is to get your thoughts down on paper – once there you can re-order, re-write or re-evaluate to your hearts content. In all, it’s a great primer that can get you started.

The Joel Orr Interview

Joel OrrWhat is one thing that no-one would usually know about you?

I spent part of my childhood in Puerto Rico and part in Israel; as a result, I am fluent in Spanish and Hebrew. I’ve always been good at languages, like my dad; he spoke English, Spanish, French, Yiddish, Hebrew, and some Polish.

Just last week I heard from a scientist friend that the key to learning multiple language is for a child to be immersed in an environment with at least two languages before they are five; that way, they accumulate a collection of phonemes (the basic sounds that make up words) beyond those of their primary tongue. I was blessed to hear Hebrew, Yiddish, and English from three to five; then Spanish and Romanian (what my grandparents spoke to each other when they didn’t want the kids to understand) from age six to thirteen.

I’ve often thought that speaking more than one language “loosens the connection” between names and objects, so that one becomes aware at some profound level that a name is just a label, and that there can be many labels. Voila—languages!

Dad had different jobs at different times. Mom was an entrepreneur, mostly in printing and secretarial services. But Dad had the soul of a poet. He taught me many songs, in different languages, and he and Mom played word games with me. And our home had books of poetry and literature that I loved to read.

So I was drawn to language pursuits from a young age. You may be surprised that a fascination with language led to a PhD in pure math, but that is probably because you may not be aware that math is completely dependent upon language. I didn’t stay in math, moving off into computers—computer-aided design and automated mapping—for much of my career.

What did the best review you ever had say about you and your work?

That my writing is clear and my insights are useful. I have struggled with clarity; usually, I don’t explain enough. I think this is from my mathematical education; mathematicians believe that succinctness is essential to elegance. If it’s long, it’s probably not elegant. So my tendency is to say the bare minimum, and let the reader derive the message from my sparse expressions. That’s not good writing. I’ve been trying very hard to overcome that tendency, to write clearly without being wordy or terse.

And for my writing to be termed “insightful” blows me away. My late wife, N’omi, was wonderfully creative and insightful, and I marvelled at the wealth of her insights. My present wife, Dalia, is an explosion of originality, and source of continual delight to me. I try to model both of them. I am overjoyed when I succeed!

How did you choose a title for your book?

By carefully considering my ideal reader. What would let them know that this is the book they are seeking? Since my genre is non-fiction, and since I coach authors of non-fiction, I felt I had to come up with a definition of “good book,” so that I can tell my clients how to achieve that goal. Here’s what I hit upon: A good book is one that keeps its promise.

The title—along with the subtitle—is where a book makes its biggest promise: “How to Weave Duct-Tape Baskets.” If after reading the book, you have woven a basket or two, or feel that you could if you wanted to, that was a good book.

I want to write only good books… J

Have you ever wished that you could be or do anything else instead of writing, and if so what?

Be a healer. In my family, health and healing professionals were accorded respect and admiration. (Tho’ not always; Dad wanted to start a “Shoot a doctor in the leg” club. “Not in the head,” he said, “because we need them. But we need them to know they are not God.”) In college, a “C” in chemistry threw me off the pre-med track. I was not used to getting grades other than “A,” and I was devastated. I was sure there was no way for me to learn chemistry; it didn’t occur to me to ask for help, to try again. I was doing well in math, so I went in that direction.

But I’ve always wanted to heal people. Spiritually sensitive people have sometimes asked me to place my hands on them, and have reported receiving benefit from it. I feel good about that, but have never been sure how to pursue it. I’ve been fascinated by the interaction of mind and body, and have taken courses in NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) and hypnosis. You may be aware that NLP and hypnosis are intimately involved with language, like writing. Perhaps the words I write can be healing words.

Have you ever written naked?

Yes. I’ve never sought one out, but I have thought about visiting a nudist colony. I like being naked, and seeing other naked people. I don’t think it’s the erotic aspect of it (although I probably haven’t done enough of it to say); I think it’s the honesty.

Happily, I live in Northern California, where the weather is conducive to walking around without clothes. And we have a tall fence around our yard, so we can even step outside with exposing our aging bodies to people who might be offended by the view.

Who would you like to play you in a film of your life?

Toshiru Mifune or Marcello Mastroianni. Mifune stars in many of the films of master director Akira Kurosawa. He strikes me as particularly good at portraying truly manly men (as opposed to overgrown macho teenagers), with high morals, while being appropriately rebellious.

Marcello’s evident love of women is something with which I deeply identify. And he is caring and introspective, even when frustrated by circumstances. I see him, too, as a good portrayer of “real men,” whatever that means.

What is the single biggest challenge you faced when writing your book?

The “daily do”; sitting down each day and writing, especially when I don’t feel like it. I know how to churn out words, but I often feel I don’t have access to the right ones. This is completely illogical, because my experience has taught me that if I just churn out words, the stream will inevitably include more and more of the right ones. Talking myself past the “this is crap” point is something at which I’d like to get better.

Do you have any hints or tips for aspiring writers?

Love your readers and think of them often. If you are writing only for yourself, it may not be of interest to anyone else. But if you recognize that your love is a nurturing stream that your readers are hungering and thirsting for, you will remain true. And you will be able to write.

How do you remain sane while working?

Is that a requirement?

Honor my body with frequent exercise and stretching breaks. Honor my mind with disciplined reading breaks. Head out to a coffee shop with my computer from time to time. Break commitments into small pieces and keep them faithfully.


Where can you find out more about Joel and get his book?

How To Write A Book is available in Kindle format from and

You can also meet Joel in the following locations online:


Why ‘The Thursday Throng’?

These posts are called The Thursday Throng in honour of the throng that waits eagerly outside the book store when a new author is doing a book signing event or appearance. On this website it takes the form of a ‘Meet the Author‘ online event with some information about our author’s latest book and an interview. If you would like to take part in the Thursday Throng then why not visit Thursday Throng Author Interview Guidelines to find out more.

If you would like to see all the Authors who have been featured on The Thursday Throng you can click here:

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