The home-builder’s approach to writing

In order to lay out a project plan detailing how to write long-form fiction and non-fiction in less than nine months, we are wise to take lessons from the home-construction industry.

Writing a novel (or a non-fiction book) is a big job. The first draft of projects that are anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 words and more can take months, even years. It takes even longer to refine that draft into a publishable manuscript. In order to make it to the end of such a big task, it's important to have a plan that spells out the journey from idea to finished product.

The challenge in writing longer works is how easy it is to lose momentum. Short-form writing is so much easier to complete. Knocking out a 1,500-word article is a single creative task. The first version can go down in one sitting. The re-write and polish done in a session or two.

In long projects, the work stretches out over a very long timeline. It's common to start off with excellent momentum as you plow headlong into the first draft. I can turn out 1,000 words or more a day in no time when I am hot on a new idea. In theory then, a first draft should take me two to three months. Re-writes and revisions take less time per go-through, so I should be able to pop off a couple of book-length projects a year, right? But, and I think is common to many long-form writers, my current work-in-progress has languished for almost two years due to breaks in momentum (overwhelmed by other work, reach a sticky plot point and have to step out of the flow of writing to solve it), for example.

Picking back up after long delays is unhealthy for a book (or its author). You have to re-insert yourself into the flow of the story, re-pack the various story and character threads in your active, writing brain (the one that sits under your conscious mind and works at the story's problems while you're driving, showering, or doing anything else but writing).

Knowing this is going to happen though, it's important to be prepared for it, to have a plan in place.

What writers can learn from the construction industry

My family and I live in a semi-rural suburban community in the greater Phoenix area. Nestled in an older neighborhood with 300 two-acre horse properties, we had been surrounded by mostly farm fields and open desert since we moved in. But lately, progress has marched our direction in the form of fast-turnaround, tract-home housing neighborhoods.

It's amazing to see these projects at work. Modern home construction, from outside observation, is a remarkably efficient human enterprise. Land is cleared in a matter of days. Wooden frames appear almost overnights. Within a month or two, the first finished model homes are open for sale.

If you've ever had exposure to construction management, you'll know that the efficiencies come from the following of a system that is much like the system it takes to create full-length fiction and non-fiction.

Construction projects are broken down into their elemental parts, working backwards from the finished product. You can't move furniture into a new house until every detail in the interior is finished. The interior can't be finished until the flooring and walls are in place. The walls and flooring can't be finished until the electrical and plumbing and HVAC systems are installed. They can't go into place until the frame is in place. Which can only be erected on a solid foundation. Which has to sit on land that is properly prepared.

This is an over simplification, but you get the point. Efficiency in construction is about managing those layered efforts, bringing in the right crews to construct the right layers in the right order. And within each layer, making sure that materials, plans, and everything else the crew needs to get their piece done as quickly and correctly as possible is in place.

The primary took constriction project managers use is the Gantt chart. Ever seen one? It looks like a color-coded spreadsheet. The timeline of the project runs across the headers. The project elements (the jobs that have to be done) and listed in the columns (in the order they have to happen).

From WikipediaA Gantt chart is a type of bar chart that illustrates a project schedule, named after its inventor, Henry Gantt (1861–1919), who designed such a chart around the years 1910–1915. Modern Gantt charts also show the dependency relationships between activities and current schedule status.

Build your next novel like contractors build a house

Writers can learn a great deal from construction. Have a plan. Break the bigger job into a series of smaller tasks that are needed. Set intermediate deadlines to keep the momentum going.

The exact steps and the timeline goals are for you to work out. For me (since this is a letter to myself), writing a novel breaks down to the following steps/timelines:

  • Story idea and initial outline - two weeks. Not everyone is a planner when it comes to writing fiction. Some people have the amazing ability to just write their way through a first draft. I need a plan. It starts with a two-week budget for outlining the next book-length project. I start with the basics of the story - the main characters, the settings, the major story line. Then I break that into thirds (setup, climax, the middle bit). Then I plot out the scenes (about 100 total). I then write paragraph or two-length beats of the action in the scenes as a guide to follow when writing.
  • First draft - 12 weeks. How fast this goes depends on how many words per day and how many days per week you can give it. I'm good for 1,500-2,500 words a day (when I have an outline to follow). I can write 5-6 days most weeks (work and life depending). Which means, a 100-scene first draft of about 80,000 words should take me less than 90-days to complete. The goal here is to get the first draft out in one creative push. The better you're able to hold momentum during the first-draft, the more likely you are to finish.
  • Re-write (1) - six weeks. In my experience, it takes about half as much time to read through, mark-up, and execute changes to a first draft to get a complete second draft. I make lots of notes of things I wants to fix, change, and improve, and only make the edits after I've read through and marked up the entire story. I print my manuscript for this edit because I find it's easier to read/edit on paper than on screen.
  • Re-write (2) - four weeks. You might need only two or three revisions. You might need more. The point here is to predict the phases of production you need to complete your book and stay focused on one intermediate goal at a time.  At some point, you'll have your best draft, something you can pass on to a few readers for feedback.
  • Final draft - two weeks. Taking my final notes, and notes from the reader(s), you should be able to produce a best draft. Only then is it time for professional editing. Paying a professional editor to critique and revise your manuscript can be expensive, so you want to make sure I have my best-possible draft ready.
  • Editor - four weeks. I plan to write another article about the different types of editors available (there are several), but if you're serious about producing professional work, you need professional guidance. Editors work on contract and you have to book your window with them in advance. If you did not plan this deadline to deliver your final draft to an editor in advance, your project could grind to a halt when your story goes to the editor. Book your editor as soon as you know you're going to have a first draft, a couple of months before you'd be ready to submit.
  • Cover, copy, marketing - the same four weeks. While your manuscript is with an editor, take the time to get your marketing materials and cover done. I'l write more about this in another post, but there are numerous freelancers available to hire for cover creation. The book will also need blurbs for the back of the cover, copy for the listing pages, or your website . The book will need a dedication page, acknowledgements, references (if non-fiction), newsletter subscription page, a list of your other works, etc. Get all these things done while your edit is underway. Schedule them here so you don't slow your writing down earlier in the book obsessing about things that don't matter until. And, if you're publishing through a traditional route, this is the time to dial in your query, synopsis, and cover letter.
  • Copy edit - two weeks. Whether you use a third party of do this yourself, someone needs to go through every sentence of the book carefully and find the last stinking remnants of misspellings, double words, missing punctuation, before you dare say the book is ready. Try reading your book aloud to spot imperfections. Read each paragraph in reverse order, from the back of the book to the front of the book. Find whatever trick and tip you can to make sure you leave no mistakes in the manuscript before publishing.
  • Publish and promote. Whether you publish independently through the various mediums available, or pursue traditional publishing, stop fiddling with the book and switch your brain into selling mode. Then immediately start your next project.

Completing a book-length project (for me) is, in theory, a thirty-six to forty-week project. Somehow, I've managed to stretch the current work-in-progress to out over two years by allowing my momentum to break in the middle of this workflow! To finish, I need build out this novel-production plan (Gantt chart) once more, identify where in the process I am with the current work, and re-insert myself into the production flow.

How about you? Do you have a production plan that you follow for writing your long-form work (fiction or non-fiction)? How different is it from this? What am I missing that you include? What do I include that is helpful to you?


Stop being a chicken and be a writer

I have dreamed of being a writer my whole life. Clouded by fear, I put all kinds barriers in the way of that dream. To get through my fear and actually start putting my writing out into the world, I only needed to embrace the barriers I had put in place to stop me. 

Learn to be the writer in all areas of your life

Writers sometimes hear a Universal whisper that says that that there is no time to write because we have to work (or errands, or chores, or endless-list-of-anything-but-writing). And when we don’t make time to write, the voice says we’re never going to get anywhere with our writing. And when we do write, the voice calls us an imposter and says the work is not good enough.

The voice can be overwhelming. It can get in the way of progress. It can bring whole projects to a grinding halt. The temptation when when the voice overwhelms all progress is to blame all the things the Universe puts in our way. Blame the job, blame the family, blame politics, blame Facebook.

Or maybe we try to ignore the voice. Neither of those things work. The only way to defeat the voice is to create a new voice. Instead of a hiss sniping away at your dream, learn to turn on a voice that is constantly asking the question in all aspects of your life of how you can be the writer right now, in this moment.

Panic attack in a room full of successful people

A few weeks ago, I attended an interesting conference for work. I found great value in the seminars and educational sessions. I made connections that were important to the work I do in the communications-technology space. But I felt a bit disconnected, a feeling I couldn’t at first, put my finger on.

The day opened with a general presentation in a large meeting space. The audience numbered a thousand or more. There was a main stage with three jumbo screens. There were videos, lighting, and professional sound.

Presentations by the host company spoke to their growth and success. A half-dozen speakers opined on the future trajectory of the industry, and about how we should engage in conversations with customers about Customer Experience as a means to connect with them around the technologies we sell.

The audience was into it. The speakers, one after the other, seemed genuine and proud and intelligent and focused. I was absorbing it all. Then one of the speakers opened his talk with a profession of ‘love’ for this business. “I love this business,” he said with reverent enthusiasm. “Don’t you love it?” The affluent and successful crowd cheered and clapped. I looked around. My colleagues eyes were bright, their smiles broad, their attention(the ones not tapping away on their smartphones that is) were connected with the speaker. I panicked.

I feel good about the work I do in this industry, but the word ‘love’ was threw me. I don’t ‘love’ the business. I bring value to the company I work for in this business. I apply one-hundred percent of my energy and effort to the work. When I am engaged with a customer, I bring integrity and skill and value to the relationship. But I do all that for money. For security. Because they pay me.

Not for love.

That panic didn’t come up in me because I couldn’t believe that someone could truly and honestly dedicate their precious lifetime to the sale and support of communications technology. The panic was cynicism was at myself for making the compromise to occupying a seat within a community that is not, on its surface, the one I want to make my life from.

How to survive a relationship when you don’t love the same things

The industry I work in is not at fault here. I admire the people I encounter there. There are a lot of driven, independent, successful people in the communications-service business, men and women who’ve enjoy great comfort and pleasure in life because of the work they do. Allowing me to participate and take a slice of the pie is a gift and lets me exchange my talents and time in exchange for the money they control.

The role I play (as a consultant) is that of product-knowledge specialist, sales engineer, and a member of the marketing team. It’s a custom-designed job. They use for me for the things I am best suited for. And I appreciate them for it.

The role though, is the compromise I make with myself. I sold myself into this amalgamation of responsibilities, exchanging my precious time and life energy in exchange for money. And when boiled down to its essence like that, I am not entirely proud of myself. Because...

… I want to make something of my life with writing. I want to Be a writer. But I make these choices about life that, I sometimes feel, box me out of the pursuit of writing as my life’s work. If I get self-critical about it, I take these jobs (and take on debt and other barriers to the pursuit of writing) as a way to put a wall between me and the risk of actually pushing through on that dream. The voice in my head also ways that being a writer means being a fiction writer. And being a fiction writer is only valuable if your fiction is commercially or critical successful.

So there I am, at this conference, conflicted because the job I had sold myself into put me in a place which did not align with my greatest ambitions. How do I turn this around? How do I live the life I’m living, honor the obligations I have now, and be a writer? I said, out loud (in my head) that I was so grateful to be where I was, but I was open to how I could live my life as a writer first.

Being the writer in all areas of your life

Then one of the speakers put three book covers on the screen. He said “These are the thought leaders in our industry.” He said that these books, all business books making the argument that improving Customer Experience was the best way for the industry to focus its technology, was the aspirational knowledge we all needed to gain. Writers were setting the pace and tone of the future. Writers were the gifted and celebrated leaders in our space. In my space. Right up there on screen. In front of the entire audience. Writer’s efforts being held up as the highest work in the industry.

Click. I got it, the reason I was there, how I fit into the world, how I could serve this community.

My problem was not that I have created a world where I don’t get to be a writer because of my obligations and my choices. My problem is that I am not waking up in the morning and looking at the world I operate in and saying “How can I be the writer in this space.”

Looking at the communications-technology community and saying “I am the writer here” opens up ideas about content to create (I am writing an essay on Customer Experience already) and stories to tell (company stories, personal journeys, long-form explorations into the concepts that this community wants to work in). It makes me think of copywriting and ghostwriting. It makes me think of writing for the trade publications, of creating white papers and eBooks. It makes me think that by getting known as the writer in this community, that I can help leading-edge thinkers get their innovations across. It makes me want to be open to how this community could use a writer, rather than being a frustrated writer feeling outside of this community.

The result of the epiphany is that I found a space of acceptance. To be a writer means to Be a writer in all areas of your life. Unbox that one-dimensional idea you have about what a ‘writer’ is. Shake the idea that ‘writer’ means only a certain thing and just start being a ‘writer’ at every opportunity, in every space. Write and share. Write and share. Do it well. Get known for it. Whatever comes of it will follow.

What writing journey are you on?

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Why we need reporters like Seymour M. Hersh

Reporter: A Memoir by Seymour M. Hersh

I just finished an amazing book, Reporter: A Memoir, by Seymour M. Hersh and if you are a writer or a student or fan of journalism, I recommend it highly.

I really had no idea who Mr. Hersh was, but the jacket said the book was the memoir of a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist who had worked for the Associated Press, the New York Times, and the New Yorker, who had covered some of American History’s biggest recent moments and people. Hersh’s reporting on the Vietnam War, Watergate, and the major events under every president from Lyndon Johnson to Obama, earned him numerous prizes and awards. The book promised an inside look at experiences of a veteran reporter, the real kind, the kind that dug for the truth behind stories most reporters would only scratch the surface on. The book promised to share the life of a true Fourth Estate writer, a journalist who believed he had a purpose in life to get at and expose the truth of big issues facing us as a country.

The book was interesting to me because I am working to find my own true voice as a writer. I hoped to learn from it, to be inspired by it. I wanted to connect with Hersh as a person and try to take something from his story that I could carry into my own writing. I enjoyed the book not only because it delivered on its promises, but also because of the riveting detail Hersh included about the major stories he’s worked on during his career.

A lifetime of major journalistic accomplishments

The book opens by taking us through Hersh’s decision to pursue journalism. Starting with his first at the City News Bureau of Chicago, Hersh does a great job of explaining the mechanics of news reporting and distribution. We get to see how regional wire service worked by fielding local reporters to cover issues and produce work they could sell to other news organizations. He takes us along on his first real, out-in-the-field assignments. He shares his insights into how he managed to earn freelance assignments for national papers and magazines. He does all this in an easy reading style, with quotes, context, and sourcing to move the story along quickly.

Once Hersh sunk his teeth into the job of reporting, he learned that he had an instinct for big stories. He trusted himself to chase leads that many other reporters were ignoring. He learned to work behind the scenes to build his story, to unearth inside information, to get to sources who knew the real truth, all in secret until he was ready to publish. An example: Hersh learned, as did many other reporters, about a mass-death of sheep near an American military testing facility. Most reporters accepted the official story - an illness or a localized contamination I believe. Hersh dug into the story and exposed the fact that the US Military, along with numerous Universities around the country, were developing, testing, and stockpiling all kinds of apocalyptic chemical and biological agents. The sheep kill was a result of an intentional release, a test, that grew out of control.

Hersh’s reporting led to public pressure for the US, and the rest of the cooperating world to agree that chemical and biological weapons were too dangerous to pursue. In 1975 the US Government entered into treaty with a number of prominent nations to end development and stockpile of chemical and biological weapons.

Hersh’s most famous early-career accomplishment came through his investigative reporting into the Vietnam War. Information coming from Vietnam accused American soldiers of committing atrocities against the North Vietnamese. Murder of innocents. Rape. Torture. Cruelty against civilians.

Hersh picked up on an account of a soldier being court martialed for killing 109 civilians in a village of My Lai 4. The official story being that this one lone soldier had gone crazy and committed an atrocity. Hersh hunted down the accused killer, who was being hidden away at a US base waiting for his trial. who said he’d participated in a sanctioned act alongside his comrades. Hersh was able to chase responsibility and knowledge (and cover up) of this, and attacks like it, across the Vietnam battlefield, all the way up the chain of command.

Hersh exposed that this captain was being setup to take the fall for something that was the American Military’s standard operating procedure. Top-level Pentagon officials knew of the on-the-ground evil being played out in Vietnam, even encouraged (or at the least allowed) it to happen. Hersh’s reporting exposed that the war was a rotten effort, that it corrupted young men, that it put our child soldiers into an impossible position that had lasting, negative mental impact on many (if not most) of them. And that the US, in the name of democracy and righteousness, were committing war crimes against innocents.

The story was picked up nationally and internationally. In 1970, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for breaking and pursuing the story. He later published a book summarizing his reporting. That led to a job at the New Yorker and, his stated ultimate goal, as a staff reporter for the New York Times.

Over his career, Hersh has been enmeshed in every major American new story and it is fascinating to see them develop from inside his narrative. Watergate, Henry Kissinger’s influence on world politics, the Gulf war, 9/11, the killing of Osama bin Laden, he wrote about them all. And not always without controversy.

Irascible at times - he speaks of editors and officials he ran contrary to, who apply pressure for him to drop stories and or change tone - he remained true to his core mission to dig for the un-pursued and important stories. Sometimes, when his current editor would not get behind a story he developed and believed in, he would sell it to another publication.

He has also been widely criticized widely for using anonymous sources, and his too-close-for-comfort reporting on issues government officials would rather remain secret was also often called into question by critics and competitors. But throughout the book, Hersh explains who the sources actually were (whenever he is able) and tells us how he determined what to pursue and map with him to the conclusions he came to. Hersh had an internal sense of integrity and compass that led him to do the right thing, as best as he could.

A masterclass in journalistic integrity

I loved this book because besides being entertaining as hell, I was able to take away a couple of major observations that, I think, will help me as I work on my own writing.

First, his sense of purpose as a writer is inspiring. Once he found journalism, he accepted it as a calling. He dedicated himself to being good at it, to standing out, to looking for ways to pursue stories that other reporters were ignoring. When his colleagues would rush pieces into print on only the perspective and assurance of the authorities in command, he would question. Does it smell right? What is the total truth? The killing of Bin Laden is a great example of this.

The official story of the killing of Osama bin Laden is that the US Government, acting on intelligence gathered by following known Bin Laden couriers, discovered him hiding in a compound in Pakistan. Then, without tipping the Pakistani military, raided the compound and killed him. Seal team Six then buried his body, within 24 hours in keeping with Muslim tradition, at sea to not give our enemies a worshipable grave. Hersh reported that the Pakistani military essentially and knowingly held Bin Laden prisoner in the compound for six years. Someone with knowledge of the arrangement tipped us off in exchange for a cash reward. Hersh writes that the team that executed Bin Laden tore his body to pieces with rifle fire and tossed some body parts out of the helicopter to scatter him over desolate mountain terrain. All a narrative of luck and unflattering brutality that runs counter to the official story.

I was also taken by how apologetically in control of his writing choices Hersh was. He executed to his own vision of what stories to chase and what conclusions to draw from his reporting. If he chose a story to write, he would write it. Which makes Hersh an admirable example for anyone pursuing journalism as a career.

Reporter: A Memoir by Seymour M. Hersh, was published by Knopf this year. I highly recommend it for any writer, fan of journalism, or for anyone who wants to learn from someone who is self-determined and accomplished at the thing they chose to do with their life.

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When is it time to hire a writer?

I am a freelance writer, for hire, to work on content-production projects ranging from short, evergreen web articles to book-length non-fiction. Contact me for a no-cost, no-obligation consultation.

If I told you I was a writer for hire, you might ask yourself why on earth would anyone want to hire a writer? Isn’t writing something anyone who is literate knows how to do? Don’t we write our own text messages, emails, notes to family, Facebook posts, Yelp reviews, Instagram hashtags? Don’t we write constantly? Communicate every day in a hundred ways?

Acknowledged. Not everyone *needs* a writer. I assume you’re capable of putting across your own thoughts in written word. But, there is an argument that writing is a skill that needs to be developed when applied to specific tasks. When you have a need for properly planned, focused, and easy-to-read content, a writer-for-hire can make written-word products that suit your need. A professional writer can ease the burden of completing the task yourself and give you a more polished final result.

Here are six types of writing projects I do for clients. If you could use help on a project that fits one of these categories, contact me.

Web articles: Usually short and punchy, I’ve written web articles for all kinds of publications and clients over the years. I’ve written how-to articles, blog posts, and in-depth analysis into the various types of bicycle chain lubricant, for example. The client briefs and word-length requirements vary, but writing for the web is about getting to the point quickly, covering a subject that fits into its online home, and delivering to the allotted space and time. Do you have a website? Need content developed?

Catalog copy: Writing for product can be as important as the imagery. I work with clients in Europe that produce two or three product catalogs per year. They create the first English-language version (usually a translation from their primary language) and have me to tighten and smooth the language so it flows naturally for their English-speaking distributors and customers. I might also be asked to produce summary paragraphs for the introduction to the catalog. I am then tasked, at times, to write longer-form web content for the same product sets. Are you producing content about your products and services? Should we develop a plan to optimize that content for your audience and give it the best chance of being productive?

Interviews and profiles: There are seven billion human beings on the planet right now. That’s seven billion different experiences in the world, seven billion different perspectives on life, seven billion different stories to tell. My most-rewarding short-form work is done when I get to help someone tell their story though interview or profile. I’ve written prose and Q&A-style interviews throughout my writing life and would like to spend more time in the future helping people tell their stories to the world. Are there people in your orbit with unique perspective or skills, that we should highlight to your audience/customer base? Or do you have a story you want to tell?

Event reports: I’ve reported on cycling races across the US (and even a few in Europe) for cycling magazines and websites. There’s a journalistic satisfaction in writing a good race report; setting the scene for the reader, laying out the stakes for the competition, getting play-by-play from the finalists, producing the official results. The additional fun challenge in race reporting is also the timeliness; the attempt to publish the story as close to the completion of the competition as possible. Sure, it’s exhausting work, but once you develop a rhythm for writing competent race and event reports, the work is extremely satisfying and rewarding. The same editorial narrative style can be applied to any event coverage. Are you part of, or putting on, an event? I can help you tell its story; the how and why it exists, the timeline of how it played out, and capture the top moments so those who couldn’t be there can still get the sense of what they missed?

Newsletters and round-ups (subbing): The editorial term ‘subbing’ means, simply, summarizing a group of content into one article. When I was the mountain-bike editor of, the worlds most widely-read cycling news website, I would take product press releases and summarize that week’s race reports, interviews, and technical review into a weekly news round-up. Subbing is an art and I enjoyed doing it. The skill can be applied to any collection of material that would benefit from being turned into a newsletter or periodic review. A great example is the New York Times' Your Weekend BriefingCan you imagine sharing a periodic summary of content with your audience?

Whitepapers and book-length projects: Sometimes, a subject demands in-depth study. I’ve written two non-fiction books. Call Centers Made Easy was my attempt to help small businesses leverage communications technology to better connect and communicate with their customers. That book spoke to the fact that large customer-support-intense companies (airlines, insurance companies, banks) invested millions building out systems to optimize their management of customer interactions. It showed small businesses how those large centers did it and how they could emulate some of the technologies and concepts (to the same benefits) using small-business telecom systems. I also wrote a book called The Telecom Manager’s Survival Guide which spelled out how to, well, manage the telecommunications infrastructure for a large company. What subject in your life would you like to develop into a longer written project? Whitepaper (3-5k words)? eBook (5-25k words)? Full-length nonfiction project (50-100k words) you want to take to a publisher?

The price of a writer-for-hire

The cost for a writer to help you with any of these kinds of content projects vary. A writer looking to break in, or one that has the capacity for high-volume, short-turn-around work, could be quite inexpensive. You can find them online, as well as find marketplaces for freelancers to bid on your job. Hiring the most pedigreed writer in your field may be expensive.

I’m somewhere between those two ends of the spectrum. I work on freelance projects when I want to; when I like the project, the client/collaborator, and feel like I can produce interesting work. My fees are as follows:

  • Per word rate - Fifty-cents per word for short projects, plus expenses. That means, if I am contracted to produce a 500-word blog article, I may turn-in 556 words, but the client pays for the agreed-on amount of $250.
  • Flat fees - If a word-count price model doesn’t work (very short word-count projects, the editing of existing copy, or research-heavy book-length projects), I negotiate, in advance, either a flat fee or a financial arrangement tied to the income produced by the work (in the case of book-length projects).

Again, if you have a writing project you’d like to discuss, please contact me.


Our stay at Steinbeck’s Traveler’s Cottage

Sleeping in a famous writer's guest house

I traveled to Monterey for a conference. The conference was spouse-friendly (short working sessions, plenty of free time, and excursions for spouses), so my wife came along. When I registered, I had the option to stay at the conference center hotels, but my wife and I like to stay in interesting and quirky places. The Steinbeck Traveler’s Cottage, which we found on AirBNB, was the perfect experience for us.

The story of Traveler’s Cottage appealed to me because I’m a writer. Steinbeck had a big influence on Monterey so we chose the cottage as a way to have an experience relative to the community we were visiting. Steinbeck owned this home in the 40’s and lived here while writing a couple of his earliest works. There are actually three residences on the property; a main house, a guest house, and the cottage. The cottage sits at the back of the property, furthest from the street, in a private courtyard with a private entrance and parking space off the alley that runs behind the house.

Check-in was easy. The host sent instructions for the lockbox before we arrived. The address and instructions that lead to the alleyway parking space were clear. The parking space was a bit of a squeeze but big enough for my SUV.

Walking into the courtyard for the first time is a treat, The well-groomed space contains a four-person seating group and a picnic table and presents the front of the cottage beautifully. The cottage itself is equally well-presented in baby-blue paint with white trim and neat landscaping. Everything outside is trim and clean and perfect. A great first impression.

Inside is just as nice. Wood floors, simple furniture, lots of light, interesting artwork, just lovely attention to detail. Inside we found fluffy towels, plenty of bed linen, a heater, a fan, an ironing board and iron, coffee, sugar, and a French Press, pretty much anything we needed for our stay.

Right in the heart of Monterey

Traveler’s Cottage is in a convenient location, close-enough to the Monterey Aquarium and Cannery Row to walk (downhill one way and a bit of a hike home) and only a little over a mile to Fisherman’s Wharf and the conference center. We found the cottage and its surrounding neighborhood pleasantly quiet at night.

Speaking of night-time, the cottage had both good overhead lights as well as table lamps and night lights for a variety of moods. There was a bookshelf with mostly Steinbeck work (I had never read Cannery Row and got through most of it on this visit - a real joy to read Steinbeck’s work in a place connected to him). The guest book is super thorough and included background on the place, instructions on the remotes, the heater, and other appliances, recommendations for local restaurants. It also included guest letters and notes going back five or six years.

The hosts were great. I had a challenge with the lockbox and called for help. I got an immediate answer. We received a text the next morning making sure we were happy with everything. It felt like they had us in mind and that it mattered that we had a good stay.

The place does have a couple of quirks - there is not a lot of room for two to move around in the bedroom. The kitchen entry requires navigating a couple of mean steps with a low overhang that is tricky in the middle of the night. The cottage is also very small overall - the size of a hotel suite or a tiny house. But quirks are what make a place like this a unique experience compared to the homogeneity of the modern hotel.

I had only a couple of manageable challenges. Neither of things are complaints, just observations. There is a beautiful hand painted sign on the outside of the cottage facing the alleyway. The night we arrived was windy and the signs knocked against the wall annoyingly. I wadded some paper towels and stuffed them behind it to quieten it down and I hope the host amends this permanently. And under the category of beds-are-very-subjective, I found the bed overly soft and wished I could have done something about it (or, if there was some kind of control that I could change the firmness of the bed, it was more obvious than it was). This critique definitely falls under the category of personal preference though - my wife loved the bed.

That’s it. We would happily, gladly, without reservation, recommend Traveler’s Cottage to a couple (three people at the most) who are planning a stay in Monterey.

Here's a link to the Traveler's Cottage on AirBNB.