When Michael Lewis was twenty-seven years old he gave up a career on Wall Street to earn a tiny fraction of his future salary to become a full-time writer. His employers, his father and his Princeton pedigree deemed him insane, but for Lewis the choice was clear: he wanted, more than anything, to write.
Today, he’s a best-selling author. Film adaptations of his books Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game (2003) and The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game (2006) have starred Hollywood A-listers, his financial commentary has gone viral, and he’s penciled in on the White House calendar—to go behind the scenes with Obama on the campaign trail. All Hunter S. Thompson-esque allusions aside, Lewis is living the kind of writing life that makes heads spin even without the psychedelics. On Wednesday, February 29th he spoke with Adam Savage at the Herbst Theatre as part of City Arts & Lectures.
Led by matriarch Sydney Goldstein, San Francisco’s City Arts & Lectures series has fueled the cultural set for three decades. By putting artists and thinkers in conversation, they provide the opportunity to get beyond the superficial layers of book and author PR to the real deal: the origins of craft; the secret passages to literary productivity; the coveted advice that might unlock the doors to creativity.
After a few warm-up yarns that earned titters from the mostly well-heeled crowd, Lewis opened up about journalism and the creative process.
“Do you suffer at times from writer’s block?” Savage asked.
“No”, Lewis said in all seriousness. “I suffer at times from sloth and indolence”.
When Savage asked him if writing is a necessary practice for making sense of things, Lewis replied: “If I’m having an experience that I really feel I want to enrich with something other than more ordinary daily responses to things, if I sit down and write about it—it changes the way I think about it in a much more interesting and complicated way.” Without the writing, he went on to say, there are longer stretches of sloth and indolence between projects, and the tendency to regress into an alter ego he calls the “shallow preppy”.
“If I’m just recording daily life it’s amazing how life starts to slow down in response to [the writing]. You just start to notice things. In a strange way you’ve created a sentence for yourself to notice things because you have to put things on the paper to have things that you’ve noticed… it does disturb me if I go too long without doing that.”
After numerous book releases and big-budget movie premieres, the crawl from sloth to desk and onto the page seems a healthy compulsion. With a glow in his cheeks, a shine to his shoes and a “shallow preppy” jacket draped just-so over a tucked and pressed button-down, it might seem like Lewis never left Wall Street. But what drives him is a need for the antidote to sloth and indolence. The deep down drive in a writer’s soul.
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