How did you become a writer?
I swear it was an accident. I admit that I wanted to be a writer when I was a child, as my father was a published psychiatrist. But when I was about 11, he wisely told me, "Don't write a book until you have something to say."
I hated writing through high school and college. If a teacher said "write a ten-page paper," I would grudgingly write eight.
However, by 1989 I happened to know a lot about a particular piece of software and an editor I knew asked me to write a book about it. It was a fun challenge, and I ended up writing 600 pages in three months. The publisher was thrilled, the book went on to sell hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide, and apparently I was now a Writer.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
Certainly that first editor, Steve Roth, who somehow taught me the ropes with just a few words here and there. My high school composition teacher, who insisted I learn proper grammar. (I recall once arguing a point with her, pointing out that I had seen some crazy syntax in a book, so I should be able to write that way, too. Her reply: "Someday, when you're paid to write, you can do it any way you want. But for now, you do it my way.")
I would add to the list my math and science teachers, because they taught about logic, and I believe that an awareness of logical flow (you can't talk about this until you talk about that) is one of my most important skills as a writer.
When and where do you write?
Early in the morning, under deadline, with headphones, in a coffee shop. At least that tends to be my best writing.
What are you working on now?
I've spent the past four years researching and writing a little book called Spectrums: Our Mind-boggling Universe, from Infinitesimal to Infinity [Walker Books, due out November 2012]. The goal is to stretch our brains a little bit, to get a sense of perspective for where we are in the universe. Each chapter tackles a different spectrum, such as size, heat, sound, light, and time.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
No. I agree with Andy Ihnatko that there really is no such thing as writer's block.
That said, there have certainly been times when I can't figure out how to move forward. On Spectrums, I hit a massive roadblock when it finally dawned on me how little scientists know about our universe. I'm talking the basics here, like why does gravity work, or what is space? It's increasingly clear that whatever Reality there is, is far, far weirder than what the textbooks are telling us. Here I was, trying to figure out how to clearly explain these concepts, and I was learning that no real clarity was possible. After months of struggling, I finally found a way to balance each chapter with what I hope is the right mix of "here's the reality we know" and "here's the mystery we're left with."
What’s your advice to new writers?
If something tickles you, makes you wonder or creates a passion within you, then follow it, write about it, because it will strike a chord with other people, too. And don't write a book until you have something to say.
David Blatner is the author of 15 books that have been translated into 16 languages, including "The Joy of Pi," "The Flying Book," "Judaism for Dummies," "Real World Photoshop," and "Spectrums" (www.spectrums.com). He lives outside Seattle with his wife and two boys.