working with Michael Malice

In an earlier post I mentioned a number of people who helped create the Ethics of Anarcho-Capitalism. Conspicuously absent was Michael Malice, who mentored me through the writing and publishing process. He is getting his own post because I thought people would enjoy a little more detail about what it was like working with him.

Malice giving gifts to orphans.

Dr. Howard Grattan had it right when he described Malice as a modern-day Murray Rothbard. Not for academic work, but for the humor, irreverence, and pure joy that he brings to the libertarian movement. The analogy is also apt because, like Rothbard, Malice builds bridges both inside the movement and with people outside of it.

Given the books he has written, ghost-written, or co-authored, it should be no surprise that he was a fabulous guide on the road to writing my first book. Given his sense of humor, it should be no surprise that his help came with more than a few jokes at my expense.

Malice actually has his own process for writing books, which he explained to me at our first meeting over sushi (he got sashimi, I got nigiri). Like a Brooklyn version of Mr. Miyagi, he first had me build my literary muscle by reading books. Some were excellent and some were intentionally awful. Just like in a movie, the time and pain involved in that first step paid off later.

At subsequent meetings he took me through his three-part writing process. First, write with a focus on quantity rather than quality until the first draft is done. Second, edit the manuscript until the message makes sense. Finally, make it beautiful.

The first part is unabashedly sloppy, with the singular goal of finishing the first draft as quickly as possible. He emphasized that what matters is getting to that first milestone so that you can stop looking up the mountain and wondering how far it is to the peak.

From this more comfortable position, you can then focus fully on ensuring that the ideas are clear. Similarly, once the text is easy to understand, you are then in the best position to make it enjoyable. So, the process is read, write, edit from a position of comfort, and edit again from a position of clarity.

I won’t repeat most of what was said during our meetings, but I’ll share two harmless anecdotes. The first time we met he asked me to explain what the book is about. I gave a long-winded explanation and he told me that he did not understand. He did not understand because I did not understand. It was a bit of a zen moment.

The final time we met before the book was published, I showed him a pre-print copy of the book. It had just gone through proof-reading and I knew there were a few errors in the printed copy. He started flipping through the book and immediately spotted one (I had misspelled capitalism). It was embarrassing, but I thought it was just bad luck that he happened to see it. Until he found another. And another. The lesson: if you’re going to hand Malice a copy of your book, make sure step 3 is done first.

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