S3-EP23: Bestselling Author Thomas E. Ricks on His Writing Process

Jun 4, 2021


Debbie Weil talks to bestselling author Thomas E. Ricks about his writing process, what really goes into writing a book, and what drives him to write. He’s working on his eighth book. The last five, including “Churchill & Orwell” and “First Principles,” have been New York Times bestsellers.

The Gap Year Podcast is about making the most of the collective gap year we’ve all been living through. But as it’s Debbie’s show, she also gets to talk to cool people about things she really cares about. High on that list is the topic of writing.



Today, Debbie talks to good friend and bestselling author Thomas E. Ricks about writing. This episode will appeal to listeners even if you’re not a word nerd or don’t have writing a book at the top of your bucket list. 

Tom is a military history columnist for the New York Times and author of seven books, the last five of which have been New York Times bestsellers. His best known book is “Fiasco: the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2003 – 2005,” which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2007.  His most recent book, published in November 2020, is “First Principles: What America’s Founders Learned From the Greeks and Romans, and How That Shaped Our Country.”

He was a war correspondent and a member of Pulitzer Prize-winning teams covering the military for both the Wall Street Journal (2000) and the Washington Post (2002).

As Debbie puts it, he’s the “real deal” when it comes to writing serious books. Tom is currently working on his eighth book, a military appreciation of the Civil Rights Movement. Tom and his wife Mary Kay Ricks, also an author, are Debbie’s good friends and neighbors in Maine.

Today, they talk about what drives Tom to write: is it for money, for recognition, to win another Pulitzer prize, to connect with his readers, the writing itself? His answer is a good one. They address the big questions: how long does it take him to write a book, how does he choose his topics, what is his  advice for would-be book writers, and more.

Debbie and Tom also get into the nitty gritty of his writing process. He takes us through a day in the life of Tom Ricks which includes bringing tea to Mary Kay in the morning and making lunch most days for the two of them. Despite how prolific he is, Tom does not write for 8 hours a day.

He is witty and passionate on the topic of writing, as well as being honest and revealing, and this is a wonderful conversation.


Mentioned in this episode or useful:



A bit of backstory on the episode here.


Note from Debbie

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– Debbie


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Thanks to our media partners

Encore.org, our newest media partner, is an ideas and innovation hub tapping the talent of those 50+ as a force for good. Founder and CEO Marc Freedman is an award-winning social entrepreneur and author, most recently, of How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations. Looking for a great gap-year transition program? Check out Encore Fellowships, which match skilled, seasoned professionals with social-sector organizations in high-impact, paid assignments.


Modern Elder Academy is a program dedicated to navigating mid-life transitions. MEA, based in Baja California, Mexico, provides the place and the tools to start reframing your lifetime of experience. Grow whole, not old. Founder Chip Conley is a New York Times bestselling author, award-winning hospitality entrepreneur and a rock star of the mid-life transition movement. His newest book is Wisdom @ Work: the Making of a Modern Elder.


Next For Me is an important new resource for the 50+ crowd focused on rewriting life. Taking a gap year or timeout may be the best way to figure out "what's next" when you're in this stage of life. Founder Jeff Tidwell explains, Next For Me "connects and inspires our generation to evolve our post-50 lives through new work, a new purpose, or a new social contribution."