Interview with Dr. Bob Rich: Writer, Mudsmith, Psychologist, and Editor

“Interview with Dr. Bob Rich: Writer, Mudsmith, Psychologist, and Editor” by Joan Y. Edwards

Today I’m honored to have Dr. Bob Rich as a guest on my blog. He is a writer, mudsmith, psychologist, and has an editing service. He lives in Australia. After reading my blog post, “Errors That Might Escape Spell Check,” he told me he has collected thousands of English words that writers confuse. His website is

Doesn’t that get your curiosity up? Here we go. I’m going to ask 13 questions.

1. You write books about many subjects. Which three books have sold the most copies? What was your challenge when you wrote them?

My first published book, The Earth Garden Building Book: Design and build your own house has sold hundreds of thousands of copies through 4 editions. It is still considered “The Australian owner-builder’s bible.”

How I wrote it: I started in 1972 as the most impractical fellow on earth. By 1980, when I started to build my house, I had lots of practical skills, but knew very little about building. So, I got a succession of laboring jobs in the building trades. After a few weeks at, say, being a bricklayer’s laborer, I wrote some how-to articles about it in Earth Garden, a marvelous magazine. Then I applied the skill in my house, and changed a job to teach me the next lot of skills I needed. After awhile, I thought to suggest to the publisher of the magazine that we write a building book together. He had copyright of lots of suitable articles, and had already published 8 books. After I posted the letter, I checked my post office box. There was a letter from him — making the same suggestion! So we did it, and the book has turned out really well.


My second book published, and the second highest seller, is Woodworking for Idiots Like Me. It sold maybe 60,000 books between 1994 and 1999. I have reissued it as an e-book, and it won the nonfiction category of the EPIC contest in 2007. It is a collection of short stories that makes most people laugh, but each story leads to an instructional section on some aspect of woodcraft.

Third highest seller is Anger and Anxiety: Be in charge of your emotions and control phobias. This little book has led a great many people out of despair and self-hate.

However, I much prefer writing fiction to nonfiction. Eight of my 14 books are fiction, the latest being Bizarre Bipeds: What IS humanity’s role in the Universe?

2. What triggered a desire to make a collection of words that writers confuse?

My fingers often have trouble keeping up with my brain, and so I can make finger stumbles. Being obsessive (a good characteristic for an editor), I instantly notice them… well, most of the time. Actually, I notice other people’s typos a lot more readily than my own.

Computers have a spell checker, but those things don’t pick up confusions like their-there or quiet-quite. I thought, wouldn’t it be great to team up with some programming genius and produce an automatic tool that does so?

Also, I have a twisted sense of humor. I just LOVE it when a serious publication states, “The value of early identification, diagnosis and intervention… cannot be underestimated.” I do have this theory that the writer meant “overestimated,” but then maybe SHE has the twisted sense of humor. So, I was collecting such malapropisms in the way others collect jokes.

3. Are you considering publishing your lists of commonly misused English words in a book? I think it would be helpful, if you published a book that listed sentences with the words used correctly and incorrectly. You mentioned that you had thousands of words for the letter “S.” Perhaps each letter could have 10 samples.

Well, I am still waiting for the programming genius to come along. Trouble is, the program would need to have a human-like understanding of syntax, grammar, all the fine points of language. I don’t think endless lists are fun to read (unless perhaps if you are a computer that has a human-like understanding of language).

Here are commonly misused words from my list. Most of these are homophones like “salary” and “celery.” Finger stumbles like “sash” and “smash.” Meaning-related ones like “saved” and “freed.” Anagrams like “said” and “dais.” People often confuse different grammatical forms, for example “sarcasm” and “sarcastic.”

1. said/dais.

2. salary/celery.

3. sash/smash.

4. saved/freed. Or raising/upbringing; ravish/devastate; tenuous/tentative.

5. sarcasm/sarcastic. Other examples are things like California/Californian; teacher/teaches.

6. cause/’cause. illustrate another source, like its/it’s.

7. bill/Bill. I am sure William wouldn’t mind being paid, but… And Ken may be smart, but the word is different from ken.

8. a bout/about; recur/re occur; preconception/pre conception. A space can make all the difference.

9. pin/p=in; artichoke/art[choke. Sometimes a symbol gets in through a finger stumble, and divides a word into two legal ones.

10. knots under/knot sunder. This is a different space problem from 8. “The knots under the parcel became undone” makes sense. Move the s from one word to the other, and you have a problem.

4. When “editing for content,” you look closely at plot, characterization, description, language, readability, organization, and dialogue. Can you usually tell with the first 1,000 words which of these will probably need the most help in the whole novel?

I get a very good feel for the technical competence of a writer within a couple of paragraphs. This includes characterization, the use of point of view (POV), the use of elements of writing like description, dialogue and action. However, the more subtle aspects like plot, continuity and the maintenance of tension sometimes seem all right at first, but prove to be poorly done further in the book. To counter this, for many beginning writers, the first few chapters are the worst, then the book improves.

It is actually a good idea to start writing in the middle, and introduce it later!

5. When editing a manuscript and you get to a point where the writer starts repeating certain errors, do you keep noting it for them?

That depends what I am being paid for. I often suggest to my client that we stop, I get paid for the work I’ve done, and the client applies the lessons to the whole manuscript, then sends me a new sample for a probably lower quote. But then, I am the world’s worst businessman.

6. What does an editor do when they do a “line edit?”

No, it is nothing like line dancing.

This means focusing entirely on picking up mechanical mistakes: spelling, punctuation, syntax, incorrect word usage, repetitious or awkward language. Trouble is, because I am obsessive, I can’t stop myself from also commenting on other stuff, even if I don’t actually get paid for it. Told you I am a terrible businessman.

7. I found that even I confuse certain homonyms. I put it’s when it should have been its. I know the right ones. However, when I was reading my manuscript, I missed it. Other people who critiqued my manuscript didn’t catch the error, either. Do you have any hints that might help writers catch these and similar errors?

It’s always easy to miss your own mistakes. Edit swaps or a professional editor help.

In the 1930s, a big publisher intended to produce the error-free book. They went over and over and over it… and the publisher’s name was misspelled on the title page!

It helps to put a document away and allow it to get cold. It also helps to read without meaning, just focusing on language. One way of doing this is to read from the end forward. I actually did that for galley proofs for my first few books. Now I don’t need to.

8. Who has been the most influential in encouraging you in your writing?

Oh, it didn’t happen like that. I’ve described how I started writing nonfiction. I started writing fiction because I didn’t want to cheat on my wife.

I was out of money, and out of a job. A friend suggested I should train as a nurse. But I live far from the relevant places, so that meant staying in a nurse’s home attached to a teaching hospital, and that was full of gorgeous 18-year-old girls. I had a choice: make a fool of myself running after them, or doing something creative and challenging with my free time. So, I started writing short stories.

I now have my own style, but early on, I enjoyed studying the writings of Asimov, Heinlein, Tolkien, Dick Francis, Hemingway, Conrad…

9. What are three things that help increase your creativity?

For me personally, I need to rein it in (funny how many people write “reign”). I tend to get TOO creative for my own good.

Everybody has oodles of creativity. You don’t need to increase it, but to unshackle it. The trouble is that modern society suppresses it. Creative children are more trouble to keep in line. Creative students ask questions, do things differently. Creative citizens go against herd actions, protest, see things differently, refuse to be brainwashed into being good little consumers and wage slaves.

The best way to unshackle your creativity is to throw your TV away.

10. How has living in beautiful Moora Moora, Australia inspired and helped you in your writing and your other jobs?

It has been wonderful to live in a place of beauty and power, but I like to think that wherever I am, I can draw inspiration from my experiences. I gained as much as a writer from being a nurse as from living at Moora Moora. Every experience is potential fodder to a writer.

11. What has been your proudest moment as a writer? As a psychologist? As a mudsmith?

For a long time now, I haven’t done much of being proud. I’m not bashful about achievements, but put them in their proper context, which is, “So what.” We are not on this planet to make money, gain honors, win power, status or fame. Those are all tokens in a Monopoly game. The aim of the game is to give us opportunities to grow, to become better people.

Here is another way of explaining what I mean. In New York, there is a school for gifted children. Three days a week, they go to an ordinary school, three days to the special school. At the latter, they deal with the same syllabus, but at a much deeper level, and using wonderful resources not available to others. Why do they spend half their time in an ordinary school? So they can learn to fit in with people not blessed by stellar IQs. They are taught that their high intelligence is luck, and doesn’t entitle them to arrogance. They learn to be tolerant of others, and are encouraged to make friends, fit in, be kind without even seeming to be.

12. Do you find yourself using your psychology knowledge in building your characters?

Well, there is only one of me. I do all of what I do, and they all reflect me. My writing has enhanced psychology, and my psychology has enhanced my writing. The main requirement for both creative writing and psychotherapy is empathy, so yes, they feed off each other.

13. If there was a question you wish I’d asked you, what would it be? Please answer this question, too.

Question 13? OK, I am not surreptitious (that’s one of my confusions!)


First, I am a professional grandfather. Four young people are genetically related to me, but I have hundreds of “grandkids,” all over the planet. The picture I sent you shows Ella with me. She is no genetic relation. I exchange regular emails with an 18-year-old in Saudi Arabia, a 17-year-old in Canada and a 19-year-old mother of two in Britain. There are many others. It gives me great pleasure that contact with me helps them to improve their lives that had been full of misery.

Second, at least since 1972, I’ve been a strong environmentalist. This planet only has two kinds of people: Greenies and Suicides. For many generations, humans have stolen from their descendants. We are those descendants, and ALL the trouble you see — irrational wars of hate, resource wars, climate change, resource depletion, the pollution that’s killing us, and many other problems — are the consequence of a culture based on greed. If we want to survive, we need to change to a culture based on compassion and simplicity. Above all, do no harm. Live simply, so you may simply live.

Thank you for joining me today, Dr. Bob Rich. This interview was fun and inspiring for me. I know it will be for my readers, too.

Thank you for reading my interview with Dr. Bob Rich.

Here are three of Dr. Bob’s more recent books.

Bizarre Bipeds: What IS humanity’s role in the Universe? Is a novella and three short stories. We are definitely NOT the crown of creation. The novella, Liberator, stars the perfect mammals, whose planet has been invaded by monsters from space. Guess who the monsters are?

Sleeper, Awake is an award-winning report from my visit to the future. Of course, no one would believe I can do that, so I presented it as fiction.

Cancer: A personal challenge is for everyone, because we are living on cancer planet. It is for those who want to reduce their chances of getting cancer, for those who love someone with cancer, and for those battling with this monster.

Celebrate you
Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards

Copyright © 2012 Joan Y. Edwards

22 thoughts on “Interview with Dr. Bob Rich: Writer, Mudsmith, Psychologist, and Editor”

  1. Hi, Dr. Bob and Joan,

    Very interesting interview. I can relate to number seven – I can’t control my client edits with simple line edits, I end up giving much, much more, so I take that into account when quoting a price. And, I’m an environmentalist also. In fact, I have a children’s picture book series under contract that deals with it.

    1. Dear Karen,
      Thanks for writing. You and Dr. Bob do have a lot in common. You both care about helping other writers and about helping our environment. It does seem like it’s difficult to keep line edits separate from the plot-character-problems of the story. I am so excited about your contract for a children’s picture book series about the environment. Hurray for you!!!

      Celebrate now
      Joan Y. Edwards

  2. What a wonderful interview, both questions and answers.

    Dr. Rich is an incredibly interesting individual – such varied interests/careers; therefore the diverse stories. I think I’m in LOVE with him, as obviously so many are, but I don’t think my husband will mind 🙂

    It sounds like he has been on a fascinating life journey, and how fortunate we are that you shared him with us. I especially loved the end of the interview, offering an insight into his ‘passions’ where he stated, “Above all, do no harm. Live simply, so you may simply live.” How beautiful – an ideal we should all aspire to.

    Thank you, Joan, and thank you, Dr. Rich!

    1. Dear Claire,
      Thank you for writing. I’m glad you liked both the questions and the answers. I agree with you that Dr. Rich is an incredibly interesting individual with varied interests and careers. You’re right. His words show an ideal we should all aspire to: “Above all, do no harm. Live simply, so you may simply live.”
      You’re very welcome for my post. I appreciate Dr. Rich agreeing to let me interview him. It was a good experience.

      Celebrate you and your way of making others feel treasured.
      Joan Y. Edwards

    2. Sorry Claire, I am spoken for. Married for 45.5 years and counting. Besides, I am probably WAY too old for you.
      You are right about a varied career: I’ve retired 3 times so far, 4 to go (one in a few weeks).
      Do join me in transforming the culture into sanity. There is a strong, spreading movement for whole culture change, which is summarized by the two little sentences you quoted from me. We are not alone, but the forces for greed and conflict still rule the world.
      Have a good life,

  3. I always love your posts… this one is a keeper, though. I agree with the doctor when he suggests we should rein in our creativity. Inspirations come like fireflies, sometimes–and they leave just as quickly! Now, if we could select just one firefly….. hmm.

    1. Dear Maureen,
      Thank you for writing. I’m glad you love my posts, especially, this interview with Dr. Bob Rich. You and Dr. Bob are correct, we should rein in our creativity. I hope you catch the firefly of inspiration that life sends your way today.

      Celebrate your ability to write and to paint beautiful pictures of life
      Joan Y. Edwards

    2. Hi Maureen,
      Winston Churchill once said, “The problem is not to find a possible solution, but to select from the dozen.”
      Creativity is when you are free from the yoke of other people’s opinion.

    1. Dear Widdershins,
      Thanks for writing. You are right. Dr. Bob is a cool dude. You are welcome for the interview. I am honored to be allowed to do it. I know you are going to love his books, too.

      Celebrate your love of living and of writing.
      Joan Y. Edwards

  4. Hi Karen,
    Nice to “meet” a fellow traveler. One of the rules of the universe is “The more you give, the more you get.” So, I don’t worry too much about being paid for every minute of my work.
    In fact, I spend a fair bit of time each week in email correspondence with people who are desperate, often to the point of suicide, and have no one else to help them. I get no money for that, but it is one of the most rewarding things I do.
    Actually, what we need to do to save a future for all my darling grandchildren is to apply this to all areas of life. We need to change from a culture of greed and conflict to one of compassion and cooperation.
    And if this sounds like preaching, too bad.

  5. Joan and Dr. Bob Rich,

    Refreshing! What a fun post! I especially enjoyed hearing about the way the building book came about. What a great learning experience and creative way to write a book. Not a bad way to get a house either. Great interview Joan. Thanks for asking Bob to share anything else beyond the interview. That opened up a whole new dimension.

    1. Dear Linda,
      Thanks for writing. What a nice compliment! Thank you. It is defnitely refreshing to hear about Dr. Bob’s life and philosophy. It was fun asking him if he had a question he wished I had asked. I’m glad you enjoyed hearing about his passion for compassion and cooperation. Celebrate you and your encouraging comments you leave with others no matter where you are.

      Never Give Up
      Joan Y. Edwards

    2. Hi Linda,
      When I was a young fellow, my motto was, “If there is a wrong way of doing and even if there isn’t, I’ll first do it that way.” Then in my 20s I changed this to “If someone else can do it, I can learn it.”
      Both of these are actually true, to the present day. Guess which facilitated my house, my books, and everything else.

      1. Hi Dr. Rich,
        Thanks for sharing your changing philosophy. Funny! Most of us grow in wisdom as we age. Thank goodness.

        My parents built two houses for themselves in their lifetife. They learned by going to houses under construction and applying what they learned. I have great admiration for them.

        I wish you much continued success in your writing. Thanks for agreeing to Joan’s request for an interview. I enjoyed it very much.

        1. Hi Linda,
          Obviously your parents are my kinds of people. More power to them.
          One of the crazy things about society is specialization. People put themselves into smaller and smaller boxes. Robert Heinlein, the SF writer, said, “The ant is a specialist. A man is a generalist.” Of course, this was in the 60s, when school kids giggled over being told by English speakers that “The masculine embraces the feminine.”

  6. Great interview. Your information, Dr. Bob, cleared up a few points about the editing process for me. Thanks.

    1. Dear Beverly,
      Thanks for stopping by to visit a while. I’m glad you thought it was a great interview. You are right. Dr. Bob has a great way of explaining things so that we understand.

      Celebrate you and the publication of your books!
      Joan Y. Edwards

  7. Love, Love, Love the interview!
    I am terribly biased, I first ‘met’ Dr Bob a good long time ago… oh maybe a decade or so and we have been in contact via the Internet on and off ever since. He is my favourite textual relationship!
    I haven’t read all of his books, though I did adore “Aniko, The Stranger Who Loved Me.” the biography Bob wrote of his mother! What an incredible, courageous and powerful woman!
    I am presenty half way through his newest book, “Ascending Spiral. Humanities Last Chance” I bought the book thinking I will like the book but did not think my partner would be too interested, he is bugging me to hurry up and finish so he can read it! He will just have to wait, I need to go away for ten days and the book is coming with me!

    Everything I have read that Bob has written resonates strongly with the theme of rising above hardship, finding a way through difficulties and using the creative energies within to find the answer.

    I will be buying the rest of his books in e-book form as I get time to read them.

    For anyone who shares his interests in writing, earth building, psychology and writing really should visit his website and sign up for his newsletter! There are lots of contributors and lots of topics and I always enjoy the newsletter when it arrives!

    1. Dear Cheryl,
      Oh my goodness! I am so sorry I didn’t see your comment. I hope you’ll read my current interview with Dr. Bob Rich about Guided Imagery. Dr. Bob Rich is definitely a blessing to our world.

      Celebrate you.
      Never Give Up

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