Maria had a crush on Mark. But Mark was going out with Jen. And I had a crush on Maria but I thought I was too worthless for her.
Mark wanted to be a writer. He read James Joyce and could quote Thomas Pynchon. He had a beard. He wanted to write “The Great American Novel.”
And Maria loved him and I was jealous.
So in 1990 I started writing every single day and haven’t stopped since.
I thought I had to write a great literary novel to get a girlfriend.
So I read hundreds of literary novels. I started writing every day. I got thrown out of graduate school because I stopped attending classes.
I took jobs that had flexible hours so I could spend most of the day writing.
I wrote four novels and dozens of short stories. I even printed up a small little book of my short stories and sold them in local bookstores for 25 cents.
But mostly I got rejected. Hundreds and hundreds of rejections. Nothing got published.
29 years later I’m still learning about being a good writer.
I should’ve started by doing EXACTLY what I am about to tell you to do. I wish I had known this then.
And maybe one day I’ll write a novel.
INTERLUDE: MY FIRST “30-DAY” BOOK IDEA
In 2002, I would walk for hours in the middle of the night. I was too depressed and anxious to sleep.
I obsessively went over and over and over all my problems.
Every time I had a “solution” to my problems, my anxious brain would find more problems.
You can’t THINK your way to success, but you can DO your way to success. @jaltucher (Click to Tweet!)
I got a waiter’s pad and I sat in a cafe and I wrote at the top of the page:
BOOK IDEA: “How to Beat Your Friends and Family at Every Game in the Universe”
I wrote down 10 games (chess, checkers, poker, Scrabble, Monopoly, hearts, etc) and then listed three simple tricks for each game so you can beat all of your friends and family.
Domination at Thanksgiving!
For instance, in Scrabble, everyone thinks good vocabulary is the key. It’s not.
– Memorize the two letter words.
– Memorize the “q-without-u” words. QAT, QOPF, etc.
– “SATINE” (Google it).
If you know those three items, you’ll beat every casual player 100% of the time. You will be the most hated person at Thanksgiving, which is always my goal.
I never wrote the book. I wrote other things.
But it gave me an idea: How to write 12 books in 12 months.
CHALLENGE: FINISH A “101” BOOK BY LABOR DAY.
Pick an area you love or pick an area you want to research.
Write ten new things about that area each day that are critical for understanding it better.
Each item should surprise you. As in, “I wish someone had told me this 10 years ago.”
“I did not know that!” is the ideal response for each item on your list.
When you have 101 items, you have a first draft of a book.
“101 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ENTREPRENEURSHIP”
1) The average millionaire has five different sources of income according to the IRS.
2) Only 30% of startups fail (as opposed to the often quoted 90%), according to the Small Business Administration.
For each item, write a paragraph or two explaining it in more detail and telling a story.
“101 SECRETS THE U.S. GOVERNMENT IS KEEPING FROM YOU”
1) If you’re in NYC and afraid of a terrorist attack, stay at the Waldorf Astoria. Presidents usually stay there because below the ground floor is an exit to Track 61 — a secret train track that takes you to Grand Central and allows you to quickly get out of NYC.
2) Want to avoid taxes and live in a beautiful vacation spot? The U.S. Virgin Islands has a top federal tax rate of 3.35%, instead of the top federal tax rate of 39% in the states.
Why a number? The dreaded listicle?
Because they work.
Listicles have been popular ever since a random Middle Easterner wrote a blog post called “The 10 Commandments” in 1500 BC.
And then another blogger wrote for his meet-up group “The 4 Noble Truths” in 300 BC.
And then a priest named Martin Luther wrote “95 Theses” in 1517 and it went viral with over a billion views.
Some recent books that are among my favorites:
- The Four Agreements
- 12 Rules for Life
- The 48 Laws of Power
- 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
- 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do
“101 STRANGE WAYS TO BE HAPPIER”
1) Feeling that mid-day stress? Say a long “eeeeee” for a minute. This contorts the facial muscles around the mouth the same way a smile does.
Much research shows that actions precede emotions. And that smiling (or fake smiling) actually makes you happier.
HOW TO WRITE AND PUBLISH YOUR 101 BOOK IN A MONTH
- A) Write 10 items a day
B) Write a one- or two-page story for each item
C) When you hit 101, outsource a book cover to 99Designs
D) Use Fiverr to find someone to format for Kindle
E) Use Amazon to upload the Kindle format. They will also convert to paperback format
F) Record the audio and upload (via Amazon) to Audible.
Boom! You have a published book.
“101 SMALL HABITS WILL BRING YOU SUCCESS”
1) Take a cold shower. Cold showers shock the body, inducing deep breathing first thing in the morning, which increases alertness throughout the day.
2) Look at rooftops while you walk — it’s meditative, reduces smartphone use (which creates anxiety), and helps you to find the hidden beauty in your city.
My only number book, “40 Alternatives to College,” was actually No. 1 on Amazon under the category “College Education” for a few months after it was published.
I should do more number books.
“101 PARENTING TRICKS YOUR PARENTS NEVER TAUGHT YOU”
“101 THINGS COLLEGE NEVER TAUGHT YOU”
“101 MAGIC TRICKS YOU CAN LEARN IN FIVE MINUTES”
TEST, TEST, TEST
You can test out the content (or book idea) by taking 10 points, writing up a little story around them, publishing on LinkedIn or Medium, and gauging the response.
Shares > Comments > Likes.
Pick the book idea that has the most engagement.
There’s also sequel potential: “501 MORE Things…”
And remember to write a story around the list items. Stories sell. Not numbers or facts.
Moses had to rain down frogs, kill everyone’s firstborn, and part the Red Sea before we paid attention to his invention of the first tablet that connected to the cloud.
Moses had a story.
“HOW TO WIN AT MONOPOLY”
Buy, trade, do whatever you can to get the orange properties and build hotels on them. Buy the railroads.
Because the most common square to land on is Jail. The most common dice roll is seven. And those two things put you in the middle of the orange properties.
I never wrote that book.
Traditional games got less popular. In my local game store, chess, Scrabble, and Monopoly, are in the “Nostalgia” category.
But I love games. Probably the passion I’ve had that has lasted longer than any other passion in my life.
One day I’ll finish the book. Or start it. Or maybe I’ll just continue beating all my friends at every game.
Or losing to the friends who already know my tricks.
I tend to share too many of my secrets.
James Altucher is the author of the bestselling book Choose Yourself, editor at The Altucher Report and host of the popular podcast, The James Altucher Show, which takes you beyond business and entrepreneurship by exploring what it means to be human and achieve well-being in a world that is increasingly complicated. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Image courtesy of Alejandro Escamilla.