I write for about five to ten hours a day. And another hour a day at least in pain trying to figure out what I’m going to write about.
I got thrown out of graduate school because I spent all my time writing novels that never got published. I failed five classes in a row and eventually they asked me to leave.
Finally, 13 years after that, I got my first paycheck for writing something. I got a $200 check. I framed it.
13 years later, about a few months ago, I threw the check in the garbage. I don’t like to feel sentimental over anything. I write about the past but I won’t live in it anymore.
I’ve written 18 books. I’ve written 1000s of articles. I probably write over 1 million words a year. One of my books has sold over 300,000 copies. My last book has sold about 50,000 copies. I have a book coming out on September 1.
Here’s what full time writers know.
1. Writers don’t make money
I mention the $200 check above. That’s not real money. I had two kids, rent, etc.
You have to make more than that to pay the bills.
Even when I sell 300,000 copies of a book. That’s a 99 cent book. It’s over years. It’ not a real salary and it can’t be relied on for the next book unless you are JD Salinger.
2. Writers find alternative sources of income:
Speaking, consulting, using your growing platform to launch a company, creating a newsletter, perhaps going on television, building a company with other writers (like a publishing company), and so on.
Art is when you take when you see in the world and translate it through the prism of your experience.
If all you do is write, then the prism gets too weak to make art.
3. First you type-write, then you write.
Get the first draft done no matter what.
Then the real work begins. Take out the first paragraph. Take out the last. Take out every other word.
Sculpt the ugly mass of clay you are left with. People say this is rewriting. I prefer to think of this as sculpting.
Too many people agonize paragraph by paragraph. Rush to the finish line. Then go back and walk over every step you made and see what you can do better. This is the real gift you give your reader.
4. You can’t waste more than six seconds of someone’s time.
Every six seconds people feel the urge to turn away. Looking at tiny lines on a screen or a page is not natural.
So every six seconds (every sentence), you have to give someone a new hook.
5. Most books should be chapters, most chapters should be paragraphs.
A book is really a chapter that has been artificially expanded to look like a book. Don’t fall for that trap.
Fill in as much information as possible in each paragraph. Don’t think your audience is stupid.
6. 17 Years.
This is how long it takes to be a good writer.
You can be a decent writer before then. You can be a paid writer before then. But every writer I’ve ever interviewed (and I’ve interviewed many on my podcast and elsewhere) always seem to come down to that number.
Kurt Vonnegut is a classic example. Started writing in 1945 when he returned from the war. Didn’t really have financial success with writing until about 1970 and in 1968 all of his books were out of print.
So he kept going. Persistence, even more than rewriting, separates out the good writers from the bad writers.
7. Don’t Write from a Pedestal.
Writers know that the world is a joke and nobody knows anything.
When you write like you know something, like you’re an expert, then you are making a fool of yourself.
Many writers kill themselves because they’ve run out of things to joke about. They’ve run out of enough life to turn into insanity.
Put yourself in the writing. Don’t say “10 things to make life better”. Say, “10 things I had to do to make life better or I would die.”
8. In good writing, people have no skills.
Remember the character in the movie who walks in a room and instantly hits the guy who is about to slash him from behind?
That guy doesn’t exist in the real world.
In the real world, we don’t have skills. Nobody does. Remove your skills. In good writing, remove people’s ability to deal with the world around them.
Life is hard. The universe has been around 14 billion years and we’ve only been around 10-90. Don’t think you can fight the tidal wave of atoms that swarm over our destinies.
Constantly remove skills from everyone to make your writing better.
9. Reading is magic
When you read a book, you get the entire curated life of another person.
So the more you read, the more lives you absorb. This gives you more experiences to write about.
Reading is critical to writing well. Read non-fiction for ideas. Read quality fiction to get better at writing.
10. There are no answers, only questions.
Writers ask questions.
A writer who provides an answer is not a writer but a preacher.
The world is filled with mysteries. Writers point them out, flounder around inside of them, and ultimately leave with more mystery.
All of this is BS.
See the world with your own unique eyes, your own unique failures, your own unique you.
Tell us about it.
James Altucher is a writer and an entrepreneur. Discover more about him here – James Altucher