#128 A.J. Jacobs
A.J. Jacobs has been on my wish list of guests for ages.
From The Know-It-All to The Year of Living Biblically, I have loved reading along through his lifestyle experiments that took on challenges I wish I was dedicated enough to undertake: reading the entire encyclopedia? Following all the rules in the Bible for a year even as a non-religious person? He has incredible guts to both start and finish these projects.
So when I heard about Thanks A Thousand, his latest book and a project that sought to thank everyone who was involved with the production of his morning cup of coffee, I was determined to have him on. I had myself set up for my own quest to convince him, but it turns out he was delighted to come on as soon as I asked. This conversation was a great joy, as we looked at all the small design masterpieces there are in the world around us, just how many people collaborate on the creation of a book, and how much better it makes your life to thank the people you meet every day. I couldn't be happier to share this with you.
A.J.’s latest works including The Year of Living Biblically and Thanks A Thousand
How to handle feedback
Note taking and why you shouldn’t sweat your first draft
How to create and organize a team project
Why it takes a village to get your book on the shelves
Discussed in Episode 128 with A.J. Jacobs
Using a book/writing as a way to conduct an experiment in your life.
Erin Jourdan, ep. 19 on “Stunt Journalism”
“Sometimes I get people who say they read it in the bathroom.”
On realizing a compliment is a compliment
A book idea that is also a project.
Sharing the impact of both the writing and the project on your family.
The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible
“I was exasperated but proud.”
On his wife’s reaction to The Year of Living Biblically
“You’re only reading the 1% I think are somewhat decent.”
On realizing most ideas are terrible.
“If I’m interested in a topic, I sort of take it to the extreme.”
Taking one idea he’s interested in, then wholly immersing in it.
“I don’t encourage others to do this unless you have your own book contract.”
On knowing this kind of journalism isn’t for everyone.
How writing changes the process of simply diving into something you’re interested in. There’s a meta-aspect to it, where you’re observing yourself being immersed.
The importance of copious note taking.
“I hate the actual writing part of it.”
On writing as solitary confinement.
Speaking has immediate feedback. Writing, you’ve no idea. Feedback comes a year & half later.
“I’m a writer who hates writing.”
On knowing the fact that even if drafting is hard, you can still be a writer.
Just start typing. Get your fingers moving. The first 20 minutes might be about the pigeon on the window ledge but it’s okay to know you’ll throw this part out.
“Sometimes you’re typing along a sentence and you’ll take a left turn.”
On surprising yourself when writing.
“If you can surprise yourself, then imagine what you can do to the reader.”
Making non-fiction as creative & surprising as fiction.
Using spreadsheets to organize a project.
“I went six degrees of gratitude.” On finding 1,000 people to thank for his morning cup of coffee.
“Every person that I thanked would spawn 5 other people that I could thank.” On gratitude
Working title of the book was “Thank You, All.”
1,000 became a nice structural element. Plus it’s alliterative.
He preferred “Thanks a Thousand” as the title and did some actual market research to test both titles via an internet survey.
Digression on coffee preparation.
“My one strength is curiosity.”
“The idea of a sole author is just not realistic.” On that fact that it takes a village to get a book on the shelves.
He thanked over 1,000 people in the acknowledgments.
This book came out simultaneously with a TED Talk.
He pitched 5 ideas to TED. This is the one they picked.
TED Talks are now a huge machine & they work with you to get your talk down pat.
When he watches an author’s TED Talk, he frequently thinks, ‘ah, now I don’t have to buy the book!’ In his talk, he tried to make it clear that his talk was only the tip of the iceberg - buy the book!
“There are all these hidden masterpieces around us.” On saying if you take a minute to look around, you’ll find some.
“That’s the kind of thing I want to try to notice.”
Being able to find & appreciate all the little bits of wonder in the world. And be grateful for them.
We are built to notice the 3-4 things that go wrong, rather than the things that go right.
Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of our Nature
Spend a few minutes every day just coming up with ideas, turn off media and grab pen & paper. Spend time doing random brainstorming. Could be book ideas, could just be random ideas.
“If I come up with 100 ideas, I know that most of them are not workable.” On the numbers game of writing a book
If two weeks from now he keeps returning to an idea, then maybe it’s a keeper.
It’s got to be something you’re passionate about.
Being commercially viable isn’t enough.
It has to have a bigger message.
“Perfection is the enemy.” On just getting it out there, and then you can improve it.
This episode sponsored by listeners like you via the Secret Library Podcast Patreon