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Writers are crazy. Here’s proof I am.

(This is the type of conversation I have with Jenny when I start writing a new book. Her words are in italics.)

“I’m writing a new book.” I tell this to my wife in our kitchen.

“What’s it going to be about?” She asks.

“I’m not exactly sure yet, I need to identify some problem in my life that writing the perfect book will solve.”

“Oh good, so we’re looking at what, 6 months to a year of slow, agonizing soul searching torture expressed in the form of creating a self help book?”

“Is there a different process for writing a book?”

“God, I hope so.”

“Well I don’t know one, but that’s only a third of the process.”

“What are the other two thirds?”

“I’m glad you asked that. One third is the aforementioned painful self examination. The other third is trying to guess what will change everyone else’s life and the other third is crafting something no one can criticize.”

“So the second third is that amazing black hole of a question, ‘Who is this book for?’ which will lead you into a narcissistic exploration allowing you to believe that this book will have earth shaking, life changing consequences for all humans.”

“Yes. The fun part is that Do Over got picked up by audiences I didn’t really even know I could serve with my unbelievable ideas. Parents Magazine named it the “Mom Must Read of the Month.” And the guy who bought the most copies, was a military lawyer. He said it was perfect for people who were transitioning out of the armed forces. So now, with this new book, in addition to all the other audiences I’ve always written for, I’m going to try to anticipate the needs of moms and Green Berets.”

“You feel like there’s a lot of overlap between those two audiences?”

“There better be.”

“And the third goal of the book is to make sure that no one criticizes it?”

“No one, but also specific clumps of people.”

“Like who?”

“I call them my Jury of Fears. Get it?”

“Yes.”

“It’s like a jury of peers, like in a courtroom. But I say Jury of Fears. I try to pronounce it in a way that let’s you know it’s capitalized.”

“Yes, I understand it.”

“I think it’s going to make a killer slide or tweet someday. I’ll probably even drop that into one of those ‘Click to Tweet’ things.”

“Anyway, there are some people who over the years who have criticized me and though they’ve long forgotten I exist, I like to base my life around trying to win their approval or at the minimum prevent further disappointment.”

“Like who?”

“I think somewhere along the way somebody told me that humor isn’t enough. Somebody told me that jokes are dumb and that unless you have some sort of life changing message you’re just like Gallagher. You might as well be smashing metaphorical watermelons and jumping on a gigantic couch. I don’t know who said it but they must have been important to me because it’s next to impossible for me to write something funny without trying to shoehorn a moral or lesson in it.”

“Yeah, but then you end up ruining really funny humor with an after school message that blindsides the readers. And people love to laugh. You love to laugh. When you’re honest about who you really are, when you’ve got your guard down at dinner parties you’re not giving people life changing advice, you’re trying to make them laugh. The only people you study are comedians. That’s who you are. And it’s the most popular thing you share on the Internet. When you tweet funny things or post funny things on Facebook, those get shared 100 times more than you’re serious stuff.”

“I know, but again, humor doesn’t count. Even though one of my favorite comedians of all time, Jim Gaffigan, said that Do Over was funny, I still have a hard time seeing the value of laughter. More than just not being funny though I think I need to have an epic life to write a book.”

“What do you mean?”

“That’s what sells these days. You have to have like hiked the Appalachian Trail in an hour or built an orphanage out of reclaimed shoes or visited every state in the US with a parrot. You need a hook. I need to find a hook to satisfy people that are in love with hooks.”

“So you can’t write a book just because you’re an author and that’s what authors do, they write books? You can’t write a book because you just enjoy writing?”

“Joy? Oh to have such wide-eyed innocence. I love that about you.”

“Is that it? Is that the complete list, of your jury of fears, and I hate myself for using this cheesy description, of your jury of fears?”

“No, there are definitely a lot more and I’m always interviewing new ones, but I think the last one is the guy who tells me I’m too self promotional, that my books are too much about me and that he’s heard my ideas before. I think his name is Josh.”

“That’s not too long of a list, I guess.”

“Actually I forgot two more.”

“Oh, good.”

“I also need this book to satisfy the fear that I’m not a ‘real author.’”

“What does it mean to be a real author?”

“I don’t know, but I know I’m not one.”

“You’ve written 5 books.”

“Those were flukes.”

“You’ve sold hundreds of thousands of books. You’ve hit the New York Times Bestseller’s list, twice.”

“George Foreman sold a million of those grills but that doesn’t mean he’s a good chef.”

“One of the most respected business minds of our generation said your last book was the ‘Best career book ever written.’”

“That was kind of him, but regardless, I won’t be a real author until my books have more research in them. I need more sources. I want my ideas to be based in science and statistics and fact.”

“So basically, being a real author means the bibliography of your book is thicker.”

“Yes.”

“But you’re terrible at research, terrible at data and terrible at science.”

“I know, but that’s all about to change with this book. I’m going to write this book like Jim Collins.”

“Jim Collins, the mid 50s professor from Stanford who has spent twenty years building a research team who works on his books?”

“Yes. I feel like I can close a lot of the gap between us if I go to the library a few times. Probably four times.”

“OK.”

“And last, but not least, is the fear of ‘who cares?’ As in ‘who cares’ what I think or what I know. Who am I to write a book about life? I’m only 40 and what do I really know about life. I’m really unqualified. Everything I’ve written has already been said by someone smarter. I need to address that issue with the content inside the book. I also don’t want to write a book that I look back on 10 years from now and disagree with.”

“But there’s a chance that who you are at 50 will be different from who you are at 40. In the next 10 years you’re going to learn things you don’t know right now and some of those things might contradict what you thought you knew at 40.”

“Exactly, that’s why what I write has to be eternally true forever. This is part of my legacy. This is me leaving my mark on this world. I’m not just writing a book, I’m building a legacy. People like that word. It’s what you start obsessing about when you’re done obsessing about your purpose.”

“What is your great grandfather’s first name?”

“I don’t know.”

“What did he do for a job?”

“Not sure.”

“What state did he live in?”

“No idea. Why?”

“No reason. So how are you going to overcome the fear that as a 40 year old you’re wholly unqualified to write a book giving anyone advice?”

“Well, fortunately for me, the Internet has a very loose definition of the word ‘expert.’ I saw someone the other day say that they’re an expert at live streaming video. Periscope came out in May. You can be a 22-year old life coach as long as you’re successful at taking people to the next level. That’s always the level people want to go to. You can write a book about parenting when you’ve got a 1 year old. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.”

“That is good. So in summary, your book only needs to accomplish three things:

1. Fix some significant problem in your own life and be your identity.
2. Fix everyone else’s problems, including stay at home moms and Green Berets.
3. Be universally liked by all people, researched as well as Jim Collins and ensure future generations know your work.

“Yes. That’s a pretty good elevator speech. As a bonus, I’m going to pretend that the entire financial future of our family is riding on the success of this book.”

“But it’s not. We’re not destitute right now though. We’re not about to lose the farm or the ski slope to a rich developer who’s son has really amazing hair but is a jerk who you have to beat in a ski race to ensure we’re OK.”

“I know that, but I don’t feel like I’m very creative unless I’m also very terrified. So in my head, I’m going to act like my future, your future and our kids futures hangs in the balance of every page of this new book.”

“And I get to live with you during this process?”

“Yes. Pretty exciting right? Plus, you’ll get to read each draft of the book! I’ll ask you to give me honest feedback and then when you do I’ll be really mad. I’ll grumpily tell you that you’re wrong, that you don’t understand literature and that I am out of words. That I literally have no more words. I’ll only do this for three hours or so every time you give me feedback and then I’ll admit you’re right and make the change you suggested. It will be fun.”

“I can’t wait.”

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3 things to do if you have a bad boss.

boss

According to a variety of studies, 70-90% of Americans are disengaged at work.

Why? There are a number of reasons but one of the most common is a bad relationship with a boss or manager.

Bad bosses exist. I’ve had one or two horrible bosses in my day. If you’re in that situation right now, here are three things you need to do:

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“The president’s wife ruined our school lunches.” – My 4th grade daughter.

“When is the next election dad?” My 9-year-old McRae asked one day.

As a parent, that’s an exciting question to hear from your child. What a great dad I must be! My fourth grader is already civic minded. She’s curious about democracy in our country and is asking how she might get involved in the issues that are shaping our world.

“It’s in 2016 McRae.”

“Good,” she responded, “The president’s wife ruined our school lunches. Maybe it will get better then.”

If I made a list of “reasons my daughter would be interested in the election,” that would not have cracked the top 100.

I joked with McRae for a few minutes about her concerns with the quality of the school lunch and then we talked about other things. I thought the lunch discussion was a passing whimsy.

Three days later, McRae came downstairs with a letter she wanted me to mail to First Lady Michelle Obama. Here is what she wrote:

“Mrs. Obama,

I’m writing to you about how bad the cafeteria food is.

Every couple days I buy lunch. The pizza crust is whole grain and it’s gnarly. All the chips are oven baked and they don’t sell pudding. ☹ I know you are fighting childhood obesity. Always I hungry after lunch. There is something that really concerns me. Lots of people in my class buy multiple ice creams and chips and only eat that for lunch.

Above all my friends in 4th grade and me wish for decent food at NAME OF SCHOOL SHE ATTENDS in Franklin, Tennessee.

Sincerely,

McRae Acuff.”

Thanks Obama

There are a few things I’d like to point out about this letter.

1. Thank goodness my kid doesn’t know the phrase “Thanks Obama” or she probably would have started the letter that way. Instead she absolutely crushes the first line, addressing her key point right out of the gate. “I’m writing to you about how bad the cafeteria food is.”

2. She’s pretty clear about her main objectives. The pizza crust is whole grain and as a result, gnarly. The chips are oven baked, which is apparently not desirable either. And, crime of all crimes, they don’t even sell pudding any more.

3. She acknowledges First Lady Michelle Obama’s key objective, “fighting childhood obesity.” I’m not even sure where she learned this phrase but good for her recognizing the opposition’s chief aim.

4. Not only does she recognize the issue of childhood obesity, but she points out the fatal error of the new approach to cafeteria food – kids are still eating junk. She’s right on that point; I’ve eaten lunch with her and watched as kids ate multiple ice creams instead of their lunch. Baked chips might be better, but three bags of baked Cheetos does not a vegetable make.

5. She summarizes the whole thing like a champ. “Above all my friends in 4th grade and me wish for decent food …” She’s not asking for filet mignon or Parmesan kale salad with raisins. All she’s asking for is “decent food.” You can almost hear her standing on the cafeteria tables to rally the other fourth graders, imploring them Newsies-style to “Open the gates and seize the day!”

I’d like to think that McRae wrote this letter because her dad writes books like Do Over and she was inspired by own plucky crusade to help people actually enjoy what they do for a living, but I can’t take credit for this.

McRae likes pudding and someone messed with it.

End of story.

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Join me for the Ask An Author Anything Webinar on August 18th!

“What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone who wants to write a book?” is one of the hardest questions I routinely get asked. (You’d think that “Where’s the best place for queso?” would be, but the answer to that question is easy. “In my belly.”)

Don’t get me wrong, I love handing out sage pearls of wisdom more than banks love handing out lollipops, but one piece of advice for something as complicated and nuanced as writing a book…that’s tough.

What kind of book do you want to write? Fiction or non-fiction? When are you writing it? Why are you writing it? Do you want to go with traditional publishing, self publishing, or scrimshaw? Do you have an audience already or is your goal to build one with the book? (Needless to say, there’s a lot of factors.)

That’s why I’m excited to join Author Launch for a FREE webinar on writing a book next Tuesday, August 18th!

aaaWe’ll take an in-depth look at the writing and publishing process behind Do Over, and I’ll answer some of your questions about writing a book.

It’s a part of their Ask An Author Anything series, and it’s free, but you have to register to be a part.

Want to have your question about writing a book featured in the webinar? Ask it here in the comments and we’ll pick a few of them to use!

This is going to be a lot of fun, so I hope you can join me on Tuesday night, August 18th at 7pm Central (8pm Eastern)! The replay will be available to everyone who registers, as well.

AWESOME BONUS NEWS EXPRESSED IN ALL CAPS: Author Launch is going to be giving away 50 signed copies of Do Over to folks who register for the webinar! How awesome is that!

Sign up here and I’ll see you next Tuesday night! –>  Ask An Author Anything with Jon Acuff

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Our calendars call us on the lies we all tell.

“I’d rather binge watch Netflix than see a book I wrote on a shelf in a store.”

“I’d rather follow the plots of seven different television shows than cut the grand opening ribbon at a store I own.”

“I’d rather play Candy Crush than get in shape.”

“I’d rather stare at my phone until I get lost in a digital haze than build a relationship with the people I’m actually in the same room with.”

No one ever says horrible things like this.

No one ever makes such proclamations.

At least not with our mouths.

Most of us declare things like that with hands though.

Most of us proclaim things like that with our calendars.

Most of us shout things like that with our phones.

Most of us would cringe if we were honest for 30 seconds about the things we donate our time to.

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5 things every college graduate needs.

This month, college graduates will have a hard time finding jobs because their parents refuse to move to Florida. It’s not the pythons, alligators, sharks, panthers or bears preventing the exodus to the Sunshine State, it’s the money.

Boomers can’t financially afford to retire like they used to. In a 2014 Gallup poll, half of the Boomers said they plan to work past the age of 65. They’re not leaving their jobs, which means they’re not vacating positions for Gen X employees.

My generation bumps into them and has a hard time climbing the career ladder, because the top positions are filled already.

Millennials then graduate and bump into Gen X employees who have not been able to move beyond entry level and middle management positions.

This reality creates a job traffic jam.

Maybe you’re a college senior about to enter the workforce. Maybe you’re a parent with a son or daughter who is on the verge of receiving a diploma. Maybe you’re a relative or friend who has been invited to a graduation party and doesn’t know how to help a college graduate.

Fear not, though the situation is challenging, it is by no means impossible.

There are 5 things every college graduate needs.

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