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.”

25 Comments
  • Joey E
    Posted at 06:21h, 19 October Reply

    “So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.”

    Quoting Bill Murray is proof that you are normal. And I be you didn’t have to go to the library 4 times to remember Caddyshack as your source.

  • Jana Barclay
    Posted at 06:26h, 19 October Reply

    Get out of my head, Jon Acuff.

    Just. Get. Out.

  • David Mike
    Posted at 06:27h, 19 October Reply

    You are lucky, your wife and family think your jokes are funny enough to be called a comedian. I wish I could at least crack a smile on my oldest daughters face with my jokes. Alas, I do get my hair school students to laugh on occasion. Also, I was going to say you are also lucky you don’t have to worry about that one person who says “I’m your number one fan.” like Kathy Bates in Misery. So that’s one fear avoided, and you’ve got that going for you as well. I’m exited to read what you have to say in this new life changing book, and I will gladly be your number two fan….

  • Osayi
    Posted at 07:05h, 19 October Reply

    And to think I thought you were more normal than me…

    Thank you for speaking on behalf of all the writers of the world… well at least the writers that read your blog 🙂

  • Troy Stonekinf
    Posted at 07:33h, 19 October Reply

    Ok, this cracked me up! Love the dialog!!! 🙂 Hey, can’t wait to see you in Chicago this coming Friday. You’ll know me, I’m the guy with the pretty wife and the unforgettable last name. It’s Stoneking. Seriously. I should wear a crown or something. Plus my BS degree is in Geology. Because I had to, the name you know.

    • Troy Stonekinf
      Posted at 07:34h, 19 October Reply

      Ok course I typed in my name wrong. That’s what I get for being snarky.

  • Mary Dunn
    Posted at 08:56h, 19 October Reply

    I love this! And, I just about wet my pants.

    • Troy Stoneking
      Posted at 09:05h, 19 October Reply

      Thanks Mary…and I’m glad you held it together. Or held it in. I’ll stop now. 🙂

  • Davis
    Posted at 09:37h, 19 October Reply

    As a 40-year-old day-job worker who loves writing but consistently procrastinates on actually doing it, despite having a supportive and sensible wife, this post resonated with me way too much. Thank you for your service to humanity.

  • Annette C.
    Posted at 10:08h, 19 October Reply

    That was exhausting to read. I assume Jenny is already working out her facial muscles for all the eye-rolling this endeavor will require. 🙂

  • Pam
    Posted at 10:11h, 19 October Reply

    Jon, this should coming with a warning label: “This material may cause the reader to wet their pants or snort milk out their nose,” This was the funniest thing about writing for writers I have EVER read.

    I don’t know what the next book is “supposed” to be, and frankly I don’t care–I’ll buy it just because I love hearing from you. Everybody needs someone who “gets” them–even Green Berets.

    Signing off to get some of my own writing done, but before I do I may just go order my Jury of Fears to P!$$ off!

  • Cheryl Barker
    Posted at 10:11h, 19 October Reply

    Hahahahahahaha! Yep, we’re crazy and maybe a tad insecure 🙂

  • Ben Brinker
    Posted at 10:32h, 19 October Reply

    This post made my day. Very funny and down to earth.

  • Becky
    Posted at 10:44h, 19 October Reply

    You and Jenny have funny and collaborative conversations! This story reminds me of the saying that we are all a work in progress!

  • Sue
    Posted at 12:21h, 19 October Reply

    This may be my favorite post ever! Thank you so much for sharing!!

  • Rick Theule
    Posted at 16:28h, 19 October Reply

    Rolling. On. The. Floor. Thanks Jenny!

  • Suzy Taylor Oakley
    Posted at 21:44h, 19 October Reply

    Your wife is so lucky. [CLICK TO TWEET.]

  • Daniel Decker
    Posted at 10:07h, 20 October Reply

    Lol. I vote for you having a parrot. Wait, a parrot who drinks LaCroix on Twitter. Parrot on Twitter, Irony. That’s a hook right there. #Differentiator

  • Melissa Hawks
    Posted at 11:41h, 20 October Reply

    This is my life and exactly my thought process. Daily.

  • Rob
    Posted at 14:31h, 20 October Reply

    Product placement- at it’s cruelest.
    Most people who do promos of their next book are not as good at it as you are.
    So even though I felt used, I couldn’t resist your skillful humor.
    Who knows maybe I will even get the book… if I get over this.

    Have you ever thought about having a way someone could comment but not do it publicly?

  • Laura
    Posted at 22:04h, 20 October Reply

    Jon, you nailed it! Thank you for saying what all of us think. Please listen to Jenny and not to that Jury. Your humor and heart are hilariously refreshing! Somehow both your writing successes (published books) and writing fails (that result in realistic and humorous blog anecdotes) are just what people need to hear. Keep up the good work!
    ~ John Brown University alumni (you spoke there once, which is how I pleasantly found out about your existence) and novice adult (who needs encouragement on the journey)

  • Art
    Posted at 03:55h, 21 October Reply

    Your conversations with Jenny could be your next book.

  • Andrew Beck
    Posted at 15:14h, 21 October Reply

    That is absolutely awesome. I love the interactions between you and Jenny. Keep up the good work and know that you are making a difference.

  • Caroline Starr Rose
    Posted at 13:37h, 22 October Reply

    Oh, this made me smile, especially after having the chance to meet a writing friend in the flesh earlier this week. We talked books and sales and editors and lists…but we also talked about what it must be like to be married to a writer. Both of us regularly enter into the “I can’t do this! What was I thinking!” phase, and it’s our husbands who have to remind us this happens every single time.

    • LouisGrace
      Posted at 11:43h, 31 October Reply

      This is an awesome article. I’ve been here for the first time and found that your site is well informative and well organized. Keep up the sharing.

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