(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.”