The Obstacle Is The Way: My New Book & A Bunch of Reading List Bonuses

April 3, 2014 — 24 Comments

I’ve waited to write this post since I was 19 years old. I’m coming to you, my readers—many of whom I’ve known since I started on this journey—to officially announce my book, The Obstacle Is The Way, and offer these amazing bonuses as a thank you for your support.

It started with a decision to really get into reading, which brought me to an old book (Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations). That amazing book guided me to many other books (many we’ve read together) and eventually led to the creation of this book (which I am as proud of as I have been of anything I’ve ever done).

I can’t tell you how grateful I am for all the connections I’ve made over the years with you. So let’s get to it.

The Book

The book is The Obstacle Is The Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials Into Triumphs. As all of you know, I’ve always been a student of Stoicism, a practical philosophy favored by influential Greek and Roman statesman and thinkers. I’ve long written about these things on my blog but never in a book. That changes now. This book isn’t about Stoicism, though. It’s a book about using the best parts of Stoicism to solve the actual problems that ambitious, hardworking people face. The premise of the book is based on a simple maxim by Marcus Aurelius:

“The impediment to action advances action.
What stands in the way becomes the way.”

From this maxim I’ve created a manual for overcoming obstacles and turning them into opportunities—illustrated with dozens of stories (many of which we read here first) from John D. Rockefeller to Amelia Earhart to Ulysses S. Grant to Steve Jobs to George Clooney to Barack Obama to Laura Ingalls Wilder to Arthur Ashe to Demosthenes to Abraham Lincoln to Thomas Edison. It is a book that will become more valuable to you as you revisit it, using it when faced with the challenges we all face in life.

Here’s the blurb from Steven Pressfield (for more, read them here):

“Follow these precepts and you will revolutionize your life. Read this book!”
Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art and Gates of Fire

My Offer To You

Like last time, I want this book to reach people and make a difference. I also want it to be a bestseller and I’m asking for your help to do that. To make it worth your while, here’s the offer:

If you pre-order 1 copy of the book before May 1st, you’ll receive:

*1 supplementary PDF, “How I Wrote The Obstacle Is The Way”, which details the process that allowed me to write the book in three months, and how a chance encounter with Tim Ferriss and a trip to Rome helped me finish the manuscript.

*1 exclusive copy of “The Obstacle Is The Way Reading List”, which details all the books that led to me writing The Obstacle Is The Way.

*1 exclusive copy of my entire archive of Reading Recommendations, which includes every book I’ve recommended over the past four years. I’ve never compiled a full list of everything that’s ever been in the list before—it will be hundreds of handpicked books not available anywhere else.

Click here to pre-order 1 copy, then email your receipt to ryholiday@gmail.com with “Preorder #1″ in the subject.

If you pre-order 5 copies before May 1st, you’ll receive:

All of the above (PDF about the book, the reading list and an archive of the hundreds and hundreds of books I’ve recommended) PLUS:

*1 private/confidential copy of my Mastery of Marketing Reading List (required books and articles) that I used to train myself and now each of my new employees.

*1 one-of-a-kind, original signed 4×6 notecard that I actually used while researching and writing this book. I’ll pick one at random, sign it, and mail it to you. You can use it as a bookmark, paste it inside your copy of the book, or put it on your wall.

*3 personalized book recommendations that I’ll select just for you. You tell me a little about what you like to read and I’ll personally pick out three of my favorite books that I think you should read and will love.

*1 invitation to a one hour private group Q&A webinar where I’ll answer questions live about The Obstacle Is The Way, my previous books, and anything else anyone asks.

Click here to pre-order 5 copies, then email your receipt, mailing address, and your reading interests to ryholiday@gmail.com with ”Preorder #2″ in the subject.

If you pre-order 15 copies of the book (to give to friends, family, colleagues) before May 1st (Limited to the first 50):

On top of all of the above, you will get a private 30 minute Get Unstuck one-on-one call with me. In this call, we can talk about whatever you’d like, whether its strategy, books, or obstacles. It will be your open forum. As you can see, I usually charge $1500 for an hour call like this—even more when I talk to companies and public figures. Because you guys have supported me and have been along for the ride over the years in the creation of this book, I wanted to give you a ton value for this release.

Click here to pre-order 15 copies, then email your receipt, mailing address, and your reading interests to ryholiday@gmail.com with ”Preorder #3″ in the subject. My assistant will email you to schedule our call together.

The Choose Your Own Bonus

Maybe you have a better idea for a bonus? Well, make me an offer of how many books you’d preorder for it (Hint: Start with more than 15). I’ve worked with billionaires, politicians, actors, artists, and musicians. I’ve written book proposals, created bestselling books, spoken at conferences all over the world, and lectured at world-renowned universities. All of that is on the table.

Want to work together? Want me to do a keynote for your company or conference? Advise your startup? Have a daylong personal consult? Let me know what you have in mind, I’d love to make something big happen. Put “Choose Your Own preorder” in the subject line and email ryholiday@gmail.com and I’d love to talk.

Pre-order 1 Copy, Get 3 PDFs
Pre-order 5 copies, Get 3 PDFs, plus a private/confidential copy of my Mastery of Marketing Reading List, a signed Commonplace Book notecard, 3 personalized reading recommendations, and a private invitation to an hour long webinar with me.
Pre-order 15 copies, Get all of the above plus a private 30 minute call with me

To get these bonuses, all you have to do is email ryholiday@gmail.com with the subject line preorder #1, #2, or #3 (depending on which one you choose), and a screenshot of your Amazon or B&N or other receipt. The PDFs and reading lists will all be sent in mid-April, possibly earlier if I decide not to batch them. My assistant will email you to schedule our call together.

You can buy the book anywhere, including through the following links:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
iTunes
800  CEO Read
Indiebound
Books A Million

The Notecard System: The Key For Remembering, Organizing And Using Everything You Read

April 1, 2014 — 28 Comments

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After the response to this recent LifeHacker piece, I thought I would explain the system I use to take notes, research books and keep track of anecdotes, stories and info I come across in my work.

This isn’t the perfect system. It might not work for you. All I can say is that since learning it about 7 years ago, it has totally transformed my process and drastically increased my creative output. It’s responsible for helping me publish three books in three years, (along with other books I’ve had the privilege of contributing to), write countless articles published in newspapers and websites, send out my reading recommendations every month, and make all sorts of other work and personal successes possible.

Now to be clear, this is not “my” notecard system. If anything, I use a perverted version of a system taught to me by the genius Robert Greene, when I was his research assistant. What he taught me was neat, clean and orderly. Mine is more of a mess. But it’s still be hugely helpful to me and I think I’m in a unique position to explain this method to people.

I hope it inspires your own method.

The System

-It’s difficult to describe this in any linear way so I am just going to do this in kind a brain dump way. By the end of it, I promise the system will make sense.

-If I have a thought, I write it down on a 4×6 notecard and identify it with a theme–or if I am working on a specific project, where it would fit in the project. For instance, as I was preparing for my next book, The Obstacle is The Way, I filled out thousands of these cards for ideas and concepts that I wanted included in the book. Some examples:

“Don’t be the slave of circumstance.” (intro)

“We know objectively that we learn from failure, yet we spend all our time trying to avoid it. Why?” (intro)

“Gaman–the Japanese word for endurance” (Persistence)

“Our actions our constrained, our will is not. We always decide whether we continue or not.” (Will)

“Ulysses S. Grant–incident at Mathew Brady’s studio where glass fell on him and he didn’t move. Also, where he ran toward the explosion at City Point. See: Simpson’s bio” (Nerve)

So those are the kinds of notes I write to myself. Either sentences in my own writing, words I like, questions I have, or examples I think might fit somewhere and want to learn more about.

-Most of the time, what I write down are quotes (I used to put them on a blog instead but it was too unwieldy). They’re either famous quotes or quotes from the writer that I think are smart. It’s very important that you mark quotes properly so you never risk forgetting to attribute. To make this extra clear, I always put a circle around the first quotation mark. If I am quoting someone quoting someone else, I’ll usually write “qtd in.”

-If it’s a really long story or example, I will just jot down a few notes on the key points and then put something like: “For a story about _________ see: pg 14 in [insert book].”

Here are some quotes from my Strategy cards:

“It is better to see once than hear a hundred times.” – Gorbachev

Retort: “You may not be afraid to have your hand cut off, but your body will suffer.” – John D. Rockefeller

“Politeness is to human nature what warmth is to wax.” – Schopenhauer pg 77

“Pursuit should be to the last breath of man and beast.” – (Prussian Maxim qtd in Knights Cross)

“All men work more zealously against their enemies than they cooperate with their friends.” – Caesar qtd in Schiff’s Cleopatra pg 19

“Find them! Fix them! Fight them! Finish them!” – Gen. Ridgway/military slogan in Korean War. qtd in Savior Generals.

So those are the kinds of quotes I grab for one particular topic. Most of the quotes are longer than that, but space is constrained here in this post so I won’t rewrite the longer ones for you. For longer quotes, I will type them out and print them. Then I cut them out and tape them to a notecard.

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-I’ve talked about this before, but the key to this system is the ritual: Read a book or an article and diligently mark the passages and portions that stand out at you. If you have a thought, write it down on the page (this is called marginalia). Fold the bottom corner of the page where you’ve made a note or marked something (alternatively, use post-it flags).

-A few weeks after finishing the book, return to it and transfer those notes/thoughts on to the appropriate note cards. Why wait? Waiting helps you separate the wheat from the chaff. I promise that many of the pages you marked will not seem to important or noteworthy when you return to them. This is a good thing–it’s a form of editing.

-In the top right hand corner of each card, put a theme or category that this card belongs to. If a card can fit in multiple categories, just make a duplicate card. Robert uses color coded cards for an extra layer of organization.

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Some categories I currently use:

*Stoicism

*Life (General advice about life)

*The Narrative Fallacy (Something I’d like to write a book about one day)

*Strategy (Examples of strategic genius or wisdom)

*Post Ideas (Many cards here have been turned into articles you’ve read)

*Animals (Weird stories about animals. For instance, according to the book One Summer by Bill Bryson, the hotel that Babe Ruth lived in for most of his career had a live seal living in the lobby fountain)

*Trust Me, I’m Lying (Media manipulation)

*Writing (Wisdom about the craft)

*Education (Wisdom and ideas about learning)

*Misc (Naturally)

-As you compile cards and study different things, it’s not uncommon to organically begin coming across unexpected themes. This is how new categories are born.

-If you are working on a book project where there are a limited amount of themes or you know exactly what they are, it makes sense to introduce a shorthand. For instance, with my last book Growth Hacker Marketing, I had 6 themes that roughly corresponded with the chapters and structure of the book:

1) Intro

2) Growth Hacking

3) Product Market Fit

4) Growth Hacks

5) Virality

6) Optimization and Retention

(Misc)

-If anyone hassles me about my sloppy handwriting in the photos, I swear to god…

-Originally I would do one set of note cards for a whole book (numbering the cards 1,2,3,4,5 etc–but I found that limited my ability to move the pieces around because unrelated but important ideas were wrongly joined together.

-I think it’s important that the notes are not just about work. In mine, my two most important categories are “Life” (which is mostly advice for myself) and another called “Me”, where I put things that I think are important criticisms or places for improvement in my own life. (By that I mean stuff about dealing with parents, relationships, etc. Just little reminders that help.)

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Here are some cards from those sections:

“He’s detached about your pain, but God knows he takes his own pain more seriously than cancer… It finally dawned on me that my father, for all his protestations and lectures and writing about detachment, is a very, very needy man.” Margaret Salinger, qtd in Salinger pg 570 (Me)

These people don’t work hard enough for their opinions to matter to you. (Life)

“Just because you’re winning a game doesn’t mean it’s a good game.” Seth Godin, Icarus Deception (Life)

“Q: Ok, but what should I be most worried about here? A: Nothing should worry you” conversation with a friend (Me)

“Character is fate.” Heraclitus (Life)

“If you see fraud and do not say fraud, you are a fraud.” – Taleb

Don’t pick fights with members of your own team. (Life)

“You know workmen by the chips they leave.” – Old saying (Life)

-Don’t stress about filling up whole cards. I have hundreds that just have a ONE or TWO words on them. These might be cool new words that I’ve never heard before, words I think have a lot of meaning in them, reminders about topics I want to mention.

-Helpful tip: If you end up using the back of the card (I do it fairly often), put an arrow on the front side. Sometimes when you’re flipping through them, you miss the fact that there is text on the back.

-Get in the habit. If you have an idea, put it on a damn card. If you don’t, you’ll regret it. I can’t tell you how many times I saved my ass writing down a title idea or a thought, I otherwise would have forgotten. It’s a good thing when your own cards surprise you.

-When I go back through the cards, I’ll often remember other things from more recent reading or thinking and add to them. This is why, if you went through all mine, you’d see different colors of ink on the same card.

Other People Who Use This

-I want to be clear that I’m not the one who invented this. I didn’t even perfect it. I’m just explaining it because people asked.

-Here’s Robert explaining his system in an interview with Andrew Warner at Mixergy (he shows one of his boxes on camera if you feel like looking):

I read a book and I take, as I’m reading it, I underline it and put notes on the side and then I go back and put them on notecards. And I can gauge a good book will generate 20 to 31 notecards. A bad book will generate two or three notecards and I will find themes in this book and I will take a book that’s maybe not organized very well and I will do the organizing. On page 30 you talk about this and you talk about it on page 180, you should have put those two together but I’m going to put those two together. And I find the themes in there and I break the book down into the gist of it, the heart of it.

And, I categorize it later as I move into the process, I see these themes and patterns that you were talking about that an apprenticeship, creativity, working with a mentor, social intelligence. Slowly the chapters come to life and I’m now able to organize it in various chapters. Each part has the title of the book on it and is color coded, having different colors of cards, depending on the kind of subject that I’m dealing with. If it’s the arts, science, politics, etc. It’s elaborate. You don’t want to know everything about it, but with this there now, if I’ve done all that work and I sit down to write, I have at my fingertips, all of this. If I want to do Leonardo da Vinci, I have 50 notecards that break him down from every possible angle. I can now, with that, write in a much fuller, deeper, dimensional way because I’ve taken all this information and I’ve organized it.

-Someone also asked him about it in his Reddit AMA. Here is that exchange with some info about the color coding:

user: Robert, I’m a big fan of yours. In one interview you mentioned your research method for your books (with index cards and shoe boxes). Could you provide some more detail on the process of your method?

[–]robertgreene I read a book, very carefully, writing on the margins with all kinds of notes. A few weeks later I return to the book, and transfer my scribbles on to note cards each card representing an important theme in the book. For instance, in Mastery, the theme of mirror neurons. After going through several dozen books, I might have three hundred cards, and from those cards I see patterns and themes that coalesce into hardcore chapters. I can then thumb through the cards and move them around at will. For many reasons I find this an incredible way to shape a book.

user: Ah–found it! Still curious about the colors, but I guess the obvious answer is that they would represent categories, topics, and the like. :)

[–]robertgreene The colors represent categories, you are correct. So, for instance, with the War book, blue cards would be about politics, yellow strictly war, green the arts and entertainment, pink cards on strategy, etc. I could use this in several ways. I could glance at the cards for one chapter and see no blue or green cards and realize a problem. I could also take out all the cards of one color to see which story I liked best, etc. It also made the shoebox look pretty cool.

user: That’s ingenious–so you’ve effectively created a relational database in a shoebox, because you can have many to many relationships between card colors and chapters. Your passion for organization is one of the (many) things that makes your work so incredibly fun to read and reference. Thank you for sharing some of that with us.

-It looks like the system is also very similar to Luhmann’s Zettelkasten. Though again, his discipline seems to exceed mine because I am a lot less ordered.

-Ronald Reagan also kept a similar system that apparently very few people knew about until he died. In his system, he used 3×5 notecards and kept them in a photo binder by theme. These note cards–which were mostly filled with quotes–have actually been turned into a book edited by the historian Douglas Brinkley. These were not only responsible for many of his speeches as president, but before office Reagan delivered hundreds of talks as part of his role at General Electric. There are about 50 years of practical wisdom in these cards. Far more than anything I’ve assembled–whatever you think of the guy. I highly recommend at least looking at it.

-It’s not totally dissimilar to the Dewey Decimal system and old library card catalogs.

-I’m sure there are other awesome people who use a similar system. If anyone has examples, send away!

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FAQ

What do you use these note cards for? Whatever I want! Recently I started tweeting quotes that I had taken note of. But that’s just a little thing. I use these notecards for my life. When I have a problem, I flip through them. When I am looking for material in my writing, I use them. For instance, I wrote this post exclusively off my notecards (if you couldn’t tell).

How do you know what to write down? You just write down whatever you want. Don’t stress about it. This is your system. We all have our own preferences. Personally, I look for actionable, small sized chunks.

Where do you put the cards? I have one big box that I used that’s actually meant for photos. It’s called a Cropper Hopper. But it took me a long time to acquire enough cards to need that. Before, I used the smallerVaultz 4×6 Index Card File boxes. There are also cheaper cardboard versions out there.

What do you do when a box gets full? If I am taking notes for a specific project, like a book, I give it it’s own box. For instance, my Cash Money book is just about at the stage where it can fill up a Vaultz box. After another hundred or so notecards, I’ll move it into it’s own Cropper Hopper.

Wouldn’t digital be easier? Yes. But I don’t want this to be easy. Writing them down by hand forces me to take my time and to go over everything again (taking notes on a Kindle is too easy and that’s the problem). Also being able to physically arrange stuff is crucial for getting the structure of your book or project right. I can move cards from one category to another. As I shuffle through the cards, I bump into stuff I had forgotten about, etc.

Isn’t it hard to carry around? Yeah, a little. But so what? It pays off so it’s worth it. Joking aside, what I tend to do is just take the section I am working on with me. If I am working on chapter 2–I take those cards. If I am writing a post about education, I’ll take the education cards with me. Very rarely do I find that I need the whole thing with me.

How do you remember it all? That’s why doing it physically is so important. I am invested in each one of these cards. I made them and arranged them with my own hands. This tactile relationship helps. As one reader put it, it helps make a “memory palace.” I don’t vaguely remember what I put on the note cards, but where I put it, what it’s connected to, what’s around it, when I did it, etc.

Do you review the cards? Absolutely. If I am lacking inspiration or just kicking something new off, I always try to flip back through them. It doesn’t have to be all of them either. Just grab a few. Another example: When I wrote the new foreword for Trust Me I’m Lying, I started by going back through the cards. When I starting prepping the paperback of Growth Hacker Marketing (out in 2014), I went through the cards and was able to find a place for some that I hadn’t used the first time.

But wouldn’t Evernote be better? Maybe for you but not for me. If that’s what you want to use then go for it. But I think there is something irreplaceable about the physical aspect. Physical books, physical notecards, that’s the best in my opinion.

What if something happened to your box? My house recently got robbed and I was so fucking terrified that someone took it, you have no idea. Thankfully they didn’t. I am actually thinking of using TaskRabbit to have someone create a digital backup. In the meantime, these boxes are what I’m running back into a fire for to pull out (in fact, I sometimes keep them in a fireproof safe).

Remember there is no right and wrong way to do this. The system that I have was taught to me by someone and I made my own modifications. His way works best for him, and I have a way that works better for me.

Make your own way. But I think you’ll love this system.

This post originally ran on ThoughtCatalog.com. Comments can be seen there.

8 Simple Rules To Live By From The World’s Greatest Deep Sea Diver

March 25, 2014 — Leave a comment

Before he became arguably the greatest deep sea diver who ever lived, John Chatteron was a medic in Vietnam. What he saw there, as men died around him and as he was continually sent out into the jungle on essentially pointless missions in a probably unjustifiable war, were glimpses into deepest recesses of humanity.

What came from this were rules—certain heuristics for how to live, how to fight, how to escape death, how to face death, how to help others and how to be prepared for just about anything.

What he learned in Vietnam—not as a soldier, but as a medic whose job it was to save lives and not take them—guided Chatteron much later in life when he faced even more unimaginable stressors and trouble. He turned to them when he found himself in the water, diving just feet from the World Trade Center towers on 9/11, when he was one of the first to dive the wrecks of the Lusitania, the Britannic and the Titanic. You can imagine that he turned to them when he became stuck inside a lost German U-Boat off the coast of New Jersey, and you can be damn sure he thought of it when he was later diagnosed with cancer (likely due to his exposure to Agent Orange).

You see, it’s often in times of deep shit that we discover truths about life. It’s when we realize that cliches and common sense and passed along wisdom are usually right and common for a reason. We can lean on them because they can support our weight.

John Chatterton’s rules deserve to be thought of in that league.

Here they are, adopted from the classic book, Shadow Divers.

— If an undertaking was easy, someone else already would have done it.

— If you follow in another’s footsteps, you miss the problems really worth solving.

— Excellence is born of preparation, dedication, focus, and tenacity; compromise on any of these and you become average.

— Every so often, life presents a great moment of decision, an intersection at which a man must decide to stop or go; a person lives with these decisions forever.

— Examine everything; not all is as it seems or as people tell you.

—It is easiest to live with a decision if it is based on an earnest sense of right and wrong.

— The guy who gets killed is often the guy who got nervous. The guy who doesn’t care anymore, who has said, “I’m already dead—the fact that I live or die is irrelevant and the only thing that matters is the accounting I give of myself,” is the most formidable force in the world.

—The worst possible decision is to give up.

These are literally battle hardened principles. They are rules for how to live not from some university professor but from someone who saw what life truly is—both good and bad, violent and peaceful, beautiful and terrifying.

They’ve been tested 200+ feet below sea level and in helicopters under fire in South Vietnam. I think it’s safe to say they may be of some value to you today, wherever you happen to be and whatever you happen to be doing.

This post originally ran on ThoughtCatalog.com. Comments can be seen there.

How To Beat “The System”: The Ultimate Scarcity of Good Stuff

March 19, 2014 — 7 Comments

It’s totally messed up if you think about it. There are millions of people out there dying to be writers. Yet when a good writer puts together a book proposal (that is, a potential book), publishers actually bid against each other for the privilege of publishing it.

And before you say “Oh, that’s only for established authors,” it isn’t. My first book started a bidding war. All sorts of first time authors experience this. Some guy you’ve never heard of just got $2 million for a 770-page historical novel. As desperate as people are to be writers, publishers are apparently as desperate for good writing.

Thought Catalog did a piece on young people who had their dream jobs. Considering the economy, there are undoubtedly a bunch of other struggling kids (and adults) out there dying for those jobs. At the same time, the sad irony is that those young kids with the dream jobs probably fend off job offers from other companies on a regularly basis (Note to the girl at Gawker: You should absolutely accept the next one that comes your way. Your life will get better.)

So what’s going on? Why do some people live the dream while others are grinding it out in obscurity, waiting for their shot?

Well, some people would say those lucky few at the top have some natural talent advantage. That’s probably part of it, but most of the smart analysis of mastery show us that those things are relatively minor factors when it comes to achieving greatness. Or they’ll say it’s a matter of “privilege” — but if that were so, how did any disadvantaged people make it through?

Which leaves us to the explanation that always seems to come up in people’s gripes: The System. We have a broken system that holds people back, we tell ourselves. It doesn’t care about me. It’s just luck. It doesn’t appreciate my work.

But that’s just bogus.

The system is not a person. It is not sentient. But as far as it is, we’ve got to realize that it wants only one thing: good stuff.

Do you think store owners are sitting around going, “We can’t possibly fit another hot product in our stores. We have no more room for things, even though they’ll sell”? I have to have the same discussion with my clients who are nervous or intimidated about marketing and publicity. I ask them, “Do you think reporters are sitting around complaining, ‘Man, there are just too many great stories to write about?’”

Of course not. It’s the opposite. There’s never enough.

They want you as much as you want it. Provided that you truly deliver the goods.

Here’s what you’ve got to realize: that is super rare. Good stuff is the ultimate scarcity. And the market for it is basically infinite. That is why the people who have it command insane, illogical compensation for it. But everyone is too focused on the wrong things and so the spoils go only to an elite few.

There is a story about George Clooney, who struggled early on in auditions as an actor. His problem was that he just wanted everyone to like him. Then he remembered that they were trying to hire someone. That was their job. And his job as an actor was to solve their problem.

No one is keeping you from your dream job. In fact, the people hiring for your dream job are sitting around wondering where the fuck they can find some good applicants. The same applies to basically everything else.

Writing a book isn’t about getting a good agent. Making something that sells isn’t about lining up the right investors. Getting press or attention isn’t complicated.

You have to do something that’s good. That means: drastically better than existing stuff, different than existing stuff, or easier to work with than existing stuff.

That’s the simple part. The hard part is that this takes a long time and a lot of work. You have to pay your dues. Read the books. Study the best — the ones who came before and the ones who are doing it now. Find a mentor. Don’t phone it in — find that thing that really, passionately compels youApply yourself at more than one thing and then roll it all together into something special and new.

When you do this, eventually you become the solution to a common problem across basically every section of the economy. They are all trying to separate the really excellent people/ideas/companies/things from the crap. Because there is so much crap. There is so much sameness. There is so much “looks good on paper but totally under delivers.”

You don’t have to be one of those people. One of those sad, resentful cases who doesn’t have what they want and think someone else is preventing them from having it. On the contrary, they need it! And they’ll pay you out the ass if you promise to keep up the supply.

This post originally ran on ThoughtCatalog.com. Comments can be seen there.

How to Keep A Library Of (Physical) Books

March 10, 2014 — 23 Comments

The hardest part of my most recent move: figuring how to transport nearly 1,500 books. All the rest of our stuff–in the age of IKEA–turned out to be easier to sell on Craigslist or throw away than to move. But the books? Something had to be done.

My library Sept 2013. Austin, Texas

My library Sept 2013. Austin, Texas

They are my life and my livelihood.

Ultimately, I ended up hiring 1-800-Pack-Rat to send a portable storage unit to my house– a pod 8 feet by 8 feet by 8 feet– which I filled up and then shipped off to the new house. Nearly 30 full boxes of books were loaded in (plenty of space left if I’d had more). I used movers on TaskRabbit and didn’t have to pick up a single one. The books arrived right outside my door about ten days later. It was amazing. I wish I’d thought of it before.

See, I’ve been keeping a library for as long as I can remember. My enthusiasm has been sporadic of course. (There was a boneheaded moment in college where I sold a bunch of books back because they were giving away Skittles to the people who did it.) But I read a lot and strive to keep, return to and reference what I’ve read whenever I can.

Moving the books New Orleans (Garden District)

Moving the books New Orleans (Garden District)

That isn’t to say it’s been easy. I’ve moved a lot over the years and every move makes you question why you keep something that weighs thousands of pounds and takes up many cubic feet. Just two years ago, when I moved to New Orleans, my library was much smaller. Still, I had to rent a small U-Haul trailer just for my books and drive it across the country. And because I had a smaller place, most of the books had to stay in boxes and couldn’t be arranged properly. It was miserable.

Today, finally, after years of waiting, I have them all in one place. I could not be be happier. I’m already reaping the benefits in my writing and my work.

My library (in infancy), mid-move. August 2008. Downtown Los Angeles

My library (in infancy), mid-move. August 2008. Downtown Los Angeles

Below are some tips on keeping and maintaining your own library. I hope they help:

-First, you have to read a lot. A lot. Read when you fly, read when you wait for doctors appointments, read when you’re eating, read before bed, take breaks from work and read. Every chance you get, read. If you need recommendations, I’m your man (more on this below)

-Buy, buy buy. I took some heat for criticizing checking books out from the library a while back. Books are an investment. I understand they cost money upfront…but that’s how an investment works. I think I spent something like $4,000 on books in 2012. 75% of that was on Amazon, the rest was B&N in store or various indies. You gotta spend money to make money.

-Oh, that sounds like a lot? Average student loan debt for the same period was about $30k. If you don’t like that equivalency, what’d you spend on cable, movies and bar tabs? What are the chances of that ever turning a profit? The books have more than paid for themselves (if only in improving my life and outlook and providing pure enjoyment, to say nothing of their ideas, inspiration and lessons).

-I’ll be real clear about the benefits of owning physical books: You own them. They are there, physically, in your house. You cannot forget about them. A different app is not one click away. You can see patterns. You can gauge your progress. You can show off your efforts (and you should–reading is something to be proud of). You can look for what you need, find it on the shelf and satisfyingly say “Ah, here it is” and find the exact passage you marked for this purpose.

-In my eyes, there is no question that I am able to write as much as I do and have been able to accomplish as much as I have been fortunate to accomplish because of the library I have built. When I do my taxes each year and look at what I’ve earned vs what I’ve spent on books, I see the correlation and think “Sounds about right” and then I push to up it in the following year.

-In other words, RESIST THE KINDLE. I’ve purchased a fair amount of Kindle books. Do you know how many times I have “flipped” through those books after I read them? Or looked at the notes I took? Never. I don’t even remember which ones I bought. If there were no other reason to prefer physical to digital, this is it.

-Same goes for audiobooks. They are even less justifiable in this sense. Yes they might be easier to listen to in the car, but that convenience comes at a high cost when you are trying to remember ‘where you heard that good idea a couple months ago.’

-The books on your shelves–if properly selected–represent literally thousands of years of cumulative human wisdom. This is wisdom that you can reach out and access at any second. It also stands there, also, as a reminder of the pettiness of so many of our problems and complaints.

-Organize, organize, organize. I do themes (moving messed them all up, but it was fun to start over).

-Some themes of mine: Classics. Fiction. Autobiography. Power/Strategy. Business. Cities I’ve Lived In. Civil War. War. Media/Marketing. Non-Fiction. Hollywood. Big Books That Don’t Fit in Normal Shelves. Etc.

-Have a “LIFE” section–for books that changed your life or books to live your life by. Return to these often.

-Aesthetically, once in themes I prefer to have them arranged in order descending by height. I tried color once but it didn’t work. The height gives it a sense or order and symmetry which you notice only when it is not there.

-Nassim-Taleb talks about an “anti-library.” That is, not just books you’ve read–which represent you know–but all the books you haven’t read. Knowing what you don’t know is just as important. The books you haven’t read are humble reminder.

-At the same time, I find that if books pile up, I don’t read as fast (or I forget them). So I keep multiple Amazon Wish Lists where I track books I intend to read. Every week or so I’ll buy a couple to keep my ahead of schedule.

-Pick one off the shelf every now and then and flip back through it.

-I don’t tend to care if they are brand new, used, paperback or hardcover. I usually try to get whatever the best deal is, or if I’m in a hurry, whatever will arrive first.

-Having a personal library in your house functions as a good litmus test for people who come over. If their first question is “WOW, have you read all these?” it says something about them. If they immediately start looking for books they like, or start inspecting the titles like it’s a bookstore and they’re looking for something to pick up, that says something too. You can tell a lot about a person based on their relationship to reading.

-But it takes up so much space! Just wall space, really. We fill up our living spaces with so much crap, I have to think books are maybe the least bad thing. If it wasn’t there, a couch would probably take its place.

-I understand that keeping a library of books puts you minority or at least part of a dying breed (like someone who started a record collection in 1998). Whatever. Of all the “old” traditions to stick to, a three- or four-thousand-year-old one strictly observed by basically every smart and accomplished person ever seems like a good one to go down with.

-Treat them like shit. Books are made to be broken–literally or figuratively. I recently bought a 80+ year old book for $76 (a rare book called If It Had Happened Otherwise). I took special pleasure folding the pages and writing on them. It’s mine, why treat it like a delicate flower?

-The author signed it? Cool, it’s still for reading.

-We all know that public libraries are calming and quiet. Having books displayed–or better, a room dedicated to it–brings a little of that effect into your home.

-Become a resource for others. I love recommending books. I love being able to suggest “the best” book on a certain topic. Or when you see someone you know reading something, try to think of other books you might like. Nothing builds a connection like a shared book or author.

-Refer back to them! If you’re writing a memo, see if you can’t include an anecdote from a business book. If you’re working on a blog post, cite a book you’ve read. If someone you know is going through something, try to track down that quote you vaguely remember. The more you do this, the better your recall will get.

-The point of owning the books is to use them. Make sure you take notes and keep a commonplace book. It will change your life, I promise.

-Books are no substitute for human contact, but it is still beneficial, I think, to be in the physical company of the greats. There’s no way I’m ever going to be in the same room as all the people I’ve read biographies for. Most of them are dead, for starters. But having their books close to me is a decent half measure.

-Don’t be afraid to quit books that suck. Our lives are too short to suffer through crappy books. There are too many good ones out there–put it down if you stop getting something out of it. If they really suck, sell them back to Amazon, donate to charity or throw them away.

-On that note, don’t collect for the sake of collecting. Leave that for hoarders. Get rid of the stuff you don’t like or have no real use for. When I moved I got rid of two full boxes…which I have subsequently replaced with better stuff.

-Don’t loan. If I LOVE a book enough that I want you to have it, I’ll buy it for you…or I’ll just bother you until you buy it yourself. I’m not letting you borrow my copy. (My grandfather used to put his address labels in books–I still have a few of his copies. It isn’t my style, but seeing the stickers always makes me smile)

-If you need ever a reminder to read, the constant physical presence of books near you in your own home is quite helpful.

-It’s all about the IKEA shelves. Why? Easy, cheap and you can get rid of them if you need ‘em. I prefer the Billy Bookcase but I’ve also used the Expedit in the past. Higher is better (so if they have the extenders), put the books you need the least at the top and you’ll save room.

-Collect the unusual. My favorite section of books is weird books about animals. It is two full shelves and includes a ridiculous book called The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals–a fascinating read to say the least.

-If you want a cheesy library joke, refer to your books as the “[Insert Your Name] Memorial Library”

-Is it really that much of a pain to carry books around? I never got this argument. Only once in my life after like a month on the road was I so overloaded that I had to mail some home (and I read way more than the average person). Suck it up, the benefits are worth a heavy suitcase.

-Go through other people’s libraries. I have a standing arrangement with one of my friends who has a lot of books–if I see something I like (and he hasn’t marked up the copy), I take it and ship him a replacement.

-Having a library keeps the information fresh in your head. Even just catching a glance of a title as I walk through the room is a enough sometimes to bring not just the content of the book back into my mind but where I was when I read it, what I was doing, what music I was listening to at the time.

-Try to find those books you remember as a kid. It’s nice to have and every once in awhile it will make you think or smile. I guess that’s why I tell myself I bought a copy of Everybody Poops and the Stinky Cheeseman.

-Ask smart people for recommendations. Smart people read, people who read become smart. End of story. Find out what worked for other people. It’s a great conversation starter too.

-When you read a book, mark down the other books it cites either in the text or in the bibliography. My general rule is to try to find one new book from every book I read. This will pull you into some weird but unexpected directions.

-Walk into bookstores. Whether you’re in an airport, walking down the street, traveling in a foreign country–try to find bookstores and poke your head in. I always find good, unexpected stuff this way. Sometimes I buy it there, sometimes I make a note and buy it later. Even if you use Kindle or iBooks, do this. Discovery is important.

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You keep a library ultimately because you love books. Because books are awesome.

But I wanted to write this to make the point that there are other benefits too–benefits that cannot be recreated on your iPad or Kindle. I don’t have a problem with eBooks but I can say seriously that there isn’t a single time that I read a good digital book that I didn’t immediately wish I had a physical copy of.

And these benefits far outweigh any costs or impositions. Though I imagine that next time I move, I’m going to need a bigger storage pod.

This post originally ran on ThoughtCatalog.com. Comments can be seen there.