For creative and non-creatives alike, there’s a lot to learn from authors. Contrary to the stereotype, the life of an author is more than just laptops and lattes. There are stories of rags-to-riches as well as riches-to-rags. Some find success, others crash and burn, but there’s always wisdom and advice to be gleaned.
If the concept of a Reddit AMA is new to you, you’re in for a treat. The “Ask Me Anything” format allows regular people like you and me to pose questions to interesting people. It’s kind of like a crowdsourced interview. For example, check out these game developer AMAs.
Some of the best AMAs on Reddit involved authors. Follow the things they’ve said. It just might change your life.
Dan Brown, the author best known for The Da Vinci Code, is rarely taken seriously in the world of literature. His writing has been criticized for being both clumsy and pulpy but he doesn’t let that bother him. Instead, he writes what he loves to write — critics be damned — and most amateur creative would benefit from adopting a similar attitude.
Q: Your work receives a lot of criticism from the world of literary “experts,” and yet is incredibly well-received in the marketplace. Ignoring both your critics and your financial success, what has been the most rewarding aspect of your career as a writer?
People for whom creativity is a profession have little choice but to take their critics lightly. The alternative is to care deeply what people think… and, in doing so, lose all spontaneity and creativity. Yes, I wish everyone loved the books I write, but that’s not how it works for me… or any author, for that matter.
When you’re a creative person — whether a writer, a painter, or a composer — all you have to guide the process is your own taste. You create the novel/painting/symphony that you yourself like, and then you pray like hell that someone shares your taste.
Q: What do you have to say to those who are afraid to create?
Create something and throw it out before anyone can see it. Repeat the process until you create something that you can’t bear to throw out.
How would it feel to be “the most banned author in the United States”? Not many can claim a title like that, but Lauren Myracle has earned it and wears it with pride. Throughout 2009 and 2011, her books were challenged by libraries all over the country for issues relating to teenaged sexuality and alcohol use.
Q: What do you think of National Novel Writing Month? Do you think it would good to do something like this in schools?
Ah, NaNoWriMo. You know who rocks with NaNoWriMo? Jo Knowles, another of my author buds whom I admire beyond belief. I am totally up for NaNoWriMo. I usually use it as a “get your booty in gear” tool, though I’ve never written a full novel during that one month of Nov. Hell yeah, do it in schools!
Note: If National Novel Writing Month is something that interests you, check out our guide to a successful NaNoWriMo!
Q: I don’t understand, who is banning your books? Schools, libraries? I’m pretty appalled this happens, it’s not something I’ve encountered in my schooling. Sorry you had to deal with that, seems so bizarre of a thing to happen today.
Yeah. It’s bewildering. Lots of people have no idea that book banning still goes on. Look up “ALA” and “censorship” and you will get all kinds of awesome articles, resources, and information about the craziness that happens when grown-ups (usually they’re grown-ups) see a book and say, “I want that off the shelf NOW!”
I think it comes down to fear, really. Adults want to keep their kids safe. They want to keep them in a bubble of all that is good. I get that. But the real world isn’t that simple…and in my opinion, books are amazing resources that allow teens (and grown-ups) to educate themselves and think things out for themselves.
James Altucher is a determined entrepreneur who just won’t stay down. He’s founded 20 companies (of which 17 failed) and published 11 books, including Choose Yourself, a new look at how to approach life during a time when the concept of “financial security” is becoming more of an out-of-reach myth.
Q: You said you blew all your money on “expensive toys, trips, and bad ideas”. What was the WORST idea?
1) Buying a house. People always forget: a) a house is an illiquid investment so you can’t get your money back when you need it most, b) there’s millions of hidden costs when you buy a house, c) the bank owns your house, not you; when you sell your soul to a bank, you reap what you sow, d) “choosing yourself” requires freedom. The white picket fence becomes a prison bar.
2) I put $2mm into a wireless device company that didn’t work out. But in general I kept doubling down everywhere because it wasn’t any one bad investment but a psychology that I needed MORE to be happy. “Choosing yourself” requires a philosophy that LESS actually creates abundance in life.
Q: Do you have any tips for someone going into the business world? What type of degrees would be nice, what colleges in the country are nice, etc?
Forget everything in your question. Forget these words: “business world”, “degrees”, “colleges”, “tough”.
Here’s what you do: every day try to figure out ten ideas that will create value for people. You need to build the idea muscle or it atrophies like any other muscle. School doesn’t do that. School atrophies your brain.
Don’t expect your ideas to be good. After about six months they will start to be good. Become an idea machine. Help people. Eventually charge people to help them. Now you are in business. Take a fulltime job so you can get paid while you are building your idea muscle.
Introduce 2-10 people a day to each other who you think can help each other. Build out your network this way. Deliver value.
That is your schooling. Nothing else will ever work.
Known also as “America’s most beloved author,” David Sedaris has captured the hearts of millions with his humorous written style. He’s an open book with his subject matter (no pun intended), often delving into issues of his family life, education, and upbringing in a charming yet self-deprecating way.
Q: What’s the meanest thing you’ve ever said to anyone including yourself?
“I hope you die alone.”
I said that to my father when I was 13. And I’ve thought about it ever since. I don’t think he remembers it, because as a parent of 6 kids, you’re gonna hear a lot of things like that. But my fear is that my father will die alone. And…I’ll be forced, for the rest of my life, to think about that terrible thing that I said.
Q: I’m pretty curious, did you write a college application essay? Any recommendations for writing a story that portrays oneself as an upstanding member of society but not entirely uninteresting?
I think what’s hard in letters like that…I think it’s really hard to sound like yourself, when you’re under pressure, you try to sound like somebody who’s smarter than you are, or more experienced you are.
You just launch into this—you start writing and you think “Who is this person?” You’re afraid to be too casual, because you don’t want it to seem like you don’t care. So you wind up just boring them to death.
I would start by writing to an adult, maybe a high school teacher, or maybe an aunt or uncle, and writing and telling them why you want to go to a particular university. Then write your letter to the university, and put those 2 versions in front of you, and look at the difference between those 2 things.
Have you heard of The 10,000 Hour Rule? Long story short, if you want to become an expert in a field, a large factor is the willingness to put in 10,000 hours of productive practice. Malcolm Gladwell is often credited as pioneering the theory in Outliers, though he admits that most people misunderstand what the theory actually means.
Q: What is the most common misunderstanding you encounter from people who have read Outliers? From my experience, people take the 10,000 hour rule as a guarantee of success whereas I feel a lot depends on circumstance, where you were born, etc. Do you agree?
Yes. There is a lot of confusion about the 10,000 rule that I talk about in Outliers. It doesn’t apply to sports. And practice isn’t a SUFFICIENT condition for success. I could play chess for 100 years and I’ll never be a grandmaster. The point is simply that natural ability requires a huge investment of time in order to be made manifest. Unfortunately, sometimes complex ideas get oversimplified in translation.
Q: What was your experience on Glenn Beck’s program like?
A lot of people wondered why I went on Glenn Beck’s show. I don’t agree with a lot of what he says. But I was curious to meet him. And my basic position in the world is that the most interesting thing you can do is to talk to someone who you think is different from you and try and find common ground. And what happened! We did.
We actually had a great conversation. Unlike most of the people who interviewed me for David and Goliath, he had read the whole book and thought about it a lot. My lesson from the experience: If you never leave the small comfortable ideological circle that you belong to, you’ll never develop as a human being.
While we often aspire to those who forge their own rags-to-riches story, Jon Osborne is a prime example of someone who went in the opposite direction. His two debut novels earned a $500,000 advance but performed so poorly that he was dropped by his publishers. He then turned to self-publishing, which also bombed.
Fiction is a tough business.
Q: You said how you got such a huge amount of money for your first books, but why do you think so many people believed that you would sell so well when you didn’t?
I think it was the story idea for the first book that got people excited. Basically, a serial killer who recreates actual serial-killer murders but fixes the mistakes that got them caught. Perhaps it’s my writing that wasn’t good enough to make the most of the idea.
My best advice to a young writer is to let your book sit for about six weeks or so after it’s finished. I know it’s tough to do, but you’d be amazed how much better you can make it once you look at it with a pair of fresh eyes.
Q: So what are you doing nowadays, other than writing e-books? Living off of the $500,000 advance?
This is a good question that will allow me to post a warning to others to not be as stupid as I was.
I am currently looking for a job because the day I got my first contract I quit my job as a newspaper reporter. It had always been my dream to not work a regular job, but the 500K is almost gone now. Taxes and agent fees ate up a sizable portion of it, and living for four years while supporting five other people ate up the rest.
So far the only interview I’ve had is at the paper I quit. Writing jobs are few and far between, so if you’ve got one, hold on to it!
Learn More From Reddit
AMAs are great, but Reddit offers so much more in terms of interesting content. If you’ve never used it before, get started with our guide to Reddit. Beware that you may find yourself “addicted” to the site, so guard yourself with these tips on using Reddit productively. Lastly, don’t make these content submission mistakes!
Have you come across any other interesting author AMAs on Reddit? We’ve only scratched the surface so anything you can add will be greatly appreciated. Share a comment with us below!
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