How to Be In My Next Big Book

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Photo Credit: Sarah Dippity

Photo Credit: Sarah Dippity

The 4-Hour Workweek is coming up on its 10th anniversary in a few years (insane), and the time is ripe for a killer companion.  Therefore…

My next book will be a monstrous encyclopedia of success stories from readers of The 4-Hour Workweek.  There are innumerable stories I couldn’t have predicted. Taking multiple companies to IPO? Getting to the Super Bowl? Building a seven-figure muse and traveling the world with a family of 3-7…as a single parent?!

That’s just the beginning.  Now, I want to hear your story.  And I want to put you in my next book.

If you don’t yet have a success story, keep reading and I’ll show you how to create one.  I’ll also give you a benevolent kick in the ass (i.e. amazing bribe).

Please read this entire post.  To start off, there are three ways to share your story with me:

1) If you already have a success story to tell, please fill out the form at fourhourworkweek.com/success.  Easy peasy.

2) If you joined the latest Shopify Build-A-Business Competition that started last year, you can select the “Muse Category” and compete. Read below.

3) If you haven’t yet created a “muse” (automated cash-flow business), keep reading.  Things are about to get very interesting for you.

The prizes for sharing are simple: potentially be in my next book, and (if in categories 2 or 3 above) get flown to Richard Branson’s private island for billionaire coaching.

And here’s how it all works…

If you have not joined the latest Shopify Build-A-Business Competition, do this:

  • Read The 4-Hour Workweek if you haven’t.  
  • Still not sure what business to start, or which product to choose? Read this guide from Shopify and then come back to this post.
  • Create a new business: Launch an online store with Shopify by using this link. You *must* use this link or I can’t track you properly.
  • Start selling, change your life, and keep records: After the eight-month competition, Shopify will calculate your best two months of sales. From there, based on a $5K-per-month minimum, Shopify will compile a list of 20 finalists. Tim Ferriss and his magic elves will judge each of the 20 finalists using the following criteria: gross sales during the top two months (60% weight), Lifestyle Design (25% weight – i.e. how much your improve your life), and recording (15% weight – This could include YouTube clips, blog posts, Instagram pics, Twitter, Facebook, Vine, or whatever, but it should track your experiences and lessons learned. Use #4hourlaunch and link back to this blog post.)
  • Get support: Use all of the Shopify support resources, how-to guides, and community forums to learn how to grow, grow, grow.

If you’ve already entered the Shopify Build-A-Business Competition, and you want to join the Muse Category:

  • Just click this link. Enter your Shopify URL there, and you’ll be added into the Muse Competition.
  • Read The 4-Hour Workweek if you haven’t.
  • Follow the above steps from “Start selling…”  Same rules and criteria apply.

The Prizes (For Those Building Businesses and Competing):

For all competitors who sign up:

  • Private Facebook group. On February 15, 2015 at 5pm ET, Shopify will send me a list of all the email addresses of people who’ve signed up. Each person will then be invited to an exclusive and private “Muse” Facebook group, where I’ll also make occasional appearances.  It’s free, but you must sign up by Feb 15 at 5pm ET to be invited.

For the ultimate winners:

  • 5 days of mentorship on Necker Island, Richard Branson’s private island in the British Virgin Islands
  • A private jet from New York to Necker Island. Shopify will also cover the cost of getting you to NYC.
  • You can invite a guest (!), and their costs are similarly covered.
  • You’ll be joined by 5 other winners, and you’ll be mentored by Tim Ferriss, Sir Richard Branson, Daymond John (founder of FUBU), and Marie Forleo. You will get plenty of one-on-one time with every mentor.
  • Complimentary nearly-everything: meals and drinks, as well as all the island has to offer, including water sports, tennis, pools, and jacuzzi.
  • Seth Godin will hold an private group workshop on the island.
  • And many other surprises!

Timeline:

  • You must enter your Shopify store into the competition no later than March 31, 2015.  Obviously, good to get started ASAP.  Just click the damn link and get started. If not now, then when?
  • Last day to generate sales for the competition: May 31, 2015

Restrictions:

  • Entrants must have opened a Shopify store after June 1, 2014 in order to be eligible
  • The competition is open to legal residents in any one of the United States, excluding Arizona, Maryland, Vermont, Delaware, Louisiana and Montana (sorry!). The competition is also open to legal residents of the District of Columbia, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Spain and Canada.
  • BUT — Even if you’re not eligible for the Branson-related trip, you can still join the Shopify competition, get support, and join the private Facebook group!

Videos, Just for Fun:

Ready for the adventure of a lifetime?  Sign up here and get started!

Look forward to raising a drink with you on Necker :)

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How to Think Like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos

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Dr. Peter Diamandis floating with Elon Musk, James Cameron, and others.

Dr. Peter Diamandis (center) floating with Elon Musk (r), James Cameron (l), and others.

Dr. Peter Diamandis has been named one of “The World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” by Fortune Magazine.

You asked for an entire episode with him, so here it is!  The subject is simple: How to think big, and how to use the key strategies of Peter’s friends and investors, including Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and Larry Page. How do they create maximum leverage? How do they think differently? We explore all of this.

In the field of innovation, Diamandis is Chairman and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation. Among many other things, Diamandis is also the Co-Founder (along with Craig Venter and Bob Hariri) of Human Longevity Inc. (HLI); and Co-Founder of Planetary Resources, a company designing spacecraft to mine asteroids for precious materials (seriously).

If I could ask one person to write one book, it would Peter and his new tome, Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth, and Impact the World.  In fact, I have been asking him for years, and now it has arrived.  The back cover alone gives me serious envy. Check out these testimonials from Bill Clinton, Eric Schmidt, and Ray Kurzweil. Ray says simply: “If you read one business book in the twenty-first century, this should be the one.”

There are a few ways to listen to this episode, and I highly suggest a notepad:

This podcast is brought to you by 99Designs, the world’s largest marketplace of graphic designers. Did you know I used 99Designs to rapid prototype the cover for The 4-Hour Body? Here are some of the impressive results.

Also, how would you like an all-expenses-paid trip to Richard Branson’s private island for a week of mentoring with Sir Richard, yours truly, and other teachers? It’s coming up soon, and it’s going to be amazing. Click here for all the details.

Enjoy!  I didn’t have time for show notes on this one, but — as usual — I’m happy to include the first comprehensive show notes (with links) that any reader leaves in the comments. I will gladly link to your website in appreciation.

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QUESTION OF THE DAY:  What books or resources have most inspired you to think BIGGER, to 10x your results or impact?  Please share in the comments by clicking here.

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What My Morning Journal Looks Like

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History is littered with examples of successful (and unsuccessful) people who kept daily journals. It ranges from Marcus Aurelius to Ben Franklin, and from Mark Twain to George Lucas.

But what on earth did they write about?

Or perhaps you’ve seen examples of their writing and thought to yourself, “Goddamn, that reads like the Gettysburg Address!” and become demoralized.

In this post, I’ll show you what my raw morning journal looks like.

Why?

Because it’s easy to imagine our heroes as unflappable juggernauts, who conquer insecurity with a majestic mental karate chop every morning. This is, of course, an illusion. Most people you see on magazine covers have plenty of mornings when they’d rather hide under the covers all day long.

A while back, I bared my soul in a post about “productivity” tips for neurotic and crazy people (like me). I was overwhelmed by the hundreds of heartfelt comments, letters, and more that I received.

Many of you have since asked about my “morning pages,” so I’m oversharing again… Read More

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Looking for a Change in 2015? How About Becoming My Managing Editor?

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I’m looking for the perfect Managing Editor.

This person will be my right hand for all things related to content. Some of things you’d get to work with:

– One of the world’s most popular blogs (this one). Typically 1.5-2 million readers per month. See “The Tim Ferriss Effect” on Forbes for a funny description of what it can do.

– One of the world’s most popular podcasts — The Tim Ferriss Show — selected by iTunes as “Best of 2014″ and often the #1 business podcast across all of iTunes (at times, #1 across all categories).

– Email broadcasts to nearly 500,000 people.

– Social media accounts that reach millions of people.

– New top-secret projects for 2015, including high-end video and new book stuff.

Things would start with a paid one-month trial, probably around 20 hours per week. If things go gangbusters, there would be potential to expand significantly from there. Competitive pay and tons of interesting options.

Here’s more on me, if needed.

JOB DESCRIPTION

To help me focus exclusively on writing, interviewing, and other content creation, I need someone who’s expert at handling quite a bit.

The Managing Editor’s responsibilities would include, but not be limited to, the following:

* Spearheading the editorial calendar for the blog, podcast, email, etc. for the next 6-12 months. I’m too ad hoc and last-minute right now. It’s unnecessarily stressful. I need someone to manage most or all of it, including…

* Helping me reach out to would-be podcast guests and book them, prep them, confirm them, etc., whether celebrities, world-class investors, or scientists.

* Helping me draft blog posts that I don’t otherwise have the bandwidth to adapt. For instance, great unused parts of The 4-Hour Body that are currently Word docs with footnotes, etc. A past example of such adaptation: The Truth About “Homeopathic” Medicine.

* Sourcing great guest posts and guest authors. Here are two different but equally successful examples: Hacking Kickstarter and 20 Things I’ve Learned From Traveling Around the World for Three Years.

* Helping plan and implement content promotion. This would include social accounts reaching millions of people, cutting-edge experimental stuff, and more.

* Experiment with different ways of increasing traffic (syndication, managing SEO/SEM contractors, etc.).

PERKS

* You’d be working behind the curtains on high-profile projects. You’ll see all of my projects first, and get to play a critical role in their creation and launch. This could range from interviewing icons to wordsmithing posts or book chapters that will be seen by millions of people.

* I will ask your advice and look to you for original ideas, new experiments, and more.

* If you’re in SF (or willing to visit), you will also be invited to spend time with the most impressive people in my network. In fact, that would be part of your job.

* I might send you great tequila, there will be strange assignments, and you get to work with a weirdo. That’s me. There won’t be a lot of boredom.

JOB REQUIREMENTS

Please note that most of the below are “must have,” not “nice to have.”

First and foremost, you need to understand and love the goal of my content — helping people unlock their latent potential, and providing non-obvious toolkits to that end.

These types of stories must make you excited to conquer the world, do huge things, and tackle big problems. Alignment with the above mission is the most important, but you should also:

1) Have at least 2-4 years of writing/editorial experience
2) Be a great writer and equally good at editing/improving other people’s writing.
3) Have managed tight deadlines and successfully put together editorial calendars.
4) Ideal: Have managed other writers.
5) Ideal: Comfortable with WordPress.
6) Ideal but not required: Live in or near SF.  Remote is also possible.

I need someone with relevant experience. This is non-negotiable. I cannot take fresh grads or people who don’t check most of the above boxes. I’m hiring a pro, not looking to mentor someone from ground zero.

DOWNSIDES

A friend and well-known editor for a massive site cautioned me about this section. In his words:

“[It’s] great to tell people about these, but maybe be a little less brutal with your self-descriptions? These are reasonable expectations in my trade.”

Alas, I still prefer the Shackleton approach to job descriptions. Being my Managing Editor will not be easy. Rewarding? Definitely. Exciting at many times? Absolutely. Easy? Not likely. Think of it like a professional sports team.  I’m not going to haze you or anything stupid, but my content works because I take it very, very seriously. We’re here to create posts that are more valuable (traffic-wise) two years after publication than the week we put them out. We want epic content that gets linked to by “real” media all over the world. If you have the right personality for it, you’ll love this. But…

Here are some fair expectations:

* I’m an unrelenting perfectionist. If you’re not the same, it will probably make you insane.
* I live and die by deadlines. They are absolutely sacred, and I am merciless about this.
* You will need to be self-directed and very self-organized. Besides inflexible deadlines, I won’t provide a lot of structure. I assume you’re bringing a lot of your own process and best practices.
* You need good mental and physical stamina, and you MUST have the discipline to “turn off” and recharge during off hours. You should have a regular exercise regimen or activities for decompressing.

STILL INTERESTED? NEXT STEPS…

Great!

Just to re-emphasize: I absolutely need someone with experience. If you have no experience, there will be other opportunities with me in 2015. Please don’t clog things up here.

If you do check most boxes, I’d LOVE to hear from you.  2015 is going to be a LOT of fun.

Please click here to tell me about yourself.  Any questions?  Please let me know in the comments, which I’ll be watching.

Thank you for reading this far, and Happy New Year, all!

Pura vida,

Tim

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Human Foie Gras — A Golden Opportunity

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foie-creative-commons

To kick things off, what is foie gras?

It can be explained with a short missive from our friend Wikipedia:

The California foie gras law, California S.B. 1520, is a California State statute that prohibits the “force feed[ing of] a bird for the purpose of enlarging the bird’s liver beyond normal size”…

Former Senator John Burton called foie gras production “an inhumane process that other countries have sensibly banned.”

Given this outrage related to mistreating birds, you might be surprised to learn that human foie gras industries are booming.  Children’s livers are apparently particularly tasty. Not unlike veal, I suppose.

I’m putting $50K of my own money into related investments, but we’ll get back to that in a minute. First, some background…

For most of the 20th century, fatty liver and liver cirrhosis had two primary causes: drinking too much alcohol (e.g. Mickey Mantle) or hepatitis B or C (via IV drug use, unhygienic tattooing, tainted blood transfusions, etc.).

But in the last few decades, even infants are showing up with livers that should belong to hardcore alcoholics.  And the numbers aren’t small.

It’s estimated that one in ten American children now suffer from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), alongside 40 million affected adults. If you’re an obese Mexican-American boy, the odds are 50-50 (!) that you have NAFLD, thanks to genetic predisposition (PNPLA3 gene).

15 years ago, this disease was unheard of.  In 10 years, it’s projected to be the #1 cause of liver transplants. Put another way — In 2001, NAFLD was the reason for 1 out of every 100 liver transplants; by 2010, it was up a ten-fold to 1 in 10; by 2025, assuming nothing stems this tide, there could be five million Americans who need new livers because of it.

Who are driving this trend?

Some point fingers at good folks such as Coca-Cola, juice “cocktail” manufacturers, and the like.  Given that many researchers blame fructose, it’s not a huge stretch. Personally, the whole thing makes me sick.  I’d like to sic the best scientists in the country on them.

Ah, and this is where the good news comes in.

There is a way, albeit an indirect way, to do this. I implore you to read on and bear with me.  This is where it gets exciting.

The NIH alone has spent $155 billion on cancer research since 1972, and cancer survival is up a paltry 3% as a result. The US government spends over $25 billion EACH year on HIV/AIDS. That’s a lot of money.

One might assume fatty liver disease would require similar sums. After all, more American adults have NAFLD than prostate cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, or type 2 diabetes.

NAFLD

That’s the disconnect…and the opportunity to be part of history.

Enter the “Manhattan Project of Nutrition”

The Nutrition Science InitiativeNuSI–has been called the “Manhattan Project of nutrition.” They are run like a lean startup, and I’m proud to be a part of their advisory board.

They don’t take industry money, so they have no interests to protect.

They believe the NAFLD epidemic can be curtailed for a total of $50 million, but the whole domino effect starts with just $1 million.  It is a rare day in science when fundamental questions about an epidemic can be answered with such little money (respectively). It’s an incredible Archimedes lever.

For context, NuSI argues that there are dietary triggers of diseases, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and fatty liver disease. To determine what the triggers are, NuSI assembles teams of the best scientists in the country (e.g., from Stanford, Harvard, Columbia, NIH, UCSF, UCSD, Emory, etc.) to fund and execute the kind of research nobody else is willing (or able) to perform.

For NAFLD, NuSI’s team of experts have designed three trials to determine the respective roles of too many calories, too many carbohydrates, and too much sugar–the leading three hypotheses–as dietary triggers.

In early 2015, this team will begin the first ever controlled clinical trial to see if removing sugars from the diet can reverse fatty liver disease in children.

40 kids with NAFLD will be split into two groups, with 20 simply observed on their normal diet as controls, and 20 provided with a diet that’s identical to what they usually eat, but completely devoid of added or refined sugars. The scientists’ hypothesis is that the sugar-free diet will at least stop the progression of NAFLD in these kids, and may even reduce the amount of fat in their livers.

If that’s the case, it’ll be the best evidence we have linking sugar to fatty liver disease.

My $50,000 Challenge…And How to Get Involved

I’m personally matching up to $50,000 for whatever is raised through this blog post, and every donation–big or small–makes a major difference.

[UPDATE: An anonymous donor — a generous reader of this blog — has offered to match up to another $150,000. That means that if you all help donate or contribute just $200,000, another $200,000 will be matched for a total of $400,000!]

Any donation is also a tax write-off, as NuSI is a non-profit organization (of course, speak with your tax advisor). Perfect for end-of-the-year giving.

NuSI is looking to raise $1 million dollars for the first of these three trials—the one that determines how the rest get done.  The snowball that starts the avalanche. There are few chances in the world to have this type of impact for this type of money.  Could it end up forcing labeling changes, product modifications, obligatory package warnings, policy shifts, and more?  I believe so.

Supporting this campaign very easy, and remember–I’m excited to be putting my own skin in this game.  I sincerely hope you join me.  Every bit counts.

There are three options:

1. Donate by credit or debit card. Visit: http://nusi.org/donate. Enter your donation amount, indicate “NAFLD — Tim Ferriss” in the message field, and click “Donate.”  Done.

2. Donate by check. Send your check to: NuSI, attention: Lacey Stenson, 6020 Cornerstone Court W. Suite 240, San Diego, CA 92121. Be sure to write “NAFLD – Tim Ferriss” in the memo line.

3. Donate by transferring securities (stocks, etc.). Email TimFerriss1million@nusi.org [remember the double “r” and double “s”] and they’ll do as much heavy lifting as possible.

Thank you for reading, and thank you for supporting if you’re able.  This is a good fight.

If you’d also like to hear a fascinating chat with Peter Attia, MD, co-founder of NuSI, I interview him here on radical sports experimentation, synthetic ketones, meditation, and more. He’s a competitive ultra-endurance athlete, MD, surgeon, and obsessive self-tracker, so we get along great :)


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Relevant reading and citations:

Browning JD et al. Prevalence of hepatic steatosis in an urban population in the United States: Impact of ethnicity. Hepatology, 2004.

Welsh JA, Karpen S, Vos MB. Increasing prevalence of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease among United States adolescents, 1988-1994 to 2007-2010. Journal of Pediatrics, 2013.

Targher G, Day CP, Bonora E. Risk of cardiovascular disease in patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. The New England Journal of Medicine, 2010.

Dudekula A et al. Weight loss in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease patients in an ambulatory care setting is largely unsuccessful but correlates with frequency of clinic visits. PLoS One, 2014.

Kawasaki T et al. Rats fed fructose-enriched diets have characteristics of nonalcoholic hepatic steatosis. The Journal of Nutrition, 2009.

Sanchez-Lozada LG et al. Comparison of free fructose and glucose to sucrose in the ability to cause fatty liver. European Journal of Nutrition, 2010.

Best CH et al. Liver damage produced by feeding alcohol or sugar and its prevention by choline. British Medical Journal, 1949.

Ouyang X et al. Fructose consumption as a risk factor for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Journal of Hepatology, 2008.

Abid A et al. Soft drink consumption is associated with fatty liver disease independent of metabolic syndrome. Journal of Hepatology, 2009.

Abdelmalek MF et al. Increased fructose consumption is associated with fibrosis severity in patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Hepatology, 2010.

Assy N et al. Soft drink consumption linked with fatty liver in the absence of traditional risk factors. Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology, 2008.

Stanhope KL et al. Consuming fructose-sweetened, not glucose-sweetened, beverages increases visceral adiposity and lipids and decreases insulin sensitivity in overweight/obese humans. The Journal of Clinical Investigation, 2009.

Maersk M et al. Sucrose-sweetened beverages increase fat storage in liver, muscle, and visceral fat depot: a 6-mo randomized intervention study. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2012.

Browning JD et al. Short-term weight loss and hepatic triglyceride reduction: Evidence of a metabolic advantage with dietary carbohydrate restriction. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2011.

Vos MB, Lavine JE. Dietary fructose in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Hepatology, 2013.
Chung M et al. Fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease or indexes of liver health: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2014.

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Writing with the Master – The Magic of John McPhee

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mcphee

If I could study non-fiction writing with anyone, it would be John McPhee.

He is a staff writer at The New Yorker, a four-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and he won that award in 1999 for Annals of the Former World.  Even more impressive to me, he can turn any subject — truly, any subject — into a page turner.

An entire book about oranges? Check. Bark canoes? Done.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve raved about his books like a sweaty-palmed fan boy.  Personal favorites include the bite-sized Levels of the Game (about one epic tennis match), Coming into the Country (about the Alaskan wilderness), and his amazing collections of short stories (don’t miss Brigade de Cuisine in this one).

Now, a confession.  I did have the chance to study with McPhee as an undergrad at Princeton.  I still have all of the class notes.  I consider it one of the biggest strokes of luck in my life.  And… simply mentioning it makes me nervous as hell that I’m going to leave a typo in this post.  Besmirching the fine legacy of Professor McPhee!

Translated into my native Long Island-ese: If I fuck up anything in this post, it’s all my fault, and I didn’t listen to Professor McPhee well enough. He tried his best.

Now, moving on…

The below piece on McPhee is written by Joel Achenbach, a fellow graduate of McPhee’s class. Joel is now a staff writer for The Washington Post and the author of six books.

The profile recently appeared in the Princeton Alumni Weekly, and I absolutely had to share it with you. It’s the incredible story of a master writer, master teacher, and fascinating human being I aspire to emulate.  There’s so much to learn from McPhee, and the below is a laugh-out-loud sampling.

I’ve left in the graduation years to preserve the context.

Enjoy!

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John McPhee ’53 has many moves as a writer, one of which he calls a “gossip ladder” — nothing more than a stack of quotations, each its own paragraph, unencumbered by attribution or context. You are eavesdropping in a crowd. You take these scraps of conversation and put them in a pile. Like this:

“A piece of writing needs to start somewhere, go somewhere, and sit down when it gets there.”

“Taking things from one source is plagiarism; taking things from several sources is research.”

“A thousand details add up to one impression.”

“You cannot interview the dead.” 

“Readers are not supposed to see structure. It should be as invisible as living bones. It shouldn’t be imposed; structure arises within the story.”

“Don’t start off with the most intense, scary part, or it will all be anticlimactic from there.”

“You can get away with things in fact that would be tacky in fiction — and stuck on TV at 3 o’clock in the morning. Sometimes the scene is carried by the binding force of fact.”

The speaker in every instance is John McPhee. I assembled this particular ladder from the class notes of Amanda Wood Kingsley ’84, an illustrator and writer who, like me, took McPhee’s nonfiction writing class, “The Literature of Fact,” in the spring of 1982. In February, McPhee will mark 40 years as a Princeton professor, which he has pulled off in the midst of an extraordinarily productive career as a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of more than two dozen books.

When the editor of this magazine asked me to write something about McPhee’s class, I knew it would be the easiest assignment ever, though a little nerve-wracking. It was, because most of McPhee’s former students have saved their class notes and marked-up papers (Marc Fisher ’80: “I’ve never lived anywhere without knowing where my notes from his class are”).

When I meet Rick Klein ’98 at a coffee shop down the block, we examine forensically Rick’s class papers and the McPhee marginalia, the admonitions and praise from a teacher who keeps his pencils sharp. McPhee never overlooked a typo, and when Rick (now the hotshot political director at ABC News) wrote “fowl” instead of “foul,” the professor’s pencil produced a devastating noose.

McPhee’s greatest passion was for structure, and he required that students explain, in a few sentences at the end of every assignment, how they structured the piece. (McPhee noted on a piece Rick wrote about his father: “This is a perfect structure — simple, like a small office building, as you suggest. The relationship of time to paragraphing is an example of what building a piece of writing is all about.”)

Rick reminds me that the class was pass/fail.

“You were competing not for a grade, but for his approval. You were so scared to turn in a piece of writing that John McPhee would realize was dirt. We were just trying to impress a legend,” he says.

Which is the nerve-wracking part, still. He is likely to read this article and will notice the infelicities, the stray words, the unnecessary punctuation, the galumphing syntax, the desperate metaphors, and the sentences that wander into the woods. “They’re paying you by the comma?” McPhee might write in the margin after reading the foregoing sentence. My own student work tended toward the self-conscious, the cute, and the undisciplined, and McPhee sometimes would simply write: “Sober up.”

He favors simplicity in general, and believes a metaphor needs room to breathe. “Don’t slather one verbal flourish on top of another lest you smother them all,” he’d tell his students. On one of Amanda’s papers, he numbered the images, metaphors, and similes from 1 to 11, and then declared, “They all work well, to a greater or lesser degree. In 1,300 words, however, there may be too many of them — as in a fruitcake that is mostly fruit.”

When Amanda produced a verbose, mushy description of the “Oval with Points” sculpture on campus, McPhee drew brackets around one passage and wrote, “Pea soup.”

That one was a famously difficult assignment: You had to describe a piece of abstract art on campus. It was an invitation to overwriting. As McPhee put it, “Most writers do a wild skid, leave the road, and plunge into the dirty river.” Novice writers believe they will improve a piece of writing by adding things to it; mature writers know they will improve it by taking things out. Read More

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The $5,000 Secret Santa and Other Goodies

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This is a housekeeping post with one time-sensitive update and smaller recommendations. It’s split into two parts:

  • The $5,000 Secret Santa
  • Bite-sized Recommendations: 2 Books, 2 Movies, 2 Tweets, and 2 Songs.

The $5,000 Secret Santa

The short version: I’ve decided to go crazy and do a one-time-only $5,000 Quarterly box. It’s limited to the first 1,000 people, and it will ship before December 25. For that reason, I’m calling it the “Holiday Mega-Box.”

If you’re interested in learning more, please click here. (Note: This is completely separate from the regular Quarterly subscription described below)

Normally, every three months, I ship out a box of amazing physical products with a personal letter explaining everything. It costs $100 per box, and thousands of people subscribe to it here. The theme is obsession–the ideas and objects I can’t get out of my head. Sometimes I’m hooked on a great travel gadget. Other times, I find an incredible book or productivity hack through my experiments. Here are the contents of some previous boxes. They’re often worth $200 or more and include custom items you can’t buy, liked original artwork from Simon Bisley or letters from authors, etc..

Interested in the absurd $5,000 box that’s destined to be unforgettable? Click here.

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Bite-Sized Recommendations

Here are a few things that have been capturing my interest recently: 2 books, 2 movies, 2 tweets, and 2 songs… Read More

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