My year-long quest to create a guide to mastering money
“How would you like to write an Unconventional Guide?” my friend Chris Guillebeau asked me last spring. As long-time readers know, I've joined Chris to travel across the U.S. by train, travel across Norway by train, and produce the first three editions of the World Domination Summit conference here in Portland. When he's not traveling or dominating the world, Chris publishes a series of guides on subjects ranging from art to law, from entrepreneurship to publishing.
“What kind of guide would I write?” I asked.
“A guide about money,” Chris said — as if there could be no other possible answer.
“What would we call it?” I asked.
“How about Get Rich Slowly?” Chris said.
“No way. I don't think the folks who own the blog would like that,” I said. “I doubt they could stop us since you can't copyright a name, but I'd rather not make them angry.”
“Well then, how about Master Your Money?” Chris said.
I thought for a moment. I was reluctant. I'd retired from Get Rich Slowly (the blog) a few months before and was enjoying all of the free time. But something about having a specific goal appealed to me. How hard could it be to produce a guide about money?
“I like it. I'll do it,” I said, “but I can't start until I return from Ecuador at the end of September.”
“No problem,” Chris said. “You should be finished by Christmas.”
A writer's life
I didn't meet that Christmas goal. Not even close. You see, I had too much to say but couldn't find a way to say it.
When I came back from South America, I spent two weeks performing a braindump. I sat at my computer and brainstormed everything I wanted to share with readers. There was a lot — enough for three books. I tried to mold this mountain of words into some sort of recognizable shape, but it was no use.
After three weeks of work, I'd written maybe 20,000 words but felt like I'd gotten nowhere.
Early in the writing process. Isn't it ugly?
In mid-October, I flew to St. Louis to attend Fincon. Mixing with a couple of hundred other financial writers sent my brain spiraling in new directions. Talking with my colleagues made me reconsider what I was trying to do with Master Your Money. I went back to the drawing board.
When I returned to Portland, I spent a crazy week cooped inside my office. I wrote without ceasing. When Kim came home from work every night, I'd greet her with non-stop talk. She laughed. “This is funny,” she said. “You should see the difference between how you are now and how you were two weeks ago.” The difference was I felt energized. I was no longer suffering from writer's block. My writing had purpose and direction.
Unfortunately, it was the wrong direction.
At the end of October, I met with Chris and showed him what I'd written. Over Thai food, he leafed through the pages. “Hmmm,” he said, and I knew that wasn't good. “This is interesting stuff, but it's not what I had in mind. This is about fear and freedom. It's about happiness. I thought you were going to write about money. Besides, these sections are too short. The guide reads like a blog.”
I'd written 50,000 words of great material, but they were the wrong 50,000 words.
So, I went back for a third stab at Master Your Money. I still thought maybe I could finish by Christmas. But I didn't. Again, I lost my way. I couldn't find anything to latch onto, no central theme. What did that mean, master your money? It seemed so vague.
On the day after Thanksgiving, I met Chris in a coffee shop. “It's not going well,” I confessed. I showed him my outline. He nodded.
“What's this bit?” he asked, pointing to a section where I described how I'd decided to manage my personal finances as if I were running a business. “I like it. Why don't you focus on writing about how to be the chief financial officer of your own life?”
That simple suggestion was all I needed. For a fourth time, I started to write Master Your Money. This time, no problem. The words didn't flow out of me unimpeded, but I had a clear idea of what I wanted to say and how to say it. I knew I'd found the angle that had been missing for months.
More than words
After a few weeks of writing on this fourth iteration of Master Your Money, it became clear that I wouldn't be finished until spring. “No problem,” Chris said. “We'll shift things around. But maybe you should start working on the other parts of the course too.”
“Course?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said. “Master Your Money should be an entire course, not just a single guide. We can call the guide How to Become CFO of Your Own Life or something similar. But with a name like Master Your Money, we want to provide even more. For instance, you'll probably want to record some interviews with top financial writers and experts.”
For the next two months, I interspersed writing with recording. Although I'd become accustomed to being interviewed, I hadn't yet mastered the art of interviewing others. But I figured it out. Before long, I found that I enjoyed conducting interviews more than I liked writing!
I recorded interviews with some of my favorite finance folks, including:
- Jean Chatzky, whose books helped me start digging out of debt
- Gretchen Rubin, best-selling author of The Happiness Project
- Liz Weston, one of the country's most popular financial columnists
- Ramit Sethi, the mastermind behind the book (and blog) I Will Teach You to Be Rich
- Adam Baker, former Get Rich Slowly staff writer and a good friend
- Mr. Money Mustache, whose polarizing ideas and personality have had a tremendous impact on my philosophical development
In the end, I'd accumulated 18 interviews totaling over eight hours of audio!
“Great,” Chris said. “Let's do more. When people buy the course, let's give them a weekly email to remind them of all the different things they can do to master their money.”
Back to the office I went. I created a list of 52 topics that I thought were crucial for anyone wanting to take control of their finances. I researched. I wrote. I edited. I scheduled these emails to go out every Monday for an entire year.
“Now it's time to put the finishing touches on the course,” Chris said the next time we met. “You need to create some tools for people to use. We want to give them a sort of money toolbox.” More time in front of the computer! This time I researched data on saving and spending, best practices for negotiating salary increases, complex formulas for retirement and investing.
Ready for launch
After I'd finished with the spreadsheets and handouts, I met with Chris again. He looked them over. He looked at the list of email topics. He looked at the interviews. He paged through the guide, which we were now calling Be Your Own CFO.
“It all looks great,” he said. “But I don't like the name. We shouldn't call it Master Your Money. We should call the course Get Rich Slowly. That's what it's all about.”
I'd long ago surrendered to his ideas for this course. I'm a writer. I produce content. Chris has proven time and again that he's a marketing genius. I trust him. So, I approached the company that owns Get Rich Slowly (the blog). I told them about the course that we'd created. I explained that we planned to launch it as Master Your Money, unless…How would they feel about us using the name Get Rich Slowly?
To my surprise, they agreed. In fact, they thought it was a good idea, a way to cross-promote.
Now, after nearly a year of work, my Get Rich Slowly course is ready to launch. Next Tuesday morning, it will be released as one of Chris Guillebeau's Unconventional Guides. The course will contain a 120-page guide describing how to Be Your Own CFO, 18 audio interviews with transcripts, 52 weeks of action-packed emails, and a variety of tools in a sort of “money toolbox”.
“I can't believe I'm finished,” I told Kim the other day. “It's so much! I never would have started if I'd known it would take this much work.”
“Well, you know what they say,” she replied. “If you want to eat an elephant, you've got to do it one bite at a time.”
And that's how I created the Get Rich Slowly course — one bite at a time.
The finished product. Isn't it pretty?