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.

The writing process
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.

Note: Die-hard readers know that I didn't just abandon the stuff about fear, happiness, and freedom. Instead, I'm using it as source material this year at More Than Money. Every Monday, I'm publishing one piece of this abandoned version of the guide. Last month, I finished the section on overcoming fear. Now we've begun exploring what it means to be happy.

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
Master Your MoneyAfter 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”.

Wow.

“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.

Be Your Own CFO
The finished product. Isn't it pretty?
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Brian@ Debt Discipline
[email protected] Debt Discipline
6 years ago

Slow and steady in finances and slow and steady in writing. 🙂 Good luck with the launch!

J.D.
J.D.
6 years ago

Haha. That’s hilarious: “Write books slowly.” Actually, last night before bed I was answering some interview questions about what it was like to write this guide. What advice to I have for younger writers when tackling a huge project? My answer was similar to what you just said: Anything worth doing is worth doing well, and often that means slowing down and taking your time… 🙂

MoneyAhoy
MoneyAhoy
6 years ago
Reply to  J.D.

JD,

Good luck with the launch! I’m also writing my first eBook currently, and it is so much work! I’m much like you, I never would have started if I knew it was going to be this much.

But, I’ve definitely taken on a similar approach that it’s quality over everything else. I’m going to polish it until it is really something great versus just releasing a steaming pile of unedited garbage.

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
6 years ago

I wrote 5 pages a day (more or less) when I was writing my dissertation. I just did a big outline first with every section and subsection listed and how long each would be. Then every day, I did one.

Old Guy
Old Guy
6 years ago

Another commercial. Yawn.

J.D.
J.D.
6 years ago
Reply to  Old Guy

Haha. I appreciate your yawn. You’ll probably experience a few more over the next week. This guide is a Big Deal for me, and I’m going to share more about it.

Carla
Carla
6 years ago
Reply to  J.D.

Cant wait to read more!

Vanessa
Vanessa
6 years ago
Reply to  Old Guy

I enjoyed learning about what goes into writing a book like this. The best writers make it look easy, but it’s a reminder that books do not write themselves.

Pete
Pete
6 years ago

We realize it is a big deal for you and we want to be supportive, but how often can we read about it?

J.D.
J.D.
6 years ago
Reply to  Pete

You realize this is the first post specifically about the guide, right? And I debated whether to even post this. Yes, I’ve mentioned the course over the past week, but the mentions have intentionally been peripheral because I too hate being beat over the head with a sales pitch. There will only be one more post that’s specifically about the course (for a grand total of two!), and that’s next Wednesday when I announce the launch and describe what the course entails. That said, the next two Sundays will feature excerpts from interviews that are part of the course, so… Read more »

Edward
Edward
6 years ago

Congratulations on your hard work JD. I have a feeling that the guide is going to be a great success.

For those whining about how they aren’t interested – what about taking this guide to creating something and applying it to your own life? What could you create in 6 months that could improve the lives of others and your finances forever?

Alea
Alea
6 years ago

Good luck J.D. although some here are yawning, there are plenty out there drowning that need the help.

Keep on helping, I know years ago when I was what I now call “six feet under” financially I could have used your blog and guide. I found your blog after the lights came on, but I still read it daily because there is always a morsel of knowledge I can add to my financial plate.

Kité
Kité
6 years ago

I’m so looking forward to the guide.

Congratulation, JD. I’ve learned so much from you & the Get Rich Slowly blog all these years.

Henry
Henry
6 years ago

Ignore the haters, keep chugging along. After all the hard work (free) with starting and building Get Rich Slowly, I think it’s absolutely reasonable to share all the great things you’re creating.

Teinegurl
Teinegurl
6 years ago

Am i the only one who wants to buy this? I hope it’s reasonably priced (but im sure it is) but if this blog which has FREE content has helped me immensely over the course of years and something i check out almost daily , i’m really interested in purchasing this. A lot of times when blogs create books (guides or ebooks) it’s just things on the blog just copied into a book. This is new content that JD created and i love his *voice* mabye that is something that will be help in my every day life. Anyways im… Read more »

lhamo
lhamo
6 years ago

You and Chris G. make a great team. Can’t wait to see the Guide and the associated materials. Also great to see you back in these parts more — you really are the heart and soul of GRS, JD, and it is nice that the owners of the site seem to recognize that.

Good luck with the launch!

Betty
Betty
6 years ago

J.D. congratulations on your hard work. Too, your ability
to accept constructive criticism shines in this post. That
is a sign of maturity and, wisdom.

While I would love to read the guide/study; I am torn
with what to do. It sounds like you, MMM, and Jlcollins
are all releasing a book very soon. I want to read them
all. I want to share them all with my adult children.

But, I NEED to be smart with my money too. Perhaps,
there could be a special bundle price for all three.
I think you guys could make this happen.

Ben
Ben
6 years ago

I’ve been a reader of both GRS and More than Money for 5+ years now, and have really enjoyed seeing your blogs evolve over time. I’ve also learned a ton. Congrats on this latest milestone, JD, and here’s hoping you have many more.

Jay
Jay
6 years ago

meh

imelda
imelda
6 years ago

What I found interesting about this was the way Chris Guillebeau expertly shaped the product. Find a hook, create solid content, reach out to experts to develop supplementary material, etc. It could be gimmicky but I doubt it is, because I think that’s a really good process for developing good content. I remain skeptical – highly so – about the content of this book, because I think the chosen hook (“be your own CFO”) is pretty weak. But I guess we’ll see. And I agree with those who felt that there was just enough insight into the creative process here… Read more »

Danny Scott
Danny Scott
6 years ago

Great, JD. I’ve learned this blog. Get Rich Slowly blog all these years.

Divya
Divya
6 years ago

Hi JD

I am looking forward to this guide. I think it is a wonderful idea. There is too much to say and sometimes it can be very difficult to pen it down. Writing a book or a guide can be daunting. I wish you all the luck.

Maria
Maria
6 years ago

Congrats on achieving such a big task!! Sure, the course isn’t meant for everybody, but I’m sure there are lots and lots of people who will find in valuable!

Sean
Sean
6 years ago

Been waiting on this! Where can we get it and how much is it?

T
T
6 years ago

“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.”

Two things: (1) you’re right you can’t copyright a name, but you can trademark a name/brand; and (2) they most certainly could have stopped you.

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