Raise your hand (virtually!) if you:
- like to write
- think having an email list with 11,000 subscribers sounds pretty awesome
- think it would be cool to get to meet and interview cool people (like, Neil deGrasse Tyson level of cool)
- think it would be awesome to make a living writing and teaching writing
- are impressed by someone who wrote an article that got 30,000 views in 24 hours
- would love to travel around the world writing and meeting people
If the answer to any of those was “yes,” then you’re going to think David Perell is pretty cool — because he does all of these things.
Really. He’s interviewed Neil deGrasse Tyson on his podcast — and Seth Godin, and a host of other well-respected authors, athletes, and entrepreneurs. He has an email list with over 11,000 subscribers. He travels the world exploring, learning, and writing.
He’s living his dream life, and he’s only 25. He’s only had a handful of years to build all of this.
Sounds like someone worth learning from, doesn’t he?
So how did David Perell get started?
Perell was fired from his first corporate job out of college, seven months after being hired. After he lost his first real-world professional opportunity, he started creating content, which has been the driving force behind his career growth.
The bulk of David’s success has come from his content creation habit.
Perell started producing a daily vlog, publishing for 114 consecutive days. The vlog never took off, but it served its purpose — it got him in the habit of regular content creation, and his output levels have only grown.
Perell’s a master at making connections between ideas that other people don’t see, thoughtfully and deeply exploring ideas, and searching for answers to tough questions.
When he joined us for a Praxis Monday workshop this week, he did a deep dive into his content creation process, showing us how he incubates ideas, outlines pieces, and creates a framework for his writing.
A Study in Prolific Output and Prolific Success
“You can’t use up creativity”
— Maya Angelou
Since he graduated college, Perell has published over 1000 pieces of content — vlogs, podcast episodes, and lots and lots of blog posts. He’s interviewed athletes, entrepreneurs, and authors, and the likes of Neil deGrasse Tyson and Seth Godin.
He has a monthly newsletter that he’s sent out every Monday for 75 consecutive weeks, and has over 11,000 subscribers.
In March of 2019, he launched his writing course, Write of Passage, which did six figures of sales in the weeks after launching.
The key to all of this comes back to his content creation habit — which is systematized, streamlined, quality, and as regular as clockwork.
In 2019 Perell will publish roughly 200,000 words on his blog. And yet, he never spends more than 10 hours a week writing.
A Breakdown of the Process
There are two things that drive his writing process: his intake of content, and his ability to connect ideas.
Perell uses Tiago Forte’s Second Brain system as the basis for his work. As he consumes content he takes careful notes in his second brain — so when he’s sitting down to write a piece, it’s more a matter of connection and assembly than it is starting from scratch.
The driving force behind Perell’s writing process is his curiosity. His essays are a series of answers to a series of “why”s.
His most recent piece, an essay on the history that led to the two 737 Max crashes in the past year, stemmed from his curiosity about what caused two airplanes to fall out of the sky.
“I asked why again and again and again — and through a series of asking continuous whys, I got my answer, and that’s how most of my writing is.” — David Perell
Another key to David’s writing process is thinking of his work as a series of pieces that fit together, rather than one contiguous whole.
He thinks of his essays as a series of small essays that are stitched together.
Content Consumption to Fuel Content Creation
“I don’t actually read that much. Because we don’t save the things we read, we end up forgetting how many ideas we’ve put on our brain. Don’t read more — instead, read smarter and better sources…
How much time did the author spend on this? If they didn’t spend a lot, it’s probably low-quality. Every word per hour spent ratio isn’t very good. A book that’s someone’s life work, that was compressed into a small amount of pages, that’s a great deal. That’s very efficient. The best example isDurrantt’s “The Lessons of History“. People who compress everything they’ve learned into a small amount of pages. How economical is that?…
Default towards reading things that will still be valuable in 10 years.” — David Perell
The secret to all of this? Make sure you’re documenting what you’re learning, so you don’t forget it. Then you can draw from your backlog of saved resources as you continue growing and creating.
“It’s not like writing is going to be easy. People have this idea that marathon runners don’t get tired. People who create superhuman feats athletically get tired. They just know where to put their tired.” — David Perell
- The biggest thing to inspire growth in your writing? Start publishing. It becomes a forcing function for learning. The stakes are higher, and so you get better.
- A weekly newsletter is a forcing function for learning, because it forces you to learn new things every week, so you have something to write about.
- When you start writing online, the things you publish lead you to make interesting connections, which leads to interesting conversations, which makes your writing more interesting, which leads to even more interesting connections and conversations. It’s a cycle.
- Our ideas are messy until we’re forced to share the publicly, and then we clean them up (the same way we clean up the house when we have company)
- If you want to figure out what ideas will interest your reader, pay attention to ideas that resonate in conversation. We usually overestimate the interestingness of some ideas and underestimate the interestingness of others. Work your blog post idea out with a couple of people and see what resonates.
“Any runner would say “put on your running shoes and learn to love it.” If you want to write, sit down at your computer for an hour, turn off the internet, put away your phone, and learn to love it. If you do 500-1000 words a day you’ll notice a difference.” — David