I Made It: AJ Jacobs"creative process"

Feb 22, 2024

Discover AJ Jacobs' creative process to write four New York Times bestsellers, which includes how he thinks up ideas, researches, and writes the stories of his life.

There's plenty of actors who are trained to stay as they are on- off-camera while filming their work.

Although it may seem a little excessive to be so committed to never leaving, the hard work pays dividends in the form of salary as well as authenticity and awards at red-carpet shows.

The writings that is done by AJ Jacobs , successful author, speaker, and editor at Esquire Magazine, is no anything else.

AJ also takes his work as well as his jobextremely seriously.

For each of his published six books, AJ assumed the role of the subject and took on a real-life quest as he wrote his books.

Staying in character paid off for AJ, too. The actor has been named a New York Times Best Seller for a total of four times to date.

We had the pleasure of having a chat with AJ where he shared with us the process he used to come up with in writing his famous books.

So, without further delay we'll dive right in.

How AJ comes up with book ideas

The first way AJ starts his process of brainstorming is by taking ideas and inspiration from his personal life.

It was how he came up with the subject for his debut book, The Knowledge-It All: One Man's Profound Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World .

The concept came from his father who was a reader and a seeker of knowledge. The father of AJ was trying to read his way through the family's library of encyclopedias and came to the middle of the alphabet B. AJ decided to "finish what he began and remove the steam that was accumulated in our family's history."

And voila -- his first novel idea came to life an idea AJ is able to attribute to his father.

"I think that was an example of using your family members and the things all around you to inspire," He explains. "I could never had the idea myself . . . It was really something my father did."

Another approach AJ brainstorms novel ideas (pun meant) is by thinking up as many ideas as possible and utilizing the elimination process.

For instance, when He came up with the idea for his second book, he brainstormed with several ideas, but they were eventually eliminated.

"I had a lot of books ideas and I'm not even able to recall any of them. However, none of them worked," he divulges. "Either I rejected them either through my publisher or myself, or even my wife decided to put a stop on the idea because it was too much of a nightmare."

Even after he landed on the concept of his second book, the Year of Biblical Living: A Man's Quest to Follow the Bible As Literally as is Possible  and to lead a lifestyle that literally followed the bible for one year It was not easy for him to commit to this.

Given the uproarious nature of the topic, AJ had a difficult time deciding whether or not to go through with it.

"It's extremely unpopular," he explains. "That was stressful and I wasn't sure if to go ahead and if I should."

AJ was thinking to himself "Do I really need to make this decision? I could get flak from both the sides. No one will be happy in the event that you combine religion with humor."

Although it wasn't a simple decision, at the end it was AJ's choice to resonate with his audience.

He kind of knew that already, because AJ is doing something every creative person should be doing frequently is.

He confirms the book's concept before going all-in. In the case of AJ He does this by speaking to anyone he can regarding his newest book concept.

"One method I employ is make sure to inform everyone I can about the idea," he explains. "I examine their eyes and see if they light up . . . It is my observation that they may ask further questions since there are times when they won't."

If their eyes don't "light up," AJ takes it as an indication not to not to pursue the book idea.

In order to keep his originality, AJ changes the subject issue from book to book which lets him repeat the same creative process throughout books.

"If you are able to take on projects creatively that are completely distinct from the subject, this gives you more flexibility to follow the same experience," AJ coaches.

Speaking of his repeatable process We'll take a closer look at the next stage of AJ's work -- conducting studies.

What is the method by which AJ is able to conduct his book research

AJ conducts his book research by literally immersing himself in the subject matter. Each book writing session is transformed into a different personal pursuit and adapts his lifestyle to focus entirely on researching and writing about his experiences in his novel.

For instance, while writing The Year of Living Biblically, AJ did not break his commitment to complete the full length of a year to follow the Bible as closely as can be.

To record the experiences he has had throughout his journey, AJ keeps two journals, one for his personal life and one for the research of his project- a process that is still in use today.

"I still keep notes about what's going on in my life and also how it's affecting the project," he shares.

Though it can be a little overwhelming to assume all the role in his research for the book, AJ does it for an excellent reason. The term he uses is "steelmanning," a way to show a different perspective -- the one you do not agree with more effectively than anyone else could.

"I am a fan of steelmanning, because I believe it just makes the world a better place," He thinks. "That's the way we can advance."

and "move ahead" He does this by creating numerous bestsellers. Take a deep dive into AJ's creation procedure.

The process of creating AJ's work

AJ is a fan of the two primary parts of his creative process the most, which we've covered before such as brainstorming and study.

"Coming up with ideas, that's one of my favourite things," he pronounces. "Brainstorming . . . 100 books, where 99 percent of them are bound to suck, but the one that is likely to be a success."

"I enjoy researching topics," AJ continues as recounts his experiences researching the most recent project, Thanks A Thousand: A Gratitude Journey . "Interviewing the creator of a coffee lid and going for a visit to Colombia, South America to visit the farmers. It was amazing."

The third part of this creative process -- the actual writing -which is the least preferred since it is a lonely process and also comes with an inexplicably slow reaction of the audience. "A significant portion is just . . . being alone and not getting feedback right away," AJ reflects.

"When I am talking in public, I simply am in love . . . Being able to look into people's eyes and laugh at the thought that they're interested" the author says. "And when you're working on that's not going to release for more than a year, I find it very frustrating."

To add to that the stress Sometimes, the writing process is slowed down due to the nature of the topic such as in his novel, "It's all Relative: Adventures in and Down the Family Tree of the World .

"Partly, that book took so long to write because it dealt with this campaign to establish a world family tree which will connect all people on Earth in one big family tree." AJ explains. "So, you, me, Barack Obama, Nicolas Cage, everyone."

As far as creating his story, AJ starts writing with an idea of where he's headed, but in the majority of cases, his writing is largely made up.

"When I write, I have a plan that kind of vaguely says what I'm planning to write up," he shares. "But much of it is made up. When I'm writing, my eyes take a few paths, and I try to figure out the direction I'll end up."

Prior to presenting his final work, there's a major step to take care of that is editing.

Although it's an enormous task to take on, AJ's editing process is simple. In editing, he asks his friends for feedback and takes the average of their responses as signals for where to edit.

"I'll give it out to 10 friends, and I'll ask, 'Which components do you think are the fascinating, and what areas do you think are the most boring?'" AJ divulges. "I'll draw the mean of this, and then take out the boring parts, as well as make sure that I save the parts that you find interesting."

Seems straightforward enough -- similar to his perspective on luck and hard work.

What is the way AJ views the importance of hard work and the luck of the draw

When it comes to success, AJ says that "hard work and persistence are absolutely necessary."

"You are not going to succeed without them," he warns. "But they are not sufficient."

AJ believes that you may also require a stroke of luck in addition to your hard work and that's what he (luckily) was blessed with when his most recent book published.

"You must also have luck and I believe in that . . . the same week that my debut bestseller was released and there was probably 50 other books that came out that were equally good and maybe even better than mine," the author acknowledges.

"But I was able to get some breaks," AJ gives credit. "I met the person who was in charge of the publicity at the editor. I was familiar with the person who runs the program Good Morning America and I joined that. You need both, I believe."

That's not all the guidance AJ gives our readers in the present. He imparts a few more words of wisdom to share.

AJ's advice for fellow creators

AJ gives us gems of wisdom that contain a theme that is encapsulated in the two words "be experimental.

Why? Some reasons. The first being, you break from a rut in your mind.

"The more experimental you are, the better," AJ advises. "I consider that we all tend to do similar things, so we cut the . . . neural tracks, neuronal pathways which make us think similar ways."

Which will give you more variety in life and eventually lead to more happiness.

"The more you can experiment -even if it's only a tiny thing that you do, such as trying a new toothpaste or going to work in a new way, the better it is in terms of creativity and happiness," AJ urges.

If AJ hadn't taken himself as a guideline, he might not be able to write such brilliant creative works -- and research -- in writing.

And that, I think we can all agree, is a shame.