James Altucher is still alive. Thank god.
(I’d be desperate, dateless, and sleeping in a gutter without him.)
What James said about New York nearly got him assassinated. Even Jerry Seinfeld got mad at him. But what many people don’t know about James is he’s part of a different category of writers.
Specifically, he’s an online writer. I am going to deconstruct one of his most popular articles so you can learn why he’s one of the best online writers in the world that led him to:
- Make millions of dollars from writing
- Create one of the most downloaded podcasts of our generation
- Release many Amazon best-selling books
- Get him access to any successful person you can think of
(None of this advice below is obvious to most writers.)
Write a quirky headline
The article I’m going to deconstruct has the title “How to Be the Luckiest Person Alive, Again.”
It might read as clickbait, but James doesn’t believe there’s such a thing. He feels as long as he delivers on the title it’s all gravy baby.
The headline of this story works because it’s intriguing. How can you be the luckiest person alive, twice? Makes no sense. I want to know.
So I click.
If you don’t write great headlines you’ll never get a ticket to the online writing show. That leaves you stuck in the traditional world of online writing — where you get slapped around by editors, publications, and book publishers who want you to spit shine their shoes before they dare consider your book.
The first sentence makes or breaks your article
I am mentally ill. And I’m in a mid-life crisis. I’m dishonest. And I’m a horrible father. And I think with my d*ck.
Tell me you can read that first sentence and not want to read more. I can’t. One sentence explains the main events of his entire life.
Great writing can do a lot with few words.
The vulnerability of that sentence smacks the reader in the face too. It takes a lot of guts to say all that. As you read the next few sentences, you realize he doesn’t 100% think all of those things about himself. It’s clever misdirection.
You can say bad stuff about yourself and then put the words in other people’s mouths. Don’t start a story/article with a weak sentence.
Open with a slap in the face.
If you stretch beyond what is normal, then you find out who you are.
One of the reasons I’m obsessed with twitter is it teaches you to write wisdom bombs in one or two sentences. After you get good you start accidentally writing tweets in your articles.
This sentence above is tweetable. It’s a wisdom bomb. James is a master at twitter, too, so it’s no surprise.
Write one sentence on twitter daily.
Break up sentences. Remove complicated grammar.
I have never owned a credit card. So when I had to find an apartment recently and potentially sign a lease, I had a problem. I had no credit history.
James taught me to stop using semicolons and colons.
They’re grammatically smart to use but most readers have no clue what they mean. They make sentences long and boring. James focuses on making sentences easy to read by using mainly commas and periods. And he’s not afraid to start sentences with “But” and “And.”
College will teach you not to do this. They’re wrong. We naturally start sentences in conversations with these words.
Why not in writing too?
The best writing writers don’t have success. The best-selling writers do. To be a best-selling writer you need to make a reader’s life easy, so they can have time to read your work and understand what the heck you’re trying to say.
Use short paragraphs
The literary snobs will want you to have long paragraphs.
James uses 1,2, and 3 sentence paragraphs. He does it because we’re reading most content on our phones and can’t read huge walls of text. Pleasing literary snobs is stupid if no one reads your work.
Add a little vulnerability
And then I cried and pretended to be a psychic on Craigslist to meet women.
James turns his life inside out for the reader. He doesn’t give a damn about being judged. He’s managed to shut down the voice inside his writer’s head that says “what will they think” and “you can’t say that.”
It’s okay to admit you cry. It’s okay to do stupid things for love. We all do them, except most writers pretend they’re perfect, so no one can relate.
Use pattern interrupts
Just like people in a mental institution think they are Jesus, I think I am the luckiest person alive.
James warps our brains with constant statements we have to read twice. Often they’ll be controversial too. In this phrase above he mentions Jesus and mental institutions in the same sentence.
Whatever you’re thinking while reading gets messed up. Then he gets straight back to the story as if nothing has happened and we’re all good.
Most writing is boring. Warp people’s minds with pattern interrupts that make us stop and think.
If it’s predictable, we’ve already read it.
Simple, actionable advice sets you apart
Every day, work on physical health, emotional health (strengthening your relationships), mental health (creativity), spiritual health (solving “difficult gratitude problems” and cultivating compassion).
A lot of online writing has no point.
You think to yourself “why the F am I reading this?” Not sure Br-a-a-d-d-d-d-d. Really not sure. The phrase above from James is something anyone can read and consider taking action on.
If you write non-fiction, inject plenty of takeaways. People want suggestions bundled with insights, stories, entertainment, and evidence.
Use power words
Example one: Now I bounce back so fast people almost think I’m a sociopath about it.
Example two: I don’t mean have s*x with crack whores.
“Sociopath” is a powerful word for James to use. He could have just said crazy, but he knows (like I do) that power hooks the reader.
Online writer Sean Kernan does this too. He doesn’t just use pissy verbs like “do” or “walk” or “stroll.” He uses big verbs.
A person didn’t lose money. No. They nuked their savings. A person isn’t angry. No. They’re Hitler. A person shouldn’t stop doing bad things. No, according to James, they should stop doing things like having s*x with crack whores.
Sprinkle power words through stories and headlines to make the reader feel.
Most writing is boring. We feel nothing when we read it.
Open Forbes dot com. What do you feel? Jack. Right? James makes you feel something. His stories capture the raw emotion he’s feeling.
My guess is he writes when he’s emotional. Or maybe he’s like me and intentionally puts himself into an emotional state by thinking about a certain time in life, or watching emotional Youtube videos.
You can’t reach millions of people online unless you make them feel. Emotion is the secret ingredient to writing success.
Paint pictures with words
If a lion chases you, humans for four million years never asked “Why?”
It’s easy to imagine what it feels like to be chased by a lion. It’s hard to imagine what asking why feels like with no imagery. Draw images with your words, don’t just tell.
End with a bang (not a boring recap)
Recaps at the end of articles assume we’re forgetful idiots. They bore me to tears. James ends every story with a bang — the same way he started.
Sh*t in your pants once in awhile and learn what it’s like to be alone.
Tell me that one sentence isn’t better than 99% of recaps and “Final Thought” cliches you’ve read a million times. I’ll wait…
This is how to dominate the writing world forever
James Altucher doesn’t have an amazing personal brand, or a killer social media strategy, or a stack of algorithm hacks, or a gift with words. Nope.
He’s figured out how to be an online writer by capturing attention, maintaining it, and making people feel. You can too.