“You have to surround yourself with the people that are a version of who you ultimately want to become.” – Nicolas Cole
To date, Nicolas Cole’s (@Nicolascole77) writing has racked up more than 100 million views. His work has appeared in Harvard Business Review, TIME, Forbes, Fortune, Business Insider, The Chicago Tribune, Apple News, Slate Magazine, Inc Magazine, and on CNBC. While he’s focused more on writing books, he started his career on Quora, of all places—where he’s been named a Top Writer four different times.
Nicolas is also the Founder and CEO of Digital Press, where he’s helped over 300 leaders create great content and, in many cases, publish their first book. Digital Press’s clients include NYT best-selling authors, Olympic athletes, award-winning musicians, Silicon Valley venture capitalists, and founders of some of the fastest-growing companies in the world.
His latest book, The Art and Business of Online Writing: How to Beat the Game of Capturing and Keeping Attention, is an incredible primer to writing online. It includes a slew of counterintuitive tips, tricks, and ideas for finding your voice and building an audience in record time.
- 00:00:17 – World of Warcraft, Celiac disease, and bodybuilding
- 00:04:36 – The three-step journey to mastery of any skill
- 00:07:56 – The mental game of self-belief vs. desperation
- 00:14:16 – Goal setting and why self-publishing is a good idea for authors
- 00:21:21 – Managing multiple writing projects
- 00:23:59 – The Art and Business of Online Writing, and why writing interested Nicolas
- 00:27:24 – The importance of using data for successful online writing
- 00:37:39 – Advice for writers who are just getting started online
- 00:48:14 – The secrets of ghost writing
- 00:59:11 – The writing process
- 01:03:15 – Amassing a large body of work, and the odds of virality
- 01:07:52 – Confessions of a Teenage Gamer, and about writing memoirs
- 01:09:54 – Books and articles that have inspired Nicolas
- 01:15:17 – Nicolas’ daily habits, and the importance of mentors
SCROLL BELOW FOR LINKS AND SHOW NOTES…
Links from the Episode
- Connect with Nicolas: Twitter | LinkedIn | Website | Newsletter | Quora
- Digital Press, Nicolas’ content and ghostwriting agency
- World of Warcraft
- Celiac disease
- Lil Wayne
- Henry Cavill, and training for his Superman role
- Taylor Swift and Scooter Braun
- James Patterson
- The Mandalorian
- Grant Williams on Real Vision
- David Perell
- Craig Clemens
- Post restaurant in Boulder
- Arnold Schwartzenegger
- Power law
- Fat tail principle in investing
- Christopher Lochhead’s podcast, Lochhead on Marketing
- Eddie Yoon - working on category creation
Writing by Nicolas Cole
- Quora: Is it possible to change yourself and not recognize yourself?
- Inc: 10 Ways to Work Smarter Instead of Harder
- Nicolas Cole’s Inc column
- Nicolas Cole’s newsletter, How I Wrote This
Books written by Nicolas Cole
- The Art and Business of Online Writing: How to Beat the Game of Capturing and Keeping Attention (2020)
- 19 Tiny Habits that Lead to Huge Results (2020)
- Slow Down, Wake Up: 150 Short Meditations for a More Present Life (2020)
- Letter to My Imagination: 212 Short Meditations to Help You Overcome Rejection, Discouragement, and Fear of Failure (2020)
- Confessions of a Teenage Gamer (2016)
- Niche Down: How To Become Legendary By Being Different by Christopher Lochhead
- Play Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers, and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets by Christopher Lochhead
- Superconsumers: A Simple, Speedy, and Sustainable Path to Superior Growth by Eddie Yoon
- Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
The most important element of becoming a successful writer is to simply get your work out into the open and listen to feedback—especially what the data is telling you about what’s working and not working. Figure out what is resonating with your audience, and course correct from there. As with any learned skill, you must practice in public to improve.
- “Step one is: you have to learn the rules of the game. The second step is: start asking, ‘what is required of me to adopt some of the skills in order to then start making progress?’ …The third step is: you have to surround yourself with the people that are the version of you that you ultimately want to become.”
- “It's like your motivation changes after you make some money; that desperation is gone… So a little thing that I like doing with myself is I intentionally withhold things to kind of recreate that desperation. I'll be like, ‘You know what? You're not watching Netflix this month. Or, you know what? You're not allowed to drink alcohol this month. And I withhold things so that I can recreate that feeling of, my life depends on this.”
- “A lot of people, when they set out to write, think they know what they should write about. They think they know what people want from them. It's not until they write 10 or 20 things that all of a sudden, data says, ‘hey, I thought people cared about your marketing advice, but it's actually your insights on relationships that people really value.’ So if you listen to the data, the data will tell you what people want. And then you just keep listening to it and you keep doubling down on it. And then your free content informs your paid content, and your paid content and informs your speaking, and it just becomes this flywheel.”
- “You're way better off writing really unique reviews on Yelp than you are starting a blog, because you're tapping into an environment that moves and has people there. And there's a component that will give you feedback on what you're doing. If you're just starting a site, especially if you're just an average person who doesn't have a lot of digital marketing expertise, no one knows you exist. There's no way for you to get any of that feedback.”
- “Do not write in a vacuum. Do not sit in your room and hide it away in your journal and be like, ‘I will wait five years until it's perfect to reveal it to the world.’ You have to be finding some sort of way to practice in public; otherwise you are losing and you are falling behind all the other people that are using data.”
- “I really believe that we're all blank slates, and our habits and what we practice shape who we are as human beings. Over the years, I've learned that you can't always force that; but the important part is that doesn't mean you shouldn't try it today. That doesn't mean you shouldn't practice. It's okay to write something that's terrible. What matters is that you sat down to write, because what you're really doing is practicing the habit of sitting down to write, which means you're going to show up again tomorrow. But if you don't do that, then it gets easier the next day to go, ‘ah, I'm not feeling it today either.’ And then three months goes by, and then you're screwed.”
On Outliers, Daniel Scrivner explores the tactics, routines, and habits of world-class performers working at the edge—in business, investing, entertainment, and more. In each episode, he decodes what they've mastered and what they've learned along the way. Start learning from the world’s best today.
Daniel Scrivner (00:00:06):
Welcome to another episode of Outliers with Dan Scrivner, where each week I sit down with a world-class performer to deconstruct what they've mastered, digging deep to uncover the tools, tactics, and tricks that we can all use in our own lives. My guest today is Nicholas Cole, @NicholasCole77 on Twitter, and we go deep on writing, including how to break through the noise and become an influential voice in your space. Nicholas has worked with over 300 Silicon Valley founders, executives of publicly traded companies, New York Times bestselling authors, Grammy award-winning musicians, and Olympic athletes to shape their writing. He's the founder of Digital Press, where he helps the world's most successful people, most of whom who aren't "writers" write and publish their own books.
Daniel Scrivner (00:00:51):
To date Nicholas's writing has reached more than 100 million people. He's one of Inc Magazine's most popular columnists, with over 200 columns published to date, and his writing has been featured in Time, Forbes, Fortune, and Huffington Post. He's also written several books, including his most recent and the one that got my attention, The Art and Business of Online Writing. You can find him online at nicholascole.com and on Twitter @NicholasCole77. With that, please enjoy my conversation with Nicholas Cole. Well, Nicholas, I've been looking forward to this conversation for a long time. So thanks for joining me and welcome to Outliers.
Nicolas Cole (00:01:31):
Always. Thanks for having me, man.
Daniel Scrivner (00:01:33):
So we're going to spend the majority of this episode talking about all of your work and your thoughts about writing. That's certainly something that you've done prolifically, and I think we've got a lot to learn from you there. But as I was doing research for this episode, I also learned that you used to be a competitive bodybuilder. I looked up your name and just saw a bunch of ripped photos of you. So I thought maybe we can start there and if you could just share a little bit about the backstory of how you got into bodybuilding.
Nicolas Cole (00:01:58):
Actually, it starts before that, because before that, I was a competitive World of Warcraft player.
Daniel Scrivner (00:02:05):
Which is quite a turn.
Nicolas Cole (00:02:07):
Yeah. So World of Warcraft, to bodybuilding, to entrepreneurship and writing. It's just how I'm wired when I get into something. You go full throttle, and a lot of it, I've learned too is inspired by curiosity. I'm curious about how things work. I'm curious how far I can push something. So for me, actually, bodybuilding started with, I didn't know that I had celiac disease till I was 18. So when I turned 18, basically my mom has it too, and she was the one who pointed out, "Hey, I think the reason why you've been so sick for the first 18 years of your life is you've been eating food with wheat and gluten in it."
Nicolas Cole (00:02:45):
So I went on a completely gluten-free diet for a week. Literally felt like my life had started over. Then as I was doing research for it, as a teenager, I realized that bodybuilders all naturally eat clean. So it was my way of taking something that at the time this was 2008, there was no gluten-free aisle in the grocery store. There was no almond milk. These things were still really, really new. So it was my way of taking something that honestly, I was really insecure about. I couldn't order pizza. I couldn't drink beer with friends. I had spent a lot of my adolescents really sick. So I took a weakness and said, "All right. Well then I'm going to eat like a bodybuilder, and I'm going to put on 80 pounds of muscle, and we'll see what that looks like." I did.
Daniel Scrivner (00:03:26):
You've literally put on 80 pounds of muscle?
Nicolas Cole (00:03:29):
Yeah. When I graduated high school, I think I weighed a solid 100 pounds because that's how sick I had been all growing up. By the time I was 27, I mean, I was 180 pounds with like 6% body fat and just lifting more weight I've ever lifted my life. Yeah.
Daniel Scrivner (00:03:49):
What did that teach? Because it's not like you just went into the gym and just got a little bit stronger. You went all in. You gained a huge amount of muscle. I know that in order to do that, because that's literally a state shift, as you kind of talk about. You have to change a lot of the behaviors in your life. So I guess I'm curious, what did you learn about discipline, and what did you learn by pursuing bodybuilding that you have continued to apply it since then?
Nicolas Cole (00:04:16):
Everything, everything. I mean, not a day goes by where I don't draw some sort of parallel to that, even goals that I have for myself in writing, I will very often remind myself a couple pages a day, page a day, or just, it really... Bodybuilding showed me on such a massive level how important the tiny action is every single day. There were multiple milestones along the way where I had these big breakthroughs. One of my biggest breakthroughs was when I first started, I was trying to eat as much as I could because that's what the internet told you.
Nicolas Cole (00:04:50):
Eventually, I became friends with some of the bodybuilders and power lifters in the gym, and they started educating me on the game, and that's kind of this mastery process that I've learned for myself. You can just step into something, go through these steps, and then that's how you master it.
Nicolas Cole (00:05:06):
One of those steps for me is mentors. You have to be surrounded by the people that you want to ultimately become, and these guys just explain to me like, "You need to be eating not as much food as possible, but enough food every three hours. You just have to break it up. It's that discipline." The moment that I switched to that, and I was eating six meals a day, every three hours on the dot, I still have the email from when I graduated college and my first job, and they were like, "You have the job." I emailed them back, and I was like, "Cool, do you have a problem with me eating every three hours?" I was just so in it.
Daniel Scrivner (00:05:42):
I can't even imagine receiving that email and being like, "Well, but no." But I'm curious why.
Nicolas Cole (00:05:48):
I was just in that place. I was 22, and I was just really in it. But yeah. That to me is one of the biggest lessons. It's never the big, all-encompassing home run action. It's the tiny base hit every day, day after day.
Daniel Scrivner (00:06:01):
Yeah. We'll talk about that. Actually, that's kind of what I want to go on to next. One thing I also discovered during just research for this interview is you've solved what's typically called the zero-to-one problem, going from nothing to having achieved some sort of massive success in a bunch of different spaces. You've done it as a writer, both for your own personal writing, as well as for clients, which we'll talk about a little bit later. You've done that as a gamer. You've done it in bodybuilding, and you talked about just a second ago, that process of mastery, and I've read, you've got a couple of blog posts on that. I know you've touched on that in some of your books.
Daniel Scrivner (00:06:34):
But can you, I guess just at a high level, share a little bit about how you think about the journey to mastery and kind of... I guess first off is just kind of like, what does it take to get that ball rolling? Then what are some of those keys to unlocking?
Nicolas Cole (00:06:50):
To make this really simple, what came before all of these was I grew up playing classical piano. I played classical piano for 20 years. I was playing Mozart and Chopin when I was 10. I've been doing stuff like this. So the first step that I've noticed is you have to learn the rules of the world, the game. So the first thing, and this is where a lot of people give up, they walk into a new world or a new industry or whatever, and they get overwhelmed by all the things that they don't know, and then they walk away. For me, I'm just a really curious person. I'm inspired by that. The more, I don't know, the more excited I am.
Nicolas Cole (00:07:25):
So step one is you have to learn the rules of the game. The second step is then you have to start asking what is required of me to adopt some of the skills in order to then start making progress. In gaming, it's how do I climb levels? In bodybuilding, it's how do I lift more and more weight? So then you start adopting these exercises and that's where some daily habits come in, and you start kind of creating your own routine for yourself.
Nicolas Cole (00:07:50):
Then the third step is, okay, you are not enough on your own. You have to surround yourself with the people that are the version of you that you ultimately want to become. It doesn't matter what it is. Entrepreneurs hanging around entrepreneurs, bodybuilders hanging around bodybuilders, gamers hanging around gamers. Once you're surrounded by a couple of those people, you inherently soak up their styles. My favorite analogy for this is I'm a huge rap and hip hop head. Rappers and different camps all sound the same. If you're from Eminem's camp, you pick up his styles. If you're from Lil Wayne's camp, you pick up his styles.
Nicolas Cole (00:08:26):
That happens everywhere. Entrepreneurship, same thing. If you were an early employee at a certain company, you soaked up those styles. So choosing the environments where you can soak up styles, that you're like, "That's what I want to become," crucial. Then once you've soaked up those styles, then you go through this fourth step of like, now I'm going to forget the things that I picked up from other people, and I'm going to start creating my own style, and that's where you kind of graduate.
Daniel Scrivner (00:08:55):
So you're kind of going back to zero again and then figure it out on your own.
Nicolas Cole (00:09:00):
Then it goes all over again. Then you move, or you join a new company, or you do something different, and then you learn those skills, and then you adopt those styles from those people, and then you break them, and then it just keeps going and going.
Daniel Scrivner (00:09:13):
It sounds like in some ways you view life almost as a never-ending game, just one level after another.
Nicolas Cole (00:09:19):
A hundred percent. That is exactly how I see it. Yeah.
Daniel Scrivner (00:09:22):
One thing that I want to talk about a little bit as it relates kind of to both gaming, but I feel like I've noticed this. I haven't really done bodybuilding, but I think in working out, especially if your goal is to lift heavier and heavier weights, one little unlock that I had a couple of years ago, I was listening to a podcast, and it was by the personal trainer that trained Henry Cavill in kind of bodybuilding to prepare for the Superman role, where he just had to gain a ton of weight.
Daniel Scrivner (00:09:45):
One thing that he said, which is super simple, in order for someone like Henry Cavill to be able to successfully transition to literally having the body and the physique of Superman, you first need to think in your head that that is possible for you. I feel like for a lot of people, that's someplace that they get stuck is in your mind, you almost have to kind of believe that you can add another 20 pounds to the barbell and be able to do it. How does that mental game, kind of how has that showed up in your experience in bodybuilding or another?
Nicolas Cole (00:10:13):
Well, that's everything, right? If you don't believe that you can squat to 25, you're never going to squat to 25.
Daniel Scrivner (00:10:19):
Even if you physically can. It starts in the mind.
Nicolas Cole (00:10:22):
Oh, totally. I mean, I remember how many days I would go through all the right things. I would eat all the right meals. I would do everything right. Then I'd get to the gym and maybe I had a disagreement with someone or something was just bothering me in my head. No chance that I was going to be a good lift. So I think, but what you touch on is that's an interesting component, right, is the imagination side. You have to imagine yourself there. There's this great Jay Z interview at some point where he's like, when people tell you, you can't do something, it's like, "Well no, you can't. I can. But you're telling me that I can't because you can't. That doesn't mean that I can't though." That level of self-belief I think, part of it's innate, but I'm a big believer in practice. You are what you practice. If you practice that mentality, it becomes easier and easier to imagine that.
Daniel Scrivner (00:11:13):
Yeah. I've often thought of that as one of the things you always have to be doing is building and maintaining your confidence. Part of that is believing that you can. Part of that is putting in the reps because that's another way of kind of proving to yourself, look, look, I've earned it. I've earned the ability to do this by taking these little steps. Part of it could be by the mentors that you have, but that's just a huge component as well.
Daniel Scrivner (00:11:32):
Something that you said that I really identify with is when you find something that's interesting going 110% into it, and I've always struggled with, where does that come from? Personally, I don't have that answer. But I'm curious for you, if you've reflected on that a little bit, and if you have any thoughts about where your drive comes from. Part of that is like, why do people typically get hung up, and they don't have that drive. Kind of what's happening there? Maybe I guess anything you've noticed about yourself of what helps sustain that or maybe where that comes from.
Nicolas Cole (00:12:05):
I'll give you the brutally honest answer. The nice way of thinking about it is curiosity. But the brutally honest answer is I think it really comes out of desperation. My desire to be a pro gamer as a teenager wasn't just because I was curious. It's because I was sick every day, didn't really have friends at school, and the only place that I found identity was in a video game. That's desperation or bodybuilding is like, I weighed a hundred pounds as an 18 year old and-
Daniel Scrivner (00:12:35):
Didn't feel great.
Nicolas Cole (00:12:36):
... didn't feel great, and I didn't want to be made fun of, and I wanted the girls to like, "That's desperation." So I've really learned that over time, now that's different. My life is different now than it was 10 or 15 years ago, obviously. But I think finding ways to recreate that desperation is key.
Daniel Scrivner (00:12:56):
Yeah. Maybe in a more positive way.
Nicolas Cole (00:12:58):
In a more positive way. But I'm sure you can relate to this, and a lot of other entrepreneurs can. It's like your motivation changes after you make some money. That desperation is gone. You're not living in a studio apartment anymore being like, how do I make this all work? All of a sudden, you have to play the game differently. So a little thing that I like doing with myself is I actually withhold, I intentionally withhold things to kind of recreate that desperation.
Nicolas Cole (00:13:23):
I'll be like, "Oh, okay. You know what? You're not watching Netflix this month. Or you know what? You're not allowed to drink alcohol this month." I withhold things so that I can recreate that feeling of like, my life depends on this.
Daniel Scrivner (00:13:37):
And removing that component.
Nicolas Cole (00:13:38):
Daniel Scrivner (00:13:39):
Yeah. Yeah. I think there's definitely some truth to that. I do think for everyone, you can trace back some of the things that you're driven to, for sure, to just insecurities of one form or another. But another way that I've thought about that, I feel like for me, that's definitely true in my teenage years and in my 20s, and I think, like you, I grew up super skinny, got picked on a ton, have a lot of those kind of like chips on my shoulders from early on. But now, it's less about desperation, but I definitely think that you touched on something there that's really interesting and important, which is that you have to still be hungry for something, and I feel like the two things that I try to keep in mind is like, "How do you stay hungry for something more?"
Daniel Scrivner (00:14:18):
In my mind, it's not so much achievement, but it's like, what's this challenge that you're willing to throw yourself out completely and try to overcome as a test to yourself, as a way to prove that you can do this, and then I think another piece of it too, is I try to now intentionally... When there's something that I believe a thousand percent that I want to do, I try to make sure that I construct a scenario where my back's basically against the wall, where I've publicly proclaimed, "I'm going to do this thing. I'm putting in all the work."
Daniel Scrivner (00:14:46):
I think that's really important early on because it just doesn't give you an easy out, and I feel like for so many people, that's where you kind of... I don't know, that's where things fall apart.
Nicolas Cole (00:14:55):
Yeah. You have to be accountable to something. So however you can create that or engineer that in your life, that's the hardest component.
Daniel Scrivner (00:15:04):
Hopefully, over time, that becomes more of a positive, beautiful emotion as opposed to something that's like negative. But sure, there's aspects of that.
Nicolas Cole (00:15:12):
Yeah. I mean, over time, a different way of saying it is you go from it being your only option to it being a choice, and the choice is the freedom, but it's also the challenge because no one's telling you, you have to do it. You're choosing it.
Daniel Scrivner (00:15:28):
Yep. Now you have to pay whatever's required as part of that choice. Yup.
Nicolas Cole (00:15:32):
Daniel Scrivner (00:15:33):
So another piece too is just around the idea of goals. So I don't know if you've been a prolific goal setter, but from the outside looking in, you've accomplished a lot in quite a few different areas. How do you think about goal setting, and what role is that played so far?
Nicolas Cole (00:15:50):
Yeah, that's a tricky question. I mean, I'm always setting new goals. I just like to see what I can do. But it really depends on your intention and what you, I guess, want out of it. At different parts of my life, the goal was mastering over a skill. I wanted to feel like I was proficient in something. Then as you get older, I think that goal inherently in your 20s kind of turns into money. I want to feel stable. I want a career. I want whatever, and now my goals I have noticed are kind of changing into like, I want to prove that you can do things that other people say you can't do. It's more of the choice. That's the freedom. It's more curiosity.
Nicolas Cole (00:16:28):
I'm going through that. I'll tell you right now, my next goal is doing that with self-published books. Every person I know that has gotten anywhere close to what I've done writing on the internet goes and signs with a major publishing house, and I'm like, "I believe there's a different way." Everyone who tells me that you can't do it that way is just more fuel to the fire. So I think it just depends on what your goal is and what you really want to get out of it.
Daniel Scrivner (00:16:55):
For that self-publishing piece, talk a little bit more about that. Because I've noticed that same thing. In my mind, I don't know enough to know why someone feels like it's necessary to give up a bunch, because it feels like the analogy in my mind is like, you've started a business, and you've invested a ton of time and energy and money. But in order to launch it, you have to partner with somebody and give them 50-plus percent of your profits. This kind of feels like what publishing a book is, which is insane. If you gave that proposition to any entrepreneur, they'd be like, no, absolutely not. Is that far off the mark?
Nicolas Cole (00:17:27):
No, it's worse than that. So here's the thing. Writers, especially, but creatives are not entrepreneurs. This is the intersection that I've really learned. So part of my duty, I feel like part of what I want to give back is I've built a company. I've experimented in the entrepreneurship game, and I want to go back to the writing and publishing world and be like, "There's a better way. What are you guys doing?" This current scenario is if you write a book and you spend three years writing that book and then you bring it to a publishing house, at best, unless you're a breakout, they're going to give you somewhere between a $10,000 and $50,000 advance. In return, they're going to own 85% of your product.
Daniel Scrivner (00:18:07):
Forever, in perpetuity.
Nicolas Cole (00:18:09):
Forever. So best case, you're going to get a 15% royalty on that product. Then after you get your, say 50K check, they're going to go, "Great. You're going to take this 50K check, and you're going to go market the product that now you no longer own. How does that make any sense at all?
Daniel Scrivner (00:18:29):
I mean, it sounds like musicians in some ways. It's like the Taylor Swift, Scooter Braun thing.
Nicolas Cole (00:18:33):
It's the same thing. So my whole point is if you can give up the idea of a formal publishing house saying that you are now a professional, if you can give yourself that permission, the sky's the limit, and I'll show you. It'll take me 10 years to do it, but I will show you, 10 years from now, my library is going to be worth a lot more than anyone who signs with a major publishing house, and there's no other way to do it than to go walk the path and then to come back and be like, "Here's the proof."
Daniel Scrivner (00:19:03):
You have to stick your neck out and fight for this thing that you believe in, and hopefully, at the end of the day, you come out on top. I'm a firm believer that I think anybody that goes into a challenge like that, again, with the notion that I'm going to in a positive way, put my back up against a wall, and I don't care. I'm just going to continue to iterate on the problem until I figure it out, and I'm going to crack it, like unlocking a safe. I do believe you will crack it in time.
Daniel Scrivner (00:19:26):
But I'm curious there, so say all that makes sense to me, but I'm curious, what would a publisher say to somebody in defense of going and getting published? What do they actually help with? Or what's the difficult part of proving that self-publishing is possible?
Nicolas Cole (00:19:43):
Credibility. In my mind, the only thing that you get when you go sign with a big publishing house is being able to say, "I got a book deal." Then there's just other brutal realities, where it's a lot of people don't really believe in their work. So they would rather go get an advance from a publisher because they actually don't think that they can sell that many copies. So they'll just take the check and be happy with it.
Nicolas Cole (00:20:05):
So again, it depends on what your goal is. I have a lot of entrepreneur friends who use books as positioning tools. That's great. You're not trying to sell copies. So if it's just a credibility thing, sure. Go give away 85%, 90%, 95% of your product. But if you're trying to be an author or any level of entrepreneurialness in this, you're making a huge mistake.
Daniel Scrivner (00:20:26):
Yeah. It really does. I think that feels to me like a super crisp way to frame. It's like self-publishing is taking the entrepreneurs position in publishing a book, where it's like, for better or for worse, I am going to own all the success or failure of the product. That means hopefully, if I do it really, really well, then I gain a lot from it. If I do it poorly, then I lose a lot for it. It's like you've got both bigger upside and bigger downside. But in our classic human ways, I think a lot of people are attracted to the no, no, I'm okay with less upside, as long as there's less downside, and that's the publishing.
Nicolas Cole (00:21:00):
People want what's guaranteed. Yeah. That's just how it is.
Daniel Scrivner (00:21:03):
Where are you in that journey now of that goal?
Nicolas Cole (00:21:06):
I published four books this year, and my goal is eight next year. I will do that until I'm dead. I have high, high hopes for myself as an author and a writer, and I think the first step of that was proving that on the internet. But I know it can be bigger. I look at some of these other authors. In the fiction world, you've got someone like James Patterson who he now has a team and stuff, but he's publishing a book a month. He's created processes around that, and I look at stuff like that, and I'm like, "Okay. Obviously, there's this quality versus quantity debate, and that's kind of a separate thing." Okay. But I look at people like that, and I'm realizing that's where it's all moving. Artists too, right? Volume wins.
Daniel Scrivner (00:21:52):
Well, it's almost in my mind, I don't know, it feels like thinking maybe an analogy could be feature films versus TV shows. A feature film takes you a few years to put together. But if you think about something like the Mandalorian, where it's like, say it happens in spurts, but it's releasing a new episode every other week, and every year, you're getting 12 episodes, it's not that far off. Clearly, yeah, you need more of a process there, and you need a team. You can't do it on your own. But I don't think that that means that's a worst product. It just means you have to approach it like a system.
Nicolas Cole (00:22:17):
Yeah. They're different, right? Some books, because it's a different topic, or it's a how-to book or whatever it is, I can do that in a month. Other books that maybe are more emotional or more story-driven, maybe those take three months or six months or a year. So for context, I'm working on 10 different projects right now. But each one has its own timeline and track. So it's one of those things, where in the beginning, where's the traction. You're planting a lot of seeds. But after a couple of years, all of a sudden, it starts to make sense.
Daniel Scrivner (00:22:47):
So I want to talk about how you manage multiple projects, and then after that, we can dive deep into writing, because I think what you just touched on there, for a lot of entrepreneurs, I think for a lot of people with a lot of ambition, you're typically juggling a lot of different projects, which has a ton of challenges. You have to be able to context, which in a productive way, you have to be able to kind of compartmentalize your time or be able to dedicate your time to each in certain ways. How do you manage that?
Daniel Scrivner (00:23:14):
Because I imagine from the outside looking in, I'm sure some people would just get filled with stress and anxiety thinking about juggling 10 projects. Clearly, it motivates and excites you. So how do you make that work?
Nicolas Cole (00:23:26):
Yeah. So this is a new system that I've been working on myself is I've really realized and learned you can only dig into one at a time. So what I do is I have one that's the priority, one that I'm really digging into, and then I have others that are on different tracks for gathering the information that I need.
Daniel Scrivner (00:23:49):
It's like research phase.
Nicolas Cole (00:23:50):
Exactly. So I have maybe two or three books. I'm actually co-authoring with a couple of different peoples entrepreneurs and stuff like that. So while I'm working on say one of my own projects, I'm still doing maybe weekly or biweekly or monthly calls with these guys more as capturing information, and it's just like I showed up for the call. We captured information. I put it in the folder. It's there. That's still kind of moving.
Daniel Scrivner (00:24:16):
It's like gestating.
Nicolas Cole (00:24:17):
Yeah. That's marinading, but I'm not trying to cook that yet.
Daniel Scrivner (00:24:21):
Yeah. It's super interesting. It sounds like you've gotten to the one project at a time, probably through trial and error. I guess, can you talk a little bit about that and how you finally landed there?
Nicolas Cole (00:24:31):
I mean, thinking about with writing too, you're balancing voices. You're balancing storylines. You're balancing structure. I mean, I'll pat myself on the back. I do a good job. Right? But you can only do that so much. So I've just really learned it's kind of you get exponential results when you start hyper-focusing, because all of a sudden, a draft that might take a month, you can actually do in a week if all you do is think about that. So that's taken me a long time to get to.
Daniel Scrivner (00:24:57):
Yeah. Well, because it's difficult. I think coming to conclusions like that I think are super necessary, and it's important in the evolution of somebody that wants to be prolific and have a big impact. But it's painful because it also means giving up that notion that I'm the type of person that can do 10 projects at once, which a lot of people try to gain pride from, but it's not a reality.
Nicolas Cole (00:25:16):
It's not. Eventually, the reality will punch you in the face. Either you're meeting these goals, and either you're finishing these projects or you're not.
Daniel Scrivner (00:25:25):
Okay. So now let's dive deep into writing it. In preparation for this interview, I spent a lot of time with your book, The Art and Business of Online Writing. I believe it's the most recent book you published.
Nicolas Cole (00:25:35):
Daniel Scrivner (00:25:36):
And it's fantastic. I highly encourage everyone listening to it to go and buy it and read it. For people that haven't heard of that book, maybe don't know a little bit about your background, can you tee up what that book is about and kind of what led you to write it?
Nicolas Cole (00:25:50):
Yeah. This is basically 10 years of writing on the internet, experimenting. I started when I was a teenager with a gaming blog. It was actually a really unique site, in the sense that it kind of gamified things, and that's what taught me about data and really listening to the ways that people interacted with your writing to then inform what you're going to write about next, all the way up to my journey on Quora. I set the record on Quora for being the fastest new user to top writer in 2014 or 15.
Nicolas Cole (00:26:20):
Yeah. I mean, at one point, I was the number one most read writer on that whole platform, accumulated tens of millions of views, went on and did similar things on medium, then built a company, ghostwriting for executives, scaled that to 20 full-time employees and 60-plus clients, and just this book is basically the compression of all of that. Everything from, how do write online, where should you be writing? What are the topics that resonate? How do you pick categories? What format do you use? Styling, voice, structure, pacing, just everything in order to write effectively on the internet crammed in 300 pages.
Daniel Scrivner (00:27:00):
It's amazing. It's very crystal clear. I know the writing super important. That said, I am definitely in the period of trying to become a better writer. So I'm not there yet. I recognize that it's important. But it's also not something that you know I don't have the same passion to go and kind of go and read maybe 10 books about writing. But your book, I found super approachable, super simple, super action oriented. It wasn't like you had to struggle through it. So great job on the book. What led you to be interested in fascinated with writing in the first place.
Nicolas Cole (00:27:31):
To be honest, it was the only thing I was ever really good at. I mean, I say that as if I wasn't into gaming and bodybuilding and stuff. But it was the only subject in school I liked. I always scored really well on essays and tests and stuff but failed everything else. My blog as a teenager, I was a really competitive gamer, and then I had a gaming blog, and I had one of the first e-famous World of Warcraft blogs on the internet when I was 17.
Nicolas Cole (00:27:57):
I think there was something about that that made me realize... What it made me realize is that there's power in knowing how to speak in a way that people actually want to listen. I learned that at a really young age, and I saw that other gamers at the time who did that, they were the ones who got sponsors. They were the ones who got invited to tournaments.
Nicolas Cole (00:28:16):
They got the opportunities. So even after graduating college and starting to work in advertising and stuff, I knew on some level that I can either be an employee and just kind of go through life as the conventional, you should hire me and kind of leave it up to that. Or I can take that into my own hands, and I can prove and say, "These are the things I know. I author these things. I write these things publicly." You can see my domain expertise. It's out there in the open, and that changed everything for me. Writing on Quora fundamentally changed the entire trajectory of my life.
Daniel Scrivner (00:28:50):
Just because it was a great positive feedback loop and kind of made you want to get better at it so much faster or-
Nicolas Cole (00:28:56):
Well, we'll say feedback loop. I don't know if it was always positive. But yeah. I mean, first of all, what data does in the writing sense is it shows you what's working and what's not. This is one of the big points that I make in the book. A lot of people, when they go to set out to write, they think they know what they should write about. They think they know what people want from them. It's not until they go write 10 or 20 things that all of a sudden, data says, "Hey, you actually thought people cared about your marketing advice."
Nicolas Cole (00:29:24):
But it's actually your insights on relationships that people really value because, say you're an entrepreneur. People care about, well, how does an entrepreneur juggle relationships? So if you listen to the data, the data will tell you what people want, and then you just keep listening to it. You keep doubling down on it, and then your free content informs your paid content, and your paid content informs your speaking, and it just becomes this flywheel. But a lot of people don't go on that journey. They write one thing and then go, "I'm not a viral sensation," and then they give up.
Daniel Scrivner (00:29:57):
Yeah. I feel like that's the modern problem is everyone hopes or sees or in some way expects this kind of their trajectory to just change when they publish that first post, and that doesn't often happen. In my mind, I guess one thing that I want to try to, I don't know, flush out a little bit more is I'm totally with you on using data as a tool to be able to say, "What do people actually find most interesting or most engaging?" As a way to say like, "From what you're publishing, what is getting the most views? What's getting the most shares?" Just maybe to clarify there, is that the data you're talking about is just kind of high-level maybe tractional directional data?
Nicolas Cole (00:30:34):
Yeah. This isn't super complicated stuff. It's like one of your posts got 10 times more likes than the other nine. What does that tell you?
Daniel Scrivner (00:30:42):
Yeah. So there's that piece, which is clearly, once you're up and running and you're starting to publish on some consistent schedule, then you can use data to start to inform what you're doing. But it seems like you kind of have to be, if this was a plane, have to be taken off already, be in flight, be moving, and then you can adjust the course of it by listening to that data. So for someone who isn't at that point yet playing still on the ground, they haven't even written their first post, let alone they're not writing consistently, where does that person start? Because my understanding, at least from the book is it's not with a blog. So I guess, where is it, or where would you suggest people start if somebody wants to write?
Nicolas Cole (00:31:20):
Yeah. The big difference I explained is there's two environments on the internet. One is static being a blog, a website. So medium's actually the other side, the other side being it's social. There's users there. You're tapping into something that's there. So I would even make the argument that if you're strictly talking about writing and feedback loops and exposure, you actually are way better off. Say you're in the restaurant space or the food space, you're way better off writing really unique reviews on Yelp than you are starting a blog, because you're tapping into an environment that moves, and it has people there, and there's a component that will give you feedback on what you're doing.
Nicolas Cole (00:32:03):
If you're just starting a site, especially if you're just an average person who doesn't have a lot of digital marketing expertise, no one knows you exist. There's no way for you to get any of that feedback. So if you're just starting step one, pick a social environment. Does not matter what it is. Just needs to already have users on it, not a blank site. Then step two is like, well, what's your goal? What are you trying to talk about? Start. Don't sit there and strategize for six months because no matter where you end up, you're still guessing. You're still just subjectively thinking, this is what I believe people want, and you're far better off just moving that plane, push it, get some sort of momentum and then use that data to inform the next step and the next step.
Nicolas Cole (00:32:46):
For someone who wants to write, but for them, writing is more about kind of clarifying their own thinking, I'm guessing that probably is totally different than maybe it's okay to write on a static site, and it's less important on social, I guess, what would you say to that person?
Daniel Scrivner (00:33:04):
The nuances of this are hilarious. This is a side note. But what's hilarious to me, right, is there's a whole subset of people that go, "I want to write on my own terms. I want to do what I want to do. I want to write the way I want to write. But if I don't get the result that I want, I'm going to be upset." You got to pick and choose. Even to your point, someone who wants to clarify their thinking, writing is an incredible way of doing that. But a better way of doing that is to get feedback.
Daniel Scrivner (00:33:30):
If you put out an opinion and all of a sudden, a ton of people, either vehemently disagree with you or excitedly praise you, there's something there. That feedback is going to tell you something. So I mean, I don't know. One of my biggest, biggest lessons in however, 10, 15 years of just writing on my own, do not write in a vacuum. Do not sit in your room and hide it away in your journal and be like, "I will wait five years until it's perfect to reveal it to the world." You have to be finding some sort of way to practice in public. Otherwise, you are losing, and you're falling behind all the other people that are using data.
Daniel Scrivner (00:34:08):
So it's more like an active collaborative process, where it's actually you with the audience or you with people that are listening or people that care about what you have to say, and then you're seeing what they really react to. Then that's maybe giving you some data points about what you should expand on in the future as I kind of summarize that.
Nicolas Cole (00:34:27):
A hundred percent. To push that further, and this is just the reality, people that don't like that and people that push against that or think, no, that's not the way to do it, I find overwhelmingly it's because it's rooted in fear. They are afraid to test that in public. They are afraid to get that feedback. So what they do is they hide it away, and they wait for the big, big, big, big launch, and they wait for a publisher, whoever to be like, "I validate. This person knows what they're talking about," and mitigate all their risk, and then they put it out, and then no one reads it. So what do you really want?
Daniel Scrivner (00:35:01):
Yeah. I guess then you build it up, and you only get one data point, as opposed to getting a ton of little data points along the way and kind of guide it.
Nicolas Cole (00:35:07):
Daniel Scrivner (00:35:08):
You gave an example there earlier of somebody in the restaurant space or the food kind of service space. They're trying to figure out how to write. So you would suggest that they start first on Yelp. So let's say that they've started on Yelp, started posting some reviews and are starting to see, I guess, maybe getting potentially some validation on what type of voice to use, how to tee it up. So once they have some of that data, where do they go from there once they have some initial data telling them how they should approach it. How do you evolve, and where do you go with you start on social platforms. Is there a progression, or is there a direction people should head?
Nicolas Cole (00:35:42):
Well, let's walk through that storyline. Okay. So let's say you're a food reviewer. You go write 10 things on Yelp. One day, you're like, "You know what? I'm going to try something different because I'm not moving. So I'm going to try something different, which is the whole point." So then you wake up and you go, "I'm going to write a Yelp review behind this fictional character named Food Review Sally, whatever. Sally is super sassy, and she's got all these opinions about food, and she's really witty, and she uses these really eccentric descriptions, and that Yelp review blows up.
Nicolas Cole (00:36:13):
Okay. Now you have data that says something about this is working. So then you keep doing that on Yelp, and you refine this voice, Sally, and then it's like, "Okay. This is crushing it. I'm going to now expand that." So then maybe you go to a second platform. You go to like Twitter or Instagram or something, and you're like, "This is the dedicated account for this voice, this food review person, expand that out with more content." Then over time, people learn, "Oh, your food reviews on spaghetti are hilarious. Okay. I have data for that. Now, I'm going to go create an e-book titled 300 ridiculous descriptions for spaghetti.
Nicolas Cole (00:36:52):
People are like, "I find this hilarious, and I'm either going to give that away for free, or I'm going to put that up on Amazon, whatever." Then you find people really love your reviews on why. She's like, "I'm going to go create a YouTube show, where all I do is review wine." Because I have data that tells me that that's what people like, and then I take that YouTube show, and then people love my white wine description. So I'm going to create two e-books. I'm going to do white wine and red wine. I'm going to sell those on Amazon.
Nicolas Cole (00:37:16):
Every step of the way, all you're doing is you're taking what people are saying they love, and you're just doubling down on it. It's not a subjective decision. It's very objective.
Daniel Scrivner (00:37:27):
It makes a ton of sense, and there's that kind of natural progression. That makes a lot of sense there. So say someone has gotten all of that good data kind of telling them what voice to use. I think you used a great phrase there. It's like, what is the character that is writing this? What do they look like? What do they sound like? How do they speak, and what kind of is interesting or intriguing about them?
Daniel Scrivner (00:37:45):
But there's a bunch of other things. I don't know if you zoom out, it's like there's things like spelling and punctuation. There's things like, how do you construct a story? There's all these other deep niches that you could honestly read probably an innumerable number of books on. How important is that? If their writing is working, does it matter if it's not perfectly grammatically correct? Does it matter if they don't do a good job with structure?
Nicolas Cole (00:38:09):
No. I mean, as the true writer in me, right, it pains me to say this. But the reality is no, it doesn't. What matters is the content of what you're saying? People have obliterated that word. Content doesn't just mean words on the page. Content quite literally means, what are you standing for? What is the emotion? What are you actually giving someone? What are you saying? If you have that, I mean, yeah, formatting could be better. Spelling and grammar, that'd be great if it was right. But plenty of books and plenty of success stories show that none of that stuff really matters.
Daniel Scrivner (00:38:40):
Yeah. That's not going to make the difference.
Nicolas Cole (00:38:42):
Yeah. It doesn't make the difference. If you want, that's why I put it in this book. I put tons of templates. It's like, "Oh, you want to write this type article, here's the template. You want to write this type of thing, here's the template." But those templates and growth hacks, and should I post it this time of the day or this time, it all comes after, well, are you writing? Are you gathering data? Are you moving?
Daniel Scrivner (00:39:05):
It's like those are incremental at best.
Nicolas Cole (00:39:06):
Daniel Scrivner (00:39:07):
Yeah. I guess through that analogy, we've kind of talked about using data to shape your topic, your niche, and a little bit of your voice. Do you suggest in the early innings when someone is still trying to get started, that people just try wildly different things. I mean, if you're really going for trying to find interesting data, I guess, should you just kind of every day or every week, it's like you're testing out something new or trying out a different approach, and then you're honing in from there.
Nicolas Cole (00:39:36):
If you're really starting from a blank slate, that's what I would do. I mean, when I first started on Quora, I was doing everything from gaming answers, to fitness answers, to marketing answers, to life advice. I was doing everything. Then data told me, "Oh, these are the categories you should focus on." But for the most part, I mean, I explained this in the book too. The process that we use with clients at my company, Digital Press is basically starting with three-content buckets, one being really broad topics, our productivity and happiness, and just big, big time management, big categories, super hyper niche to whatever you're in.
Nicolas Cole (00:40:13):
So say you're a content marketer, or say you're a doctor, whatever that niche is, and then a third, that's kind of more like personal story, other components of your life. We had clients write about things that they were thinking about just being new parents, things they were learning with their kids. So having those three and kind of experimenting with those and then over time, winners emerge. One of those types is going to click. It's either you're going to be this niche, oh, your insights on content marketing are amazing. That's what I want from you. Or you're going to be this more broad. Okay. You can talk about these bigger things, or it's the personal stories. But again, you have to move in order to then learn, "Well, which one am I?"
Daniel Scrivner (00:40:54):
So say someone is now found their niche or the thing that seems to be resonating really well with the market, then is the goal literally just to find new ways to say the same thing over and over again, or once you found that niche, I guess, how do you keep that interesting and vibrant and not run out of ideas?
Nicolas Cole (00:41:13):
So I call this the endless idea generator. You should never run out of ideas. Once you understand how to combine categories, you should never run out of ideas. So a great example of this is say you really find your category is design. You're all about, I'm just going to double down on design. Even after you exhaust everything specific to that category, you can then approach broader categories through that lens. So you can say, "Here's how I manage my time as a designer. Here's how I manage my relationships being the head of design at a big company. Here's how I can..." Then you start merging these categories, and that's where you then tap into wider and wider groups of readers and listeners and people.
Nicolas Cole (00:41:57):
So it's this weird balance of you're constantly trying to figure out what is my real niche. What am I known for? This podcast, you're saying, "I'm known for talking to 1% high performers." But at the same time, how do I link that to other broader categories through that lens?
Daniel Scrivner (00:42:13):
Yeah. I guess the analogy I was kind of thinking of my mind, it's almost like a tree where it's got deep roots. You have a really deep sense of where you're resonating, and then from there, you can branch out a bunch of different places. But it seems like everything has to trace back or to be consistent and to keep that credibility going and to, I guess, keep the interesting voice that you have. Everything has to continue to be rooted in that kind of niche or that worldview.
Nicolas Cole (00:42:37):
Yes. That's your POV, right? The way you see the world, it's your point of view?
Daniel Scrivner (00:42:41):
So one thing that's constantly fascinated me is investing. So I follow a lot of investors. I read a lot of investing books. I listen to a lot of interviews with investors, and it seems to me, and maybe this is just true in a space like investing. Give you an example. Someone like Grant Williams, who as a writer, he publishes his own research report. He does interviews for real vision. He has a pretty distinct worldview, and you can see that show up in the interviews that he has.
Daniel Scrivner (00:43:04):
But I feel like those worldviews, if you have it tight enough, if you have it kind of focused enough, that kind of goes in and out of favor. Sometimes that worldview seems super interesting and super timely. Sometimes that worldview seems a lot less relevant. Should that factor in? Once you have this point of view, should you be listening and dialing it up and down based off how timely it is? Or is it literally just like, that's your drum. You're just going to continue to beat it and let people kind of get interested or not interested.
Nicolas Cole (00:43:38):
I would definitely err on the side of the ladder, just beat that drum and-
Daniel Scrivner (00:43:42):
Nicolas Cole (00:43:43):
... consistency. Yeah. But the reality is your point of view can change. Things do evolve over time. But the rate at which a POV should change, I mean, you're talking over like a decade. If you're adjusting that POV to try and fit a viral trending topic, you're really screwing yourself because you're not creating this gravitational pull where people go, "Oh, this is what you're all about. This is what you believe in." If you have that, then over time, consistency, it's more and more powerful. People come into your orbit, and they get sucked in. But if you don't have that, people look at you, and they're kind of like, "Oh, I don't really know what you stand for."
Daniel Scrivner (00:44:20):
What camp to put you. Yeah, sure. So it's like that's a prerequisite for people caring is to have something that you're like, "This is it."
Nicolas Cole (00:44:27):
Yeah. Because if you're not doing that, what are you? I mean, it said differently. I'm working on a different book about category creation right now. But it's like, if you're not doing that, then what you're really saying to the world is, "Hey, there's nothing really different about me. I'm just trying to get my piece of the pie of the thing that already exists. That's pretty boring worldview, and there's nothing exciting about that. But if you can come up with, "Hey, my point of view is shaped toward a different future. Let me tell you what I'm about." Yeah. It takes a little bit to build that gravitational pull. But once you have it, every person that comes in, they're going to go tell three more people about it.
Daniel Scrivner (00:44:59):
Yeah. I mean, the parallel, this makes me think of as someone like David Pearl online, who even in his Twitter bio has the writing guy, and he does kind of go across many different categories, but that seems to be the kind of like root of his tree. I guess from the outside looking in, by planting a flag, you're kind of constraining the things that you can write about. But that's maybe not necessarily true, because it's just you're figuring out what the base of that tree is, and then you can cover a bunch of different things. But I guess help flesh out how developing a point of view and continuing to bang on that drum is not limiting but it's actually freeing and why that's so important to get people to care in the first place.
Nicolas Cole (00:45:38):
Yeah. It is the opposite of limiting. Another mentor and friend of mine, his name is Craig Clemens here in LA, amazing copywriter, incredibly successful. He says to me all the time is if you're writing something for everyone, you're writing something for no one. Because the best example I have is if you go to a company website, and they're big headline on the site says, we tell human stories. What does that company do?
Daniel Scrivner (00:46:05):
They could do films. They could do broadcasts. I don't even know yet.
Nicolas Cole (00:46:09):
You know the funniest part, most of them do enterprise technology that have actually nothing to do with that. So what they're doing is when I see that, and that happens in a lot of different ways, when I see that, that is an attempt at going we're for everyone. In the result, you are for no one. I don't know who you are. I don't know what you do. I don't know where your POV is. I don't know what you stand for. So going back to the endless idea generator, anytime someone goes, that's too niche, that's limiting, that's not enough, that's not really the answer. The problem is that they don't know how to take that POV and combine it with those other bigger, broader categories. You can take the most niche thing in the world, and you'd still have an infinite amount of content. You're just not clear on it.
Daniel Scrivner (00:46:52):
Yeah. It almost seems like an analogy is like a restaurant having a signature dish on how that's so important. As an example, here in Boulder, there's a restaurant that I love called post that they don't do anything all that's special, at least at the highest level. They're really good at making chicken. But they're like breaded chicken is ridiculously good. But it's because they approach it a little bit differently. They definitely have a different take on it.
Daniel Scrivner (00:47:15):
Another way to frame the advice that you're giving is everybody needs to be like a restaurant where you have to have your signature dish that's different. People either love it or hate it, and you're going to have some people that fall in both of those camps. But it's kind of like you have to at least tee up something people can hate in order for people to love it.
Nicolas Cole (00:47:31):
Yeah. I mean, in the simplest way, again, how easy is it for you to say to someone else what it is? So take that restaurant. Maybe their POV is chicken goes on everything. It doesn't matter what dish you get, chickens in it. It's called whatever, chicken board, chicken shop. If that's their POV, and they're like chicken on everything, that's pretty easy to remember. You can see the world through their eyes. So then it's easy to go talk about. But when a bar and grill is like, "We got a little bit of everything for everybody," you'll stop in there if you're starving and nothing else is available.
Daniel Scrivner (00:48:04):
Why is that so repelling? In my mind, definitely from my design background, that's something that definitely rings true. Maybe the best way I've been able to encapsulate that so far is you have to create something that people can hate in order to have any chance of some portion of people loving it, which is this kind of paradox in and of itself. But it speaks to the point that if you're not opinionated, it's not just that people are agnostic. I think in a lot of senses, people are literally repelled, and I've never been able to, I guess, try to articulate why that is.
Nicolas Cole (00:48:35):
Because underneath all of these things we're talking about, it's human nature. We're dealing with human beings. From the moment that we're born, we're told, fit in, don't ruffle the feathers and just kind of obey and keep your head down. So by taking a stance, you are quite literally going against the fabric of what society teaches us. So it makes sense then why that's hard for people to create, and then it also is very triggering for other people who are like, "You can't do that." The rules of the game are you have to fit in, and you have to make everybody happy. Well, that's not the role of the it... I just bent the rule of the game. So now what?
Daniel Scrivner (00:49:08):
Yeah. So you have to take risks, and by taking risks, you can kind of get noticed. Yeah. I guess that's the only way to stand out. That's the only way to truly kind of rise above the other stuff that's out there and be noticeable or be worthy of recognition or be worthy of something.
Nicolas Cole (00:49:21):
Also, I find there's so much fear around the identity side. If I call myself just this one thing, well, that's the one thing that I can be for the rest of my life, and I can never change it. But I've been a lot of different things, and I'll be 10 different more things by the time I'm done here. Right? So you can always change. There's nothing keeping you where you are.
Daniel Scrivner (00:49:40):
One thing I have to explore, with a lot of this so far, we've been talking about kind of speaking to or giving advice to individuals that are trying to figure out that voice and then be able to test that in the real world, figure out what resonates, figure out how to scale that up. You've also done a tremendous amount of work, helping ghostwrite other people's stories. One in and of itself, I think ghostwriting is something most people don't know about. So I think maybe we could start by just defining like, what is a ghostwriter, and why is that a thing in the first place?
Nicolas Cole (00:50:10):
Oh, man. Okay. So the formal definition of ghostwriting is hiring someone else to write or help you write the words that you're trying to publish. Could be articles, could be speeches, could be video scripts, whatever. My definition of ghostwriting is I think of it a lot more like co-writing. My job is not to show up and put words in your mouth. My job is to create the space for you to share what and then for me to listen and help you organize that.
Nicolas Cole (00:50:39):
This was our process with Digital Press too is a lot of times my process is recording the person, transcribing that recording, and then working with all of the chess pieces that are already on the table. I'm not really putting my own words in. I'm using your words. I'm just rearranging them so that they're more coherent, they have dynamics, they build arguments. That's what I believe the art of ghostwriting and co-writing really is. Yeah. Most people don't know it exists. I studied writing in school, and nobody told me that was an industry until I fell into it.
Daniel Scrivner (00:51:11):
It turned out to be pretty lucrative, I mean, the business that you built around it.
Nicolas Cole (00:51:15):
Yeah. It's been great. I mean, I tell writers all the time, if you want to get paid doing what you enjoy as a craft and then also free up time for you to continue nurturing your own writing, I mean, there are very few things as lucrative as ghostwriting.
Daniel Scrivner (00:51:31):
Because I guess part of it though is it's always very underneath the surface that your name's not going to typically be on the front cover. I guess talk a little bit about that and how you got over that in your own mind and why that's not an issue.
Nicolas Cole (00:51:43):
What I did in the very beginning was I drew a hard line in the sand for myself, and I said, if someone else is asking me to help them or ghostwrite their material, I have no problem with that. I would have a big problem if I wrote something from me, my heart, what I believe, that, and then I go to someone, and I go, "Hey, do you want to put your name on it? You want to just buy it from me?" That, I would have a problem with.
Daniel Scrivner (00:52:07):
It's like hiding underneath someone else's name.
Nicolas Cole (00:52:09):
Yeah. Exactly. It's interesting because that does actually happen a lot in music. These artists will write these amazing songs, and then they will. They'll go to someone else, some bigger artist and go, "Oh, if you pay me a quarter million dollars, you can put your name on this." I don't know if I could do that I really don't. Because it's just different.
Daniel Scrivner (00:52:27):
If I can ask, and I don't know how much you can share here, but I've just always been kind of fascinated by it, what does the business of ghostwriting look like? Are you taking a percentage of the proceeds of the book? Is it a one-time fee upfront?
Nicolas Cole (00:52:39):
I mean, everything, you can structure it a bunch of different ways. With Digital Press, we were basically just charging for batches of articles. So you'd buy two articles or four articles a month. That's what it would be. Books, same thing. It would just be like a bigger flat rate, half up front, half at the end. But now I'm moving more and more into co-writing where I've built myself as a writer. So you're hiring me as a ghostwriter, but my name is actually on the cover, and you actually want my name on the cover because I'm going to bring my audience and all of my stuff to it.
Nicolas Cole (00:53:09):
So it's actually a win-win. In those, yeah, I will take or look to take a percentage of it because I'm putting in a lot of work to make it successful as well.
Daniel Scrivner (00:53:20):
Is it like a song that comes out and an artist is featured on it? Or is it more like a collaboration where you're expecting kind of both artists to show up 50.50? I guess, how do you think about that relationship with the writing?
Nicolas Cole (00:53:30):
I think it's a lot more collaborative. I have run into situations where there's just trust and people go, "Hey, you obviously know this better than I do. I'm going to give you all the information." You write it and structure it however you see fit. But I've been doing projects like this for a while, and I've done a lot of collaborations over the years. So I actually walk into a lot of these with not a lot of expectation.
Nicolas Cole (00:53:54):
For me, I'm here to learn. Usually, I'm working with people a lot older and smarter than me. So for me, I'm like-
Daniel Scrivner (00:54:00):
It's always good.
Nicolas Cole (00:54:01):
Yeah. I'm like, "I just love being at the table." So I'm here to learn. I'm here to help you. I'm here to amplify you. I want to help take whatever style you have in mind and bring that to life. Then if there are things that I know that I can also just help and bring to the table or you want to trust me with, cool. But yeah. A lot of these projects, I'm invited there. So my job is to really amplify the other person, and I'm okay with that, because that's the expectation I've set for myself.
Daniel Scrivner (00:54:27):
Is the that you think about that like, that is clearly going to make you a better writer individually, but it's like flexing a different muscle? I guess, so is that kind of the way you think about it in your head?
Nicolas Cole (00:54:37):
Totally. Yeah. All of this stuff to me is practice. The reality is even though I love these co-author books, and I get really into these projects, the reality is my own material selfishly is always going to mean the most to me. So I treat these projects as I'm learning from other people, I'm building credibility, I'm tapping into new audiences, I'm practicing even making some money in the process. That's all great. But I then take all of that back to my workshop and go, "Cool. What's the next book I can write?"
Daniel Scrivner (00:55:08):
That's exactly, I mean, the approach that I've tried to take. I think that the only way that you can really take that is if you have a really long-time perspective. Because what that inherently means is you're kind of doing stuff today that's taking away from the stuff that you would like to be doing. But in actuality, in your mind, you're like, "That's not actually true." What's happening is I'm getting in these reps. I'm getting better at what I'm doing. That's going to come around and show up in the future. So that payoff is going to be there, but it's gonna pay off in a bigger way in the future.
Daniel Scrivner (00:55:36):
I guess, for you, where does that long-time horizon come from? Did you always have that? Did you have to develop it? Because I think that it's a very counterintuitive thing.
Nicolas Cole (00:55:47):
Yeah. It takes practice, and it takes you having gone through different iterations of yourself to learn that that's what happens. Years of bodybuilding taught me that. You don't just wake up, and then all of a sudden, you're 80 pounds heavier muscle. It just doesn't work that way. Right? So after you go through that, then you start to learn that it's all about shortening that growth curve by making different decisions sooner. So every decision that I make, that's exactly what you just said is true. Every decision that I make today is based on where I want to be 10 years from now.
Nicolas Cole (00:56:23):
I want my library. I just turned 30. So when I'm 40, I want my library to have certain types of books in it. I want my skill sets to be at a certain level. I want to be able to charge XYZ for my time. So every decision is based around, what are all the things required for me to do that. Cool. I'm going to do that for the next 10 years.
Daniel Scrivner (00:56:43):
That growth curve, I mean, even just the wording you used there of like, you're trying to shorten that. So that means that one, you recognize that there is this curve. You've got to walk up. That means that you're going to have to go through a lot of discomfort along the way. So then you've kind of frame up that exercise of like, "Okay. I know there's a growth curve. My goal is to try to shorten that, which means it's going to be steeper." So then it just becomes a matter of consistent day in, day out practice.
Nicolas Cole (00:57:07):
Yeah. And hyper-focusing on the things that really move the needle. Because when I was younger, when I was in my early 20s, I was trying a ton of different stuff. I was trying the same way that we talk about gathering data with writing. I was trying because I didn't know what was really going to move the needle for me. So I had to try that 10 different things. Now, I've gotten to this place after going through a lot of those learnings where I know these two or three actions are really what make the difference.
Nicolas Cole (00:57:37):
Everything in my life, especially in the past five years, I can accredit to one thing, writing daily on the internet. So if you look at all of the things that I did, the one thing that moved the most momentum for me was that habit. So then it's like, "Okay. So is that habit... It got me to here. Is that going to be what gets me to the next thing?" It's not? So I have to change it. What's the new one thing? It's a never-ending questioning process.
Daniel Scrivner (00:58:07):
You're always trying to figure out what that is, what that next move on the chess board is. So you kind of distilled that down to that one habit or discipline. So that's maybe the foundation. Have you layered on other things on top of that, or I guess what is your most recent answer for what's going to move the needle for you over the next 10 years? I'm guessing it's still daily writing, but maybe it takes a little bit of a different shape.
Nicolas Cole (00:58:28):
Yeah. The biggest realization for me has been, and this has been a hard one to confront is that no amount of me writing more articles on the internet is going to change anything for me. So now the next step is I need assets. Books are assets. Curriculums could be assets, whatever. So the thing that's going to move the needle the most for me is maybe this art and business of online writing book. It's cool, selling a couple hundred copies, whatever a month, and that's great residual. What if I had 50 of those?
Nicolas Cole (00:58:58):
All of a sudden, that needle really moves. So then the growth curve is, okay, if that's the result, how do I get to 50 books in my library as quickly as possible? Then the one action becomes, "Well, how do I write every day to finish a book a month or every two months?" You can kind of reverse engineer it, and then everything else just fades away.
Daniel Scrivner (00:59:20):
Yeah. What I love about that is it echoes the same big aha I've had over the last two years, which is you have a really clear idea of where you're headed. You have boiled that down into the smallest unit or the things you need to do consistently. But what you've also done there is kind of like construct a system. So okay. I have to get to 50 books. That means I need to be doing these actions every day, these actions every week, these actions every month. That for me was a massive aha. Because number one, if you were to ask me a couple of years ago if I found systems interesting or thought that was going to be focusing on systems or really knowing how to break down a goal and ultimately create a machine that can get you there, I would have been like, "No, that's so uninteresting."
Daniel Scrivner (01:00:03):
But I do think that's where the magic is, is it is coming up with a really clear goal, breaking it down to the actions you need to do and then constructing it like a system and treating it like a system.
Nicolas Cole (01:00:14):
Yep. A lot of people struggle with this. But what they'll do is they'll spend six months trying to imagine that system. But the reality is, again, same thing with writing, right? You have to be moving another mentor minds. You can't steer a stationary ship. You have to be moving in order to steer it.
Daniel Scrivner (01:00:32):
It's a great quote.
Nicolas Cole (01:00:33):
It's a great quote. That quote led the entire direction of my life for many years.
Daniel Scrivner (01:00:37):
So I want to talk a little bit about your writing process. We've talked about it kind of in abstract. So now give us a sense for what a typical day, week, or month looks like for you.
Nicolas Cole (01:00:49):
I mean, just as a baseline, I don't think there's an hour in the day where I'm not thinking about it. I actually have a ton of notes, folders on my phone, and I mean, I could be sitting watching Netflix with my girlfriend. I could be out at a movie. I could be mid-dinner. I will regularly pull that phone out and jot down a book title or jot down just a thought or something. But to be honest, I'm up at 6:00, 7:00 AM every morning. I'm usually writing first thing for a couple hours, break, get some breakfast. Depends on the day. I might do calls or emails or something, but usually I'm back to writing, break, lunch, come back, maybe some calls, maybe some emails, but usually, back to writing, dinner. Then at night is usually I'll do more like reading and reflecting or just thinking. But I write a lot. I write hours every day.
Daniel Scrivner (01:01:45):
Do you break up? For instance, some people follow the rule of thumb of like, you want to try to do the hardest thing first. So maybe that's where you're going to do your most intense creative writing. But I also know there's editing. So do you have different modalities at different times a day or-
Nicolas Cole (01:01:59):
This is the one thing where in bodybuilding, that would be true, and I would stick to that. I would lift at the same time every day, and I would use... Arnold Schwarzenegger called it the priority principle. You do the thing you have to lift first. You do calves first because you hate calves. So you got to do calves first. But with writing, I've found that that's really difficult because writing is more emotional. Even with bodybuilding, it's very easy to just kind of like brute force your way through it. But writing, you got to tap into this flow that is more creative.
Nicolas Cole (01:02:34):
So a lot of times, I'll... My rule to myself is as long as I did it that day. Sometimes I wake up in the morning, and it's right there, and I'm crushing. Sometimes I try, and I don't hit that stride until 9:00 PM at night. But all that matters is that I did it that day.
Daniel Scrivner (01:02:50):
I love that sentiment. I mean, that was a big realization I had probably two years ago as well was a feel like for all of my life up until two years ago, I had this point of view where it was like, "Here's the things I need to do each day." If I got through the day, and I didn't do those things exactly to the tee, as I specked out, the drill sergeant and my head would pipe up and would just basically be like, "Why did that happen?" Okay. Tomorrow you need to wake up even earlier. Maybe it's just there's phases in your life where that's helpful, and there's phases where it's not.
Daniel Scrivner (01:03:19):
But I think that the big shift I had was just switching to be more accepting of the fact that everything by nature ebbs and flows. So there's going to be some days that things really click into place. There's going to be some days that don't. There's going to be some days it's easy, some days that it's really hard. That led me to start being more compassionate, just kind of like what you talk about there, being like, "It's okay. Tomorrow, maybe that idea is going to come." Have you had that same struggle with beating yourself up versus staying positive and optimistic? Can you talk about that, kind of like how the voice in your head affects your writing?
Nicolas Cole (01:03:50):
Yeah. I used to way worse. That used to be really, really hard for me. But again, I'm such a big believer in nurture. I really believe that we're all blank slates and our habits and what we practice shape who we are as human beings. So over the years, I've just really learned that you can't always force that. But the important part is that doesn't mean you shouldn't try it today. That doesn't mean you shouldn't practice. It's okay to write something that's terrible. What matters is that you sat down to write because what you're really doing, what you're really doing is you're practicing the habit of sitting down to write, which means you're going to show up again tomorrow. But if you don't do that, then it gets easier the next day to go, "Ah, I'm not feeling it today either." Then three months goes by, and then you're screwed.
Daniel Scrivner (01:04:41):
So you've written prolifically. Even just thinking about the columns you've done for Inc Magazine. You've done 200 of those. Okay. 400. That's the realtime number now? 400 of those. I guess one thing that I wanted to ask about a little bit is, in investing, there's this concept of power law distribution or having a fat tail, which if you were to try to carry that over to writing, and I do think generally this is a principle that shows up in every space, which is just that if you take any body of work, there's going to be a few things that have just an insane amount of traction and growth and that really resonate, and you're going to have a lot of stuff that's probably somewhere within normal range. But you really have to build up that body in order to have a few things that can really be successful. Has that shown up for you in writing?
Nicolas Cole (01:05:27):
A million percent? Yeah. It's funny. I have a paid newsletter that I send out every Monday, and this was my topic of yesterday. Yesterday I shared on medium you can earn money behind their paywall by publishing. I've done really well on medium over the past couple of years, and I'm a popular writer there. I showed the backend of my earnings. Right now, I mean, they don't pay crazy, man. I'm not going yacht shopping or anything. But not yet. But in the backend, I showed them that my whole library of earnings and how each article and what it's earning, and I have an article right now that's going crazy viral. It's closing in on 500,000 views, and it's been like two weeks.
Nicolas Cole (01:06:08):
Medium's paying roughly a penny per page view. Right? So by the end of the month, that article is going to pay me anywhere from five to 10 grand. Cool. A lot of people would look at that and be like, "Wow, that's amazing." Especially in the writing world. It's like, "Wow, that's great." But then if you look further down in my library, I mean, I have 50 other articles where the earnings are like one penny, one penny, two pennies, two pennies, three pennies."
Nicolas Cole (01:06:30):
So the whole thing is if you look at anything just by itself, all of a sudden, it gives you a really biased, or just bias isn't the right word, just it's not the right picture. It's not the whole story. Yeah. Excuse it. But if you look at it in context of everything else, that's why volume wins because you have more and more chances to spin the wheel and play the game, and you're inherently going to win more.
Daniel Scrivner (01:06:54):
Are you able to anticipate which articles are going to go viral and which aren't? Or is that just basically like, there's never any way that's going to happen with consistency?
Nicolas Cole (01:07:03):
Man, this was the interesting thing about writing this book. I can come up with every mental model in the world. I can create as many templates or rules to follow or whatever. Those can definitely improve the chances. But the reality is I have no idea, and neither does anybody else. I can't tell you how many times I've written something or taken an old article that I was going to republish, and I'm like, "Ah, this is a 600 word." This was just something I quickly wrote. "Ah, nobody's going to really read this. But I'm just going to publish it for the habit of it." Then it goes crazy viral, and then something else I spent 10 hours on and think it's a masterpiece, nobody wants to read it. You just have no idea.
Daniel Scrivner (01:07:41):
Well, but it does make me feel better, because I do think that that power law distribution piece, it's one of those things that I fully believe it shows up in every part of our reality. But it also is something that I don't think we want to hear. We want to always feel like we're in control, and we can tell when something's going to be successful or not successful. I think what you were just alluding to is just this notion that you never know. You never know what's actually going to get just a crazy amount of reception. So I think what's freeing about that is one, it'll happen if you write enough, if you publish enough. It's going to happen. It's going to show up in your work, and you're going to have that play a role there. But the only way it's going to happen is if you continue to put in those reps, in that, I think it's really freeing and also really reaffirming.
Nicolas Cole (01:08:22):
A different way or theme of this, there is a way to know. It's just you won't know per article or per asset or whatever, but you will know for the person or the company. Think about this with investing, right? If you look at certain startups, and you're like, "Okay. That startup is creating a new category." There's a lot of evidence that says that category is going to explode. When they design that category, they are going to receive the majority of the economical benefit. It really doesn't matter what blips happen along the way. You know in the end they're going to win.
Nicolas Cole (01:08:53):
The same thing, if I look at a writer on the internet, and I look at their habit, and I look at all, they're writing every day. You know what, they haven't missed a day in three years. This person's going to break out. I can call that. I know that that's going to happen because I'm looking at the underlying fundamentals of it.
Daniel Scrivner (01:09:09):
It's directional. You don't know when. You don't know to what degree, but directionally, you're going to have a lot of confidence. So you've written and published a lot. I guess one of the things I wanted to ask, just looking back on your body of work, what articles, what columns, and what book or books you've published are you really proud of?
Nicolas Cole (01:09:29):
I continue to say it's a sleeper project for me, but my first book was a memoir about my gaming years called Confessions of a Teenage Gamer. That thing's a classic. That thing, I can almost guarantee that by the end of my lifetime and journey, that piece is going to really stand out because I spent four years on that thing. There's a lot of me in there. It was something that more of my writing online that resonates is more around life advice or writing advice or things like that. But that book and other projects that I continue to work on, that's closer to art for me. That's the side of me that has yet to fully develop out in public, and I really love that project.
Daniel Scrivner (01:10:13):
Was it terrifying? Because clearly, there's a lot of you in that book. Was that hard for you to publish, and was it hard for you to open up and just kind of open yourself to the world for the first time, especially with a book?
Nicolas Cole (01:10:25):
It was transformational. It was everything. Even to the point where, when I graduated college, and I was still working on it, and I was struggling with it, I signed myself up for therapy. Because I was like, "I'm trying to write about family dynamics and expectations as a kid and insecurities, and I can tell that I'm coming at it from a place of anger? I want to work on that." I invested a lot into not just writing that, but growing as an individual so that I could write the thing that I wanted to, and I want to write more, and I want to write more memoirs, and I want to tell more stories.
Nicolas Cole (01:10:58):
It's really interesting to me because all of my online writing is what has gotten me this far. But the reality is I treat all of that as practice, all my articles. This is just me waking up every day being like, "I'm going to practice my craft." But it's the memoir. It's the online writing book. It's some of these things that I spend more time on that are what I'm really proud of.
Daniel Scrivner (01:11:20):
So one question that we asked every guest on the show is to share some books and some articles that have had a profound impact on them. Can you share a few books or articles that have had a big impact on you in your work?
Nicolas Cole (01:11:32):
The first one that comes to mind is a friend and also I consider a mentor figure. His name is Christopher Lochhead, and he has a podcast called Lochhead on Marketing. First of all, he's the one that I'm working on this category creation book with another guy named Eddie Yoon. Both those guys, but Christopher's podcast I'm just pointing to, they both have taught me a tremendous amount about how to see the world, how to look at companies, how to look at things that you create and this whole idea of creating a category for yourself.
Nicolas Cole (01:12:05):
I can confidently say working on this project with them has shifted my worldview to a point where I can almost not even remember what it was like before we worked together. So his podcast, he's written two books, one called Play Bigger, the other one called Niche Down. Those are just incredible, incredible resources in terms of that on that side of things.
Daniel Scrivner (01:12:27):
We'll link to those in the show notes, for sure.
Nicolas Cole (01:12:29):
Yeah. Those are amazing. Eddie has a great book too called Superconsumers, which is also an elements of that, but through a different lens. But as kind of more like just off-kilter examples, there's a book I read a long time ago called Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth. It's a fiction book. Philip Roth is one of the greatest American authors in history. It is hilarious. It is a fiction story about a guy growing up in a Jewish household and what it's like having overbearing Jewish parents, and it's comedy almost edging on dark comedy.
Nicolas Cole (01:13:03):
But the writing is unbelievable. It was one of the first books that I read that really... It triggered something in me, where I was like, "I want to be a writer. I don't want to be an internet writer. I don't want to be just a blogger guy. I want to be a writer." Yeah, I encourage anyone who's really into literature writing to read that.
Daniel Scrivner (01:13:25):
Was that moment for you a window into or an aha moment of like, now, this is what writing is, and this is what I want to do? Was that what it was like?
Nicolas Cole (01:13:34):
Totally. I won't lie. I really wrestle with the fact that a lot of the attention that my writing has gotten or building a business around writing and ghostwriting or things like that, I'm great at it. Obviously, I've built that skill, and that's cool, but there's a big part of me that psych... That's not really how I define for me what it means to be an author. Being an author to me is writing things that really challenge the way that people think.
Daniel Scrivner (01:14:03):
Yeah. It's like originality. Yeah.
Nicolas Cole (01:14:04):
Yeah. And asking questions in society. That's the meaning of art. What are you eliciting from the person? So again, all of this stuff that we talk about, it's a big part of me wanting to give back to the writing community. It's wanting to help new writers and aspiring writers or really smart people that want to share their thoughts, and it's all practice for me, and that's great. But it's those types of books. It's those classic really just incredibly intelligently written books. That's my goal. That's my measure for success.
Daniel Scrivner (01:14:33):
So hard to get there. I feel like those books... I've read a couple recently that have had that same effect on me and just thinking about them. I mean, typically they're written by people that are pretty old, maybe 50, 60 years old because you have to, I think have a lot of time to digest and kind of decouple your worldview from everyone else's that surround you in art. I think for a lot of people, especially today, something I've been thinking about a lot recently is I think it's become nearly impossible for most people to have an original thought, because all day long, we're just being inundated by other people's ideas.
Daniel Scrivner (01:15:02):
Most of our ideas, if we're honest, especially I think it's true, the more time you spend on social, the more of your ideas are borrowed. There's not original ideas. It's ideas that you're picking up. You're just basically carrying around a constellation of other people's ideas in your heads. I don't know. I just think that it's becoming harder for people to have an original thought and buy as a result, write or contribute something original to the world.
Nicolas Cole (01:15:23):
A hundred percent. I would add to that too, I read this book a long time ago. It was by 99designs or something a long time ago, and they curated a bunch of these creative directors. In this book, the thing that... I'll never forget this. Someone said in the age of constant distraction, the most valuable thing that you could possibly have is the ability to focus.
Nicolas Cole (01:15:45):
A few years ago, I got that. But as just technology continues, I am seeing that more and more and more, and I'm realizing that the skill to practice is how do I shut everything off? Because a lot of people can't. They can't even go 30 minutes without shutting things off and thinking. That pretty soon is going to be... If you can do that, you're going to be in the elite top 1% of I create the world, and then everyone else consumes it.
Daniel Scrivner (01:16:10):
No, I've thought about that pretty similarly. I mean, in my mind, it's like evolutionarily. It seems like we're destined to have our time, our attention span and our ability to focus just get smaller and smaller and smaller and smaller. I think in that world, anyone that ever has pursued something that's really difficult knows that there's no way to do that if you're distracted, if you're frenetic, if you're trying to multitask. The only way to do that is by really being able to disconnect, focus, think really methodically for a long period of time and that it is getting harder and harder and harder to do.
Daniel Scrivner (01:16:43):
So one other thing that we ask is we all have habits, tools, rituals that we use that help us show up as our best self. So that can be as simple as like, I always get eight hours of sleep, or this is the thing I do in the morning. Do you have any kind of habits, rituals, tools that you lean on just to help you show up as your best self each day?
Nicolas Cole (01:17:00):
I mean, I've got the little stuff every morning. I used to drink coffee a lot. Now I'm on tea. I'll make a hot cup of tea. I made the switch. Coffee, I was getting out of control, like most people do. But lately, it's been more about just really making sure that the inputs that I have in my life are healthy ones. I never watch trash TV. I really pushed myself to read challenging books, not just like candy. I really don't read blogs and just other people's random musings. I try and limit my social media time. For someone whose entire livelihood exists on the internet, I try and be pretty detached as much as I can.
Daniel Scrivner (01:17:44):
How has that changed the way you feel, and has that shown up in your work at all?
Nicolas Cole (01:17:49):
One thing I noticed a lot with me is if I get into patterns where I, say use social media a lot, and I just keep picking up my phone and keep picking up my phone, I mean, it's funny. It is like a drug. You get more impatient, and your thoughts are a little more scattered, and you are not accomplishing as many things. But I find days where I put my phone on the other side of the room, and I only check it once every couple of hours. My clarity of thought is insane. I'm like, "Why am I so effective today?" So every year that goes by, I find that I'm really starting to move, especially as I get older. I want to use technology for what it can help with, but yeah.
Daniel Scrivner (01:18:28):
Use it as a tool, not as like a never-ending state. [inaudible 01:18:32]
Nicolas Cole (01:18:32):
Yeah. I don't want to be in consumption mode. I want to be in creation mode.
Daniel Scrivner (01:18:37):
Yep. I think that's a really important switch a lot of people still have to make. Okay. Last question we ask every guest, if you can share a personal experience that's had a really profound impact on your life. You talked about a couple of mentors, but maybe they're in there, maybe they're not.
Nicolas Cole (01:18:50):
Yeah. So many. In what capacity?
Daniel Scrivner (01:18:53):
So where this question really stemmed from is I think a chance to just, one, reflect on how somebody's generosity or an interaction with somebody or an experience with someone has continued to impact you. You've already talked a lot about mentors in your life. But I think if for me, it's one of those things that we often don't get a chance to talk about, and we don't get a chance to share. So it's just a moment, I guess, to share a story of a personal experience that's had an impact on you so that maybe we can carry that forward with us.
Nicolas Cole (01:19:22):
So when I graduated college, I got a degree in fiction writing, which is not exactly the most lucrative career path on paper. I started working as a entry-level copywriter at an advertising agency. Long story short, the guy whose agency it was, who was also the creative director, and he was very accomplished, had done a lot of amazing things in his career. For whatever reason, we became really close, and he really became a mentor to me over those four years. He was also very entrepreneurial. It was his own agency, and he was the one who I learned, I mean, everything from... it was everything from how to feel confident enough in your own ideas to say them to people, how to get other people to believe in your ideas, how to not ask for permission but ask for forgiveness. He really expanded the way that I saw the world.
Nicolas Cole (01:20:14):
After a smaller agency, maybe 10, 15 people, I left when I was 26. By the time I was 27, I had built a company that was as big as the company that I used to work for, and it has only been in the past few years that I really realized not only, A, how much he passed along to me and how valuable that was. But actually, the thing that he did that taught me the most, and it was never the fact that he explained something to me, it was that he let me spend time around him because what I've learned, a lot of people really want mentor figures. They want people to learn from. They want that expertise. But it's one thing for someone to tell you the answer. It's another thing to be in the room and feel how their energy feels in that moment.
Nicolas Cole (01:20:59):
I've really reflected on that and found that the best thing, and now, one of my younger brother has now moved to Los Angeles where I live, and I've thought a lot about, what's the best thing that I can do for him? What's something that I can then take what I've learned and pass along to the next person. The thing that comes to mind, it's time. It's the ability to spend time with that person so that they can feel your energy, they can soak up your state, they can match their energy with your energy, and that's where real growth happens. That's why you meet some kids that are young, and they carry themselves a lot older because they've spent time around people who's states they've embodied. It's like osmosis.
Nicolas Cole (01:21:41):
So I find that to be really interesting. I think I just maybe challenge other people who have achieved something in their careers to find ways to give that same experience to someone younger so that they can match your energy, and you can pay it forward and pass it along that way.
Daniel Scrivner (01:21:58):
No, I think that's a really powerful. It's a beautiful story because it's really when you can learn by being with somebody for an extended period of time, really learned the words they use, the body language they... It's like all of those things. I think too, that's also a timely reminder that there's plenty of pros in terms of just individual freedom that come from being able to work remotely. But I think a lot of the cons too are like, I don't think that mentorship is as powerful when you're remote. I think that apprenticeship model really does require a lot of in-person time because there's something special there.
Nicolas Cole (01:22:32):
I will be honest, I've never thought about that component of it. But you're completely right. The remote aspect is everyone in their little vacuum, and you really need to be in that room. You need that osmosis to happen.
Daniel Scrivner (01:22:43):
Yeah. That's the other observation I've had recently, which is a totally separate tangent, so I'll keep it short, is that I think company cultures, they're really difficult to form and thrive remotely. I think cultures, so much of that's just rooted in our tribal nature. As humans and as people and clearly a big part of that nature is because we were always in close proximity with one another. I think yeah, when you're engaging with each other remotely, it's different. So that digital proxy, it's not the same thing. Well, this has been an incredible conversation. Thank you so much for coming on, for sharing so much of what you've learned. It's been amazing.
Nicolas Cole (01:23:18):
This has been awesome. Yeah. Some of these questions have been great. I always enjoy this because I walk away thinking, "Oh, I don't know that I ever reflected on that before now." So I appreciate the opportunity to learn too.
Daniel Scrivner (01:23:29):
Well, that's wonderful to hear. Thank you so much.
Nicolas Cole (01:23:32):
Thanks for having me, man.
Daniel Scrivner (01:23:36):
Until next time, thank you so much for tuning in. For show notes, including links to everything mentioned in this episode, visit danielscrivner.com. There you can also sign up for my weekly newsletter, where each week I send out a single email with all of the best quotes, themes, and ideas from the latest episode. To sign up for that, visit danielscrivner.com/email. Just one more thing before you take off. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave a quick review in iTunes or Apple Podcasts. Great reviews help us land great guests. So if you've enjoyed this episode, take 30 seconds to leave a short review. We would so appreciate it. Thank you so much.
On Outliers, Daniel Scrivner explores the tactics, routines, and habits of world-class performers working at the edge—in business, investing, entertainment, and more. In each episode, he decodes what they've mastered and what they've learned along the way. Start learning from the world’s best today. Explore all episodes of Outliers, be the first to hear about new episodes, and subscribe on your favorite podcast platform.
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