How to Cultivate a Fanatical Audience: An Interview with Colin Wright

Colin Wright has written over 27 best-selling books (and counting!) while traveling to a new country every four months.

In case that wasn’t enough, he also runs a publishing business, writes on his blog, publishes a few newsletters, and is insanely active on social media.

Colin has cultivated an insanely devoted fanbase which has stuck by him as he went from being a freelance designer to author to entrepreneur.

He’s achieved phenomenal success, all while having his marketing/business philosophy simply be: because I want to.

I reached out to Colin to talk to him about his growth and development. Below are 10 questions I asked him about how he started his mini-empire.

An Interview with Colin Wright

1. Let’s start with origin stories. What was your high school experience like? How different are you now from what high school Colin wanted you to be? Would he be proud of you?

Oh, I’m way different than high school Colin. Some things are still the same — I still believe in treating people well, for example — but my expectations for myself and the world, approach to work and relationships, views on work and money and everything else, have all changed pretty dramatically.

I do think high school Colin would appreciate what I’m doing now, though. I may have to explain some of the details, but I think he’d get it, and be pretty psyched.

My experience in high school was, at first, the transition of a kid who got bullied in middle school into a more comfortable version of himself. Later, it was the same kid finding a few passions (art and journalism) and focusing on those. Overall a pretty positive thing, all told.

2. You successfully transitioned from trading your time per-hour as a design consultant to being able to drop off the map for a month and have your business still run without you. How did you make your first sale?

I was pretty fortunate, actually, to have started building my audience long before I started selling products. I had been writing my blog for about a year before I put up anything for sale, and as such had been honing my writing, figuring out how to publish (I gave a few books away, after using them as training fodder for myself), and essentially producing as much free value as possible, for as many people as possible, for quite a while.

At that point, it’s much easier to make the pitch. “Hey folks, you know that stuff I’ve been writing about that you’ve been enjoying enough to keep coming back? I wrote about it more, and I think better. Want to give it a shot?” is a fairly compelling offer, especially compared to “You don’t know me, or that I know anything about anything, but I have this book so please buy it.”

But that wasn’t the plan, initially. I wanted the blog to be a hub where I could keep writing about things, for free, and build an audience, but mostly for networking purposes. I still don’t make a dime directly from the blog, but now that network helps me market my work, without having to market too hard.

3. What made you choose your pricing model? You advocate the “coffee-rule,” which is that most of your work is available for the price of a coffee. Beyond that, if someone does pirate your work, you have no qualms.

Here’s what you wrote on the copyright page of one of your first books, Real Powers:

All rights reserved of course, though if you really can’t afford the few dollars to pay for the book, go ahead and read it anyway; life’s too short for DRM. It would be rad if you’d tell other people about this work if you enjoy it, whether you paid or not. All profits from this book allow me to continue pursuing my passions, and if you did pay for it (despite the overwhelming desire to find a torrent somewhere), you’re my fave.

Muchas gracias.

You know, it was kind of an iterative thing. I’ve sold my books at a lot of different prices over the years, but I realized that I was getting emails from different sorts of people when I lowered the prices. Students and working moms and retirees; not just net-savvy young professionals like before. And I wanted to reach that wider audience, so I decided to test it out, to see if I could keep making a living selling my books for less.

I do make less doing it this way, to be honest, but it’s not a lot less, and it’s far more satisfying for me. I sleep much better when I’m able to align my business practices with my philosophies; as is the case with the non-DRM, piracy-accepting statement on the copyright pages of my books. I know we live in a post-Napster world, and though it’s not ideal for the way business has been done traditionally, I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to demonize folks who want to read your work, either. Instead I reach out and say, “Hey, if you don’t mind, maybe leave me a review somewhere or tell a friend.” That way they can get the book for free, and I can get some word of mouth. Win-win.

4. You create a lot of value for a lot of people through your books, blog, newsletters, and the plethora of other projects you’ve taken on. When you’re developing an idea, how do you know it’s going to be valuable? After publishing the project, how do you grade the success of the project?

Oh, I really have no idea ahead of time. I hope my work will be valuable, and I find it’s almost always valuable to someone, even if not the someone I originally intended.

In most cases, I gauge the value of my work by how many people respond to it in some way. In a lot of cases this’ll be emails I receive, or reviews on blogs or Amazon. Sometimes it’s a random ping on Twitter or Facebook. I haven’t published something yet that hasn’t resonated with some demographic, but even if I did, I would still personally get value out of the process — refining my ideas, writing about things that interest me — so truthfully the hindsight-metrics aren’t as vital as the initial concept seeming like something worth producing.

5. You’re an amazing storyteller, both with your fiction and non-fiction works. How did you develop such a compelling voice and style?

Thanks!

Two things stand out as the main catalysts for growth I’ve seen in my own writing: writing a hell of a lot, and reading a hell of a lot.

I already had a pretty solid grasp of the language from reading through my childhood, and growing up a major book geek (still am, proudly). My own voice emerged from that, distinctive from just being a correct use of English, the more I wrote. And I mean books, blogs, emails, text messages, everything. Every single communication is an opportunity to hone your craft, and I try and approach them all as such.

Do those two things enough, and you can’t help but get better over time.

6. You have a devoted fanbase that followed you from your blog to non-fiction books to experimental fiction to a publishing company. How have you been able to cultivate that community as you took completely different directions with your life and projects?

I’ve been very fortunate, first and foremost.

But partially I’ve made sure to focus on a larger brand — on telling a larger story — rather than a smaller, easier-to-convey one. Back in the day, when I first started, I was the entrepreneurial guy, and my readership reflected that. It was easy to pitch the young guy running businesses. Then I became the travel guy, when I hit the road, and that was equally easy to communicate; the hook is built right into the pigeonhole.

After that, though, it became more difficult. I very consciously decoupled myself from some very strong, quick-growing trends and topics because I didn’t want to be the ‘something’ guy. I didn’t want to, say, be stuck traveling my entire life and forced to give up my entire body of work and audience should I decide to stop one day. Same with entrepreneurship, lifestyle design, and a dozen or so other popular keywords that would have helped me pull in a more massive audience, faster.

For someone like me, it’s vital that I can keep changing and growing and experimenting, and that’s part of the spine that holds the larger brand I’ve committed myself to, together. I made sure to build something that was completely, absolutely me on every level, so that I could just do what I want to do without worrying about breaking my brand or losing everything I’d worked hard to achieve. Resultingly, I’ve lost some aspects of, say, my entrepreneurship-focused audience, because I don’t write about that all the time anymore. I lost some of the travel-focused folks for the same reason. If you don’t focus enough, you’ll lose people who want you to be one thing, and that’s cool: that’s their prerogative, just as it’s mine to not cater to everyone.

But at this point, the folks who’ve stuck around and who’re drawn to my work these days tend to embrace the bigger picture; the general concept of nonstandard lifestyles and growth and philosophical development and embracing who you are and making that work day-to-day. This is why I say I’m very fortunate: getting to be exactly who you are, and to have others celebrate that? Use that example as an excuse or catalyst to be more themselves? It’s so gratifying, in addition to being just incredibly fulfilling.

7. Now that you’ve been to so many different countries and established yourself in so many different fields, how do you define yourself without feeling like you’re closing off a part of yourself?

Haha, well, that’s the tricky part of being yourself: there’s nothing you can say within a reasonable amount of time that encompasses everything you are.

So in general I take the audience I’m speaking to into consideration and decide which aspect of what I’m up to they might find the most interesting; what will probably be most relevant and interesting for them. In every case, my first introduction is just a tip of a much larger iceberg, but I try and make it easy for folks to follow that thread, if they want to, and learn everything else in their own time. If I tried to offer more than that, I think I’d 1) bore everyone to death, and 2) miss out on communicating some small, important thing while trying to communicate too many other things that are not important to that particular person.

8. You’re not one to give universal advice. But, I have to ask, if you were about to leave LA to travel the world in 2015’s market rather than 2009’s, is there anything you would do differently?

I probably would have started writing and blogging and reaching out sooner than I did. Facebook arrived while I was in college, so the whole social media thing was still only a handful of years in when I decided to hit the road. I did what I could with it back then, but it’s a much bigger (and more useful) deal now, and so are the relationships you can build through those networks.

Beyond that, though, I would have made all the same mistakes I made back then, because they were important ones. Anything you can do to leave yourself malleable to change and bouncy, so that you easily recover when you stumble and fall, will be very, very helpful at some point in your journey.

9. There’s been a huge increase in gear targeted towards perpetual travelers like yourself (eg. the Minaal backpack). Have you bought into any of that or are you sticking to average consumer gear?

A lot of it isn’t really for me — doesn’t cater to my particular travel style (or aesthetic style), but there are a lot of good ideas out there, and for someone, I’m sure such things are perfect. I tend to buy off-the-shelf whenever possible, so that I can easily replace things if they get damaged or lost, and without paying too much of a premium.

10. You’re a big tech lover, what recent developments are you currently excited about?

Oh, so much.

Simulated physics, artificial intelligence (of many flavors), 3D printing (also of many varieties), wearable tech, genetic engineering and modification, gene therapies, cybernetics, biomes…the list goes on and on.

If you love Colin’s philosophy and the way he approaches the world, check out his recent book titled Considerations.

To know more about Colin, get updates on his life, and buy some of his books, check out his webiste at colin.io.

How to Develop Habits

We all want to be better people, yes?

We want to go to read more books, work out more, and learn to play an instrument.

The easiest way to become a better person is to install a habit. So, if you want to read more books, make it a habit to read for an hour every day. If you want to work out more often, make it a habit to go to the gym every single day. If you want to learn to play an instrument, make it a habit to practice daily.

How do we go about developing a habit?

Common advice is as follows–start small, with something like flossing. Then, commit to it, every single day! Finally, after 30 days (or 21, or 42, there’s huge debate over the number of days you need to develop a habit), your habit will be formed! What’s next?

I’ve tried this before, time and time again. When I’m in a rut and I start to get that urge to change my life, I go back to habit creation and the next year, I find myself in the exact same rut.

But, recently, I’ve come across a foolproof strategy for habit creation. It’s not sexy, it’s not smooth, but it works.

5 Steps to Creating Lifelong Habits

It’s actually very simple to create habits. Once you start to realize that sheer willpower will get you no results, you can move onto what actually works, with the help of the psychology.

This isn’t just a system to develop one habit, it’s a system to continually develop new habits while maintaining your old habits, so you don’t have to worry about losing some.

1. Define the habit.

Do you know the reason why most New Year’s resolutions fail?

It’s because they’re not defined well enough. “I want to go to the gym more.” Well, what exactly does that mean? If you never went to the gym before, and now you went once every two months, you’ve technically gone more, right?

When you have unclear habits like this, it’s so easy to rationalize and justify and tell yourself that you’ve reached your goal when you really, truly haven’t.

So, frame your desired habit a yes or no question that you can’t squeeze your way around.

For example, one of the habits I’m trying to acquire right now is defined like so, “Did I sleep by midnight?”

It’s simple and there’s no way to cheat myself out of it. Either I was in bed at 12:00 AM or not.

2. Track the habit.

You need some kind of visual representation of when you lost or when you won.

I use a table in a spreadsheet on my computer. I like this because it’s shockingly easy after the initial set-up, and I can use the data in a variety of ways. For example, I’ve created a chart which lists my progress alongside the table so that I can more easily document my progress over time.

If you know you’re not going to use your computer every day, get some graph paper and create a table, or get a monthly fridge calendar that you can write on, and take pictures at the end of the month. There are also smartphone apps that do this.

Do it however you want, just make sure it’s:

  • easy to fill out every single day.
  • archivable.
  • can only let you answer yes/no, no justification or notes allowed.

Don’t overthink this. Choose one method and stick to it.

3. Use the psychology of colors.

This is possibly the most revolutionary part of this method.

Green means good/go/positive.

Red means bad/stop/negative.

It’s ingrained in your brain. Just look at your favorite video games, or the signs on the street. You associate colors with meaning, and we can capitalize on that.

When you are able to answer yes for the day, you’re able to get a green light telling you that you did a good job. But, when you do a bad job and didn’t complete your habit, you get a dreaded red light. Your streak is ruined, it’s ugly, and you very quickly start to do almost anything to avoid getting the red light.

If you’re using a spreadsheet like I am, all you have to do is change the background color of your cell to red or green. If you’re using a whiteboard or paper, be sure to buy red/green pens.

Do not underestimate the power of this part. If you skip this, don’t email me saying this didn’t work for you.

4. Aim for a 70% success rate.

You probably have 30 habits that you want right now, right? And with the conventional way of one habit a month, it’ll take 3 years to achieve what you want.

Here’s a way to make massive progress in a much shorter amount of time:

  1. Start with the 3 most important and impactful habits.
  2. If you get higher than 70% completion that week, add a new habit.
  3. If you get lower than 70% completion that week, get rid of your least important habit, up until you’re left with just one or two.
  4. If you have just one left, you’re not allowed to just drop that and give up. Try your hardest to reach a 70% success rate, there is no quitting here.

If you succeed week after week, you can reach having 30 habits within half a year. That’s much faster than the 3 years it would take you assuming the conventional method worked.

Note, it won’t be all good. You’ll progress a week, fall back a week, maybe even two weeks, and you’ll just be constantly clawing your way forward while facing massive resistance. Again, this isn’t sexy, but it works.

5. Be accountable.

I email the results of my tracking to a friend each and every week.

It isn’t pretty, and it probably puts me in a very negative light considering how terrible I am at sticking to my habits. But I know that at least one person is going to look at how many red lights I have, and it makes me want to be better.

If you don’t have a website or somewhere to share your habit tracking, email me. I’ll be the one person who sees your habit results each week, or I’ll set you up with someone.

Limitations to Habit Tracking

This method works pretty well. Even though I am getting a huge amount of red lights, the margins that I’m missing by are much more beneficial before, where I just said to myself, “Well, I want to sleep earlier…”

Instead of, “Okay, I’ll sleep soon,” only to look out of the window hours later and notice that the sun is rising, I’m scrambling into bed at 12:10AM because I just had to finish whatever I was doing.

But, this method isn’t perfect. It only works with daily habits, so if you want to do something once a week, it’ll be much harder to instill. There’s also no way for you to take a break or justify your actions. Either you do it or you don’t.

In a way, this method’s inability to accommodate to different needs makes it even more effective for the type of person and habit it’s made for. You do your habit every day or you don’t. There’s no wiggle room here.

Conclusion

This method has worked extraordinarily well for me within my few weeks of following it, and if you’re the type of person who tried developing habits many times before, only to fail again and again, this could fix it for you.

It’ll be very, very hard when you start, but the gains are tremendous, and they come almost immediately. I highly recommend at least trying it out, because we all have at least some habits we wish we could follow.

This idea was built entirely upon various principles set forth by Sebastian Marshall, namely the colors as motivation within tracking and having a 70% success rate.

I’m 17.

Woah, I’m 17.

This came faster than expected. Wasn’t 2013 just yesterday?

This past year has been crazy. Here’s what I’ve done with it:

  • I started rmorabia.com, which is read by thousands of people every month.
  • I read more life-changing books than most people do in their entire lives.
  • I met amazing people who have challenged me, supported me, and taught me so much.
  • I learned Git, mastered HTML and CSS, and decided to pursue web development.
  • I built the website you’re reading now.
  • I quit high school.
  • I decided that I had the potential to change the world.

Lessons Learned At 16

I also learned a plethora of lessons this year, and I’m grateful to all the sources who taught me these lessons. Here are the lessons I learned in the past year:

Lesson #1: Look at your issues in hindsight–in the present.

This sounds a little confusing, but it’s actually an amazing lesson.

If you look back in your past, at your most despairing moments, chances are, it was a good lesson learned, or it wasn’t that big of a deal. Surviving made you stronger, or at a minimum, it had no real effect, even if it took you years to realize it.

The key now is to identify these moments in the present, and try to figure out what your future self will say about the situation.

For example, say you get crazy lost on your way to your friend’s birthday party. Usually, people are cursing, going “Agh! I’m late, I’m late!” Here’s what you would think: “Hey, when I reach, this would make a good story.”

You’ll calm down, appreciate the moment more, and get a lot less hurt in the process.

Lesson #2: Challenges are a blessing.

Nothing is an impediment or impossible–everything is a challenge.

You are blessed to have this challenge, because then you have the opportunity to overcome it and become a stronger human being.

I used to envy the people with their lives set in front of them. The most adversity they’d ever experienced was self-made. And here I was, struggling with school, dealing with more pain than I ever knew was possible, and going through an existential crisis.

Within 2 years of all of this occurring, I feel like I’ve surpassed these people without adversity at least 10x.

Now, I won’t seek out adversity, but whenever it crosses my path (which, thankfully, is pretty often), the first thing I do is ask myself, “How can I use this to my advantage?”

The answer to this can be as simple as, “This adversity is telling me that this isn’t the right path,” or it could bring up some deeper issues, like insecurity, and allow me to focus on the real problem and not just the symptoms.

For more on this, see Ryan Holiday’s latest book, The Obstacle is the Way.

Lesson #3: Be selfish.

If you want to help other people, you have to help yourself first. You have to be the best person you can be in order to make the biggest impact on the world.

If you focus entirely on helping every single person you meet, you’ll be broke and exhausted within a week. Instead, you have to pick your battles carefully, and make sure you’re properly equipped to win those battles.

Focus on your own health, well-being, and progress. When you’re at your peak, you can do so much more for the world than you could if you gave yourself entirely to the cause.

This is why, on airplanes, when you put on the oxygen masks, they ask you to put one on yourself before assisting others. If you don’t focus on yourself first, you’ll just fall with the others, instead of allowing you all to rise together.

Lesson #4: You don’t need permission from anyone.

You can do whatever you want and you don’t have to ask anyone for permission. Everything you think you need permission for is a societal construct.

Hopefully, you take this in a positive way, and realize that you can become exactly like the people you read about and see on TV. You can be anything you want to be, and no one can stop you.

So, do you want to rule the world? Go ahead. Do you want to become a master historian? Do it. Do you want to go into outer space? Yeah.

For more on this, see James Altucher’s book, Choose Yourself.

Lesson #5: We’re all mortal.

The people you admire are all mortal, just like you. Your idols struggle with the little things, just like you. They get food poisoning and sometimes they let out gas in awkward situations, too. It is possible that they have some genetic advantage over you which would never enable you to become exactly like them, but at the same time, you have your own advantages, too! No one has your exact make-up, experiences, and potential.

You can be as great as your idols, if not better–only if you really want to be.

Look, you only have one chance. Even if you believe in reincarnation, it’s not like you get to continue right where you left off.

You can be as great as anyone you admire. Do you want to create a massive empire like Steve Jobs? Go ahead. Do you want to innovate as much as Elon Musk? Sure. Do you want to be as culturally significant as Beyonce? Why not?

What’s stopping you?

For more on this, pick up an unbiased biography of your favorite historical figure.

Lesson #6: You already have everything you need.

Alexander the Great was extraordinary. At 20, he took over the Macedonian throne and expanded it from Greece all the way south to Egypt, and all the way east to India.

What did he have that I don’t? He was tutored by Aristotle. Big deal. I have access to Aristotle’s works, along with his teacher Plato’s work, and Plato’s teacher Socrates’ work. I’m so blessed, because I can get this all for free by going to my local library and reading using Project Gutenberg.

Since you’re probably reading this using the internet, too, you have more potential than Alexander the Great, as well. Sure, he was given a throne to take over by birthright, but no one’s stopping you from ruling the world. Adolf Hitler, only armed with his charisma, nearly did this–and he didn’t even have the internet!

You can connect with anyone you want, you can learn anything you want, and you can do anything you want–for free or for an inconsequential price (eg. buying a domain to begin publishing your art to the web, which will pay itself back 10x once your art sells).

The only thing stopping you is your own lack of effort.

Lesson #7: Find idols and in-betweeners, and make them all your mentors.

Idols are people who you aspire to be. You may not want to be exactly like them, but there’s at least a few traits that you definitely want. Idols have reached a place which is too far away from where you are. Emulating them probably won’t work. (eg. Investing like Warren Buffet when you just started investing last week won’t work.)

In-betweeners are people who are only a little bit ahead of you on the path. You know they’re going to be pretty amazing down the line, but they’re still in an approachable place. You may be able to contact them and get personal help from them, and emulating the good parts will definitely help you.

It’s definitely possible for one person to be both things for you. In the age of blogs, you may be able to access your idols’ personal thoughts and advice long before they blew up. If your idol is old enough to have biographies, they can be an in-betweener if you focus on their formative years.

How do you make them your mentors? It’s simple. Consume everything you can about them, and extract as many lessons as you can. This can occur through interviews, their own published works, and published works about them.

If they’re still alive, do everything you can to get inside access. Being able to work under your mentor and see them in action is infinitely more valuable than just extracting lessons from edited works. If you get on their radar and offer value, you may also be able to get personalized advice and direction, which will probably be life-changing.

Doing this will put you years ahead of your peers. Mentors and apprenticeships are the fastest way to get to where you wnt to go.

For more on this, see Ryan Holiday’s article, How to Find Mentors.

Lesson #8: Don’t be afraid to reach out to people.

According to the Radicati Group, there are over 4.1 billion email addresses. You can email virtually anyone in the world.

You have free access to a ton of really interesting people that you can possibly learn from. All you need is an email address, access to the internet, and 15 minutes to compose a nice, human email.

The person you’re trying to email might not reply, or might not be willing to talk further. That’s fine. All you lost was a little bit of time. Remember, though, if you keep at it consistently, you’ll meet some absolutely extraordinary people, and they can help you in unimaginable ways.

Seth Godin, author of 18 best-selling books and founder of Squidoo, answered my email. I sent a quick question about ebooks, and he replied within 24 hours. How extraordinary is that?

Sebastian Marshall, the greatest strategist of our era, answers email for entertainment. I’ve emailed Sebastian multiple times, and have gotten life-changing advice from it.

You have nothing to lose.

In order to maximize response, make it as easy as possible for the person you’re reaching out to respond. Since I usually email someone after reading something they wrote, here’s my general template:

Hey [Name],

My name is Radhika Morabia, and I read your piece, [Name of Piece]. I was curious about [Topic Covered in Piece] and have some follow-up questions:

  1. [Question]
  2. [Question]
  3. [Question]

Looking forward to your response!

Radhika Morabia

The key is simply to be human and show that you’re actually interested in hearing about what they have to say. From this, you may just get a single response that answers your questions, but you can also have a back-and-forth exchange that will definitely get you on this person’s radar. This person can eventually be a business partner, a mentor, or even a good friend.

If you have no one in mind, start with me! I love getting email.

For more on this, see Sebastian Marshall’s article, The Three Basic Ways to Connect With More People.

Lesson #9: Consistency wins.

Humans are weird. When we have a new goal or project, the motivation is high and we tend to work super hard for the first day or week.

We make major strides during this first week, and then we burn out. The project’s left at at a 20% completion, and will probably stay there until we pick this project back up next year, if we ever do.

I have a better prescription.

During the first week when your motivation is high, slow down. Make small steps every day instead of pushing and pushing until you burn out. Instead of focusing on doing the most you can in the beginning, use your extra motivation to set yourself up to make small steps every day. Build systems (eg. setting out your athletic clothes the night before, so that when you’re groggy in the morning, you have a trigger to go to the gym). Ensure that you won’t give up.

A month from now, you’ll be able to look in hindsight and go, “Wow! Look at how much I accomplished!” unlike the usual, “That didn’t go as planned…”

Lesson #10: Don’t be afraid to quit.

Earlier this year, I took on a 30-day writing challenge.

The goal was simple–publish a post on rmorabia.com every day for 30 days. I failed–twice.

I’m not ashamed of my failure, because in the end, I learned a lot from quitting.

Why didn’t I stick with it? It was draining me. I wasn’t getting the results I wanted. I began pushing out absolute trash that I started writing at 11pm, and I have a commitment to excellence more than a commitment to pure quantity.

I don’t regret taking on the challenge or eventually quitting it. I learned a lot about my writing style and what I prefer to write about, I got out of my shell of comfort and published things that usually only reached my private list,and it eventually led to the redesign of rmorabia.com.

Quitting prematurely because things are hard is definitely bad. Worse, though, is sticking with something even though you know it isn’t turning out to be as great as you expected.

Always question yourself, or you’ll suddenly end up at your retirement party and ask yourself, “What have I done with my life?”

What’s the plan for the future?

This past year has been the best of my life. I’ve grown so much and met so many amazing people. My general health has skyrocketed even as I pushed out more work than I’d ever done in my life.

I’m very, very excited about the future to come. I expect it’ll be infinitely better than this past year.

I’m planning to continue learning web development, reading, writing to rmorabia.com, and generally building my infrastructure for success before I move across the country next summer.

I’m opting to skip college and betting on myself to make it in the world, with the eventual goal of getting into activism and becoming the puppetmaster of whatever revolution(s) I choose to be a part of.

It’s all very exciting, but also very unknown. The immediate goal is making a full-time income to sustain myself, without the need to stay in one place and check into an office every day. Got any tips?

Want to get me a birthday present?

The greatest gift you can give me is the opportunity to invest in myself. Gift me a book that changed your life, or choose something from my to-buy list.

At a minimum, offer me a piece of advice for the uncertain future to come.

Thank you so much for joining me on this journey. I look forward to the years to come.

How to Learn to Code

Let’s talk about programming. Everyone says you need it these days. But, how should you learn to code? Codecademy, KhanAcademy, or other pseudo-learning techniques? Maybe a book, like Learn Code The Hard Way. What language should you learn, and what software should you code in? The questions are endless!

I’m here to give you a solution for you (and myself). Here’s an 8-step guide for learning to code.

Step 1: Have an end in mind.

Everyone knows that goals are pointless if they’re not specific. If you don’t define your success, you’re just flailing around randomly. Therefore, have something you want to build.

Think of coding like woodworking. You want to learn how to manipulate wood to make beautiful objects. Would you start hacking away randomly? No. Then why would you do that with code?

Have a specific goal. For me, I’d like to evolve from WordPress and design my own website (including a blog).

Don’t know anything practical that you could build from code? Then just aim to get through a book. Focus on doing exercises to learn the syntax/structure.

Step 2: Download Sublime Text.

Sublime Text is a great text editor to start with because it supports a ton of languages. It even does Plain Text, and you can customize it to fit whatever fancy needs you have. My favorite part is that you can look like a hacker while retaining functionality.

Screenshot of Sublime Text

Until you’ve got a firmer grasp on the language of your choice, don’t look for anything else that will be more efficient. Sublime is efficient enough for now.

NOTE: In Step 3, we’ll choose a language you want to learn. If you’re going to do something like iOS development, you’ll need to use XCode, so make sure to confirm if Sublime Text covers the language of your choice.

Step 3: Figure out what languages are needed.

If you want to build a website, you’d probably need to learn HTML/CSS. If you want to build a web app, you probably still need HTML, but you might want to add on JavaScript. If you want to build an iOS app that tracks how much water you drink a day, you’d need to learn how to develop iOS apps.

Limit this up to two languages, preferably one. (If it is two, it’d be sequential learning: HTML before JavaScript.)

If you know the project you want, but don’t know the languages, look for a similar application/website/app to the one you have and figure out what language it’s written in (email the developer). If you’re having trouble with this, email me at hi@rmorabia.com.

Step 4: Get a reference guide for the language you’re involved in.

As Josh Kaufman describes in The First 20 Hours (about rapid skill acquisition), you do need to have some pre-research into the project. Look up the best guide for the language you want to learn, probably by searching through /r/learnprogramming.

If the language you want to learn is listed somewhere in Learn Code the Hard Way, it’s probably the best resource on the planet. Learn Code the Hard Way is a free beginner’s guide that has series of exercises that teach you through repetition. It’s more about you learning it on your own than being taught.

Only get up to 3 of these reference guides. If you get too many, you’ll begin to feel overwhelmed and lose focus.

Step 5: Skim through your reference guide.

You don’t need to do every exercise or read every page. Chances are, most won’t be needed for the project you want to complete. We want results, and fast, so it’s not worth it to do too much pre-research.

Do a couple of the beginning exercises, and if you get it, move on. If you get past halfway through the book without working on the project you want, you’re doing too much pre-research. The reference guide should be just that, a reference guide. If you’re dealing with a specific problem and it’s in the books/course materials you bought, take full advantage of that and go through that section.

Your goal here is to get comfortable with the actual coding, the syntax, and the structure. That’s it. You may also want to get comfortable with the API/documentation of the language, so you can adapt your knowledge as needed.

Alternatively, you can try one of those interactive pseudo-learning environments (Codecademy), but you’re getting used to a fake coding environment. You know how people say high school doesn’t prepare you for the real world? Codecademy and other interactive tutorials are like that.

I highly recommend going through a book-like tutorial instead, where you have to code in a real editor. IDEs fix your errors like a spell-checker, and when learning to write code, they don’t allow you to catch your own errors and learn to write properly.

Step 6: Start your project.

Open a new project in your editor and go at it. If you get stuck, go to /r/learnprogramming or StackOverflow and search around for your problem. Chances are, it’s already been answered before. If not, ask, but be courteous. These are volunteer help sites, so be very specific about your problem and don’t waste people’s time.

At this point, you might also want to sign up for GitHub. Chances are, this won’t be a commercial project (if that’s your goal, you’re going to have a very hard time), so putting your code up for others to review or merging other code into your own project will be very beneficial.

Having a look at code from projects similar to yours or debugging other people’s code can rapidly increase your skills. Also, with all of the projects being open source, you’ll feel like you’ve done a service to the world.

Step 7: Spend a little bit of time every day.

This might be the hardest thing you’ve done in a while. It’s like writing your first essay in 4th grade. Looking back at it now, you can write something of that quality in 15 minutes, but at the time, the 5-paragraph essay was the hardest thing you’d ever encountered. But you worked at it a little bit each day, and eventually, you finished, making the next essay way easier.

Don’t know how much to commit to every day? Try going until you get stuck, and then solve what you’re stuck at. After you solve it, review the code really quickly, prepare for tomorrow, and go off and do something else.

Some days, you’ll work longer, some days it’ll be as short as 15 minutes, but every day you’re making progress and learning something new, and that’s the most important part.

Step 8: Release your project and start something new.

If you made an application, post it on your website and ask for feedback. As for my project, it will be visible whenever anyone looks at my site. Make sure to link to your source code on GitHub and ask some more experienced coders if they can review your code. You might not have the most elegant writing yet.

The 80/20 rule states that you learn 80% of a skill in 20% of the time. You’re well on your way to getting that mark of mastery. After realizing that you can make project #1, you should realize that you can code almost anything you use on your computer. The power of computing is in your hands, so go forth and take it.

Helpful Hints to Make Coding Less Painful:

    • Never Copy/Paste. If you have a solution to your problem, type it out into the editor. It stays in your brain better and you can take the time to understand every character that you’re typing in. Next time you encounter the same or a similar problem, you’ll remember what you have to input.
    • Never doubt the project or the technicalities within it. When you get stuck, you may think you chose something useless, and maybe it’d be better to start a new project. Unless your goal is to make the new Google (although a simple search engine is quite manageable), you should stick with what you chose. Learning one language will make it substantially easier to learn the next. Stick with what you have until your needs outgrow it. (It won’t be in the first project, trust me.)
    • Remember that this is supposed to be hard. If this was easy, companies like Facebook and Google would be out of business. You’re taking control now, and that will always be a bit difficult.
    • Don’t think there will be monetary benefits from this. You are not going to build a software you can sell yet, and doing one simple project will not land you a job. Focus on the end, and make sure that end is only to build and complete this project, which will make your life easier and serve a purpose for your unique situation.
    • Remember that you are not alone. There are plenty of communities out there that can help you if you get stuck, or just offer support. You can probably find a coding mentor or a 24/7 IRC channel that can help, too. The support for people new to code is endless, and as long as you value the other people on the end of the line, they will help you out.

Really, it’s all about being specific and not stressing about the small stuff. As we learned from Benjamin Franklin, all you have to do is proceed forward purposefully.

Good luck in your coding endeavors.

When to Change Your Life

No, not now.

Chances are, you’ve found yourself at the end of a series of bad choices. If you’re a student cramming for finals, a freelancer who didn’t do the project you have to give your client next week, or an employee who hasn’t been meeting their daily quotas for a while now, you’re thinking “Alright, it’s time to change my life. I’m going to make sure this never happens to me again.”

Right now, while you’re in this rut, do whatever’s working for you. Sprint over the finish line because you walked the rest of it. Do whatever works, no matter how cheap and wrong it feels.

Then, when everything’s calmed down–a new semester, a new client, a new year, change your life.

Changing your life is slow and it requires you to not have this much on your plate. You can only change one thing at a time, and if you’re trying to change while all of your energy is going towards cleaning up your mess, you won’t change–and worse, you’ll forget about changing your life until things get this drastic again.

So, change your life when the cycle restarts. Put a post-it where you can see it to remind yourself to change when things get easy again.

What should you change, if you can only choose one thing? Start with exercise. Running or weight-lifting can give the fastest, most motivating results. Regular exercise will increase your energy, focus, happiness, willpower, pretty much everything important.

Also, if your end result during this hectic time is less than desirable, don’t stress too much. Think about it–will this affect you in 10 years? Opportunities come and go. This won’t ruin your life, I promise.