7 Things I Learned from the First Blogger

I was first called “Charlie Brown” in 8th grade. I refused to stand up and say the Pledge of Allegiance with the other kids. I didn’t like being forced to do anything. Afterwards some kids came up to me.

“Hey Charlie Brown,” one of them said, “you a commie?”

“No,” I said, “I just don’t like being forced to do something.”

“He’s more like a Linus,” Larry Sorbino said. Having stayed back a grade or so he was having more sex than anyone else in junior high school. I was definitely jealous of him. Everyone laughed because he was the leader of the roost. “Linus, hahaha.” And then for the next few months people would pass me in the hallway and sneer, “Hey Linus, haha” or, when they forgot who Linus was, “Hey Charlie Brown, haha!”

(the first Charlie Brown strip)

Since I was about 4 years old I had been buying the Charlie Brown collected strips. Usually after a doctor’s visit my mom would get me a book of the strips. I was thinking this the other day because I took my kids to Friendly’s. The waitress came over and said, “what would you guys like?”

“Well,” I said, “first off, about 38 years ago I left a Charlie Brown book in a Friendly’s by accident and when my mom and I came back to look for it it was already gone and I’m wondering if since then anyone has reported it lost or if it’s maybe in the lost and foud.”

“Uhh,” the waitress said, “I’ll check.”

“Daddy!” both my daughters said and they were embarrassed. Why’d they have to have a daddy like me? Even Claudia said, “oh no.”

“But,” I said, “I’m serious. I really wanted to read that book and my mom had just gotten it for me. We were coming from the doctor’s office. I had a vaccine shot then. I needed Charlie Brown.”

Charles Schulz, the creator of Charlie Brown, wrote the strip from 1950 to 2000, just about every day. He was basically a blogger. I don’t even know if he missed a single day.

It’s hard to come up with ideas that are meaningful every day. But he did. Here’s 7 things I learned by reading his various biographies and also by probably reading every strip he every produced.

1)      He made over a billion dollars in his lifetime.  Nowadays when we think of a billion dollars we think of a guy like Mark Zuckerberg or the Groupon guys, who seem to have made a billion dollars overnight. We get jealous (I do) and think, “I could’ve done that. These guys got lucky.” But Charles Schulz showed that through recessions, stagflation, wars, high taxes, low taxes, whatever –  persistence and making sure you’re creative every single day so each day you outshine yourself and your peers a little bit more, will get you a billion dollars. Creativity every day is the key part.

(the blanket is almost like an archetype. Everyone has a version of Linus's security blanket)

2)      He had a creative process. I may have mentioned my own process before.

–          My process:  I wake up around 5am, give or take. I drink 3 cups of coffee and by the third cup I’m at the computer writing.  I read for about an hour – only strong autobiographical voices (fiction or non-fiction) [See, My Summer Reading List], then I write a blog post. I write at least a post a day even if I don’t post every day. It takes me anywhere from a half hour to eight hours to write a post. A typical post is 800 – 2000 words.

–          Charles Schulz’s process: He woke up and ate a jelly donut. Then he’d try to come up with an idea, a process he said took him between a few minutes to 3 hours. Then he would draw and ink up the strip, which would take up to another three hours. He “posted” every day, 7 days a week.

I think creativity doesn’t happen spontaneously. I think the key is persistent exercise of the creative muscle. Doing the same process every day so your brain and body expect it and know what to do once you are “in process”. That makes the possibility of having spontaneous GREAT ideas come out during those hours much more natural and easy. [See, Nine ways to light your creativity ON FIRE]

3)      Success happens over decades. I said this in #1. But it’s a specific point also. Charles Bukowski wrote for three decades before he was able to make a living at it. Charles Schulz built Charlie Brown into a powerhouse over the course of five decades. For the first two decades of Warren Buffett’s investing career, nobody knew who he was. Now he’s the richest man in the world. [See, 8 Unusual Things I Learned From Warren Buffett]

This is a hard thing for me to learn. I’ve been on and off writing for two decades, writing professionally for one, but only blogging for less than one year. And sometimes I’m really impatient for traffic, etc. But I don’t even quite know what it is I want yet. I’m very confused on this point. The only thing I know I want to do is write / post every day and build community around the posts. Schulz ultimately drew 17,897 strips. One critic said that its arguably “the longest story ever told by one person”.

4)      He loved what he did. I don’t think real success could come any other way. It seems like the formula is passion + creativity + persistence + process. When sickness was forcing him to retire (about a year before his death) he said to Al Roker on the Today Show: “”I never dreamed that this would happen to me. I always had the feeling that I would stay with the strip until I was in my early eighties, or something like that. But all of sudden it’s gone. I did not take it away. This has been taken away from me.””

Here’s the last Charlie Brown strip that appeared. It came out on February 13, 2000 (the day after Schulz’s death)

5)      He had a stance and wasn’t afraid to state it. I’ve seen over and over in my blog posts that people are afraid to even remotely THINK anything that’s outside the box that society has built for us and put us in. Schultz was always trying to step out of that box and because he did it under the guise of sweet looking children, hardly anyone noticed.

For instance, 50 years before our constant worries about Google and Facebook privacy Schultz introduced a minor character named “5” (who had sisters “3” and “4”) whose last name was his zipcode. Apparently “5”’s father was protesting that everyone now is being boiled down to just a number, taking away our individuality and privacy. Here’s the first strip with 5:

6)      Losers win.

Charlie Brown is not a bad guy. He’s a very sweet little boy. He tries to do good things. He wants to kick the ball, to get advice on how he can be better, to have more friends, to even have a girl (“Heather, the little red-headed girl”) love him. But he rarely gets what he wants. And yet, with 350 million readers worldwide at his peak, he’s one of the most beloved characters of all time. Nobody wants to read about the kid who wins every game. We all relate deep down in our hearts to the person who is isolated, a little lonely, who wants something better out of life than the cards that have been dealt him. Not that everyone is depressed. Charlie Brown is not depressed. He just loses. And so do I. And so do you. We’re all in it together to try to be a little happier in a world that’s just a little too tough on us.

Focusing on these darker elements in life, and examining them in almost 18,000 strips, is how Schulz defined his characters and shaped his stories. Don’t brag to us. Tell us how you tried to kick the ball and failed. Ultimately, Charlie Brown’s innate kindness is what caused the other kids to rally around his choice of a sickly tree in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. Being kind against all struggles creates art, friends, beauty, happiness.

7)      He worked 100% of the time. Even when he wasn’t actively engaged in his process of drawing, he was constantly thinking of ideas and thinking of new ways to draw. This, despite the fact that on the surface the strip seems relatively simple to draw. In Schulz’s own words:

“While I am carrying on a conversation with someone, I find that I am drawing with my eyes. I find myself observing how his shirt collar comes around from behind his neck and perhaps casts a slight shadow on one side. I observe how the wrinkles in his sleeve form and how his arm may be resting on the edge of the chair. I observe how the features on his face move back and forth in perspective as he rotates his head. It actually is a form of sketching and I believe that it is the next best thing to drawing itself. I sometimes feel it is obsessive, but at least it accomplishes something for me.”

I look at his lifetime and I’m jealous even though he’s dead and I’m alive. He did the only thing he ever wanted to do, he had an audience for it, he made a lot of money doing it, he never got burnt out, he said what he wanted to say, and he said it every single day. I hope I’m so lucky

When I was a kid I would be really upset at the other kids who called me “Charlie Brown”.  But now I’m thinking it wasn’t so bad after all.

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  • Syren

    So sweet!

  • Syren

    As I clicked “post”, “Nothing is Easy” by Jethro Tull just came on.  Spooky.

    • sounds like you’re operating at a high level of consciousness with a lot of synchronicities and winks from the universe… seems like the world is dancing around you (i heeded the call)

      • Syren

        It happens a lot, Zachary.  Glad you’re dancing with us.

  • Tim Duffy

    “Being kind against all struggles creates art, friends, beauty, happiness.”

    Perfect sentence. Thank you

  • Joe Di Lillo

    Did the waitress ever find your book? :-)

  • This was the perfect blog post for me, James.  It embodied exactly what you were writing about.  Thank you.

    One of the other lessons of Charlie Brown, one I’ve tried to teach my kids, is “sometimes winners lose.  A lot.”  And that helps me teach them persistence as a key trait in life.

  • You’re offering the possibility of divinity for everyone.  You have me on board.  Talk about good karma.

    Next post: 12 shortcuts to creating good karma

  • jja808

    Great post! I also grew up with Charlie Brown, and my father used to call me ‘Charlie Brown’ (endearingly-even though he hated comics/cartoons, nor did he realize what that really meant). I turned out to be a nice guy, which is why I always finish last….

    I agree with Tim with his assessment of the perfect sentence. I love your writing and I am glad I found your blog thru freakonomics.

    “But I don’t even quite know what it is I want yet. I’m very confused on this point.” I am right there with you as well. One of these days I might have to contact you to see what advice you have for me….

    Lastly, I have been in CA for awhile and I almost forgot about Friendly’s. I used to live for the Peanut Butter Cup Sundaes!

  • Sosympl

    I agree… jealous, although maybe more of an envy and a motivation to get there.  You are doing what he did… you are saying what you want to say, every day and connecting with people in a heartfelt way… and experiencing and relating the fails.  Like in the post ‘was it worth it’. and many others.    Love this blog.

  • Lori

    i’m going to have to say i think charlie brown was often depressed. there was an awful lot of leaning on the wall on his elbow and deep sighing. google “charlie brown depressed” images.

    otherwise, i think your post is spot on. process is a neglected part of the formula. people fail to set themselves up to succeed.

  • Lori

    i’m going to have to say i think charlie brown was often depressed. there was an awful lot of leaning on the wall on his elbow and deep sighing. google “charlie brown depressed” images.

    otherwise, i think your post is spot on. process is a neglected part of the formula. people fail to set themselves up to succeed.

  • Sooz

    Sweet !!

    • Sooz

      Syren ,
      I just realized our near exact response(yours many hours ahead of mine and in Charlies thoughts I say, ” *&#*….”

      What is there not to love about  ‘Charlie’?
      side note: I watched that FB movie for the first time last night (rather be Shultz anyday) and I swear that J.A. now has super~telepathy

      • Sooz

        edit: Schultz(sorry charlie)

  • zzen321

    I’d never would’ve learned how to ice skate if it weren’t for Schulz. He built an ice skating rink in Santa Rosa where I grew up. Saturday mornings there were fun times. His daughter and my brother were classmates.

  • Anonymous

    One of your best. Thanks. I hope I’m able to find that “one thing” one day (tip of the hat to Jack Palance — City Slickers).

  • Great great post, James, thank you! Love how he/Schultz/Charlie Brown moved you so deeply. I can see why you would identify with Charlie. I have begun to think of you as more a Pooh person, “Taos of Pooh” and all – the Uncarved Block.  And finding a way to be ok with that… which seems like you are not at all bothered with being uncarved. This is key.

  • I didn’t pay much attention to Charlie Brown, but now I realize what I missed.  I posted a few panels on my tumblr for any one interested.


    I love your list of Seven – very useful…..thank you.

  • Anonymous

    Great column. Yours is one site I have to check everyday. You should go on a speaking tour at colleges across the country.

  • Anonymous

    Since you read about personalities do you know how Schulz treated the people close to him? Was he kind?

  • Anonymous

    So true…we love Charlie Brown because he is a failure. And we all fail. The rest of the world loved DiMaggio while Charlie Brown loved Garagiola …I always thought that was so symbolic…

  • I like you’re still promoting that “Summer Reading List” . If you haven’t found “A suitable Boy” yet, I think I have a kindle version. Looks good, looks like the real stuff. The paperback I had, was lent to a “friend” who disappears to Istanbul, and I never met him again, after more than six years, :).
    Someone there said that is too heavy for plane. Of course it is, the book has around 1,200 pages… If you want the kindle, just let me know.
    BTW, you write as a pro.

  • Mary P.

    James, another great post. Thanks.

  • one and only

    while i can relate to the taints from others, i don’t think that refusing the pledge of allegiance makes you all that unique either.  poor choice of example to illustrate the good things you point out. after all, what could be more “all in it together” than collectively honoring your birthed culture.

    • it just happens to be how i got called “Charlie Brown”, thats all.

  • Denise Herman

    Loved the story of your personal connection, stories about Shultz and his connection to his art, and advice for all of us struggling to create and be in the world, too…and timely, btw, as news of Job’s resignation sinks as well as on a personal level as I struggle with my own writing demons (helped a lot!)…this is one of your posts that just lingers long after the song ends. Just wanted to let you know and to say thank you. 

  • Aawyeaah

    One of your better posts!

  • Aawyeaah

    One of your better posts!

  • Aawyeaah

    One of your better posts!

  • Aawyeaah

    One of your better posts!

  • Anonymous

    Love this, thank you.

  • Sussan

    This resonates with me . . .”Charlie Brown is not depressed. He just loses. And so do I. And so do you. We’re all in it together to try to be a little happier in a world that’s just a little too tough on us.” A friend once said spontaneously and loudly,” WHY DOES EVERYONE HAVE TO BE BETTER THAN SOMEONE ELSE??!!” Love how you conencted your early love for “Peanuts” and your penchant for blogging. I value it. We all have something great within us, It just takes work and struggle to realize the potential of it.

    • Yes, I think that’s right. I think a lot of people don’t want to deal with the “struggle” aspect but it’s very rare to avoid it.

      • Sussan

        Wonder why we buy into the mythic idea, “happily ever after.” The great ones  learn from disaster and go on. If we spoke to our heros/heroines we’d hear stories of defeat and tragedy. Popular culture is determined to erase this reality. Charlie Brown didn’t get compassion or understanding, yet he went for the kick and couldn’t get over the little red haired girl. Charles Schultze knew the propensity that makes us human is love, even when it appears hopeless.

  • Charlie Brown’s father was a Barber…

    • Yes, as was Charles Schulz’s father. I think a lot of the events in the strip came from events in his life.

      • My dad is a Barber, yet I’m twice the loser Charlie Brown is/was…

        Let me know when you are in the market for a haircut.

  • Tom

    I think this is the best post on this blog ever.

  • Jake

    I used to be a big fan of strips like Charlie Brown also. I was looking online on “the daily what” at a more contemporary strip the other day (in Korean, no less) that used sections of some freaky animation, and remember wondering what Charles Schultz might’ve been able to do with this kind of technology. If you want to check it out, the link is below. Be sure to read the comments in the link before you allow yourself to view the cartoon.


    • Guest

      That was scary….I shoulda believed the comments.

  • I have such a hard time blogging.  I need to find my morning donut and get to it, because when I do I really enjoy the process.  Same with a lot of things I do (or, mostly don’t do but should).  

    • Once you get into a rhythm its easier. That said, today is the first day in about 3-4 months that I didn’t write at all. I don’t know why. Even though I don’t post every single day I try to write a blog post seven days a week by 8 or 9am. But, maybe I missed my donut this morning.

  • Andrej

    James, when are you going to write about gold again. On October 25, 2010, you warned people not to buy gold. The people who have listened to you have foregone an opportunity to make 30% while those who have invested in the Dow are flat. Will you write a blog appologizing to those people or a blog explaining why the supposed gold bubble is in its final stages and ready to burst? 

    • Kjp712

      He will probably write about it after you blog about how you sold your gold at the top before the decline.

      • Andrej

        I didn’t sell my gold yet, but you can be sure that I bought it at a much lower price than it is today. I’m not a trader, so why should I write such a blog? My point is that James has missed a bull market because he doesn’t get gold and he should acknowledge it. There will be a bubble in gold eventually, but we are far away from that yet.

        • Gold will always retain it’s value as unlike diamonds it is actually rare but get the yellow substance not a paper saying you own gold.If the market goes South and the world is a ruin people will probably take gold for goods and services.All paper will be worthless.

          • Joeb

            Uhmmm… “gold will always retain it’s [sic] value?” 

            Have you ever looked at a chart of the price of gold? Try this: find the chart of the price of gold from 1970-2000. Did it ever go down? How often? If you bought in at any time during that thirty year period, could you have lost money?Now… is gold at an all time low or an all time high? Should you buy low and sell high or vice-versa? Please come back with your answers and we will grade your score later.

          • I’m not talking about stock price.I’m talking about the metal.when paper money and stocks are worthless the metal will retain value if anything does.      you and your questions can go fly a kite with Charlie Brown.

          • Joeb

            Okay whatever… you’re not an investor. 

            What you’re saying is like “real estate will never lose its value because there is a limited supply.” 

            You can put all your money in gold, and hope for the apocalypse, and then WOW you’ve come out ahead.

          • Joeb

            Uhmmm… “gold will always retain it’s [sic] value?” 

            Have you ever looked at a chart of the price of gold? Try this: find the chart of the price of gold from 1970-2000. Did it ever go down? How often? If you bought in at any time during that thirty year period, could you have lost money?Now… is gold at an all time low or an all time high? Should you buy low and sell high or vice-versa? Please come back with your answers and we will grade your score later.

        • Kjp712

          You should write it because Gold Bloggers are scarce.Lead people down the Golden Path,that sort of thing.

          • Andrej

            My point is that James writes a lot about how you shouldn’t trust “experts” who give you advice on what to do with your money because they’re mostly wrong. When he’s giving advice and he’s been wrong, he should acknowledge that.

  • all-for-one

    James ever in the Charlotte NC area?  We should talk.

    Self-aware, sensitive, and reserved. They are emotionally honest, creative, and personal, but can also be moody and self-conscious. Withholding themselves from others due to feeling vulnerable and defective, they can also feel disdainful and exempt from ordinary ways of living. They typically have problems with melancholy, self-indulgence, and self-pity. At their Best: inspired and highly creative, they are able to renew themselves and transform their experiences.
    Basic Fear: That they have no identity or personal significance

  • Christopher Paul Condon

    Someone once asked Charles Schulz why Charlie Brown always loses. Why can’t he win a baseball game once in a while? Schulz responded by saying that success is nice and it would be great and wonderful if we were all successful, but success isn’t very funny. Good Grief!

  • I still have one of the strip books I purchases when I was 7 years old.

  • I still have one of the strip books I purchases when I was 7 years old.

  • wizardremix

    Who has a better laugh, Erin Burnett or Nicole Lapin?

    You should write a post about what to look for in women, red flags vs. green lights…

  • Tom

    I had the great fortune to meet and join in the generosity of Charles Schultz.  This little memory of Charles Shultz as a real humanist may be of interest to some of your readers.  The incident I refer to happened one morning in Santa Rosa, California.  I had parked my car and noticed a young couple looking at a map that was spread out on the hood of their car.  I asked if they needed some help, and they answered in heavily accented German, that they were looking for Charles Schultz’ studio.  They explained that they were huge fans of his.  As it turned out, I did know the location of his studio as it was adjacent to his “Redwood Empire Ice Arena”.  I suggested that they follow me.  We went into the arena and I asked if Mr. Schultz could spare the time to say hello to his biggest fans in Germany.  Some minutes later Charles Schultz appeared, and I recited how much these young folks wanted to meet him.  Well, as you may know, Mr. Schultz had spent time in the military in Europe during WWII.  I hoped he would receive these good intentioned young people without resentment.  Not only did he cordially greet them, but showed a genuine interest in them.  Moments later, he offered to treat us all to lunch at the cafe’ that was located in his ice arena.  What a very special person was Charles Shultz, certainly one of a kind! 

  • James, I love this post. It makes me want to keep my blog going every single day for the next fifty years. 17,897 strips. Wow. I can’t even imagine managing to do the same thing every day for 17,897 days in a row. I am almost to 365 days and only hit about 90%. 

  • Anonymous


  • Peanuts began in October of 1950.I was born October 13 1950 it was a Friday.Even though technically Peanuts was born before me I consider Charlie Brown and I have the same birthday as how could his birthday not be Friday the 13th.I think I am more Linus than Charlie with a bit of Schroeder though of course I got called Charlie Brown as you noted no one calls any one Linus.Why I was born on that date is a Charlie Brown kinda story.I have four older brothers.The two just older than me were delivered by C-section which meant my mom would have to be cut open again for me.At her last examination the doctor asked “You’re not superstitious are you Mrs. Lehmann?”to which my mom replied “No.” “well then Friday should be fine.My favorite Peanuts quote comes from Linus “I love humanity.It’s people I can’t stand!”I would now reverse that “I love some people.It’s humanity I can’t stand.”

  • Al Capp was good, too, and political. Of course as kids, we didn’t ‘get’ many of them.
    Li’l Abner once said, ‘Any fool knows that; I knows’ which pretty much sums up Washington DC today.

  • Kevin M

    passion + creativity + persistence + process……spot on, James. Of course, people only see the end result – Gates on the cover of Forbes Rich List and don’t see the work, the process behind it. I work with a lot of small business owners that make a good living, but they truly make it. The people complaining are usually zombies that clock in/clock out and expect something to fall in their lap.

  • Brian Balk

    You’re a good man, James Altucher.

  • Brennon Williams

    Fun fact, I interned as a software engineer at Charles Schultz’s old office in San Francisco this summer. His last strip is hanging on the wall.

  • Brilliant! FIrst time I came across your blog and this article certainly inspires me to put more energy into mine again! Clarity, focus, action and all what you’ve mentioned above are required.


  • Nice :)