I hated myself with a passion. I was bullied. I was lonely.
I wanted to escape my world. My parents. My school. My friends. The bullies. The girls who rejected me.
I wanted to find my “wrinkle in time” – the tesseract to fold up inside of. To leave the world of DULL and find the world I was meant to be in.
The book, “A Wrinkle in Time” saved me, woke up my imagination. Showed me I can escape the world. And save it.
I wanted that in my life. And I got it.
This is what I learned from one of my favorite authors ever. This is how she saved me.
A) QUANTITY OVER QUALITY
Madeleine L’Engle wrote over 60 books.
Sometimes people say “the search for perfection is the enemy of creativity”.
Maybe. Maybe. But more important:
THE SEARCH FOR QUALITY IS THE ENEMY OF SUCCESS
No genre could trap her: she wrote fiction, non-fiction, children’s literature, poetry, science fiction, etc.
This is the mantra of success: do not conform. Do. Not. Conform.
She wrote, she wrote, she wrote. Her first novel was published in 1945 when she was 27.
Then…misery. Her next six books failed. No readers. No financial success. More than a decade of failure.
Then 60 books more by the time she died in 2007.
Who does that? Why? Does this addictive urge ever end?
“A Wrinkle in Time” was her most well known book, written in 1962.
Good enough for an entire lifetime. And then she wrote seven sequels to that one (including my personal favorite, “A Swiftly Tilting Planet”).
QUESTION: Why Quantity over Quality?
ANSWER: Because Quality is a myth. There is no such thing. Is the best selling book ever (“50 Shades of Grey” – 125 million copies sold in a matter of months) quality? Many would say YES YES YES!
Is “Gravity’s Rainbow“, by Thomas Pynchon, a modern classic, quality? I find it to be the worst book ever. I hate it.
Quality is subjective.
PROLIFIC + 1% IMPROVEMENT A DAY = SUCCESS
a. Every book you write makes you a better writer. Every sales meeting you go on makes you a better salesman. Every poker game you play makes you a better poker player.
IF you analyze mistakes, get notes from peers and editors, and then write (or [PUT YOUR FAVORITE ACTION HERE] you will get better. You will become the best.
b. Every book you write increases the odds that one book will be a huge success. With 60+ books written, one of Madeleine L’Engle’s books were a success. Only one.
But then people buy the rest of her books. Sales increase across the board.
She had to get better for 17 years before she could write her masterpiece.
But then it created massive financial success and recognition. She needed the 7 books before it to create this one.
Failure = Success.
B) “BE CHILDLIKE AND NOT CHILDISH” – L’Engle
In order to create art, you have to dig deep inside.
I’m in a fairly new relationship. I said to my therapist, “I’ve never had to dig so deep before in a relationship. Is this always necessary?”
I forget her answer.
Everything is art.
Your morning routine, the way the outside world first hits your senses each day, the way the bus splashes against your clothes, the eyes of the secretary who got to work before you. What causes her sadness so early in the morning?
The rage of the boss. Cliche? Or did he just hear news?
The shooting comet. A visitor? A friend? A message from God? A message in a space bottle? A dead planet from a supernova?
Nobody knows the answers. As Annie Duke told me, the key to success is saying, “I’m Not Sure”.
A child takes it one step further: “I’m not sure but I’m going to start guessing”.
A writer or artist or entrepreneur takes it one step further, “I’m not sure but I’m going to start guessing and then I’m going to write a page turning story about what I guess.”
A child asks questions.
An idiot has all the answers.
An artist and entrepreneur plays with the possibilities.
A success creates, measures, learns, repeats.
C) “The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.”
What was I feeling when I was ten years old and read “A Wrinkle In Time” for the first (of 100) times?
I remember: wanting to go into a mysterious world that none of my friends knew about.
I remember: wanting to be special enough to make that journey. Wanting to prove to others I was special.
I remember: wanting to save my father from mysterious evil so I could prove to him I loved him and I was special.
I remember: that the world might possibly be more complicated than I ever thought.
What a world! Even now, I glimpse that world I longed for. This very second.
And every step of the way the teachers wanted to explain the world to me with the textbooks. So many times I forgot the match that had lit my heart on fire.
All from reading her one book, “A Wrinkle in Time”.
I didn’t lose that age. I am still ten years old.
And, for better worse: I am also 14: getting rejected constantly by girls. I have to deal with that in every relationship I enter.
And I am 32, going broke for the first time.
And I’m 40: divorced and lonely and trying to plug all the holes inside me that made me feel inadequate.
And I’m 47: my life shattered.
I’m 48: no belongings, no home.Just Airbnbs.
And I’m 50 now. Ready and waiting
D) “Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light.”
This is almost cliche. Yes, suffering can lead to despair and hopelessness. Or it can lead to learning and depth and an ability to relate to others.
For me: both.
When I was first learning the skill of writing, I wrote four novels and over 40 short stories.
But I hadn’t known any darkness. Nothing was published. I didn’t understand.
Many years later I understood.
Life is hard. Life is hard and it’s every day. Some mornings I wake up and I wonder, “how did this monster of anxiety get into my head??” How can I get it out?
I cry (still, to this day) and beg for the monsters to leave my head.
Writing. Art. Doing. Writing gets it out.
The psychiatrist helps you understand the suffering so you can keep it. The artist lets it go.
E) “Inspiration usually comes during work, rather than before it.”
Most people wait. “When inspiration hits me, I will write.”
You have to sit and write. Every day. You have to write down ten ideas. You have to write down observations. You have to play. You have to love.
If something has annoyed you even three times in the past week, you MUST write about it, good or bad.
When I sit, it’s rare that I am inspired to write. I read for an hour. I think about things. I write random things down. And then I think of what is bothering me, or exciting me.
I start writing. I think of a first line. A shameful first line. An embarrassing one. A line that makes someone want to read the second line.
I write the second line. Will it make people read the third. Is there an idea buried here that is both helpful and a story?
And then inspiration might hit. Or it might not. So I keep going.
In my DRAFTS I have over 1000 unfinished articles. Some that are 1000s of words already that I just gave up on.
Because often it’s in the fifth rewrite that inspiration finally hits.
And what is inspiration? Is it that magical feeling that puts you into flow while writing?
Or maybe the fact that you’ve been playing and playing and thinking and thinking and digging and digging that finally you find a gem that nobody has ever found before.
A mysterious stranger that invites you into another dimension.
Come, my friend, leave your world and come with me on an adventure into worlds you cannot imagine.
F) “Faith is what makes life bearable, with all its tragedies and ambiguities and sudden, startling joys.”
Uh oh! FAITH! Is this a Christian thing? Or a Muslim thing? What is this “faith”?
People who have labeled themselves with the religion of “Atheism” hate the word “faith”.
My good friends, don’t hate a word that has given happiness and joy to so many people.
All of the so-called atheists I know have subscribed to the new religions of transcendental meditation (a scam), exercise, ketogenic diets, conservatism, liberalism, nationalism, libertarianism, pseudo-intellectualism.
We survived as a species because we had faith.
Faith in the stories told us by the generation before. “Don’t go in those bushes because the devil is there!”
“Bow down to Mecca 5 times a day to get to heaven.”
“Cast not the first stone”.
“Meditate every day with compassion”.
Faith is belief in the deeper meanings of stories: “Be a good person. Take time in your day to reflect and be at peace. Love people like you should love yourself. And surrender to the Questions we can never understand but must love.”
Faith and stories are the boats that carry Meaning.
If you look at the countries that pretty much outlawed multiple Faiths (Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Mao’s China, etc) – these countries ended up murdering tens of millions of their own citizens and then dying miserable deaths as a society.
Faith is not about organized religion. Or God. Or rules. Or Sunday school.
Faith is about respecting that you aren’t alone in this world. That you and I are in this together.
And that only though collaborating across race, belief, gender, age, with the tools of imagination, will we thrive and love to our best potential.
Most days my mind is a blank. I have faith that when I stretch out to other worlds, other galaxies that I saved with a blink with my super powers, other people whose thoughts I can read, alternate realities that I can control simply with my wonder, I have faith that words and ideas will be delivered to me.
G) REJECTION, REJECTION, REJECTION
We’ve heard all the stories before. I just interviewed the great thriller writer Brad Meltzer. His first book was rejected 24 times.
He only submitted it to 20 publishers. 4 rejected it TWICE by accident.
And the final two were the most painful. “My agent told me to wait by the phone because we were getting two offers,” he told me.
“I sat by the phone and I was in debt from law school and wondered how rich I ws going to be.
“The phone rang and my agent said, ‘Sorry Kiddo’ and I was so depressed.
“And now every day when I write, I start off by saying, ‘Sorry, Kiddo”.
Brad has since written 10 NY Times Bestselling thrillers. He’s written 50 comic books. 10 non-fiction books. I love all of them.
Madeleine L’Engle told herself after a rejection letter that she would give herself until age 40 to be a financial success from writing.
I recently interviewed the super-comedian Sebastian Maniscalco. He originally told himself, “If I don’t make it by 35 years old, I’ll quit.”
He didn’t quit. What else would he do? I will tell his story more later. Suffice to say, at age 42 he was in the Forbes list of top earning comedians, earning $15 million two years ago. His story is amazing and inspirational.
Madeleine L’Engle published a few novels but nobody read them. And publishers are small-minded. They started putting her in the “failure” bucket in their minds.
They rejected book after book. She was miserable.
She said, “I went through spasms of guilt because I spent so much time writing, because I wasn’t like a good New England housewife and mother. When I scrubbed the kitchen floor, the family cheered. I couldn’t make decent pie crust. . . . And with all the hours I spent writing, I was still not pulling my own weight financially.”
She said, “I had to write. I had no choice in the matter. It was not up to me to say I would stop because I could not. It didn’t matter how small or inadequate my talent. If I never had another book published, and it was very clear to me that this was a real possibility, I still had to go on writing.”
Sometimes you have no choice.
When she was 44 she wrote “A Wrinkle in Time”.
How did she write it?
She was on a ten week camping trip. She encountered nature that seemed “alien” to her and she named all the butterflies. Creating alien characters in her hikes.
In 1959, for fun, she started reading books about Quantum Physics.
She combined the alien aspects of the nature she had encountered with what she learned from quantum physics.
Add in a little girl. Add in a prodigy genius. Add in a mysterious stranger beckoning them to travel dimensions to save their father.
She wrote the book.
And it failed.
REJECTION PART II
She received 26 rejections from publishers.
She ran into John Farrar of Farrar, Straus, Giroux, a publisher not known for publishing science fiction or children’s books (I have a story about them, but later).
I would have given up. For sure I would have said, “This not going to make it. I’ll just work on another idea”.
She didn’t give up. And John Farrar agreed to read the book.
He liked it but sent it out to a reader who replied, “this is the worst book I ever read.”
Remember that no matter what you do, even if it is GREAT: 1/3 will like it, 1/3 will hate it, 1/3 won’t care. So you can’t take anything personal.
Persevere > Personal.
FSG published it. 14 million books later, 7 sequels, 2 movies, it’s the book most people will forever remember Madeleine L’Engle by.
I once spoke to the comedian Jim Norton on my podcast (twice). We grew up together from the ages of 9 on. He was the funniest kid by far in my school.
We knew he would be a comedian from the day he moved in. It was the way he dealt with the social awkwardness of being the new kid. He told me it was his weapon against the bullies (I wish I had had that weapon).
When he left school he took jobs like tractor-trailer driver. “I wanted nothing to fall back on. I would succeed at this or nothing. ” And he succeeded.
It’s not all about perseverance.
It’s about learning from mistakes, it’s about studying other fields (quantum mechanics + nature = A Wrinkle in Time). It’s about learning from peers and experts. It’s about being prolific.
In the words of Nassim Taleb, it’s about being Antifragile. Don’t just be resilient – be better.
Why was such a beautiful book rejected so much? Who knows. We can never guess:
– her prior books were not successes so publishers didn’t want to take a risk.
The gatekeepers ARE THE ENEMIES of art and your success. They don’t want to take risks.
– it’s the first science fiction book with a female protagonist. Could this be a factor? Maybe. Not many little girls were reading science fiction.
And yet…after 17 years of writing, this was THE book.
H) BE DIFFERENT
This is what “A Wrinkle In Time” is truly about:
Don’t blindly obey the rules of teachers, bosses, parents, peers, friends, family, society.
When we don’t conform we might save the universe. We might love life outside the box.
“A Wrinkle in Time” was about the ten year old me. The 50 year old me.
It’s about being lonely and realizing imagination is the cure. I was so lonely.
Every day I often feel “stuck”. And my desire by the end of the day is to get a little more “unstuck”.
When I fall asleep, I want to smile. Remembering how I saved the world that day.
Ever day, in my mind, I save the universe.
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