025: David Kadavy – Debut Author Book Makes Top 20 on Amazon

Why Success for Your First Book Can Be Dangerous


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David Kadavy is a creative entrepreneur and author of Design for Hackers: Reverse-Engineering Beauty (which debuted in the top 20 on all of Amazon), The Heart to Start, and multiple “short reads.

He is also the host of the Love Your Work podcast where he features inspiring entrepreneurs and creators. His writing has been featured in Observer, The Huffington Post, Inc.com, Quartz, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Upworthy, and Lifehacker.

What I like most about David is how he could gently reference other influencers and still be able to make things his own!

[01:10] Discovering His Gift of Writing

  • Initially, David didn’t like writing throughout school. It wasn’t until he volunteered writing in his blog in 2004 that he began to write more things that he enjoyed writing about. Now, he has two books.
  • David started blogging about his template, which he was trying to redesign at that time, as well as books he was reading.
  • What really sparked his love of writing was back in high school where he was made to write a paper about the Vietnam War.
  • “Just get started” is a good advice but this is hard for some people, especially those struggling with self-doubt.

[08:48] From Silicon Valley to Chicago to Writing His First Book

  • David moved from Omaha to Silicon Valley, thanks to his work portfolio, he got discovered and started working for startups.
  • He then moved to Chicago (during one of Chicago’s worst winters) to discover what was in his brain for 3 years then he got a book deal for his first book.
  • He describes writing his book as like a cell division, taking his design posts (that got him the book deal) and putting them in his own blog.
  • David cites examples of conceptual innovators vs. experimental innovators, which he learned from one of his podcast guests.

[15:25] Having a Growth Mindset vs. a Sense of Perfectionism

  • David believes his growth mindset comes from his creative background. It’s about getting that feeling of rush.
  • He has always been excited about growth, change, and evolution. In fact, he was obsessed with collecting caterpillars and raising them into butterflies. He was also into “transformer” toys.
  • The things that we struggle with and don’t struggle with, dictate what resonates with us and what doesn’t.

[21:00] Understanding the Author’s Language and His Writing Exercise Routine

  • An interesting thing about David is he’s able to gently reference the work of influencers but still be able to make it his own.
  • David has a $40-portable word processor that he keeps next to his bed. As he wakes up, he grabs the device, keeps his eyes closed, and types at least 100 words – with NO filter. He also makes use of brackets when writing side notes. Then he deletes everything when he’s done.
  • He finds that if you have difficulty writing is because you’re thinking something and you’re not really writing. 
  • One of the best ways to know something is to write about it and keep revisiting it over and over again, and throw away what you produced before.

[30:00] Writing is Not Editing or Researching

  • David says that editing while you’re writing is painful especially when you’re not an experienced writer.
  • Give yourself permission to suck!
  • The linear work distortion is a myth that creative work is made when you just sit down and make an outline and write. David explains how this can be a huge block.

[35:45] Dropping the Shame Around Curiosity

  • Structure is helpful, but it teaches us ways of doing things that are very incompatible with being creative. Creativity needs space. Let your mind wander and make those unexpected connections. Then go find that balance.
  • Start without writing. Try drawing things and objects first. Then as you practice more, find the words to say those things until you’re finally able to write.

[39:25] Writing The Heart to Start

  • This book came out six years after his first book was released. Basically, writing this was his way to encourage himself to start.
  • David is surprised by the level of specificity in the Amazon reviews about his book and how it has impacted people.
  • He also walks us through how he got his first book published traditionally. It was at the Top 20 on Amazon on launch day.

[45:10] Finding a Way to Find Joy in Your Work

  • After everything he has gone through, David realizes the importance of finding joy in your work and to feel healthy about it and to love it; hence, his podcast Love Your Work.
  • David admits to feeling the pressure of always doing and being better than your last. But he realizes it’s not him at all. He doesn’t want to be a cool kid, he wants him to be himself.
  • Find the thing that is uniquely you and put that out there. Then find the people whom that resonates. For David, it took him years to finally let go of what he thought success was.

[51:25] Traditional vs. Self-Publishing

  • David explains how you should be taking what traditional publishers say with a grain of salt because they want a “sure bet.” He explains the concept behind traditional publishing economics.
  • But then again, it’s not you. What matters is that your work resonates with people. 
  • You can do anything when you are self-publishing. This is a very powerful thing.
  • David is glad he’s finally on the other side of the wall of resistance that has been holding him back for so long.

Episode Resources:

Visit David’s website. Read more of his work on Medium and follow him on Twitter and his Facebook Page.

Design for Hackers: Reverse-Engineering Beauty

The Heart to Start

Love Your Work podcast

David’s short reads

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