Quit Like a Millionaire: First Draft Done!

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“Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.”–John Wayne

I accomplish the most when I’m scared.

Like the time I got my Scuba Diving Certification in Thailand, conquering my life-long fear of water.

Or retiring from my job at 31 to travel the world, shedding the “computer engineer” identity I’d built up for the past 14 years.

And now, sending our first draft to our Penguin editor.

For every single one of those experiences, I felt the fear but did it anyway, proving the saying “bliss is on the other side of fear”.

After 9 months inside the writing cave, I’m happy to report, our first draft of “Quit Like a Millionaire” is now complete and sent off!

“Hope you don’t hate it!” is the quote we wrote in the e-mail to our editor. And I’m only half-joking. There’s just as much chance that we’ll have to rewrite big swaths of it as it sailing through with flying colors—though it did help that we got her blessing for the first 1/3 of the book—chapter by chapter— before writing the rest of it.

Now that the first draft is out, does that mean we can sit back relax and waiting for the royalties to roll in?

HA! Nope.

Anyone who thinks you can strike it big and become a millionaire by writing a book needs a reality check.

If you take the expected money you’ll earn from the book, subtract taxes, and divide by the sheer number of hours you spend slaving away on it, you’re probably better off working at McDonalds.

Writing a book isn’t just about putting words down on paper. It’s about editing, editing, and more editing. In fact, don’t be surprised if you have to re-write entire sections of your book—multiple times. Plus, book promotion, marketing, book lay-out, cover selection, etc, etc the list goes on. It takes a Herculean amount of work to get a book out, and unless you’re J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, the amount of money you make from writing will barely cover your grocery bills.

We knew all this going in. After all, we’ve already experienced the joy of having our faces dragged across the floor and drowning in our failures when we wrote novels for 7 years prior to retiring. And even after being published by Scholastic, the earnings from that book can’t even cover our rent.

But we did it anyway.


Because we can’t NOT write.

It’s who we are.

Writers write. Rejection, heartbreak, and humiliation be damned. Writers are a rare breed. I like to joke with best-selling author and Godfather of FI, JLCollins, that writers are the worst kind of masochists because we’re addicted to pain.

We park our butts into chairs for hours on end, bleeding on to the page. Then we humiliate ourselves by putting all of our blood, sweat, and tears out there for you to see.

It’s pain, hard work, humiliation, and the longest slog of your life…but also, elation, pride, and an incredible sense of accomplishment. Kind of like having a baby (or so I’ve been told).

And no matter what happens, even though we’ve submitted the first draft, I know we still have a hundred more steps before this book baby is out in the world.

I thought that since we’ve already published a book before, this would become second nature, but I still wake up in the middle of the night panicking about it not being good enough. Then all the negative voices in my head scream at me to throw the whole thing out and start over.

This is when it’s a good idea to remind myself of the hundreds of steps we took to get here, take a deep breath, and tell myself it’s going to be okay.

So we’ve dedicated the last year of our lives to birthing this book baby, and no matter what happens, I’m happy that we did it, because like I said, I can’t not write.

For those of you who’ve ever wondered what it’s like to write a book, here’s a behind the scenes look at how a book is made:

Step 1: Brainstorm (aka “Let Out the Crazy”)

Before we started writing 10 years ago, I thought authors were magical beings who came up with original ideas that flowed directly onto the paper, each word more perfect than the last. And without any editing, their masterpiece would be sent off into the world to earn millions in royalties.

HA! So naïve.

Then, through experience, I’ve learned that writing is all about re-writing. No one writes perfect first drafts.

We all start out with a jumble of ideas. Some are diamonds that still need a ton of polishing, but most are rocks. But before we can sift through it, we need to brain dump our ideas onto the page.

The important thing is not to stifle your creativity at this point by editing too much or overthinking. Just let it flow. Get as many ideas down as quickly as possible.

That’s why, when we started this book, I set a timer and wrote down as many ideas as I could. This is what resulted:

Step 2: Categorize (aka “Corral the Crazy”)

Now, I know this mess looks incomprehensible, so I sat back and put on my sorting hat to figure out how to categorize it.

I transferred the ideas onto cue cards and categorized them by color (eg “investing” = yellow, “travel” = blue, “housing” = red, etc).

Step 3: Add Structure (aka “Add a Shelf”)

Now that I had the pieces of the book content, I had to organized them onto a shelf. That’s how you make them flow.

To build the shelf, or structure, I took the overall storyline and broke it down into sections.

I knew we were going to teach FI and investing concepts through the story of how I became a millionaire by the lessons learned during the 3 stages of the socioeconomic ladder— poverty, middle-class, rich.

That gave me a 3-act structure (a crucial element used in storytelling):

UfofVincent [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Act 1: Poverty (aka “Survival”)

Act 2: Middle Class (aka “Struggle”)

Act 3: Becoming Rich (aka “Rebellion”)

From there I took the colored cue cards and added the concepts that belonged in each section (depending on where in my life I learned about that concept).

Then using post-its, I wrote down specific examples or stories that would illustrate a certain concept. These examples were added onto the concepts to prove them out.

This is what I ended up with:

Step 4: Outline

At this point, the basic outline of the book is starting to take shape, so it was time to create a detailed 30-page outline.

I knew the book needed to be around 70,000 words, and I wanted around 3000 words per chapter (around 10-12 pages), so that meant 23 chapters.

I wrote down a title for each chapter and a detailed blurb describing what we were going to cover (taken from the cue cards and post-ids in the previous step)

Step 5: Vet Outline

One of the most important lessons I learned from fiction is to vet a detailed outline before writing the book. This will save you MONTHS— yes MONTHS of work—because it only takes minutes to change an outline but months to re-write entire chapters.

Luckily at this point, we had already signed a literary agent who’s a veteran at vetting outlines. She gave us a super helpful pointer about a chapter in the middle that needed to be moved to the beginning. It took us less than an hour to update the outline, but then we realized this would change the chapter before and after. We also needed to change the 2nd chapter so that it flowed from the first. These changes would’ve been PAINFUL had we written the entire thing, but it was quick and painless to adjust in the outline.

When we sat back to look at the revised outline, it flowed much better, thanks to our literary agent.

If you don’t have a literary agent, I have to stress the importance of critique partners (or “CPs”)—fellow writers (who aren’t friends or family) willing to give you brutally honest feedback. They will save you months of work. Armed with your detailed outline, which has been vetted by your literary agent or CP, you’re finally ready to start writing.

Step 6: Divide and Conquer

With a blueprint for the book, we now knew the direction to go. Only problem is, just like building a house, it’s freaking difficult to actually BUILD the damned thing without getting overwhelmed.

So what do you do when you have a seemingly impossible task? Divide and conquer, of course.

Within each chapter, we split off the sections, attached deadlines to each task and got to work. At this point, we calculated that if we each write a chapter every week or 2, adding in time for re-writing, editing, and research, we’d be done in 9 months.

Step 7: Write like the wind!

We started sending a chapter at a time to our editor, around every week or two. And after she read 6 chapters, she said we were good to go for the rest, so we went full speed ahead.

Fast forward 9 months…

We stumbled out of the writing cave, hissing at the harsh sunlight, but relieved to be done!

For those of you planning to embark on this book birthing journey, I have 2 tools to recommend:



Scrivener helped me overcome this monumental task of book writing by breaking it down piecemeal.

A lot of my author friends raved about it in the past, but I wasn’t sold on Scrivener at first. Why should I spend 40 USD on software when I already have Word installed on my computer?

But luckily, Scrivener had a one month free trial so I thought “what the hell?”

And as soon as I started using it, my productivity soared! Sitting down and typing tens of thousands of words wasn’t as daunting now that I could compartmentalize the tasks. Scrivener does a great job of hiding details, so you can spotlight sections of your chapter to prevent yourself from being overwhelmed.

As a result, I was able to split out each chapter of 3000 words into 6 sections with 500 words each. I could then just concentrate on finishing one small section at a time. Afterwards, it was easy to move them around (by drag and drop) without having to worry about making everything perfect the first time. Scrivener also gave me a sense of accomplishment by showing my progress toward each 500-word milestone. As a result, I was able to reach my 3000 chapter word count without breaking a sweat. Then rinse and repeat.

If you’re interested in Scrivener, here’s an affiliate link (use the coupon word “LEARNSCRIVENER” to get 20% off):



Buy Scrivener for Windows (Regular Licence)




Buy Scrivener 3 for macOS (Regular Licence)


Asana is a free project management software that helps you stay organized and sane during the long writing process. We used this to assign tasks to ourselves and set timelines so it would e-mail us reminders when tasks were due.

My favourite part is when you get to check off tasks, and if you check off enough of them you get this unicorn that flies across your screen. So fun! And did I mention it’s free?

Productivity unicorn: the only reason I do anything now

So, there you have it. Writing a book is the one of the hardest, most painful slogs you’ll ever go through. You’ll have to push through a ton of self-doubt, fear, and loathing to put that book baby out into the world. But it doesn’t matter, because if you’re a writer you can’t not do it. Writers gotta write.

And after a year of work (including the book proposal), we’re finally at the point where we’ve finished the draft, gone through several editing cycles with our editor, and are now on the verge of pushing it into production at Penguin.

*phew*. Was it painful? Yes.

Was it worth it? Only time will tell.

What do you think? Do you want to write a book? What are your thoughts about the process?

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43 thoughts on “Quit Like a Millionaire: First Draft Done!”

  1. Hey, two of my favourite things: writing and Millennial Revolution! Rock on.

    You use first person when talking about your meticulous outlining. Does Wanderer participate 50/50, or does he let you do the planning and then split the writing?

    What kind of word speed were you aiming for? I know you said 70,000 words, but I’m curious how much you ended up writing and throwing out, since I’m a “pantser.” I like surprising myself, and that means writing into the dark. But it also means ruthless cutting for the final product. I assume you’re more efficient.

    November is NaNoWriMo, so it’s the perfect month to finish a book. Scrivener also offers a discount to “winners” (people who finish 50K in 30 days). I’m dr_sassy on NaNoWriMo, if anyone wants to add me as a buddy.

    Congrats again, my writing friends! You’re conquering the world, one project at a time.

    1. I did the overall planning then we split up the chapters. Though, I would say Wanderer is pretty involved throughout since we bat around ideas and I use him for sound-boarding from the very beginning.

      Of the 70,000 words, we probably only threw out 10%. It was way more when we were writing novels. I think overtime we learned that plotting works much better than pantsing (our first book was pantsed and we had to start over and even then still throw out 50% of it). But again, each person has their own process that works for the. You gotta do you right?

      Kudos for doing NaNoWriMo! I always admire people who can finish a novel in a month. I’ve never done it myself–too obsessed with planning it out and taking my time. I think I would just type random words so it wouldn’t work for me.

  2. I want you both to know how much I really like you and your blog. I only have have one complaint and I’ll understand if you delete this post and ban me. I applaud you both for everything you’ve achieved to date and everything you will achieve. My only issue is that you keep saying:

    I knew we were going to teach FI and investing concepts through the story of how I became a millionaire …

    You as an individual didn’t become a millionaire. You, as a couple became millionaires. There is a big difference there. I is actually we. I understand you’re doing it for marketing purposes however it comes off sounding hollow. All you need to say is “we” and then I have no problem with it.

    Hopefully, you’ll take this as constructive feedback. Either way, I like everything else that you both do.

    1. Dave,
      Personally the “we” versus “I” of becoming a millionaire seems pretty trivial. It isn’t hollow to me at all. Couples that function as a cohesive unit don’t really care whether they say we or I.

      1. Perhaps. On the other hand, sometimes couples that function as a cohesive unit cease to function as a cohesive unit. At that point, things are not trivial. Having a million together is great as the expenses are shared. No longer being together and stuck with only $500,000 is not as much and then you come to realize how much of a financial dependence you had on your partner. All of a sudden, your 4% withdrawal becomes $20,000 instead of $40,000. What do you do then? You don’t need to answer that question. It is a question that I ask myself though. It’s why I only consider my financial status as an individual, not as a couple, as I only consider what is within my individual sphere of influence and control. It’s also why, as an individual, I actually do have a 7 figure investment portfolio.

        As I mentioned, outside of that one issue which I considered to be an irritant, I like everything else they do and have shared. I’ve been reading their blog from the time they started and outside of the original post above, have always been positive in my posts. Ultimately, it’s up to Firecracker to decide how she wants to take that feedback. In the end, I’m just some anonymous nobody on the internet who doesn’t ascribe to groupthink, nor polarizing my mindset, sharing my thoughts. ?

        1. Dave – weren’t you just saying (pretty politely I thought) that the “I” is a bit misleading in that if one actually needs to be a “we” to get the same results, then then the advice might be less relevant for individuals vs couples? At any rate, I hear what you were saying.

    2. Dave, thanks for sharing your 2 cents. You’re entitled to your opinion, and to me it’s just semantics. We don’t split off our net-worth into “my money”, “your money” so I would be just as fine with Bryce saying he’s a millionaire. I see it the same way as a businessman with a spouse who stays home to take care of the kids. She is just as much of a millionaire as he is.

    1. I think you mean “self-published” instead of “e-book” right? Traditional publishing also includes e-books 🙂

      If so, the answer is simple. If I chose self-publishing, there would be no book. The sheer amount of work I’d need to get it formatted, edited, marketed, etc would overwhelm me and I just wouldn’t do it. I need to be accountable to someone. Traditional publishing gives us that accountability because we get feedback from our literary agent and editor. However, some people are better off with self-publishing. It’s just a personal preference.

  3. Congratulations on your book baby! I’m so happy for you and am excited to read it.

    I also appreciate the honest look at the process, and the candid layout of how much work it takes to finish a project like that. It’s pretty amazing how much has to go into just the draft.

    I’m sure it will be amazing and, again, congrats!

    1. Thanks, DbF! The amount of work is overwhelming, but it’s one of those things that makes you look back and appreciate how far you’ve come. I’m also super lucky that I have Wanderer to share the pain, exhaustion, and also elation with me.

      We are so relieved it’s done though! Really appreciate your positivity and support!

  4. Congrats on getting out a draft of your book! It sure looks like a ton of work, but knowing you it’ll be awesome! Looking forward to getting my free copy in the mail! *wink* *wink* 😉

    I know exactly what you mean when you say “we can’t NOT write”. Writing is literally how I *think*. The process of writing forces me to organize my thoughts better and do additional research to flush out ideas.

    On the whole, I think I’m a better thinker because of my writing. Or, at least I think things through more completely.

    1. So true, Mr.Tako. My thoughts always sound smarter in my head than they do on paper. That’s why I gotta vomit onto the page and then clean it up. It’s all about re-writing.

      Keep up the good work on your blog! I always look forward to your articles.

  5. Yes to all of this! Congratulations on getting the first draft submitted, that is HUGE! I love how you explained the process of writing and how painful it can be, but how as a writer you just can’t not do it. I feel the same way. I know my next novel will be a labor of love with tons of research to do on top of what I have already started, and even when it sells 100 copies it will all be worth it.

    Can’t wait to read this book (and hopefully it will be out in time for when I pull the plug on my day job, lol)

    1. Thanks, MK! Keep writing and doing what you love! The pain is worth it–even if it doesn’t feel like it sometimes.

      The book should be out by June 2019 (provided we don’t have to do any massive re-writers or run into any hiccups in production). If you end up retiring from your job by then, congrats!

  6. Looking forward to hitting up my local library in a small town in Western Australia for your book once it is out! (They had JL Collins’s simple path to wealth)

  7. Congrats on finishing your draft. I am currently on step 2 for the new batch of songs I am writing. The problem though is deciding what I want to say because if I make things too brutally honest then one person or another is going to be personally offended but I also don’t really like to censor myself so I need to find tactful ways to say things or use clever metaphors to mask the meanings and leave things more open to interpretation. Do you ever feel that way when you write about past experiences about people you know in your blog?

    1. Kudos on putting yourself on there in your song writing, Liz! I would say in the beginning stages, definitely don’t censor yourself too much. You don’t want to block the creative flow. In later revisions cycles, then you can put on your critiquing hat and smooth it out.

      When I write blog posts about personal things that make me feel vulnerable, I usually write it down first to get it out, then I go back and think to myself “is this going to be helpful to anyone? Is it going to be relatable?” Then I edit and cut out the irrelevant parts.

    1. You live in Taipei? So awesome! We’re thinking of visiting in the new year (not sure about exact dates yet). Would love to pick your brain on places to go!

      As for the book, I can definitely send you an autographed copy once it’s out. We can communicate the details in e-mail closer to the date (I will announce details soon once we have it nailed down) 🙂

      1. In Taipei, you want to hit Taipei 101 for the awesome basement food court & the observatory or whatever they call it on the top floor. You also want to hit the National Palace Museum, where there’s a ton of Chinese stuff that was–depending on whether you talk to Mao Zedong or Chiang Kai Shek–“looted” or “liberated” from mainland China at the end of the Chinese Civil War. More art than you can look at even all day. To do the “mall thing,” there’s Miramar at Jiannan Road MRT Station on the Brown Line–food court, 2 movie theaters including one in the basement of the New Square Building where they serve great food and seat you at a big reclining seat with your own blanket, Ferris wheel, basement food court, nice restaurants at New Square. Also: the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial & the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial–you can probably see some Tai Chi in the early AM & maybe catch some shows. These are some spots that are coming to mind late at night & I’ll try to think of other stuff to do–as we say in Spanish, I’ll “consult with my pillow!”

        Looking forward to a great read and thanks in advance!

        Dan V

  8. I’m overwhelmed just reading everything that you put in this post. Writing a book sounds awesome on the surface, but I know it is much harder than it looks. I am so excited for you guys, congrats on having the first draft done!

    1. Aww, thanks Mrs. Wow! It’s definitely a ton of work but the good news is that we learned a ton of lessons from writing fiction, so that’s helped a lot. I’m so glad it’s finally done though. *phew*

  9. A wise person once told me that “writing is more about editing than writing.” Sound advice.

    The same person also told me “Don’t you have enough “Dick pics” already?” Practical advice on both accounts I think.

  10. I think out of all your post, this post is the one I am most jealous of…

    The ability to work on your passion and not have to worry about the profit in the end.

    It’s a dream come true to simply do what you’re passionate about without any regards to any financial implications.

    Working on my FI journey due to your blog, but this post would be my dream come true if I can reach it at the end too.

    1. You hit the nail on the head, Katie. That is the exact reason why I become FI. So I could fearless follow my dreams. Had I not done it, I would’ve given up and continued down the engineering path because I wouldn’t have been able to afford my dream.

      You will get there too. And it will be worth it.

  11. This made my heart look like that leaping unicorn on so many levels: writing, FIRE, project management, Post-Its…

    I love how, once again, you brought a strong dose of reality to the topic at hand. Writing. Is. PAINFUL!!! But oh how we love to keep coming back for more. Now that I finished my Masters this week (YAAAS), I hope to soon find the discipline to do what you’re doing (I love the sound of Scrivener).

    Thanks for the inspiration, and I can’t WAIT to read this book!!

    1. Wow! Congrats on finishing your Masters, Jules! Huge accomplishment that deserves a celebration. Hope you are getting the champagne glasses out!

      And yes, writing is definitely PAINFUL but I can’t live without it. Thanks so much for your support for our book!

  12. Congrats on the first draft. I have been stuck in neutral trying to write my 4th book for the past couple of years. I have an outline and I even have stuff I have published in article format, but I haven’t put together the final product. Partly, I think, because I don’t know if the direction I am going is correct. Anyway congrats you two! Look forward to buying it when it comes out.

    1. Aww, thanks, Jason! You rock!

      As for the writing your 4th book, would it help to join a writing group? I know for us, we would’ve never been able to finish those books if it weren’t for our CPs (couldn’t get a literary agent initially so had no feedback).

      Sending you lots of good writing vibes on getting your book done! Remember to pat yourself on the back and remember how far you’ve come. It’s not easy to have written 3 books. Kudos!

  13. “I thought authors were magical beings who came up with original ideas that flowed directly onto the paper, each word more perfect than the last. And without any editing, their masterpiece would be sent off into the world to earn millions in royalties.”

    Oh, FIRECracker, those are “bloggers”.

    I wish.

    Congrats on hitting that awesome milestone. I’ve tried in the past multiple times to finish a first draft of a book and I can attest to the sheer amount of work that it takes.

    Any advice for those who want to start (or restart) writing but don’t have the time or energy (or creative juices) to do it? The lack of these has been almost a literal brick wall for me lately.

    Be proud. I hope you make millions in royalties.

    ARB–Angry Retail Banker

    1. Ha ha. Yes, that sounds like bloggers all right 🙂

      I hear you on the not have energy/creative juices. Ran up against that issue a lot back when we were working. It’s especially hard because writing requires you to be in the right mindset and not just brute force the damned thing. Otherwise it sound robotic.

      For us, what helped was getting up early in the morning and writing before work. Since you get drained of energy during the day, writing before work ensures that you’re still fresh when you write.

  14. Hi FC,

    Well done for the first draft. You are doing the things which you like. I can see that you have put tremendous effort in making the draft a reality. It will be a great sense of achievement after seeing the tangible reward of the first draft.

    Kudos to your effort.


  15. I loved the behind the scene of the book! Thanks for sharing the process! It’s amazing to do all that work and and also keep the blog running. I love books especially because most writters don’t expect financial return. It is a labor of love. I am glad you can do what you love! I like to write, but I am craving for being outdoors in my early retirement. Maybe after some years living this new chapter of my life, I will have something interesting to share.

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