Anthony Metivier on Memory Palaces, Mind-Mapping and Self-Publishing Non-fiction Books

Anthony Metivier is the author of more than a dozen best-selling non-fiction books that help people improve their memory and learn new languages.

He’s also a popular blogger and a professor. I’ve known Anthony for a few years and his approach to creativity can help writers of all types create better books that readers love.

In this podcast episode, Metivier explains:

  • How to use a memory palace to research a book
  • Why he believes every writer should embrace mind-mapping
  • How self-publishing non-fiction books helped him build an online business

And lots more.

Listen Now

Transcript Below

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Become a Writer Today podcast with Bryan Collins. Here you'll find practical advice and interviews for all kinds of writers.

Bryan Collins: Hi, there, this is Bryan Collins and welcome to the Become a Writer Today podcast. In this episode which I recorded on Friday, the 26th of October, I had the opportunity to speak to a blogger and nonfiction author who I've known for a number of years. His name is Anthony Metivier and he writes popular articles that would help you improve your memory over at magneticmemorymethod.com.

Bryan Collins: Anthony is also the author of more than a dozen popular self-published books that will also help you improve your memory and even use mind maps and so on to become more creative. When I spoke to Anthony, I started off by asking him how has writing and self-publishing nonfiction books helped him grow his business.

Anthony Metivie: Well, thanks for having me, Bryan, and you know the answer is they made my business, these books that I put out there and they have been a constant amount of exposure all along these years to have that many books and to have them have these various levels of success even though they're not really the core revenue generators anymore.

Bryan Collins: When I spoke to you a few years ago, you talked about how you're relying on books as one of your main sources of income for your business. So, have you moved away from that model or do you use books to perhaps introduce some of other offers like courses?

Anthony Metivie: Well, I used them in different ways and I've been doing some more creative experiments with some of the back catalog off of Amazon and even not publishing on Amazon at all which on the one hand is a bit crazy but on the other hand, made a lot of sense for an experiment that I always wanted to try, and I killed it because it was just too successful.

Bryan Collins: Wow! What does too successful look like?

Anthony Metivie: Well, what I did is I wanted to create a print newsletter. When I first started out, I was doing a daily email and then I would collect those emails together into Kindle books and that was all very, very successful. And I thought, what if I did that again but instead of doing a daily email, I did a monthly print newsletter and the only way to get the print newsletter was to buy a physical book.

Anthony Metivie: I thought this is probably going to sort of work maybe with some of my diehard fans and so forth. But it worked way too well and because of it, it was an experiment and I was having difficulties finding a fulfillment company, I did the fulfillment myself. For seven months, my poor wife and I, we were going to the post office pretty much every day and it was getting bigger and bigger the more amounts of printing we had to do and so forth. But people did want this book badly enough that they signed on to a monthly newsletter subscription.

Anthony Metivie: It's called the Memory Connection and it is very, very specifically about the memory techniques but also the habits for putting the memory techniques into play so that you then incorporate them into your everyday life. Then the idea of the newsletter was to help increase engagement so people didn't forget what they committed to when they read the book. It was really quite a success and also a non-success for certain reasons, and it was just a very complex thing. I'm so glad I did it because I learned a ton about actual publishing in a different way than digitally through Amazon and create space and all that. But I also learned a lot about the complexities and the logistics of what a physical fulfillment business looks like.

Bryan Collins: Yeah, that's pretty interesting. I'm curious, do you think people are gravitating more towards reading print versus Kindle for nonfiction?

Anthony Metivie: Well, I think that they probably never really gravitated away from it in this particular realm. For example, memory training books have always been something that are prevalent in bookstores in certain sections, and there's something about the exercise-based nature of them that lends itself to having a reference manual in print where things are not locked up inside of a no dimensional Kindle device like you want to go and look at page 22 and make your notes and then follow the exercise on paper and just being able to open the book. I don't think that memory training books ever really lend themselves to the digital media in the first place.

Anthony Metivie: But the other thing is, is that my big pain point that I was pressing on in the sales copy, it was part of the sales copy but it's absolutely true and grounded in science is the problem of digital amnesia. People aren't learning because they can't process information properly through digital media. Everybody either knows this through practical experience or they feel it intuitively. So that's one of the reasons why it works so well even if I'm not sure that I was successful in what the followup newsletter was supposed to do.

Bryan Collins: Digital amnesia. That's a pretty interesting concept and I agree on what you're saying and what I've been doing over the last two years is when I read a great nonfiction book, I try to outline or summarize the key ideas in a mind map, these mind maps as a way of reviewing my research. I know mind mapping is something that you are a strong advocate for. Could you talk to me a little bit more about how you believe mind maps can help writers with the research process?

Anthony Metivie: According to Tony Buzan who has done a huge amount of work on this, basically, a mind map allows you to replicate the way that the brain cell works so there's a central sort of nucleus in the brain cell and then everything flows out or radiates out from that center. He is really trying to get us to reproduce on paper a process that happens in the brain, sort of in the same way that I'm trying to get people to replicate on paper the memory palace to substantiate and cement what should be happening in the brain for spatial mapping and spatial memory if you want to get really good with memory techniques.

Anthony Metivie: When you do that, a number of things happen. You see connections that you wouldn't be able to see if you weren't externalizing in front of your eyes and then fortifying what's happening in the brain and he's got a lot of cool tips that just make it much more of a lively process, an enriching process. And so like for example making sure that your central image, that nucleus of the mind map has three colors. It can sound like, “Yeah, whatever, man.”

Anthony Metivie: But when you get into it and actually start doing it, you see all these effects happening and there's lots and lots of reasons why but … And I wouldn't say that it's something for everybody but I think for most of us, it just brings back this childlike level of play. It's a little bit of critical creative distance from what you're doing. You put more thought into it. You're not so jumpy and great things emerge. These tributary rivers that you create outwards really just gives you a perspective that you don't get otherwise.

Anthony Metivie: And then you got like over a 150 muscles that are wired up with your brain that are all now just sending so much vibrancy through the brain that's just unlocking all kinds of things we knew a lot about how this works in the neural networks. It's just a wonderful, wonderful tool and there's a lot to it that you can do and I highly recommended reading Tony Buzan's latest book which is Mind Map Mastery and also some supplementary materials that Phil Chambers has created that have helped me a lot.

Anthony Metivie: And I was lucky to train with both of them in the same room at the same time not too long ago. I'm really into that level as well so that's great stuff.

Bryan Collins: And Anthony, do you use pen and paper to draw your mind maps or do you use some of the mind mapping software that Tony offers?

Anthony Metivie: No, I'm totally like not a software guy. If I can avoid software, I will. But with all due respect, I kind of have admittedly dogmatic kind of just like, are you serious? Like we have this digital amnesia problem, let's encourage people to get off of the machines. That said, I totally support all the innovations he wants to bring. He talks about some next level stuff, and I'm trying to get them hooked up with Jaron Lanier. I don't know Jaron Lanier yet but I'm trying to get to know Jaron Lanier so I can hook them up together because I think they'd really be excited by each other and they probably already know each other anyway.

Anthony Metivie: But in any case, like 3D visualizations of mind maps and the potential for virtual reality mind mapping, it's really, really exciting even if I personally would never want to use it. I've just preferred the paper and colors.

Bryan Collins: Do you use mind maps to outline your books or the blog posts that you write?

Anthony Metivie: Yeah, and after the training and supplementary materials from Tony Buzan and Phil Chambers, it just went nuclear like I basically created a whole new business within a couple of months after taking that training. And you can see the before and after mind maps. They actually send you images if you want of before and after, and you could see that I was just like really in this kind of bizarre scarcity mindset, really cramped up in my mind mapping. And then after, it just flows.

Anthony Metivie: I do my YouTube live streams based on mind maps and all this kind of stuff and you get way more power out of these wonderful things that they've discovered and heard about the practice.
Bryan Collins: One of the other ideas that you teach is the idea of the memory palace. Is this something that you use to remember ideas for books? And perhaps could you explain what a memory palace is of those who aren't familiar with this?

Anthony Metivie: Yeah, sure. On page 75 of Maps of Meaning by Jordan B. Peterson which was published in 1999 which I'm going to that extent to just demonstrate that I'm visiting a memory that I encoded of all that stuff. He's talking there on that page about episodic memory and how that there's another thing called mnestic memory which allows people like Freud to understand a great deal intuitively from, say, Shakespeare's Hamlet because of the way the human mind's capacity to absorb stories and then reduce cognitive load when processing new ideas and opening new discourses.

Anthony Metivie: That's on page 75 of my edition of Maps of Meaning which I bought here in Australia. It might be on a different page, on a book published in a different country. But why that I can do that is because of memory palace. And the memory palace, it is a way of taking something like your home and then charting a little journey through it that requires very little mental energy, very little attention at all, very little cognitive load as I call it, very little stress, very little pressure, as long as you create it right and then you use association to essentially setup theatrical little place in your home.

Anthony Metivie: If I was meeting someone named Bryan Collins, for example, I would maybe think of a home that I have or the building where we met and I would see another Bryan and it could be Bryan Cranston from Breaking Bad and he would be maybe with a Collier Encyclopedia or something close to Collins so that I can start to have this level of association and I'm going to make it a really strange image. I'm going to make it really vibrant and I'm going to come back to it.

Anthony Metivie: And the way I'm going to come back to it is because I have this special hook. I just have to think what was happening over there in that corner of the room? And then I think, “Oh, yeah, Bryan Cranston from Breaking Bad. He was like beating up this new guy, Bryan, with the Collier Encyclopedia but his name wasn't Collier, it was Collins.” And then you do that four or five times, you'll never forget that name for the rest of your life.

Anthony Metivie: Actually, I shouldn't be so confident of that. Some people need more than four or five times. It depends on your level of practice but the point is you're no longer into like rote learning when you hear a name like, “Oh, it's Bryan. It was Bryan. It was Bryan.” You're now into creative repetition that fires off every mode of your brain, every representational mode from sound to sight to physical feeling to space itself and then you just learn a lot faster. You remember a lot more and you have fun while you're doing it and it's just using space in combination with associations.

Bryan Collins: Anthony, there's a story about Roald Dahl when he was stuck on traffic, thought of an idea for a book, and he got out of the car and wrote the idea on the [inaudible 00:12:39], on the window in the back of his car. It sounds to me like you could use a memory palace to capture that idea instead of getting out of your car on traffic.

Anthony Metivie: Yeah, yeah, exactly. Not only can you do that, but you can practice remembering your dreams and turning them into stories which I've done twice now and one of them became a Kindle bestseller partly because I have an email list but also partly because people liked it. And it was just me using a memory palace to capture my dreams instead of forgetting them.

Anthony Metivie: And twice it's happened to me where entire novels happened overnight and I just wrote them all out. I didn't write them out overnight but it took about 40 to 50 days for each to draft them. Yeah, so any idea that comes to your mind, you don't have to pull over in traffic to write it out. You can actually just encode it and one great way to practice is to learn how to remember your dreams.

Bryan Collins: If somebody is running a business and they have a long to-do list, could they use a memory palace for remembering some of the items on their to-do list?

Anthony Metivie: Yeah, Derren Brown advocates this and his claim is that he's much more likely to get his to-do list done if he has encoded it in a memory palace. I don't know if that's still true. That was in Tricks of the Mind which was released some years ago. But he does advocate that there. Myself, I think that that creates often like a Zeigarnik effect which is amounting pressure of all the things that you have to do. I prefer to just go old school.

Anthony Metivie: My general rule of thumb is that if it can be written down and you can save your memory techniques for memorizing information that improves your life like a language or what happened on page 75 of Maps of Meaning in Philosophy or someone's name, I tend to save my powers that I've developed and skills that I've developed with memory for those things and let something like the Freedom Journal or the Mastery Journal that I use daily to handle the to-do list.

Anthony Metivie: But you can do the to-do list and Darren Brown is a guy to reference for his sense that he's more likely to take action on things he's placed in memory.

Bryan Collins: That's a good point. What's your number one tip for avoiding distractions and focusing on your work? And the reason I ask is you strike me as somebody who's doing a lot of different things from podcasting to running blog posts to self-publishing books to the prints fulfillment service that you talked about earlier.

Anthony Metivie: Right. Well, I think the number one thing is to have a structural flow and to get away from the internet. I do a tremendous amount of my work offline and I create a world in which that I spend as much time as possible offline. And then I just follow a process and I do things so that they can cross multiple media.

Anthony Metivie: So, it's like a guitar solo. If you ever play guitar or maybe this translates to piano, I'm not sure, but you see this flurry of notes but if you actually learn how to play guitar, you realize that it looks like a lot more notes than it's actually being played in many cases. And there's flourishes that make it seemed like a lot more is going on than there is.

Anthony Metivie: And it's the same thing in content creation. Whatever I write as a blog post is the script for a podcast which then can be segmented down to scripts for videos. It goes the other way around too like I do these YouTube live streams from just basically bullet points. Then I have transcriptionist send me the transcript of my YouTube live streams which are just free, really. And she even does a little bit of editorial work to sort of set them up as a blog post.

Anthony Metivie: And then I record them as podcast and send them out as podcast episodes with the blog post so that getting the maximum amount of time out of just creating content on the fly and then structuring it later. I didn't always do it that way, but that's something that's going on now and it's really exciting to see how fast it can go.

Bryan Collins: If I understand you correctly, when you're writing or mind mapping, you're disconnected from the internet and you're not using a digital tool. Is that right?

Anthony Metivie: Not always and it depends. One of the things that I do is I write on the iPhone a lot, but I write on a second iPhone that is not connected to the internet except for when I switch it on. And the only thing that it does is it's synced with Dropbox or email so I can email over what I wrote through the plain text app.

Anthony Metivie: I'll write a lot that way and I will not bring the phone with me. All I'll have is this old iPhone, S4 I guess it is called. And I never update the thing because I updated it once and it ruined everything, and this plain text app is no longer supported. It's like slow and junky except for in this one function. I've written at least two years of my blog post just entirely in that device. I've written at least a couple of my books entirely in that device and it works great.

Bryan Collins: Are you typing them out using the iPhone keyboard or are you dictating them into your iPhone?

Anthony Metivie: No, I'm typing with my thumbs. But I'll also take … Like the memory connection, I took my laptop to the library and just wrote there. And I wrote it in Scrivener in that case. I ultimately don't like Scrivener that much but I did want it to get … I wanted to give it at least one book to decide just how much I didn't like it. There's that and I've done it every way. The point is I haven't handwritten a book since 2009 but I've also handwritten entire books but it then just becomes a pain to type it all up.

Anthony Metivie: I've done it every single way and the common denominating factor is that if I want to write, I have to be offline. I can't have a phone with me because even the thought of being interrupted is too painful to bear. It's like it won't happen. I call it digital fasting even if I have technically a digital device with me.

Bryan Collins: What other tricks do you use to embrace a digital fast?

Anthony Metivie: Well, I'll even take time to not write at all. I will go for long walks without anything and then this is where being able to memorize things comes in really handy. Charles Dickens was a great walker and so many of his things, his revelations, his plot twists and solutions to the stories came from these long walks.

Anthony Metivie: I do that and other tricks, I don't know. There are so many. I'm not sure what counts as a trick as opposed to just good business strategy. I think too just having the continual dopamine spikes of a audience of any size has always been a great motivator because when you're getting email every day, getting questions every day, getting success stories every day, getting complaints once in a while, it's like you build a ship and you have wind in your sails. And so the world kind of tells you where to go.

Anthony Metivie: So long as you have that ship and the ship has systems for navigating the seas, then they'll tell you the islands to arrive at and so will Google Analytics and so will YouTube Analytics and so forth. It's really just basically being a captain of a ship that delivers memory training cargo and I'm pretty happy with that.

Bryan Collins: That's a fantastic metaphor, Anthony. I'm just a little bit more curious about the digital fast concept. For somebody who can't necessarily take an entire week off being disconnected because let's say, they have a demanding job, what would you suggest they do? Could they build in a digital fast into parts of their day, for example, in the morning?

Anthony Metivie: Well, I do. I don't take an entire week off to write anything. I'd go morning café or the afternoon café, and it's just a part of the day. I've never gone off ever since I got started online. I never had an extended thing where I was offline for very long. It's just part of days.

Anthony Metivie: And quite frankly if you just develop the muscles of showing up to writing in whatever way is right for you, if you could just put in that due diligence to build the muscle, you will have no problem doing the amount of content creation that you need to do in about an hour. And one trick that I did to develop that muscle is I'm not sure where I came across this idea whether it was externally or something that I just naturally developed over time or whatever, but I just started to obsessively listen to the same album when I write.

Anthony Metivie: Most of the many years of my blog posts are written to an album called Newsted heavy metal music, then I edit to a different album. It's like it's OCD but it works. I know that within that period of time, I will write a good 1,700 to 2,300 word blog post track. Just by pressing play and not stopping until the last song.

Bryan Collins: If I understand you correctly, you're using an old iPhone that you're typing with your thumb listening to the same album with a set of headphones and you're also probably working in a place like a coffee shop?

Anthony Metivie: Yeah, or it will be in a park or it will just be in bed and I have the wherewithal discipline developed to put whatever you call it on airplane mode and just not turn airplane mode off until that I'm done, to email it to myself. And the other iPhone, the one that actually takes calls is somewhere else. And for longest time, I didn't even have a second iPhone. I just had a Motorola with a grocery store … I don't even know what you call these things. I hate the technologies so much but you know these little things you just buy and you slip it into the phone and it gives you phone service. I don't have a monthly thing or anything like that, heaven forbid. I just need to be texted by my wife, and even then she has a hard time getting through.

Bryan Collins: And I've also heard you talk a lot about outsourcing parts of your business. I know you work with virtual assistants. How have they helped you become more productive or perhaps find more free time?

Anthony Metivie: Well, they come and go and I'm not the greatest manager in the world. I'm not really naturally inclined to a management part. But being able to just say like, “Yeah, you take an hour off.” And I'm writing a chapter of something or I'm writing a blog post and then I have this idea for a YouTube video. So I just make some outlines of what the bullet points should be and then when I switch back on, I send it to the assistant I say, “I need slides for this. Make sure it has the opening slide and the end slide. And send me a send me in Asana when it's done.”

Anthony Metivie: Then when it's done, I'll go and look it over, record a YouTube video. I did that for quite a period of time and that assistant was really, really good at that. It's like being able to just break things down to its simplest thing and just have outlines become video content that then later to be transcribed and turned into an actual professional blog post and podcast script.

Anthony Metivie: That's helpful and also having people to edit the video has been huge for me because now I can not only have more video but better video, and you start to get ideas. When you see what the editor can do, I'll let her be. I urge her to be as self-directed and creative as possible and just say, “Make all the mistakes in the world, we'll tidy it up later.” And that's been huge for, I think, her career and mine because then we discover things.

Anthony Metivie: And then tech people, I have a pretty tight ship on the internet but things go wrong and we're always looking at how to tighten it up. I actually have two tech people supporting me at the moment and one is just purely on data. He's a data scientist, major at university so it's like I was able to create a paid internship for him to practice data science on my site. I don't even have all … I need 12 of me just to put into action all the stuff that he's found out.

Bryan Collins: Where did you find your team? Is it through a site like Upwork or elsewhere?

Anthony Metivie: Well, I found in different places. Upwork has never panned out for me very well, but Codementor has been good. Also just asking the community like you and I come from good lineage with John Morrow. I found good help there and a few times actually, and also have found Rescue through being part of serious bloggers only when things were really dire with the tech problem.

Anthony Metivie: Also onlinejobs.ph has been good. That's where I found my video editor and the one assistant I mentioned. She's no longer with our team because she had already had a dream job in the works and I just said, “Well, I'll take you as long as we can have you,” because she was so good in the interview and upfront about her limited availability, so that was cool.

Anthony Metivie: And then also I found transcriptionists who found me. I remember one of the last Kindle books that I did, a woman emailed me with a polished edit of my book. I don't know how the hell heck she got it out of Kindle but somehow she did and she said, “I don't believe this represents the man you are.” And it was just like this perfect edit of the books, so we uploaded that. She worked with me for almost two years.

Bryan Collins: Wow, that's fantastic. That's actually how I found the editor that I work with. Anthony, where can people find you online?

Anthony Metivie: Well, I'm camped out at magneticmemorymethod.com. And from there, you can find the podcast and the YouTube channel. And there are some Facebook stuff. I'm not really a big Facebook guy but we do have a secret group there for the people that I serve who use Facebook. But generally, magneticmemorymethod.com.

Bryan Collins: Thanks, Anthony. That was great.

Anthony Metivie: Thank you for having me, Bryan.

Bryan Collins: I hope you enjoy this podcast episode. If you did, please leave a rating on the iTunes store. And if you want to accomplish more with your writing, please visit becomeawritertoday.com/join and I'll send you a free email course. Thanks for listening.

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