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Interview with the World’s Strongest Librarian

He is a hugely popular blogger. He is a successful writer. He has written and published the novel, The Knot, and currently he is working on his memoirs. He reads a lot. He writes a lot. He has an amazing sense of humor, an entertaining writing style and a very articulate thought process. He promised to never bore his readers and he keeps his promise. He calls himself “an aspiring strongman, bookish nerd , twitchy guy with Tourette’s Syndrome, devoted family man, tearer of the phonebooks and humble librarian.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Josh Hanagarne, The World’s Strongest Librarian.

First, let me thank you for participating in this little project and generously giving me your time. I really appreciate your willingness to answer my questions and feed my curiosity. Thank you! Josh, I am sure that this question was asked before, but anyway, why The World’s Strongest Librarian? It is a pretty bold statement you know…

There are a few reasons.1. I am a librarian. I’m surprised at how many people assume that it was just a gimmick, but I have a master’s degree in library and information science. I’m a professional researcher and I’m pretty good at my job.2. I’m strong. I’m really strong. I am a passionate strength trainee and I do a bunch of weird fringe activities like bending nails and tearing decks of cards.

The idea for the blog originally came up because I kept losing track of the notebooks where I would record my workout numbers. Someone said I should start a blog that I wouldn’t misplace. Like a lot of things I’ve done, it was completely impulsive and I didn’t think anything of it.

As I started writing about some of the challenges I have with my health disorder–Tourette’s Syndrome–I realized that “strong” could mean anything I wanted it to, which is convenient since other librarians are always writing to me and wanting to compare deadlift numbers.

You blog logo says: Get Stronger, Get Smarter, Live Better… Every Day. What does it mean for you? What do you think it means for your readers?

For me it means that I know how to make myself happy–by getting better every day. If there is a scientific explanation for happiness in my life it is simply the science of measurable improvements and progress. The easiest way I know to stay upbeat is to improve myself. I would hope that it means the same thing for my readers.

A lot of people don’t reveal their identities on the Internet (me included!) because they are not comfortable writing personal stuff and posting their picture. You openly talk on your blog about yourself and you are brutally honest. Have you ever had any reservations about it? Any regrets?

Yes and no. My reservations are usually after the fact when I get nasty hatemail. I write for myself. I often don’t know what I think about something until I write it down. But I gained a following without really meaning to. I’m not going to tell people “Hey I write for me so leave me alone if you hate what I’m doing.” My blog is an extension of me. Sometimes I’m worth knowing, sometimes I’m not. This is reflected in the responses I get to posts.

Your first book The Knot was self-published. Why did you choose a self-publishing route?

I wrote The Knot a few years ago during a time when I couldn’t speak much, due to a treatment I was getting for Tourette’s Syndrome. I never intended to publish it, but once I had a blog with a bunch of readers, I thought I might as well put it out there for fun. That’s the whole story.

Seth Godin noticed your blog and hooked you up with his literary agent. Now you have a book deal! It sounds like a fairy tale for so many of us waiting to be discovered. What do you think Seth liked about your blog-story?

I actually turned down the first book deal I was offered. It was a book I didn’t want to write and I’m not motivated by money. I’m currently working on the manuscript for another round of submissions through my agent.
As for what Seth saw in my nonsense–you’d have to ask him. I have no idea.

What does your family think about your blog? Do they read it?

My mom loves it. My dad doesn’t really care unless I tell a story about him. My siblings check in from time to time, but they’re busy and they know a lot of the stories I tell. I do get a fair amount of traffic from the search engines, however, and my relatives are constantly searching for terms and finding the blog that way.

You write a lot! Where do you find time to spend time with your family, work your full-time job, write for your blog and most importantly work on your memoirs? Do you sleep?

I don’t sleep much. Lifelong insomniac, compounded by the Tourette’s fidgets. I write really fast (when the stakes aren’t high, like on my blog) and I have a job where I am on a desk waiting for people to talk to me. I’m able to get most of my writing down on my lunch break at work. When I get home, I try to be home and not worry about writing. When I’m under the gun for deadlines, I just get up earlier. When I’m working on the book, I have to be alone and have things quiet. That’s getting harder and harder to come by.

What inspires you to write, what drives you?

Writing helps me make sense of my thoughts. There is also a lot of joy for me in simply creating something. I can point at my writing and, for better or worse, say “That wasn’t here before me.” But mainly I am driven by how fun writing is and how terrified I am of boredom.

Here is an unfair question for you – kettlebells, your blog and writing mean a lot in your life. If you had to choose only one of these three things, which one would you pick and why?

Writing. The better I can think, the happier I am. The more I write, the better I can think. There are lots of ways to get strong and healthy. Kettlebells just happen to be my favorite. I could always just start a new blog if I didn’t have the current one.

Let’s talk about boredom. You gave your wife a ring with the inscription that said “I will never bore you.” You made the same promise to your readers. Why do you think people get bored with their own blogs and/or their writing?

I don’t know that everyone should blog or write. It’s a very healthy process for me, but nobody should feel bad if they hate writing or blogging. I know a lot of people who get bored or frustrated with their writing, but they’re writing because someone told them they should.

Besides that, writing–especially writing a long project–can be lonely and thankless if you do not enjoy the process. It’s a grind. It takes patience and commitment, two things that are lacking in many people and that I am constantly working on in myself.

What are the most important things (name three or four) that beginner bloggers can learn from you (because we all want to know what we are doing right or wrong with our blogs)?

Ignore all of the advice you get from experts and just experiment. When someone tells you that you “should” do something, just test it out and see if you believe it. If it doesn’t work for you, try something else. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to blogging. Just about everyone I know is making it up as they go along. There is great opportunity for anyone with the curiosity to try things out. The easiest way to stand out is simply to do the opposite of what just about everyone else does.

Whether I’m writing, lifting weights, or doing anything else, I’m never trying to be “the next so and so.” I only care about being superior to the person I was yesterday.

Do what you love and I believe you’ll be rewarded. Try to follow someone else’s advice to the letter and you’ll never get as far as you could have if you were running your own experiments.