All Posts Tagged ‘writing


The desire to produce something authentic

One from the archives, here’s Marco Arment on the pitfalls of becoming a well-known blogger & his determination to avoid gaming the system:

I don’t need to be an authority on anything. I don’t need you to agree with my arguments. I know this is probably too long, too broad, and too egotistical for the mass market to read, and you most likely skimmed over it. I wrote this just now, and I’m going to publish it now, even though it’s Sunday and it won’t see peak traffic. I don’t want to write top-list posts 10 times a day. I don’t want to be restricted to my blog’s subject or any advertisers’ target demographic. This site represents me, and I’m random and eccentric and interested in a wide variety of subjects.

Marco Arment

I couldn’t agree more.

Check the publish date on that post – 2009. The more I put my mind to writing, to collecting and sharing things here with you, the more I become aware of two competing desires. The first is the almost unspeakable, yet omnipresent desire for people to discover & enjoy the things I write. The second is the desire to produce something authentic, genuine and ultimately a close representation of my thoughts, even as they change.

These two desires work against one another.  Let’s simplify the matter by calling it a battle between pleasures immediate and long-term.

I would be lying if I denied enjoying the little thrill surges that come with views, likes and that sort of social feedback. Yet the desire to produce something of substance, something that doesn’t simply pander to the click-bait culture we see in Facebook & Twitter, a piece of written work that would stand up to scrutiny in the years to come – is by far the stronger desire. I’ll admit, it can be tempting to look at the stats, to see who’s on my site in real time, to become addicted to the dopamine rush of immediate gratification. But that pleasure is short lived & in the cold light of morning, it’s not hard to see which of the two is more fulfilling.

I fully expect to be embarrassed by my writing here in the years to come. In fact I’m already embarrassed, by what I wrote just months ago. But that’s not a problem, rather I consider this a source of pride. It means I’m growing, that my tastes are improving, my standards are being raised. If you don’t look back on your old work and cringe, it usually means one of two things: either i) that your previous work was genuinely inspired & you should be proud of it, or ii) that you’ve slowed growing, maturing and learning.

In short, you’re stagnating.

Only a handful of my projects fit the first description — projects I’ll be proud of for many years, perhaps even until I die. The rest of it, though? Yeesh. If I ever reach the point where I can look back at my writing, my design, my creative work without embarrassment, I’ll be gravely concerned.


★ Problogging

A few days ago I posted a short note, essentially my thoughts on the ‘do what you love’ topic, which has also been covered quite extensively elsewhere.

One great way to start doing what you love (as a job), is to just start doing what you love and receiving payment for it! The way I’ve done that is to start this blog, then I left my job for 9 months to go traveling around the world. Right now my only job is to write interesting things on this website, for interested and interesting people to read. That’s it. Right now I get paid in page views and (very rarely) nice comments. You know, as well as I do, that I can’t feed myself with page views or comments. But for the moment that doesn’t matter, because I’m doing something that I love.

After reading this, a friend of mine asked me if I did in fact earn any money from what happens here. I mentioned that I’d put a disclaimer at the bottom of that post, saying how I don’t run this site as a job, nor do I get paid in any way for the things I post here. I haven’t considered this blog (at any point) to be a potential candidate for full-time work, nor do I see that changing in the near/mid-term future – and I felt like it might not be such a bad time to reflect on this in the public domain.

I’m thoroughly enjoying the effort and reward of growing this blog, as a place to jot ideas down for future reference, and as a place to share interesting things I spot in my daily wanderings. It’s a pastime, a hobby and a whole lot of fun. I don’t make any money from this blog – and to be perfectly honest, that’s not really the point. I actually find it somewhat strange to find us living in a world where people actually do this kind of thing for a living, successfully! I actually considered putting a note on my about page, mentioning how I don’t run this thing as a full time job, before remembering how odd that concept is and that it’s even odder to think people will come here with the expectation that it would/could be the full fruits of my labour.

I’m sure there are ways that I could turn this thing into my full time work, if I put a whole lot of work-like effort into it — but that’s not my goal. I would hate to turn this pleasurable, enjoyable pastime into something I was forced into doing daily, or that I felt contingent upon to earn a crust each month. Today the pageviews and comments are a nice reward for writing (hopefully) interesting things here, tomorrow that could horribly turn into a metric by which my value can and will be calculated. Who needs that kind of pressure?

Perhaps more importantly, doing so would rob me of a myriad of opportunities and challenges in the realm of my actual passion — the design of things! I would no longer be able to put my head to the very real and important challenges that face us daily, the design and life of the cities we live in. What could be a more worthwhile challenge, than to seek new and interesting ways to improve the ways things are done? I know I’m being rather obtuse here, but I really don’t wish to put a finer point on it. I want to be involved in shaping, in creating, not solely reflecting and writing on these things here.

I’ll continue writing here, because I love it. It’s an outlet, a way to give you a few new and different ways to unlock my brain. Without this, you’d need to spend an uncomfortable amount of time with me to get the same insight – and I don’t think either of us is really ready for that level of commitment.

I do hope you stick around, though, it’s really nice to know you care.


★ On format

Printing Press, by Thomas Hawk

I’ve been thinking lately, about the plethora of new book distribution formats (be that electronic, audio, print-on-demand) and one thing occurred to me that I just can’t shake.

How will we look back on todays written word, in generations to come?

I don’t mean through the lens of nostalgia, rather I mean how will we retrieve, access, read and learn from this moment in time – when a staggeringly huge amount of it is locked up in proprietary formats and in many ways destined to decay along with their creators. I’m reasonably certain that the standards-based web (HTML, CSS, JS) will be with us for a long time, but what of other book formats and their makers? The ePub format, for example. Or the DRM ridden .aa format? I’m not one to yearningly look back on years gone by, but have we not seen the rise and fall of platforms and media time and time again? The one thing that has seemingly undergone utterly minor transformation (and has certainly stood the test of time) is the printed word. It’s possible to browse the pages of a 100 year old manuscript without fear of destroying the contents. Which of todays formats will stand that test of time. Will we be wrestling with archaic kindle formats in 100 years time? I can’t see it happening.

This doesn’t mean I see no value in innovating through the digital. This kind of transformation is absurdly disruptive (just ask Amazon or Borders Books), and I look forward to watching apple wreak havoc on the incumbent textbook industry.

I do wonder, though, what the next 20-40 years will look like from the other side. Will we look back on the e-books of 2012 with the same nostalgia given over to old photographs, or to a 19th Century printing press?


★ Print the truth

New York Times Building

Sign of deeper troubles over at the NYT – here’s Public Editor Arthur S. Brisbane;

I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge “facts” that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.

Is that the prevailing view? And if so, how can The Times do this in a way that is objective and fair? Is it possible to be objective and fair when the reporter is choosing to correct one fact over another? Are there other problems that The Times would face that I haven’t mentioned here?

I’m honestly surprised by the innocence shown by someone whose role description requires that he “monitors the paper’s journalistic practices”. What do you think the answer to the question should be? There are more than 300 comments to the post, most of which echo the same feeling of disbelief and surprised. If journalistic practices don’t include fact checking, calling out other writers for false information and writing what’s (reasonably) known to be true – what do they include?

The readers are, understandably outraged.  Here are a few choice excepts from the comments;

If the Times is not going to be a truth vigilante then I certainly do not need to be a Times subscriber.


Mr. Brisbane, I like to think that your intention in posing the question was to invite precisely the response you have gotten – that OF COURSE reporters should correct any misstatements of fact by anyone quoted in a Times story. Much of what is wrong with what passes for journalism these days is the mandatory inclusion of “false equivalencies” in new stories – the ridiculous impulse (or directive) to present both sides of any conflict, regardless of the truth or falsity of the matter asserted by one side or another. Armed as you are now with the feedback from your readership, perhaps you can let management know that they’re doing it wrong.

On the other hand, if you genuinely do not know whether or not the paper of record should act as stenographer for liars, then count me among the rest of the commenters who is incredulous that you had to ask.


The real question is, why would anyone trust a newspaper that allows people to lie to their customers?
Why should any trust an outlet that knowingly allows politicians, corporations etc, spread propaganda? A newspaper that’s not a “Truth Vigilante” is just a propaganda machine.

And on it goes. This points to a much deeper problem, a shaken faith in the reliability, relevance and trustworthiness of print media journalism.  I’ll let Dan have the last word.

Funny to watch this NYT thing blowing up. What century does NYT think it’s living in? Or reporting on, rather?

In other news, Vanity Fair tackles the big issues in a parallel post, perhaps looking to scoop some of the attention and page views of the NYT article. That’s what I call hard-hitting journalism.


★ Since 2011

Late last year I decided to pull my sleeves up and give this blog a bit more attention. I looked at my namesake and decided it could be so much more. I opened textwrangler, learnt how to inspect and architect CSS, and most importantly got back into the habit of writing. I didn’t have any goals for the writing, apart from consistency and some fuzzy thoughts around quality. Aiming for achievable targets does help, as progress and success on those fronts is highly tangible and it feels good. I like writing on here, I never really know what form it is going to take and I like that it will grow and flex over time. I set myself a target of one post per day, and so far I’ve managed to write two. On some days I write more, and when I don’t feel inspired I’m happy to let it be. I’ve only gone a few days without feeling compelled to jot something down here, and I’m genuinely surprised with how much more I feel like writing – compared to, say tweeting. It feels like home, my place to scrawl and sketch thoughts. No pressure at all.

My dashboard tells me I’ve written 220~ posts on I’m not inclined to archive and move on, but I honestly feel that anything written before November 2011 was the old site, and this new site has much bigger ambitions. I’m almost at 100 posts in the new, and I don’t intend on slowing down.

I’m really enjoying it, and I think you might enjoy it too. There’s been a lot of press about code year lately, and I think it’s well deserved. But I also think there’s a lot to be said for a counter proposal – blog something. Writing daily, no matter how inane or brief, massages that muscle and helps keep that part of your brain in shape. If half the people who were considering learning to code, instead considered learning how to write, it would be incredible. I view around 10 bloggers to be my trusted sources of reliable information, insight and review – but I want more! The more there are involved in this new medium, the higher the bar will be for all.

Are you blogging? If so, where are you hiding? I want to know who you are, I want to read your stories and I want to learn a little bit more about the world through your lens. 2011 was a good year, but 2012 is going to be bigger, badder and blogger.

(ugh I know that was terrible, but I couldn’t resist. It’s my property, I can do what I want! Seriously though, it won’t happen again.)


★ Plotto

Have you heard of Plotto? Neither had I, up until this morning. It’s a text from 1894 by Georges Polti, which creates a structural system for creating story plots. It’s quite extraordinary, taking 36 basic plots through a staggering 1462 plot permutations. Below is one example.


Plotto is being reissued by Tin House. Fun for the whole family (if your family is full of aspiring authors, or plot geeks).

Via brain pickings


★ the bigger picture

A bit of a small train of thought piece coming up.  This was inspired by these two posts by Marco Arment.

I’m glad I follow people like MarcoMichael & Jason. They’re writers who take a longer view on life, industry and on this whole blogging thing, and in many ways have been doing this for a long time.

Certainly longer than I have. It really helps, seeing others who’re facing conceptual struggles I can relate to, and taking a stance on what they’re all about. Even if they don’t know specifically what they’re producing (or perhaps that’s actually the point, that what’s being made can’t be labelled so easily), they’re prepared to stick to the core goals of the site. The blog is the internet representation of their interests, so it shouldn’t be one dimensional. It shouldn’t fit into a sound-bite. It shouldn’t make things easy for google to stick ads into. Life doesn’t fit into small boxes, and their writing reflects this.

I don’t know what the specific goals are for this place.  In previous versions it’s been a wiki, a blog, a folio site and back to a blog.  I didn’t feel that comfortable having a polished, finished piece of work on display.  I’m not a web designer, nor do I code in html.  I see this place as a spot to pen my thoughts without fear nor favour.  It doesn’t work to any agenda other than to put it all down as it happens.  I hope to have the level of reflection, thought and foresight found elsewhere, but I also don’t want to hold myself to a standard I will need to grow.

One of my goals is to keep at it, though.  I do see the importance of persevering.   I’ve had too many half-hearted goes at making this thing sing.  This time feels good, as I’m not doing it for anyone else.


★ The death of writing

Most people who write for a living are thrilled by the sheer flexibility computers offer. In my case, I can rapidly bang thoughts into WriteRoom or Scrivener and then mould and shape them rather like a sculptor working on a piece of rock. When I used to write using only paper, the process was slower and I’d be frustrated by errors and editing. At school, this was even worse, since we were encouraged to submit final English essays with no errors at all, or we’d be marked down. This turned a creative pursuit into laborious drudge work, which the computer typically makes significantly less painful.

Also, if we look at very young children, the simple act of holding a pencil and learning writing doesn’t come entirely naturally, whereas interaction with something like an iPad is far more intuitive. Children have stories to tell, and enabling them to do so before they’ve mastered writing unleashes creativity—it doesn’t restrict it.

Craig Grannell on writing and technology.  When I say technology, of course I mean any tool which helps mankind achieve an outcome.  The pen, paper, the keyboard, Siri — these are all technologies we use to get things done.  In my view creativity and thought flourish with the influence of technology, not the opposite.