Life is just a bunch of sentences that begin with: I never thought I’d say this, but…

Here’s a short story about why it’s so much fun making things on the web:

The day after Christmas, in Cleveland, I said to my wife, “I never thought I’d say this, but I miss Texas.”

And then I wrote this tweet.

And then later in the day we went to see True Grit, and during the 21 minutes of ads and previews, I thought, “that would make a good website,” so I pulled Tumblr up on my iPhone and registered neverthoughtiwouldsaythisbut.tumblr.com.

And then I stayed up a little bit that night doing some coding, and then I went to sleep. And in the morning I had some breakfast, finished up some coding, and then I told some people on Twitter and Tumblr about it:

I never thought I'd say this

And then a bunch of people finished the sentence themselves, and then, lo and behold, we had a website.

And that’s it: You have a silly idea, you throw together some code, and then you show it to people and see whether it works.

It costs you nothing but time and attention.




I’ve been told it’s a good thing to have, so after going years without one, I finally have an online portfolio of my work.

My idea for the page all started with a venn diagram I’ve started drawing for people in conversation:

venn diagram

For a long time I just thought of myself as a “writer who draws,” somebody who communicates with “pictures and words together.” But I’ve slowly accepted that the other big piece of my life is The Web. The really interesting work, the work that I’m good at, it happens in the overlap of those three worlds.

After the venn diagram, I struggled to come up with some decent writing to describe what it is that I do:


Then, after that, I sketched out the design:


But I can only do so much on paper. The final form doesn’t really come into view until I start working with code and see the way the elements play out on the screen. Funny enough, most of what changes when I get to the code stage is the writing! I’m constantly cutting words, switching things around…

…I guess you could say a web page is like what Valery said of poems: “Never finished, only abandoned.”


newspaperblackout.tumblr.com screenshot

For a long time I’ve wanted to start a site dedicated solely to the making of Newspaper Blackout Poems, a place where people can go read how-to tips, ask me questions, and then try out their own and share the results.

It didn’t seem right to set up such a thing on my main site. I’m thrilled to have folks making blackout poems, but my site is for my work, and I want to keep it that way.

A man’s domain name is his domain, you know?

Enter the new site. It’s hosted on Tumblr, which not only means that it’s incredibly easy for me to make quick posts and for followers to reblog them, but it also has built-in functionality where people can ask questions and best of all, submit their own poems.

I’ll still be keeping all of my original poems right here, and I’ll still be posting new ones every week, so no need to re-subscribe or anything. But if you’re interested, give it a follow on Tumblr, or subscribe to the RSS feed.

I might post old poems from the archives on the new site. I’m not quite sure yet. Still making it up as I go along.

I’d love to hear what y’all think about it. Feel free to leave me a comment or suggest the types of posts you’d like to see over there.

Let’s see what we can make together…



I don’t blog much about my web design work, because as Bob Dylan sang in “The Hurricane,”

Its my work…and I do it for pay
And when its over I’d just as soon go on my way

I spend 8 hours a day in a cubicle designing websites, so the last thing I want to do when I come home is work on more websites or blog about web design.

Consider this an exception.

Building websites is not my passion. My passion is spreading ideas. Designing information in a way that gets it quickly into your brain.

For me, websites are means to an end. A website can only be as interesting as the content contained within it. That’s why there are beautiful sites that mean nothing, and that’s why there are all kinds of crappy-looking, crappy-functioning websites out there that do just fine: because the content kicks ass. (If you’re at all interested, check out Kristina Halvorson on “The Discipline of Content Strategy.”)

I try to make sure that all my design starts with the content — this is really hard to do in a company or a college or any other big, bureaucratic setting, because most folks have no idea what they’re trying to do or say with a website. All they know is they need a website, and it needs to have flashy video and pretty pictures. But what about the content? I ask. What are you saying? Who are you talking to? What do you want to happen?

Sites like my friend Curtis Miller’s (I built this site for him last year) are much easier, because the content is clear: the paintings and drawings and prints. The goal is getting eyeballs on them.


Curt’s work is big, intricate, and colorful, so I didn’t want to bother fussing with the web design too much — all we needed was to get images of Curt’s work online with as little distraction as possible. Too often artist websites feature fancy Flash slideshows (which makes them unusable on iPhones), no descriptive text (so Google has no way to index the pages), no permalinks so that people can link to their favorite work, and worst of all, no RSS feed so fans can keep up with their new work and upcoming events.

All that is solved here by using WordPress. I built off of the Starkers theme and the 960 grid system to make a site for Curt that felt more like a traditional artist portfolio, but offered all the goodies and functionality of a blog.

For me, web design is more math than art: the content is X, and I solve the problem around that variable. I start with some kind of constraint, make a couple of calculations, set up a grid, and doodle in my sketchbook:

curtis miller website

curtis miller website

Once I have the sketches, I start on the code.  And tweak and tweak until it’s done.

And once it’s done, I hand it over. I give it to Curt and it’s up to him what he wants to do with it. As pretty as the site might be at the handoff, it’s at the mercy of whatever content he chooses to put up there.

Since I think of myself first and foremost as a writer, this ultimately ends up as an unsatisfying transaction for me. It’s like if you wrote someone a story, but only handed them the outline and the first paragraph. The story isn’t finished. It’s just begun. Where does it go?

How does the site evolve? Who uses it?

I don’t know. I just built the damned thing.

Lots of people say web design is like architecture (I personally like to think of it as cartography), so if it fails, it fails for all the reasons that architecture does: the architect designs for the grand opening, for the ribbon cutting. The people ooh and ah over the shiny new materials, the architect shakes hands, and collects his check. How the building settles over the years, how the inhabitants use the space as their needs change…what does he care? He’s on to the next project.

The ultimate scenario would be if each building had a builder and a keeper, and the builder and the keeper were the same person.

Like my dad’s barn: he built it so that he could use it. He is the builder and the keeper. When he needs the building to do something else, he adds on to it. When he needed a place to store his hay, he built a hay mow. When he needed a place to hang out, he built a tack room.

Which is why I love this website so much. I built it four or five years ago. When I need a page for my new book, I build one. If I need a storefront, I build one.

I am the builder and the keeper.


new homepage

For those of you reading via RSS, pop over to my homepage real quick and check out the new front page and updated portfolio.

Why the change? I’m hoping that the front page will now be a more friendly portal to newcomers.

For those long-time readers, if you want to skip the frontpage and go straight to the blog, update your bookmarks:


I should also point out that there’s a new subscription options page. If the blog feed isn’t enough for you, you could always upgrade to the Blog + Tumblelog Superfeed!

And for those of you with eagle eyes, you’ll have noticed a (gasp!) shopping cart. Yeah, it’s just a teaser for now, but one of our projects this summer is trying to get some merchandise up for sale. We want to start small with maybe just some mini-poster prints, and then move on to bigger and better things.

A couple questions:

  • What’s the most successful way to sell products online? Paypal? Etsy? Ebay?
  • What would you like to see sold in my store? Prints of poems? Mini-comics? T-shirts?

If anybody has any advice or comments, please let me hear them!