I had this long blog post typed out and then I thought, Can’t I just let my collage do the talking?
I had this long blog post typed out and then I thought, Can’t I just let my collage do the talking?
Taking a break. Hope y’all have a safe and happy New Year’s. I’ll be back Jan. 1, 2019 with my annual top 100. (PS. I took some liberties with the La Mancha sign — they actually open back up tomorrow.)
A question I get asked a lot: “How do you manage to find all the stuff that you put in your weekly newsletter?”
I’ve gone over the how before, but the how might not be as interesting as the why.
The why is explained in my book, Show Your Work!:
Make stuff you love and talk about stuff you love and you’ll attract people who love that kind of stuff. It’s that simple.
The longer I write this blog and the newsletter, the more I try to focus on what I genuinely love. The stuff that really nourishes and feeds me.
I could probably grow a bigger “audience” with the most recent creativity tips and life hacks or whatever, but that’s not why I started doing this.
I started doing this to find my people. The people who care about the same things that I do.
In other words: You.
Thanks for being here.
I got a “First strike! Three strikes and you’re out!” copyright notice from Tumblr yesterday morning, and my first thought was, “Oh good, maybe I can totally forget about my Tumblr now.”
One of the biggest regrets of my online life is the gap half decade or so I moved most of my blogging activity over to Tumblr from this self-hosted WordPress blog. Tumblr (and Twitter) has been my public notebook — there are blog tags there that have become book chapters and many more that still might. If they delete my Tumblr, it’s a decade of public research gone bye-bye.
Believe it or not, you can actually back up your Tumblr blog now direct from their site. My blog took all night to export and the download wound up weighing in at 3.75GB. (The biggest surprise was all the .mp3 files that came through: they made a 10-hour playlist in iTunes!)
You can also download your Twitter archive and it comes with a handy index.html file that you can search and browse.
All this stuff will go away one day. Like I said in Show Your Work!:
Own your turf, own your turf, own your turf. (And try to back up whatever you’ve posted to turf you don’t own.)
It’s my least favorite season in what’s shaping up to be one of my least favorite years. (Is it half empty or half full?) I’m trying to take it easy. Sitting around drinking coffee and reading books and scribbling notes to myself. Not feeling much like blogging. Might be quiet around here for a bit. (I’ll still be sending out the newsletter.)
I found this quote from a 2002 Jeff Tweedy interview hanging in my old room at my mom’s house earlier this summer. It’s from Newsweek, which means I must’ve read it in print. (My mom had a subscription.) Here’s the whole quote:
To say I’ve never been inhibited by expectations would be a lie. It’s more daunting to contend with yourself. It’s like saying I don’t even need to write songs because the greatest songwriter in the world has already done this—Bob Dylan. But he’s dealing with himself, too. The internal stuff is the stuff that kills you. I want to write the greatest song in the world sometimes. I don’t think there’s anything wrong in wanting to do that, but I think you’re better off when you realize you have no control over it. You just gotta keep making s–t up, scribbling—like sitting down and drawing with my kids. It reminds me to do that in my songs. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad. I think it looks great. Let’s hang it on the refrigerator.
I have always felt like this blog is my refrigerator. I make something, or I clip out something I like, and I put it on the refrigerator. The next day, I go and find something else to put on the fridge.
One year ago today I started daily blogging again. That was 350 posts ago. (I took a break for two weeks in July.) When I begin, I had no idea what to do next. Now, I’m back to the same point — once again, I have no idea what to do next — but I have a book coming out next year to show for it. I know that book wouldn’t exist in the shape its in if I hadn’t gone back to what works for me: Putting things on the refrigerator.
The irony of this metaphor is that we now have a big stainless steel refrigerator in our kitchen. The front isn’t magnetic; therefore, it’s totally worthless for hanging art. Maybe that’s a good thing to keep in mind: Make sure your refrigerator doesn’t get too fancy…
I’ve been blogging every day since October 1st of last year. (About 41 weeks. If pregnant, I’d be overdue.) When I began, I honestly wasn’t sure if I’d ever write another book again, but I wanted to, and I had this feeling that maybe, if I posted here every day, I’d get work up my chops enough that I could do it.
And I did it! A few days ago, I finished approving the copyedits for my next book. I’m rewarding myself with a few weeks off. Time to clear my head and hang out with my family. (And give a few talks.)
Thanks, as always, for reading. See you in August.
I’ve been wanting to write about the habit of daily blogging I’ve taken up since Oct. 1st this year, but I’ve avoided it, because 1) there are so many other interesting things to blog about 2) I’ve worried that blogging about blogging is too recursive and it will open up some sort of evil dimension or will just jinx the good mojo I got workin’. Still, I want to give it a (hopefully quick) spin.
The idea started out from my anxiety about “stock and flow.” As Robin Sloan wrote seven years ago: flow is the feed (“It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that reminds people you exist.”) and stock is the durable stuff (“It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.”)
In Show Your Work!, I wrote that it was always my M.O. to turn flow into stock: tweets become blog posts that become book chapters that become books. Trouble is, I had failed to heed Robin’s warning:
I feel like flow is ascendant these days, for obvious reasons—but we neglect stock at our own peril. I mean that both in terms of the health of an audience and, like, the health of a soul. Flow is a treadmill, and you can’t spend all of your time running on the treadmill. Well, you can. But then one day you’ll get off and look around and go: oh man. I’ve got nothing here.
Not only was I not turning flow into stock, I became acutely aware that due to the slow (or fast?) decay of social media and algorithm tinkering, the flow wasn’t even doing what it used to do —“remind people you exist”— and worse, my bits were just getting sucked into a void, an archive that I could download, maybe, but probably never go back and mine for any gold. Turning flow into stock isn’t all that hard, but it gets exponentially harder the more flow you have to go back and sift through.
Also, quite frankly, Twitter turned into a cesspool almost overnight. My friend Alan Jacobs was very vocal about his split from Twitter, and after reading his vibrant blog and new book, How To Think, I just decided to give daily blogging a go again, and this time, to do it on my URL, on my old-school WordPress blog, like the old days, when blogging actually meant something to me.
So how’d it go? Well, so far, even better than I expected.
1) I had no idea how badly my writing muscles had atrophied. After a couple of weeks, I could feel the sentences coming easier.
2) After struggling to come up with a new book idea for so long, I could start to see all the connections between posts, the patterns, the idea planets I keep orbiting. Because it’s all in one place, hyperlinked together, I can see my own obsessions in a way that is much harder elsewhere. (Also: I’m owning my turf. This place has been around for a dozen years. Longer than Twitter and Tumblr and Instagram, and if I had to bet, I’d guess it will outlast them.)
3) I had forgotten how wonderful blogging is as a mode of thinking. Blogging is, for me, more about discovering what I have to say, and tweeting more about having a thought, then saying it the right way. It’s also great to be able to go as long or as short as you want to go.
4) Maybe most surprising, is that my posts have gotten, in my opinion, much deeper and more interesting. I used to scramble on Thursdays, trying to come up with a good blog post so I could post it at the top of Friday’s newsletter. Often I would cop out, write something quick and pat, and move on. Once I started daily blogging, not only did I have more to link to, it’s actually better stuff — some weeks I have a tough time deciding which post gets top billing in my list of 10. (I hope you’ll subscribe, btw, if you haven’t already.)
There’s a story about perfectionism in David Bayles and Ted Orland’s excellent book, Art & Fear:
The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.
With blogging, I’m not so sure it’s about quantity as much as it’s about frequency: for me, there’s something kind of magical about posting once a day. Good things happen. Something small every day leads to something big. (Seth Godin has championed daily blogging for years—he just passed his 7000th post.)
5) Maybe I’m weird, but it just feels good. It feels good to reclaim my turf. It feels good to have a spot to think out loud in public where people aren’t spitting and shitting all over the place.
Anyways, I hope I can keep it up for as long as possible. Thanks for reading.
Ten years ago I started posting to this blog.
One little blog post is nothing on its own, but publish a thousand blog posts over a decade, and it turns into your life’s work. This blog has been my sketchbook, my studio, my gallery, my storefront, and my salon. Absolutely everything good that has happened in my career can be traced back in some way to this blog. My books, my art shows, my speaking gigs, some of my best friendships—they all exist because I have my own little piece of turf on the Internet.
Thank you for reading. I hope I can go ten more.
Five years ago, today, I made my first post to this blog.
Oddly enough, I’ve been a blogger longer than I’ve been a lot of things, and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about blogging and what’s valuable about it, and why anybody should do it. This interview I did does a good job of covering that ground.
The most important point: I didn’t start a blog because I had something to say. I started a blog because I wanted to find something to say.
Bob Pollard, one of my favorite songwriters, his career started by making up album covers for bands that didn’t exist yet:
Back in high school, maybe 4 or 5 people wanted to be in a band, but nobody knew how to play an instrument. So in art class, we’d sit there and make album covers, and the credits, and I’d have the lyrics, and we’d have everything but music. We even made t-shirts for our band. Walked around, and people’d say, “You guys have a band?” “Yeah, yeah, we’ve got a band!” And no one could play anything. So it started out as kind of a fantasy.
Lynda Barry says, “when you were a kid, you’d never write a book unless you had the book to write it in.”
The idea is that having a container can inspire you to fill it with art.
Whenever I’ve been creatively lost over the past five years, I’ve always come back to the blog, and asked myself, “What can I fill this with?” It’s kept me going, kept me making work.
Best of all, I’ve made really good friends, which, in the end, is the only reason to be here. So thanks, y’all.
This site participates in the Amazon Affiliates program, the proceeds of which keep it free for anyone to read.