If you enjoy this kind of thing, I dished about four other tools last year.
People worry so much about people being angry at them or doing the wrong thing, but obscurity can be this great gift. You can experiment. It’s a kind of freedom. Now, unlimited freedom can be very paralyzing, too. Freedom is not necessarily the best thing ever for art; there’s a tension between freedom and constraint out of which great art arises. Obscurity can be a real gift if you use it correctly.
You can listen to the whole thing here:
Related reading: a message to graduates
“If you’re going to tell people the truth, be funny or they’ll kill you.”
Statistically, I say “no” to almost all podcast requests. I say “no,” not because I hate recording podcasts, but because I love recording podcasts. You see, I am the rare extroverted writer, and I would much rather talk than write, and I could easily fill most of my afternoons with recording podcasts and never write anything again.
When I do say “yes” to a podcast, my policy is one of candor, of being as straightforward, honest, and frank as I can. I’m not sure if this moves as many units as sticking to talking points, but it’s a helluva lot more fun, and I figure if we’re going to talk for an hour, let’s try to get somewhere interesting.
Life is very short, and we are all very tired. We are especially tired, I think, of not just being lied to, but of hearing people talk like they’ve run everything through their own public relations department. I don’t think it’s just me, but when I hear someone tell the truth these days, I feel a jolt of electricity that makes me feel alive.
Maybe that’s lofty talk from a short man, but there you have it.
Tomorrow I’m talking to Jessica Abel, which will be recorded as a live podcast with Q&A from the audience, so my candor might get me into more trouble than usual.
Register here. Watch the replay here.
I had a long, lovely chat with doctor and YouTuber Ali Abdaal this week. He read my book Show Your Work! in 2016 and said it inspired him to start sharing online. (He now has over a million subscribers and makes more money as a YouTuber than a doctor!)
One of the topics from the book we discussed is how much you learn when you have the courage to share what you have learned, regardless of your level of expertise.
It was certainly true of our conversation, as I learned something really interesting from Ali: he says he gets way better results with his YouTube videos when he titles them, “How I Remember Everything I Read,” instead of “How to Remember Everything You Read.” There’s something about using the first-person pronoun that opens things up, lets him speak from his own experience, and lets viewers feel like they can take what they need and do their own thing.
Stop worrying about becoming an expert before you start. Teaching that comes from a fellow student is often more impactful than teaching from an expert. C.S.Lewis once said “fellow schoolboys can teach fellow students just as effectively as the teacher”. It’s the difference between saying ‘I’m an expert and I’m going to teach you something’, and saying ‘I’m a fellow student and I’m going to share what I’ve learnt and maybe you can take something from this’.
By his own account, Quah’s actual qualifications for taking on the role of public thinker on podcasting were nil. He’d never made a podcast, had no background in radio or audio media of any kind. In fact, he was not long out of college and a few months into his first media job, an entry-level gig at Business Insider that he describes as closer to market research than journalism. He was basically some random guy with a new off-hours hobby…. Within a couple years of starting his newsletter, this random guy was able to quit his day job and become, for lack of a better word, a full-time expert…
Rob writes, “More than ever, expertise seems to have become a DIY affair; strategic and determined obsession can replace specific credentials or a tangible track record.”
Again, it’s not about being credentialed or being an expert, it’s about seeing a space open up, starting to do work that needs doing, sharing your ideas, and sticking around long enough so people show up and you can interact with them in a meaningful way and build something lasting.
Part of this is also forgetting about job titles and focusing on the work that should be done. Here’s a brief clip from a longer conversation I had with Nelda Sue Yaw about an idea from my book Keep Going:
The crucial thing, I think, is that if you do get the job title, if you do become something like an “expert” or “professional” in your field, you must retain an amateur’s spirit and remain a student, so that you can benefit from the best thing about having your work out in world: the “free education that goes on for a lifetime.”
I work all day with words so I have to set aside special time to listen to podcasts the way other people probably have to make time to read.
This morning I made this trash collage out of scraps on my desk while listening to Marc Maron’s wrenching monologue and wonderful interview with the late filmmaker Lynn Shelton. (So sad. My condolences to her people.)
“Every time we make a thing, it’s a tiny triumph” is a line somebody wrote me in a letter. It’s the truth.
It’s not like I was holding that much back before — unfortunately, I tend to do my thinking out loud — but for better or worse, I’ve been more candid than usual in recent interviews. I don’t know what’s brought it about, really, other than: Being truthful and open feels really good, but even more than that, it’s not boring. So many podcasts are so boring and who wants to be boring? I’m also just genuinely happy and relaxed right now, so, I dunno, I just don’t feel like bullshitting. (You’d think the opposite would be true? That I’d have more patience for bullshitting now that I’m happy and relaxed? Life is weird.)
My interview with Jonathan Small on Write About Now:
Filed under: interviews
To quote Tristan Tzara, “thought is produced in the mouth.” Only an extrovert or a poet would say that, and, unfortunately, I’m both. Sometimes I don’t know quite what I think until I say it. (And often what I say out loud is articulated much better in the books.)
Here’s a part of our conversation about what I saw on book tour that I was happy to see highlighted:
“People are anxious about feeling like they should be doing more. Information is not their problem. A lot of these people that I meet, they’ve read all the blogs, bought all the books, and they know they’re supposed to get up and do their three morning pages and share something every day. They know they’re supposed to write down their dreams and thoughts and do their bullet journal. They know they’re supposed to be doing this stuff, but what they really need is someone to just take them aside and remind them this is supposed to be fun. This work we’re talking about isn’t about running an Etsy shop. It’s about like feeling like a human being. It’s hippie stuff like that people really need someone in my position to share. They need someone to say, ‘I watched three hours of Justified last night.’ You would be amazed how many nights I spend drinking whiskey and watching reruns of my favorite shows. The purpose of this work is not to build a side hustle. It’s about being a human being, and there are just so many people out there right now that just need a little bit of affirmation.”
On a sidenote, it was good to visit the Texas Monthly office, too, because they gave me one of my first reviews almost a decade ago.
To promote Keep Going, I spent the past two weeks recording podcasts all afternoon, so here’s a little roundup of the first ones to post.
1. I was totally flattered to be the first male guest invited on the Crafty Ass Female podcast. We talked about a bunch of stuff, but my favorite part of the conversation was when we talked about how feminism is the way out of the nightmare of being a man. (A strong belief of mine!)
2. Had a great time talking to the fellas on the He Shoots, He Draws podcast.
3. Enjoyed chatting again with The Kindle Chronicles. Len excerpted this bit:
“When I first started out, if you had told me that my books were going to be shelved in Self Help, I would never have believed you. And when I first got started I had no idea there was such a thing as an illustrated gift book. I just didn’t know that those genres existed in publishing. The really fun thing for me about doing this kind of book is that it allows me to be as weird as I want to be in a mainstream format. That is the great gift that these books have given to me.”
This is going to be one candid book tour, lemme tell you!
A week or ago I talked to Danny Gregory (author of books like Art Before Breakfast and An Illustrated Life) in anticipation of my keynote at SketchKon in November. We talked about a variety of things: the power of paper, banker’s boxes, my notebooks, paper monuments to human effort, David Sedaris, something small every day, Thoreau, collage, zines, finding your voice, etc. Listen here.