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Blogs and blogging Events and Life Social Web Writing

6 December is my Social Anniversaries Day

6 December has become my Social Anniversaries Day! This morning I saw a personalized video celebrating my 10th “Faceversary” (the anniversary of me joining Facebook).

In even bigger news, today is also the 12th anniversary of this blog. I published my first post titled “In the beginning …” on 6 December 2004. At the time this blog was called “Wired Gecko” and it has been through several iterations and used various domain names since then.

In the beginning …

Excluding this post, I have published 3 910 blog posts and have 8 567 comments so far.

Blog status as of 2016-12-06
Milestones

The next major release of WordPress, version 4.7, is also due to launched today too. I’m sure Automattic wasn’t thinking about me when the release date was planned but it’s a nice synchronicity nevertheless.

I’ve been thinking about my blogging again lately. I haven’t always been particularly consistent with how much and when I write but I have been expressing myself through my writing in one medium or another for almost 25 years.

You’re miserable because you’re not writing

I write for many reasons. Sometimes, as I explained in my post titled “You’re miserable because you’re not writing”, I write “because it unblocks the dam of emotion that has built up”. Mostly, I write because I have a strong compulsion to share ideas and interesting things.

"Writing, to me, is the meaning of life"

The more I write, the more I learn and, soon enough, “that all gives way to a wonderful flow that you don’t want to stop so you keep writing to keep the pipes clear and fresh water flowing”.

I write a lot about writing because it is so much a part of how I express myself. My other big outlet is my photography and I tend to swing between writing-intensive and photography-intensive phases. Occasionally, like the last week or so, I am somewhat balanced between the two.

It’s a flow. It comes and goes. That is the nature of my writing and photography. Hopefully I will discover how to bring the two together in the year ahead. I have a feeling that achieving that will uplift both passions and create new opportunities for me.

Here are some of my thoughts on this blog’s 10th anniversary. I think they remain as relevant today as they did two years ago:

This blog began its life under a different domain on 6 December 2004. It has survived in one form or another until now, thanks and no thanks to me. I started my blog after tinkering with blogging back in the primordial days of the social Web when blogging was the New Thing, after interactive fora. Keeping a blog alive for 10 years feels like an achievement. Having 3 527 blog posts under my metaphorical belt (not counting this one) feels like I have made a meaningful contribution towards documenting my life and the things that interest me. It is something worth commemorating.

Image credit: Pixabay

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Mindsets Writing

Facing a blank page

A blank page can be a little intimidating as a writer. Staring at a blank page and being unable to fill it with something intelligible is a common experience of writer’s block, the bane of most writers. I say “most” because there are probably some writers who find the challenge of writer’s block to be just the thing they need to break through it.

I’m not one of those writers.

Lately I’ve realized that despite all the writing that I do in my day job, I don’t do much personal writing. When I realise this and decide to start writing more frequently, I go utterly blank.

Well, that isn’t entirely accurate. I have ideas that I want to write about but they seem to fade awfully quickly and seem silly the next day so I shelve them.

One of my most effective muses when I do write is my collection of feeds and I came across a very appropriate item that I want to share. Brain Pickings has a post titled “Facing the Blank Page: Celebrated Writers on How to Overcome Creative Block” that includes a video with snippets of interviews from various writers about the dreaded blank page:

It is a highlights video drawing on a series of slightly longer interviews with each writer that were published by the Louisiana Channel on YouTube:

I think I resonated most with Philipp Meyer’s and Lydia Davis’ thoughts about the blank page but each interview is worth watching if you, like me, find yourself staring at a blank page frustratingly often.

You can find the Brain Pickings post with selected quotes here:

Facing the Blank Page: Celebrated Writers on How to Overcome Creative Block

Image credit: Pixabay

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Business and work Writing

My strange writing process

My writing process can be a somewhat strange now that I think about it. I have a brief to write new text for a redesigned website and I find myself sitting in front of my screens with my handwritten notes to one side, waiting.

It feels almost as if I can only really begin writing when the more abstract concepts and outlines condense into something more tangible and intelligible. At that point the structure becomes clearer and I can start capturing it all in text that flows.

It reminds me a lot of fantasy movies or TV shows when characters stare at some magical text that transforms from some sort of unintelligible script into plain English text, unlocking some ancient secret (or, more commonly, some terrible Evil that becomes the focus of the rest of the show).

Conditions for entering my Flow State

There are a few ingredients that create a better set of conditions for that transition to a Flow State which is where the magic happens. My starting point is my music choice (today, a selection from Steve Jablonsky’s Transformers and Ender’s Game soundtracks seems to work today).

I almost always write better when I listen to movie or TV soundtracks (the instrumentals).

The next key ingredient is a relatively undisturbed space to process my distractions, procrastinate a little and slip into my Flow State. That one is tricky, especially when I am working in an open office and have colleagues talking to me about ongoing projects.

One way to compensate for a lot of background noise in the office and visual distractions (distractions, generally, are not great for me – as it is my attention tends to be fragmented) is to turn up the music until the music overrides the distractions.

Handwritten notes to ground me

Making handwritten notes is a great way for me to lock in the concepts and flow even though I write almost exclusively on my laptop. There is a lot of research into the benefits of writing on paper as opposed to making notes on a digital device. As much as I have an overwhelming preference for digital, handwritten notes and sketches have become crucial and I carry a spiral notebook with me in my bag.

I think handwritten notes also help me break through any blocks I have about what I am writing about. It’s almost as if writing my notes and drawing little sketches that capture concepts for me help me force through the stubborn membrane of a creative block.

Maybe such a physical medium is essential for me to ground myself so I can connect the abstract with the tangible? It feels like something along those lines.

Building in some procrastination

A more recent realisation is that I will very rarely dive straight into the writing part and sustain it till I have that piece of textual brilliance. I almost always procrastinate and distract myself with something.

Rather than fight it, I’m working to channel it. One way I do that is by writing something different. This post is such an exercise. It helps me release some mental mosquito and start the process of clearing my creative pathways for the Real Work.

A frequent side benefit of this indulgence is that some of the concepts cook away in the recesses of my mind while I’m not focused on them so, when I am done with my distraction, I’m closer to the essence of what I want to work with.

It seems to work for me so far.

At some point, just begin

Of course the one challenge is to just begin at some point. I used to wait for the stars and planets to align before starting to write and that very rarely happens. Even when it does, I was too distracted to notice.

Instead, the thing is to give yourself some flexibility but set a limit. When it feels as if you could keep yourself distracted beyond the point of airing out the room and opening the blinds for some fresh air, you have to sit yourself down and begin. Your first words may be utter rubbish but the main thing is to write them.

I find that as I write, clarity emerges from the text and I can always go back to the earlier stuff and edit it (sounds obvious in retrospect).

Sitting down with the expectation that your first draft will be perfect is a great way to block yourself. Besides, it’s unrealistic, certainly for me. My work often takes shape as I am writing so expecting that the first words that spew out will be creative gems is a sign that I am deluding myself.

On that note, I have some work to do. Tell me about your process. You know, while you are waiting for your on-ramp to your Flow State.

Image credit: Picjumbo

Categories
Creative expression Mindsets

Exhaustion kills creativity

It’s late in my work day and I am exhausted. It is almost serendipitous that I came across an article about how exhaustion kills creativity titled “Creative brains need time off” on the Creative Review blog.

We need the time and space to be able to process the ideas and stimulation that are generated through the workday. Our days are filled with rampant collaboration and idea-generation. But most of us get far too few periods for silence and reflection.

The article reminded me about Rich Mulholland’s blog post titled “The thinking gap” and his argument for creation instead of consumption:

It’s like I can’t bear to sit with my own thoughts for five minutes, whether I’m driving, working, or lying in bed – as soon as my thinking gap starts widening, I open Twitter and Facebook and fill it with other people’s crap.

Their thoughts gain strength by consuming mine.

This has to stop. We need to widen the thinking gap again, we need to resist the putty that fills our brain every time we reach for our phones.

Both articles are great reads. Perhaps not right now though, my brain is falling asleep.

Image credit: Pixabay

Categories
Business and work Mindsets Writing

No distinction between work and play

We often draw a distinction between work and play, especially when it comes to doing “work” we are passionate about. It is pretty easy to reserve your passions for your after hours time. Working hours become the time when you do what you need to do to pay the bills.

Unless, of course, you find work that feels more like play because it is closely related to your passion.

I quoted Seth Godin recently in my post titled “Your calling and meaningful work”. One of the quotes really appealed to me:

It’s not that important where. It matters a lot how. With passion and care.

It resonated with me although I didn’t really explore the idea much further until I read this quote in a Brain Pickings article titled “Ray Bradbury on Failure, Why We Hate Work, and the Importance of Love in Creative Endeavors”:

“A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play,” the French writer Chateaubriand is credited with saying. “He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.”

I watched Neil Gaiman’s 2012 commencement speech at the University of the Arts this morning. One of the many insights he shared was this:

I learned to write by writing. I tended to do anything as long as it felt like an adventure, and to stop when it felt like work, which meant that life did not feel like work.

What struck me when I read each of these pieces of advice (and others I don’t remember right now) is that a better way to approach work is not to see “work” as the necessity to earn money to pay for “passion” and/or “play”. Instead, work should be another opportunity to refine and enrich your passion.

To paraphrase Chateaubriand, pursue your vision of excellence in whatever you do. Sometimes that happens during working hours and sometimes after work. Ideally you have an opportunity to do this during more of those hours than not or those hours are wasted. As Ray Bradbury observed:

I can only suggest that we often indulge in made work, in false business, to keep from being bored. Or worse still we conceive the idea of working for money. The money becomes the object, the target, the end-all and be-all. Thus work, being important only as a means to that end, degenerates into boredom. Can we wonder then that we hate it so?

My day job is to write marketing copy. It is easy to see that work as divergent from the writing I’d rather being doing. The more I think about it, though, even that writing is an opportunity to become a better writer. The more I write and the better I write, well, I become a better writer. Whether I do that during working hours or after hours shouldn’t really matter, as long as I am pursuing my vision of excellence in my writing.

Categories
Business and work Mindsets

Structure stifles creativity

Here is a great quote from BuzzFeed’s Jonah Peretti about structure, autonomy and creativity:

“If everyone is in some highly structured organization, it’s hard for anyone to be creative,” he says. “It’s hard for people to make new things without autonomy and freedom.”

Read “How BuzzFeed’s Jonah Peretti Is Building A 100-Year Media Company” on Fast Company for really interesting insights into BuzzFeed.

Categories
Business and work Creative expression Mindsets

“Margin is breathing room. It’s the opposite of overload.”

Shawn Blanc has an interesting post about something he calls “Margin” (roughly speaking, metaphorical breathing room), titled “Why Margin is Critical for Doing Your Best Creative Work”, which is an important read:

Margin is so important because having that breathing room in your life is healthy. You need margin in your schedule, in your finances, and in your relationships. You need breathing room for your creative energy. Margin helps you show up every day to do and focus on your best creative work. And much more.

He has been writing about Margin for a little while and has collected all his thoughts and other materials in a central repository you should spend some time with if this topic interests you. This idea of building some breathing room into your life to give yourself a buffer between your daily craziness is such a good idea.

I know that I need it. I am not the sort of person who thrives on constant stress and pressure and, if anything, that stifles my creativity and capacity to be productive. Stress now and then is unavoidable but too much of it is utterly destructive.

Image source: Pixabay, released under a CC0 Dedication

Categories
Applications Business and work Creative expression

Those who can’t, PowerPoint

PowerPoint is to agencies and marketers what MS Word is to lawyers – seemingly critical and effective but really a tool that receives far more attention that it deserves. It rapidly becomes a crutch because you can throw some design elements at it and call it “brainstorming”, “prototyping” or, worse, “design”. When I see people preparing notes or something other than a genuine presentation (and perhaps even then), my first thought is a lack of imagination and creativity.

You can imagine my amusement when I read this article by Digiday titled “‘They’re the worst’: Why agencies are trying to kick the PowerPoint habit”:

That’s what they say at 100-person agency Work & Co., anyway. The agency recently banned PowerPoints (and Keynotes, and Prezis), or as every agency staffer inevitably calls them “decks.” Said founder Gene Liebel: “They’re the worst.”

For Work & Co., banning Powerpoint presentations was necessary because the person holding the remote or controlling the presentation dominated the room. “It’s like a lawyer at trial that wants to control everything,” said Liebel. Powerpoint just isn’t collaborative.

Although I still have a fundamental resistance to Microsoft products, there is probably still a legitimate place for PowerPoint (and, grudgingly, Word). That doesn’t mean PowerPoint has to be your go-to tool for everything. Use something more appropriate for what you are trying to communicate. Evernote came up with “Presentation Mode” a couple years ago. It isn’t necessarily the ideal solution but it is a creative alternative that turns Evernote notes into something closer to a presentation deck while preserving a more dynamic form factor. I used it in a workshop once and it worked fairly well.

I say all this as someone who has given a number of presentations at conferences and my weapon of choice has been Keynote. It worked well enough but there are ways to use it effectively and ways to make a complete mess of it all. I’m not entirely sure where my decks wound up on that continuum but I like to think I did more things correctly than not. At the same time, with all the tools we have available to us, there are so many other ways to present ideas and concepts as well as more effective ways to collaborate.

To be sure, agencies are a bit late to the game. Almost three years ago, physicists working on the Large Hadron Collider in the U.S. banned the use of the presentation software. Jeff Bezos famously banned it at Amazon two years ago; and Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, eliminated presentations at the company in 2013 and asked people to send meeting materials 24 hours in advance instead.

At Work & Co., Liebel said clients are thankful for the change since it enabled them to work with the agency on an ongoing basis without presentations stemming the flow of content, marketing or even ideas. The agency is leaning more heavily on showing proof of concept, whether through prototypes or simply more discussions.

It all comes down to sharing ideas, doesn’t it? Find better way to do that. Friends don’t let friends PowerPoint (if they can help it).

Image credit: Earth Day Presentation by NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre, licensed CC BY 2.0