Category: Meta

June 13th, 2013

This blog post has been deleted three times in the past five days. Each time, it was close – close to being publishable, which is ridiculous, because anything is publishable. I have a blog. I have a submit button. I can make anything live.

But I don’t. Instead, I try again. I stop. I rewrite. I kill my darlings through massacre. We’re having a fire sale. Everything must go.

Internal Monologue

We read a lot. Every day. It’s paralyzing to see the amount of emotionally charged and culturally relevant writing that gets poured onto the web each day, each author with a unique voice, each piece an original place.

It’s hard not to want to be involved. It’s even harder to be involved. Because now that writing you used to love has shifted from leisure to benchmark. When you care so strongly about writing something amazing, it’s impossible to see other great writing as anything but necessary competition.

I have always been jealous of the writers for sites like The Pastry Box Project, who are asked to bare their souls to an audience eager for enlightenment, where raw emotion is turned into life lesson. I’m jealous for how easy they make it look. But this ain’t easy, people: the line between navel gazing self-flagellation and genuine personal insight is thin. It’s stepped over and brushed aside and it takes a genuine voice to keep things civil and free from pity.

Some of us try and fail. Not because we can’t do it, but because our internal monologue – familiar with this specific brand of personal emotion – says its all tired and go ahead just stop because jeez you’d be happier just eating another grilled cheese sandwich.

I’m one of these people. This is where the self-flagellation starts.

On Fear

My writer’s block story is typical, boring and expected. Yet, it feels like a revelation to me – a classic case of forests and trees and not being able to see either for the blindfold.

For me, writing was never supposed to be about visibility. It was my way of making sense of things. I wrote because I wanted to. I wrote because it felt like a skill I could take advantage of.

But somewhere along the way, I became visible. I struck gold. Once. The audience expanded, and my work was thrust into the public. I became more careful. I started thinking things through. I saw my audience – you, the public – and I wrote consciously, with purpose. I tried to write things that would hit people emotionally. Then, I stopped writing anything but emotionally. I questioned each new piece as relevant. I didn’t write anything that wasn’t meant to strike a chord. I fact-checked too much. I threw away every idea as superfluous. I stopped having fun.

I stopped having fun.

I had answers for every situation. People don’t want to read some whiny kid talk about feelings, so I won’t do that anymore. People don’t want to read about sports, or music, so I won’t do that anymore. People don’t want to read about boring dad things, so I won’t do that anymore.

As my small scope of influence grew, I found myself less willing to offer any real kind of influence. I went safe, or I didn’t go at all.

The larger the audience, the more I withdrew. The riskier the subject, the more I held back. Which brings us to where I am today: I’ve stopped saying what I want, and I’ve started being afraid of being wrong.

I am afraid of being wrong. I am afraid of being trivial. I am afraid of publishing something that will be seen as unsatisfactory.

So I publish nothing at all.

The New Rules

When I started this blog in 2005, I did so as a hobby. I was going to teach myself to write by writing every day. The daily publishing routine kept me honest and kept me thinking – every topic was worthwhile as long as it interested me. As long as it fueled some kind of passion.

Somewhere along the way, I forgot what I was doing here. I forgot who my audience was.

That audience was always me.

And, as pedantic as it sounds, I am those things I stopped writing about. I am a whiny dude with feelings. I love basketball and music. I love my kids. These are major parts of my life, and I can write about them if I want to.

But I can also write about things that make me angry. I can state my immediate feelings without worrying about which people feel differently. I can write small posts about whatever the hell I want, because damn it why shouldn’t I?

Starting today, I’m becoming the audience again.

I will write for you, yes. I will write for you because I like you. I want you to like me. I won’t make that a secret. We all want to be liked.

But if you don’t, that’s no big deal anymore. That’s not the point.

Sorry in advance. Things might get a little noisier over here.

Category: Blogging, Meta, Writing

May 14th, 2013

My greatest flaw is my memory. I’d wager that it’s our greatest flaw as a species. Our inability to remember certain things. The stress and hurt and confusion that comes from those lapses in memory.

Life in Folders

It’s because of my memory – and in spite of my memory, probably – that I found such affinity with the web: its organization, its structure, its ability to remember everything. Technology has replaced the sticky parts of our memory with a kind of semi-permanent record – a rolodex, a record collection, a calendar, a life connected by data and stored in a mythical cloud.

That’s good, right? Or are we losing something by depending on artificial knowledge like this?

The fine people at Offscreen Magazine asked me to write about something – anything – and this is what I landed on. It’s about photography. It’s about information architecture. It’s about my faulty memory. It’s about organization, its place in our life, and why it matters.

It’s one of the things I’m most proud of, too, this short essay.

You can’t read it online – not yet. When Issue 6 goes live, I’ll post “Life in Folders” for you. But out of respect for the magazine – and because, seriously, this magazine is fantastic and you should just buy it already because Nicole Jones‘ very short but very awesome thank you letter to the web is everything I’ve wanted to say for a long time – you’ll just have to purchase it or wait a bit.

It’s worth the purchase. I hope it’s worth the wait.

Category: Meta, Writing

February 19th, 2013

Writing is not inexhaustible, just as any creative skill is not inexhaustible. We can run out of words. This is a writer’s way of knowing that it’s time to stop – that nothing else is going to come of this, and that the cup of hot tea is more important than pushing the issue.

Looks like I’ve run out over the past few months.

Yet, there’s nothing that warns us about this. Call it fatigue – the fatigue that comes from writing for work and writing a column and writing about an industry – or call it blind fear – the fear that comes from making deadlines about very large projects. It’s bound to happen.

The words stop.

It’s a battle to make them start again. But they have to start somewhere.

I know. This writing about writing schtick gets tired, but it’s also how some people break out of the doldrums. When every possible post looks like an unscalable wall, the only thing that breaks through writer’s block is talking about writer’s block.

So forgive me for this writer’s block. If you’re still around, your patience will be rewarded – even if only a little bit at a time.

Category: Meta, Writing

September 20th, 2012

Over the past month, I’ve started a side project with help from the local Argus Leader called Beer I’ve Been Drinking, a more alcoholic version of the old book articles I used to write on this site. Back when I used to read books. Back when I used to read anything, really.

An excerpt from my most recent article about Autumn Brew Review:

Surly Brewing’s line is a two-headed snake, one serving a combination of standard drafts and old favorites, while the other releases special offerings every hour. I skipped their lines the first few times I walked by because I don’t hate myself enough to spend a half hour staring at the back of some guy’s Schell’s hat, but since I now realize I might miss out on the always popular fresh-hopped Surly Wet, I take a chance.

The line’s running smooth. It’s fast. I got some Wet (it is wonderful) and now find myself in the second line, where I finally get to try Surly’s yearly numerical-themed big beer, SŸX. SŸX is also wonderful, except now I’m saying “wonderful” like someone might offhandedly say “sure” to a new car or a million dollars. Syx is beyond wonderful. It’s complex, tart and delicious.

At the Great Lakes booth, I sample the Rye of the Tiger – a rye beer that’s classy and fresh. I love it. It’s getting hot, and I’m impatient. I want to try something they’re tapping at 2:00, so I jokingly ask the guy behind the booth if he could tap it a bit early. He reminds me that the festival’s only been going for 50 minutes.

I realize what this means. I go look for some food.

Between that and a recent design refresh and addition of media queries to make this site look much better on mobile devices, the word flow has been quieted. That will change.

Until then, read about beer. I like to drink it, but I like to write about it even more. For now.

Category: Meta, Writing

August 24th, 2011

I don’t find a quiet room. I don’t grab a cup of tea. Instead, I cram. I think of an idea, I email it to myself to remember later, and I sit down to write when I have time.

Honestly, I’ve never understood the pains some people go to in order to write. The planning. The organizing. The ritual. I’m sure it’s important, and billions of best sellers prove that it’s working for someone, but it just doesn’t work for me.

There’s no routine, for me. This is how I write.

This Is How I Write

I start with an idea. The idea never comes when I want it to. It comes at a random time, and that’s why a routine doesn’t work.

Usually, I jot the idea down. I email it to myself. Then, I put it on my to-do list. If I don’t put it on my to-do list, the idea might as well have never happened.

Next: when I have time, I write.

That’s all.

I know, right? Because writing is this prickly, amorphous tangle of emotion and fear and all of that.

Truth is, I just write. I just start something. If I finish, I finish. If I don’t, I wait until the next day. The issue isn’t the process – it’s about getting over the blank page, starting to write a few words, and ending up on a roll.

The tools

Today is my first day using a traditional text editor to write a blog post. I’m using BBEdit, and I’ve imported my blog’s stylesheet so I can see how it looks in realtime. My goal is to take it one step further, implementing Gruber’s Markdown syntax to create a simple and effective process toward writing my posts in HTML, making transfer to this blog more logical.

Before this, I was an unabashed Microsoft Word fan. What changed? A need for simplicity, first off, and a need for something that I could transfer from site to site. The copy/paste/format/code routine seemed so archaic, as if I was still trying to start a fire with sparks and leaves while a butane lighter sat just inches away.

I jot ideas into Evernote, but typically I use email to remind myself. My to-do list is Things, which I love, and I sketch more complex ideas into a Moleskin.

I used to use ultra-fine Sharpie pens, but they bleed through my current knock-off Moleskin. So I’ve switched to Energel Liquid Gel Ink pens from Pentel. They’re great.

Why does this matter?

It doesn’t.

Seriously. This does not matter.

This routine is mine. It’s not even a routine. It’s barely a list of actionable steps – it’s more like a random list of unactionable drivel.

I write the way I write and you write the way you write. Creativity. Analysis. Creation of any kind. These are not things that can be summed up in a 15,000-hit eHow page, or on a search marketing blog, or even person to person.

I mentioned this in my methodology post over at Eating Elephant: you create your own system by trying and failing and adapting and trying again. Because what I do will not work for you. What you do will not work for me. All we can do with each other is make suggestions, push each other harder, and remember that nothing creative is done in terms of black and white.

By all means, try my method. Try lots of methods. And take the things that work forward to create your own method.

July 5th, 2011

Once again, I was asked by Scott Hudson to guest co-host his podcast, The Ledge. This time, I brought a theme: mid- and late-90s emo, back in the days when emo wasn’t such a dirty word. The show, which is available on iTunes or via Scott’s post, was pretty fun.

So y’all should go listen to it. We talk about basketball and The Monkees and old Pomp Room shows and we maybe even kind of get into emo music a little bit.

The playlist for The Ledge, Episode 78: Corey Vilhauer’s Defense of Emo:

  1. Sunny Day Real Estate – “47” (Diary, Sub Pop 1994)
  2. Engine Kid – “Windshield” (Angel Wings, Revelation 1994)
  3. Elliott – “Calm Americans” (False Cathedrals, Revelation 2000)
  4. Mineral – “Gloria” (The Power of Failing, Epitaph 1997)
  5. Split Lip – “Street Singer” (Fate’s Got a Driver, Doghouse 1995)
  6. Rainer Maria – “Broken Radio” (Look Now Look Again, Polyvinyl 1999)
  7. Jejune – “Morale is Low” (This Afternoon’s Malady, Big Wheel Recreation 1998)
  8. Braid – “First Day Back” (Frame and Canvas, Polyvinyl 1998)
  9. The Promise Ring – “Is This Thing On?” (Nothing Feels Good, Jade Tree Records 1997)
  10. The Blacktop Cadence – “Cold Night in Virginia” (The Emo Diaries, Chapter 2, Deep Elm 1998)
  11. Samiam – “Ordinary Life” (The Emo Diaries, Chapter 1, Deep Elm 1997)
  12. Piebald – “Grace Kelly with Wings” (If it Weren’t for Venetian Blinds it Would Be Curtains For Us All, Big Wheel Recreation 1999)
  13. The Anniversary – “The D in Detroit” (Designing a Nervous Breakdown, Vagrant 2000)
  14. Reggie and the Full Effect – “Girl, Why’d You Run Away?” (Greatest Hits 1984-1987, Vagrant 1999)
  15. Jets to Brazil – “The Frequency” (Perfecting Loneliness, Jade Tree 2002)
  16. Jimmy Eat World – “Thinking, That’s All” (Static Prevails, Capitol 1996)
  17. The Get Up Kids – “Alec Eiffel” (Where Is My Mind? A Tribute to the Pixies, Glue Factory Records 1999)
  18. Seven Storey Mountain – “So Soon” (Based on a True Story, Jade Tree 2000)
  19. Texas is the Reason – “The Magic Bullet Theory” (Do You Know Who You Are?, Revelation 1995)

Category: Meta, Music

May 24th, 2011

Hey, you guys. Remember back in November when I said I was starting a content strategy blog and that I was pretty excited about it?

Well, I started a content strategy blog. And I’m pretty excited about it.

What are you waiting for? Go visit Eating Elephant. And learn about content strategy, you nerd.