Category: Writing

April 18th, 2017

I’ve read Stephen King’s On Writing, like everyone else.

It bummed me out.

This post originally appeared March 21st, 2017, as part of SuperYesMore’s series “The Human in the Machine”.

This is a writer with a marksman’s ability to sit, focus, and write. Not just write, but create – worlds, intertwined, 800 pages long, one after another – not in that Danielle Steele way, but in a way you totally respect – and BOOM there’s another book, and there’s another, and there’s another.

And so I tried it.

I made a special time to write. It happened for three days. I’ve tried it over and over since then, with the same result.

I tried giving myself a word count. I’ve tried creating a project that might drive me. I’ve tried and I’ve failed and I’ve tried and I’ve failed and now I’m just tired.

So.

Productivity.

We Gotta Go, Gotta Get the Job Done

Here a few things at which I’ve failed.

I failed the 43 Folders method. I failed because my tasks don’t always line up into single-day voyages. They are multi-faceted, and they depend on other people for feedback, and they float here and there, dependent upon priority. And after a few weeks of shifting papers around, I realized 43 Folders wasn’t going to work.

I failed at Getting Things Done, because (though I love the Omnifocus system as an over-complicated reminder system) the time spent trying to break down large projects into smaller tasks was better spent adjusting on the fly when the process needed some on-the-fly adjusting.

I failed at Pomodoro, because Pomodoro is not conducive to an open floor plan. It’s also not conducive to a home with curious children, or a coffee shop with a few too many distractions, or any type of work that requires a chunk longer than 20 minutes.

I fail at most productivity methods because my mind, while well versed in overanalyzing and over-categorizing, is not set correctly for rigidity.

This is my struggle. All I want in life is for things to line up correctly, and I realize they never will. I seek what I may never have.

And so I was obsessed with productivity for a bit. And so I tried everything. And it never helped.

There’s A Million Things I Haven’t Done.

Here are the things I understand.

I understand that the concept of productivity is designed to help us make the most of our working hours so that those working hours don’t spill into our non-working hours; to use our time wisely when it’s wisest to use it, and to leave no strings attached when it’s time to let go.

I understand that most productivity models are focused on tasks, with break times in between. They focus the mind during certain points, and allow for space in between our beats – they introduce white space, and they create fertile thinking.

I also understand that most productivity methods are designed for very specific jobs. For careers that allow total immersion, that can Pomodoro their way toward a better solution. Follow my plan toward glowing health. Debbie Drake your way to a new future.

It’s that last paragraph that allowed me to exhale. Because I’ve read a Debbie Drake book, and it’s not really that helpful, to be quite honest.

In understanding the rigidity of most productivity models – models created by specific people in specific jobs and adopted by well-intentioned industries as a solution for their very similar jobs – I finally understood the quandary of modern productivity: that the methods that get named and praised and raised on high … they don’t really account for, you know…

…differences.

Funny, that. Seems a common thread among widely-adopted systems these days.

You. Me. We all work differently. And bouncing from method to method is akin to trying a new fad diet, or exercise routine. The best one might be out there, but in the process we begin to forget what makes us unique. What helps our minds work. Instead, we just try to fit.

I Am Inimitable, I Am An Original.

Stephen King has a solid method. It works for him.

But the entire time I read his book, I questioned him. Every chapter, I doubted him. Every sentence, I felt further from the truth. I needed one answer.

“What happens if I’m not you?”

Productivity? Good luck. My mind is a mess, as is the mind of most people I know, because minds are messy and so is our work and so is life.

I’m not worried about it anymore, because even though sometimes I stress and sometimes I give up and sometimes I wonder why the hell I can’t stop all of my bad habits, I still get the work done. I use my flaws to further my productivity. And it’s a weird magic.

And so I don’t worry about myself.

I don’t worry about myself, because I am myself, and there’s nothing I can do to change it. I work around it.

I’ve worked around myself for a lot of things. I will never be as perfect as a productivity model assumes. So I adapt. I create. In the way that I can. And it works for all of us, because it’s real.

It’s me.

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August 10th, 2016

It has been roughly eighteen months since I wrote something more original than an anniversary post, specifically for Black Marks on Wood Pulp.

I have a hard time letting go. This blog gave me my first break as a writer, and I hold it dear to my heart. I always mean to write for it, and for that reason I will never abandon it for something less than my own – something like a generic Medium account, you know.

Oh, except, yeah.

Writing is a hard thing to do, and I will end that there because anyone who writes knows that and anyone who doesn’t write probably grasps that because, as writers, we always make sure everyone knows that, yes, writing is a hard thing to do. For that reason, I took on a project.

It’s called Kallax 365. 365 as in every day in a year. Kallax as in the shelf you buy at IKEA because you want to store records.

It’s self-indulgent. Here’s the introduction post, where I say “this is self-indulgent.”

It’s about records, in that I take one record a day, alphabetically from my Discogs collection, and write something that’s inspired by that record. But it’s also not about records, because writing about records is boring.

This is where I’ll be for the most part for the next year. This blog will not go away. In fact, I will likely take the best posts and save them over here, because like the good tinfoil blogger I am I assume my posts won’t live long at Medium, because Medium is at the whims of its owners and they could disappear in a second.

Go read about records. I promise I won’t be a stranger. I’m sorry if your RSS reader deleted me.

lol right whats an rss reader amirite

Thanks for checking in. See you elsewhere. See you soon.

Category: Meta, Music, Writing

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October 12th, 2015

1.

It took me a while to understand the concept of a minimum viable product.

I spent my summers with my grandfather, who taught me that nothing’s worth doing if you can’t do it right. Perfect. I learned discipline, and that discipline involved working until things were done.

This post originally appeared October 5th, 2015, as part of The Pastry Box Project.

Not until they were okay. Until things were done.

My grandfather was an army recruiter. He was a store owner. He cut his own firewood and stacked it perfectly. He fixed small engines.

He wasn’t obsessive – he understood that sometimes, things CAN’T be perfect. But the solution was easy: he simply didn’t bother with those things.

He didn’t know what a minimum viable product was. I’m not sure he’d ever understand it, either.

2.

I have promised everyone I know that I am going to start writing a book. But, to be perfectly honest, I don’t want to. I’m scared as hell.

I’m not worried about whether or not I have anything to say. I’m worried about whether or not I can say it all. That I’ll forget something. That it will go to print incomplete.

These are real fears, because I no longer live in a world where I have to worry about this. On the web, mistakes can be fixed. There is no print run; no proof sheets or air date. The web is rolled out a bit at a time. Mistakes aren’t remembered. They’re just fixed.

A book, though. Those mistakes are there until the next edition. If there is a next edition at all.

3.

My fields – content strategy and information architecture – can be approached from a hundred different angles. I approach it from the library science angle, because I identify with the completeness and organization of that angle.

Those of us who cherish the library sciences have difficulty with minimum viable product, because when you are organizing and cataloging books and files and content, you do so to completion. The idea that there are things on the edges can be maddening.

Which is why I had to teach myself, little by little, to accept close enough. And I suck at it.

But that’s the web.

4.

Minimum viable product can be learned. We all have things that we let slide for reasons of a faster launch. Despite my perfectionism with document design and kitchen cleanliness, I fail miserably with self-editing. I want every thought to be correct, but I can’t be bothered to make sure the words are spelled correctly.

It’s a twisted way of writing, and it comes from the pull of perfection: I know, as a writer, that I will sit on something until it has withered away, so I force myself to post fast and loose.

It’s maddening to me. But, if I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t have anything to show for the hours I spend. This is one little thing I do to counteract perfectionism. It’s one small step toward minimum viable product.

5.

I’ve learned two things since working on the web.

First, sometimes, good enough is good enough.

Second, that first thing only makes sense if you understand there’s always room to go back and make good enough a little better.

I still suck at it. I hope I can change. I’m not sure I can. So I have to just fight for progress, learning a bit at a time what good enough really means.

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July 12th, 2015

Because writing is hard, and because thinking is hard, and because being on point all the time is hard, I sometimes have days where nothing gets done. Where I sit at my desk and spin my wheels for hours. Where I have to check the fridge every 20 minutes as if it was going to change. Where I no longer battle with the idea that I’m totally unqualified to do anything related to this industry – I know I’m unqualified.

This post originally appeared July 5th, 2015, as part of The Pastry Box Project.

At the end of these days, the drive home sucks. I wasted this day.

It’s this thought that gives me fuel – the shame of realizing that I could have just fought through it, that writer’s block and procrastination won the battle. My energy level increases and I look for small victories.

I clean the house. I do the dishes. I organize the bookshelf. I take care of things I’ve been letting go. I answer some smaller emails. I do something. And doing something helps.

I’ll never get the day back. I’ll never stop procrastination and writer’s block. But the small victories help, and I know that tomorrow will be better.

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February 21st, 2015

When it comes to web origin stories, I usually tune out. They’re often studies in longevity, attempting to give credence to the idea of experience over expertise, written to prove Original Gangsta status.

This is not that kind of origin story. This is not about experience. This is not about proving myself.

This is just a story about a blog.

1

To be clear, my actual web origin story begins in 1997, when I got to college and had access to a neighbor’s laptop, but for purposes of this post let’s assume it started exactly ten years ago. Well, ten years and one day, to be totally exact.

I had failed at being a teacher; after four years of college and two years of on-and-off substitute teaching, I gave up. I floated into call center management, and while I was making more than I would have otherwise made as a new teacher, it wasn’t by much. I had no direction. What I had wanted to be when I grew up wasn’t actually what I wanted to do anymore. Where do you go from there?

But I liked writing. I discovered that, at least, thanks to hours of downtime during late-night shifts at the call center. And I liked the internet. We all did.

So one evening I asked my co-worker – the one who made websites on the side – if he could help me set up a blog.

And on February 20, 2005, I launched cdub.driscocity.com.

2

I stole a quote from an author I’ve still never read. “The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story.”

I was going to be a writer. An author. I was going to use this to hone my craft and publish things, to place my words into the domain of public criticism and learn from my bruises. I wrote about books and I wrote about music and I wrote about sports. I wrote for my friends, because that’s all who knew about it, and then I wrote for my state because the South Dakota Blogosphere was a small place and it was easy to be noticed.

We were a small club. We drew lines and started specializing. Politics over there. Sports over here. I was the one who wrote about whatever was on my mind – ramblings from a late-20s ex-punker.

I became an advertising copywriter, and I shifted direction. I started being more selective and deliberate. I gave myself challenges – writing about every Sioux Falls Skyforce home game we attended, or writing each month about the books I was reading – and I started looking inside.

I was prolific, then I wasn’t. I wrote about kids. I wrote about death. I wrote about careers. And then I wrote about myself. About adjustment, learning, being a better person.

I wasn’t a blogger. It was never my main focus. It was just a thing I did when I needed an outlet, and it helped me work through things before I dove in too deep. I don’t write to communicate – I write to discover, the process itself helping me figure out just what the hell I’m trying to say.

If I’d have had a blog when I was learning to be a teacher, I might not have wasted those years wandering down the wrong path. I might have found my passion a little earlier in life. But that’s the past.

3

We take it for granted now, this ability to set up your own piece of real estate on the internet, especially with how easy it’s become. You may not fully own it – you may just rent it from Facebook or Medium or Twitter – but it is your sandbox. It’s whatever you want it to be. That still amazes me.

What amazes me even more is when someone takes that sandbox and builds it into something more. I was never going to be that someone. I was always going to be someone who used and ignored.

It’s still amazing to me that I was ever able to get my shit together enough to do it. That I was ever able to actually create something that I could get use out of. That’s not me. Or, at least, it wasn’t.

4

Somehow, it worked. Every small advancement in my career is due in some small part because I started a blog.

I used my blog to get a gig as a book columnist.

I used my blog to get my first paid assignments at the local paper.

I used my blog to show I could succeed as an unproven copywriter.

I used my blog to gain a larger audience through 9rules.

I used my blog to reach out to those in the local web community.

I used my blog to meet the person who would give me a chance as a web person.

I used my blog to write a love letter to content strategy.

I used my blog to prove myself, to gush endlessly about my future, to be embarrassing naive and learn from my mistakes, to gain the confidence to speak out, to take every single step from being a failed teacher to a happy and content web strategist.

I used my blog to find my voice, and in doing so I found my calling.

5

I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. And most of them can be found somewhere on this blog. Every misstep, each overeager blurt, every weird phase I’ve passed through on the way to something more stable and useful.

And, yet, I’ve done a lot of good. That’s all in here, too. I’ve written things that helped people – helped myself, to be honest. It’s weird to me, still. But it happened.

I don’t write here as much anymore, but when I do I hope to make it count. I hope that you’ve found something worthwhile in it – somewhere in this weird collection of 1,473 posts. And even if you haven’t, there’s always the future.

Happy 10th birthday, Black Marks on Wood Pulp. Thanks for all you’ve done.

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February 4th, 2015

Here’s a bit of truth.

Time is limited. The things we want to do require time, and that time is not infinite. Our bad habits take time. Moving from place to place takes time. Sleep takes time. Eating. Sulking. Living. Ambition. It all takes time.

Aspirations, however. They don’t take a lot of time. They just require an active mind. Aspirations lead to great things. Aspirations lead to groundbreaking projects and pure joy and unbridled excitement.

Aspirations are timeless.

Putting them into reality, though. That takes time.

The value of those aspirations, the quality of our eating and sulking and living, the strength of our ambition – these things are all varied. They can all be debated and fought over. But time is limited. That much is truth.

I’ll go on.

A Problem

Over the past decade, I’ve seen a pattern in the people I respect.

They look for good. They admit when they’re wrong. They challenge things, and they further great causes – and when they can’t, they support those who can. They get less prolific, but they get more focused. Quality over quantity. Signal vs. noise.

They don’t feel the need to be everywhere at once. They admit when they’re overwhelmed. They balance their life. They make time for the right things.

They know when to disengage.

Me, however? I was having a hard time disengaging. I was part of the mid-00s blogosphere. I found a voice before I had learned moderation, and I loved being a part of something so big that I couldn’t bear to lose it. I was too afraid to disengage.

I wanted to connect with everyone. In doing so, I never formed a real connection with anyone. I pinned things in maps.

Some of those pins were valuable. They became friendships.

Some of those pins were redundant. They were my existing support, and they’d have been there without the map.

Some of those pins angered me. They angered me with their assumptions. With their transparent lousiness. With their pretentiousness. Things you can’t comment about on the internet, because even the most well meaning grapes seem sour when spelled out in 140 characters.

But the pins that angered me stayed on my board out of obligation. If you ask me what I’m most embarrassed about in the past five years, it’s that I kept my friends close, but I kept my unrelated annoyances even closer.

A Solution

I have aspirations, and those aspirations require action, and that action requires time, and I was spending too much time was spent wondering how in the hell that person has the nerve to be so transparently arrogant and why is this person actively channeling what seems like an overly sexist and naive line of thinking and oh my god I can see through the mindlessness and carelessness of this messaging so why can’t anyone else.

My aspirations were taken hostage by people who I thought I needed to care about. There was so much noise.

And then I had a weird and obvious moment of clarity, when everything came together – a few minutes after a rant about someone I barely know on a social network I barely liked. That’s when my friend Eileen asked a simple question.

“Why don’t you stop following that person?”

I mean…

Well…

So I did.

An Action

I unfollowed one. And then another.

Every time someone would raise my ire, I would examine that ire. Is this a one-time disagreement? Or is this just another in a long line of things that I’m irrationally angry about, another drop in the bucket of a relationship that, while beneficial or important in some superficial way, is ultimately bound for failure.

If I found myself getting frustrated over and over again? I unfollowed them.

I left Facebook altogether, which meant I left Foursquare. I left Timehop. I left everything that was tied to Facebook, and with that noise cancelled I began looking further out. I stopped worrying about everyone else.

I started worrying about me. Not selfishly, but practically.

And, with the support and backing of my friends and family, I have transformed that worrying into productivity. No longer comparing, fuming, fighting fights that weren’t worth winning. So much more time to do the things I love. So much more peace.

Change came not from new insights, but from the absence of some old ones.

A Resurgence

I have started writing again. I have started booking speaking engagements. I was on a year hiatus that, in some part, was fueled by the frustration of being a part of a toxic rat race of being The Most Right.

I am thankful that I am still an unknown entity, because I can use Twitter to my own specifications, unencumbered by random responses and thread-jacking.

Most of all, I’m thankful that I can somehow balance being both unapologetic and deliberate. That I can let go of someone and not care. That I can give myself space. That I can turn things down without guilt.

I have aspirations, and I am turning those aspirations into action. Because time is limited. Because my attention deserves more. Because I don’t need to be a part of everything.

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January 21st, 2015

I worked on a project for a few hours after work today. It felt really good to finally push some thoughts out. I was on a roll – lost in some jazz record recommended by Twitter, free-flowing through a kind of giddy atmosphere. I didn’t think. I just wrote. I just wrote, and then I wrote some more, and then I had a lot of words and I was happy and the sun returned to the sky and everything was beautiful again.

I took a break. I looked at my fantasy basketball team. I looked for another jazz record.

I returned to read through everything, and realized it was time to cut loose. Because the sun was gone now. This shit was horrible. Trite. Without passion or logic. Oof.

And yet, I still felt pretty good. It’s weird how the exercise of intense writing – unbridled spillage, really, with no real place in the world – can fail so spectacularly, yet still end up as valuable as publishing something fantastic.

There are a lot of clogs in our head. When they’re flushed out, they are often gross and unusable. Gotta keep flushing them out, though. Gotta keep flushing them out and throwing them away.

So I dismissed my day’s output. I filed it away. For later, maybe. Probably forever though.

And then the my internet connection disappeared. I packed up and went home. Exhausted from writing thousands of words. Refreshed that I decided to keep none.

Category: Writing

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