Bleed Out on Blank Pages

For the first time since I published Toothbrushes, that task reappeared in my list this past week. “Pick up new toothbrush” it read, though saying more now than the last time I saw that reminder.

Now it tells me something like, “Pick up new toothbrush and reflect on the last few months of your life.”

I had thought that Day One might become part of my own life story telling but only a few times in months have I filled it with what’s on my mind. I’m just never compelled to open the app. I’m desiring less screen time and I find, though I’m not a paper fanatic, that scribbling in a pocket notebook is more visceral and right. Though apps try to pull us in by being “delightful,” being instinctive matters more to me and pulling a notebook out of my back pocket has become more true to me than pixels lighting a ghostly glow on my face. It feels natural to open a blank page and fill them.

Why isn’t it good enough reason to fall in love
with New York just because that’s where I am now?

Why do I always have to be
dreaming about being somewhere else?

In notebooks, I’ve found it a unique way to see the ink of my life spill together on the pages. Mundane lists, sketches you can’t decipher anymore, phone numbers you can never call again because of the pain on the other end of the line, meeting notes from an hour of your life you won’t ever get back. They flow together on paper in a way that matches our bleeding lives. Talking about buckets and scaffolding rarely tells the story that the bucket is our last hope to catch drips leaking from the broken pipe of our unmanaged time and that the scaffolding we set up is mostly intended to hide the crumbling facade rather than support the rebuilding of our lives.

On paper, we can see the mess that we are or the greatness that we’re becoming. These stories all draw together in ink stains and by letting ourselves spill out in pages—where our work and life aren’t trying desperately to be balanced and sandboxed—we can get a glimpse at the beautiful lives we ride.

And in a blink, we rise above the tarmac
and the city shrinks. The problems there
seem miniscule instantly compared to the
grandeur of the world around. You transform
in moments from the ants milling about into
the birds soaring above.

I’m not arguing the merits of paper versus software but trying to seed a reminder that each of those devices are meant to address our needs as humans and support our own purpose.

Wherever intentions lie, a pen or keyboard will work towards them.

When being introspective about our work and lives, be it one toothbrush at a time or ongoing, we make agreements with ourselves by choosing the words we write down. We promise to be more mindful, thoughtful, kind; to make more, eat better, relax. We scribble fragments of who we want to be so that we can convince ourselves we are. We document our days because sometimes it feels that if we don’t, no one will remember us, or we clack out ways we think we can start being more memorable.

It doesn’t matter where but that we do bleed out on blank pages.

Writing Tools and Workflow

Read on as long as you promise to write something when you’re done.

I’ve been posting a lot about tips, style, and the creative pursuits of writing so I figured I’d share my writing tools and workflows as well.

Writing Buckets and Apps

There have been five main types of things I write along with one new one I’m trying to do. They are: notes, code, blog posts, journaling, field notes, and the new one, writing for the sake of writing.

Notes: I use nvALT on Mac and Notesy on iPhone and iPad synced in a single folder at ~/Dropbox/Documents/Notes. I used to really like the idea of keeping notes in Evernote and did for a couple years, but like nvALT for it’s ease of capture. The tradeoff I’ve chosen to make with my notes system is that I’ll sacrifice the long-term organization that Evernote could give me with tags and notebooks for the simplicity of getting stuff inputed. Because that’s the point, right? If there’s enough friction that I don’t just easily create a note what’s the concern about long term search-ability? There won’t be any notes to look for. Launch Center Pro makes it easy to quickly add new notes to Notesy.

My naming convention is something like Headphones I Like — listx shopx which uses a tweak to Merlin Mann’s xtag convention, or A Balanced Man — mex — 2012-11-03 14:25:51 where I add a date/timestamp when it’s relevant. That note is some thoughts as to what I think a balanced man should act like and be like and uses the mex tag like all of my “personal improvement” notes do. The title goes first because I’ll always have that, the tags go next because they’re usually but not always there, and the date stamp is last since I only add it if I think it’s relevant. That all makes for a clean notes list in nvALT.

Here are some random examples of notes I have in nvALT so you get a general idea of how you could use a system like this: a note tracking payed days I’ve taken off of work, a cornbread recipe I looked up for my cast iron pan, a list of words I’ve come across while reading that I really like, notes I took while reading an article about typefaces, the number, amount, and reason for cheques—checks, for the Americans—that I write, the phonic alphabet just because, the body of select emails I might want to look up for reference, a list of decently priced cigars I found online for whenever I feel like buying a box of cigars, the numbers for my health insurance so they’re easy to pull up, and the list of variables for TextExpander that I can use as reference for when I’m making snippets on iOS. For all of that random stuff that I want to store, it makes it really important to quickly add it and quickly find it when I need.

Scratchpads kind of live in this notes area. I use a handy script that I love and use all the time to manage my scratchpads. They live in the same Notes folder but open in BBEdit where I have a little more control over the editing of a note since I can use things like clippings, text filters, and language scripting.

Code: When I started getting into code I had to make the epic decision of choosing my text editor. Threads on forums, endless blog posts, and hours of podcasts have argued over what the best text editor is. For me, BBEdit was the clear choice. At the time, Textmate 2 was still a dream and SublimeText 2 didn’t feel right. BBEdit fit in the middle of being solid for code and great for plain-text writing. Writers like John Gruber and hardcore geeks like Dr. Drang use BBEdit, which shows you how flexible it is at supporting any type of text related use case. It’s well supported for scripting, with an extensive Applescript dictionary and the ability to use languages like perl, python, and ruby for text filters. Clippings make it really easy to extend BBEdit for custom Markdown wrapping without any knowledge of code. Longevity matters to me. BBEdit has been around for 20 years and will probably continue in development for as long as text editors exist. I use a slightly modified version of solarized light for my color scheme and have removed a lot of the default window chrome to make a document look simple.

Blogging: This happens almost exclusively in Byword on iPad. I collect ideas in a running note or sometimes a draft outline in nvALT but usually it starts and ends in Byword. Since I’m using Second Crack I don’t need to move any text around, all I need to do is add a specific header to a post in my Drafts folder and it’ll publish.

For link posts, I have a script that I’m continuously running on my server to make creating drafts from links really easy. I use Reeder and Twitter basically as an article inbox and nearly everything I want to read gets sent to Instapaper. From Instapaper, when I find something I want to link to I select the pull quote, tap share, and Post to Pinboard. I fill out the fields with the post title I want, the post body, and the specific tag my script checks for to create a draft. It usually ends up looking like this. The script will parse the info from Pinboard and within a second, create a properly formatted Markdown file in my Drafts folder. Right away, I can switch out of Instapaper to Byword and my new draft syncs down from Dropbox and looks something like this. I really love this flow and it feels like magic every time I do it. The added benefit is that everything I link to is permanently archived in Pinboard.

Journaling: I really like Day One. I think my favorite part is that it takes any organization hassle out of the process. I just have to hit the + on any device any time I have something to say and it takes care of the rest. Adding support for photos has been a really nice thing since a lot of important memories happen without the chance for me to type out how I’m feeling at the time. Sometimes I’ll add a photo to Day One in the moment, then go back later and add a caption with some more about what was going on in my head at the time.

Field Notes: I love these things. There’s just something that they represent for me that means a lot. The passion that Draplin Designs and Coudal Partners put into making them beautiful and useful shows. I used to be a little concerned about just filling it with crap but then I realized that’s what they’re for. They’re cheap at three bucks a piece and are supposed to be something that takes what you have to throw at it whether it be dirty hands jotting notes about this season’s crops or me filling it with useless, messy drivel that couldn’t be less poetic. Carry one along with a Fisher space pen wherever you go and fill it up with your life. You’ll feel better when you do.

Tip: Stick a few index cards in the back just in case you need to write something down and give it to somebody, like directions or your contact information if you don’t carry business cards.

Writing for Writing’s Sake: Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones has taught me that I should just write for the sake of writing—to get all the junk out so I can dig down to the good stuff. I don’t really want to be doing this in any of the other buckets. It could make finding notes harder, doesn’t make sense along side my drafts, and shouldn’t really be in my journal since I’ll want to go back there and read about important moments not a shitty poem that hurt to write. Field Notes aren’t great for long form stuff because it’s a bit cramped. While reading about Natalie’s writing situation, it made me feel a little nostalgic—I’m not sure if that’s the right word since I don’t know what it’s like in the first place—to use a typewriter to just write. I liked the idea of putting in a fresh piece of paper and punching out words without having to think about naming the text file or where it’s going to live on my hard drive. The typewriter puts out a piece of paper and you can throw it in a stack or throw it in the trash.

I wanted to make a separate part in my flow for this kind of writing. I wanted something that was easy to start, meant no ongoing management, and didn’t clutter up my other writing buckets. Since I do all of my writing on iPad, I installed WriteRoom. I chose it for a few reasons: it allows fullscreen mode without the status bar, syncs to specified Dropbox folder that’s different than my notes, and allows me to pick a font that I don’t hate. I’ve set it up to be as simple as possible and to get out of my way. Things like spelling and autocorrect that are helpful when writing an article to be published aren’t necessary when just making words. No one’s going to be reading this stuff unless I chose to publish it later so spelling and grammar mistakes don’t matter. This kind of “distraction-free writing environment” can be a gimmick unless you don’t let it be. For me, it means that in WriteRoom, it’s just me and words. When I need to write just for the sake of writing, I open up the app, create a new date/timestamped file with TextExpander and go.

Input and Setup

I’ve been writing on my iPad for a while so I’m used to the onscreen keyboard but I also wanted to set up a place where I was comfortable and that was effective for writing. I wanted a good hardware keyboard to be a part of that. I’ve set up a standing desk at my apartment with just enough space for a keyboard, iPad, and a cup of coffee.

After debating the cost for a while, I ended up buying two of those loud mechanical keyboards that are annoying in the background of podcasts. I went with the Filco Majestouch Tenkeyless with MX Cherry Blues. I love it and couldn’t recommend it enough. It really is just that much better than whatever cheap keyboard you were using before. For me it was a great investment since what I do is create things on computers and the keyboard is the input of the things you create. Using great things and things you love can improve your work and life and having great boards at work and at home has done that for me.

Connecting a mechanical keyboard to your iPad is a little hacky but works. What you need is Apple’s camera connection kit which is basically a 30-pin to USB dongle. Don’t worry that the dock connector is being phased out because Apple makes a Lightning to 30-pin cable. Since messy cables drive me crazy, I connected the board’s USB to the Camera Connection Kit, connected that to this CableJive dockStubz dongle which allows me to pass through power into the iPad, and then connected that into a 30-pin extension cable so I can hide that cable/connector rats nest behind my desk and just run the extension to my iPad. It’s working decently for me so far. Even though it’s plugged into power, the draw from the keyboard takes enough out of the line that the iPad doesn’t charge. That kind of sucks but it seems to at least provide enough power to the setup to supplement the power from the keyboard so the iPad doesn’t drain nearly as fast. I get a warning when plugging it in that the keyboard isn’t compatible but it works fine.


With all of these writing buckets, I struggle a little with where some things should go. Sometimes when I’m in a coffee shop, I’ll just start writing a quick thought in my Field Notes and it’ll turn into a thing I want in my journal. I’m a little concerned that things I write in WriteRoom should maybe end up in Day One, but at least I can copy and paste over there easily.

The problem with systems like this is that they’re never going to be perfect. There will always be gotchas that process geeks like us quiver and try and fix. If you can find a fix for it that’s great but remember that the point of these systems is to improve your output. I have different buckets because it makes my writing in each one easier and more meaningful. If you’re playing the long game, it doesn’t really matter that much where exactly your ideas are put but that you’re writing and that they’re captured. If it’s a big idea and it’s down somewhere you trust, you’ll find it no matter how hard you have to search in whatever wrong bucket you put it in. Don’t be too worried about that happening.

Get a system set up that covers most of what you think you need and then focus on turning the things that are in your head into bits in a text file or scribbles on a piece of paper. You’ll tweak your system along the way but remember that to make great things you need more of the clackity noise not a better workflow.

When You Think You’re Done

I was reading Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones this afternoon and came across a part that matched an idea that came out of me a few weeks ago.

Here’s what I wrote in Tips on Writing And How They’re Really Just Tips on Life:

Write past the first logical close. I’ve been trying to push myself to go deeper in the things I write. If I have a clear idea, it often can be straightforward to lay that idea out and wrap it up. But I try to not just end there. I don’t let myself stop where it at first feels comfortable because I know—with a little more of the clackity noise—some bigger, greater ideas may just fall out onto the page. Sometimes they don’t and I just delete the extra crap that came out, but more often than not, what I end up with is much better.

And this is what Natalie Goldberg had to say, originally written in 1986, which I read today:

Push yourself beyond when you think you are done with what you have to say. Go a little further. Sometimes when you think you are done, it’s just the edge of beginning. Probably that’s why we decide we’re done. It’s getting too scary. We are touching down onto something real. It is beyond the point when you think you are done that often something strong comes out.

I’m sharing this not as a way to validate my idea, which obviously now wasn’t original, but to tell you there’s something inside of you that is connected to a universal truth. There are insanely great moments and creations inside of you that you need to dig to find. When you find them, you will recognize that they are a part something bigger and wonder where they came from. Your job is not to answer that question of their origin but to discover those truths and then share them.

For the Sake of Becoming

Shawn Blanc, in For the Sake of Creating:

If, in our creative endeavors, we continually do work we are proud of, then that my friends is also success. We don’t make to get rich, we make to make. We build for the sake of building, create for the sake of creating. We do it because we have to.

Pursuing being better lead me to the therapy of writing. Through writing, I’ve been able to have synapsis connect and connect with people who inspire and teach me. I’m a better person for it. Now, writing is something I do because I have to.

Writing has become a solace for me. A way to internalize and externalize an over active, over achieving, unsettled mind. When I’m lonely and confused, feeling disconnected and lost in pursuit of what could be, I turn to writing as a way to make sense of it all. We’re all searching for the same thing. A pursuit of tools, frameworks, methodologies, and workflows are all a way for us to help bridge the gap between where we are and where we want to be; to bring closer together what we imagine and what we want to exist. We search in hopes of finding clues that lead us in the direction of something greater. Hacks can help because they are often a clue that the way you do something can be done better. That it can be smoother and you can be more effective. You probably remember the first time—a moment of enlightenment, if you will—that you recognized that some tool or method offloaded something from you; the first time a tip or trick made you better. It hit part of your intrinsic, humanist desire to create tools that make us better people.

We try to discover tools that relieve our burdens without realizing the relief leads us down a path to new burdens.

Writing has become a burden for me. This need to make words and my drive to make good and useful things has collided like great sheets of mantle rock and produced a precipice that I need to climb each time I sit before a keyboard. The burden of making complicated ideas simple has become a distraction from just connecting ideas and sharing them. In the same way, our tools can be these traps. A piece of software can hold the power to unlock our creative mind by collecting the distractions, bad ideas, and stuff that’s not worth focusing on so we can make something great. But our drive to improve and perfect can often turn this pursuit on itself. An introspective process—metaphorically “sharpening the axe”—puts our creative focus on tailoring our process so we can better create but ends up trapping ourselves from creating. We convince ourselves that the investment into our software will pay off in our creation and sometimes it does—but the focus of our creative potential needs to remain on greater things.

For me and my burden, I don’t just desire to methodically become a better writer but to do better things with my writing. Unlocking something in myself and letting words flow out while clearly communicating ideas is something I strive for and matters to me. Being a better writer gets me towards my goal, as being better with your tools advances you. Grasping what’s the method and what’s the matter can help you overcome indulging in one and lead you to start doing one for the sake of the other.

It’s about becoming. Becoming is cyclical and perpetual. When you think you’ve “arrived”, you’re only just at the beginning of a new place. In this cycle of becoming is where you have to give and take between the burden and the solace of creating great things. At times, you’ll be burdened by your desire to make something insanely great. That will lead you into a path of suffering and discouragement; a place of character building and of gaining understanding. In the other season of that cycle comes actualization and a freedom to create the great things you just struggled to find in yourself. There are seasons where you hack your way through a dense forest of friction. It seems endless and you feel lost until you finally manage to get though it. In this side of the cycle is when you search for and need the tools and workflows to capture ideas. You dig and hack to find something that fits and is comfortable to capture your thoughts and put them in a place you trust. You try to reduce the friction to get these ideas in a safe place because they are fragile and can be easily lost. It can be heartbreaking to lose an idea that you feel is going to get you through the struggle and the suffering into a season where you have the freedom to create. In that place of freedom you can connect the ideas you fought tirelessly to preserve and start to fit them together into something much greater than yourself. This season is rewarding and the things you can pursue feel endless—until it does end; until that end becomes the start of a new place and your freedom becomes1 burden again.

It’s in this flow of becoming that we sometimes find ourselves lost. I’ve felt it strongly and it hurts. A momentum you had becomes this pressure to become better and that pressure becomes oppressive. But understanding this flow of becoming—the flow of creativity and the flow of relationships and the flow of success and the flow of suffering; the flow of life—is the catalyst to greatness. Letting this flow happen and to suffer and prosper, thrive and survive respectively and cyclically is to live for the sake of becoming.

  1. Etymology is a wonderful thing. Become originates from the German bekommen: to “get and receive”. Cyclical. 

Tips on Writing And How They’re Really Just Tips on Life

I’ve found a few things in what’s nearing a year of doing it regularly that have helped me in writing. Some are things that help me write better and some are things that just help me write, no matter if it’s good material or not. When I thought more about these things, I realized that they were universal, not just a writing technique or tactic, but something that’s applicable to things at a higher level. Here’s a few things I’ve learned:

Write in Markdown. I’m just going to get this out of the way first. The rest of the post will assume you’re smart enough to adopt writing in Markdown. It’s a syntax to ease writing for the web and it makes reading and formatting what you write so much easier. The clean syntax will also help you edit your writing since you’re have a good overview of what the output will be.

Get to the point early. When I find myself rambling and not really getting to a clear point, I finish my sentence, start a new line, hit the # a couple times—that’s Markdown—and create a new header titled “Why”. The why is the meat of the post I want to be writing—the functional component, if you will—which anchors the entire post. Without the why, the how doesn’t matter. When I’ve pegged the why, I can usually go back, edit and write the rest of the post more succinctly. Both are important, but the why informs the how. Get to it early, and your ideas will be clearer and better threaded through your writing.

Use comments to help guide yourself. Maybe an idea comes up but it doesn’t really fit where you are. Jump down a few lines and use an inline HTML comment. It’ll look like this:

<!-- This is an idea I want to come back to. -->

I use a TextExpander snippet so that /// expands to a comment with my cursor right where it needs to be.

A series of comments will help you create a linear outline and make it easier to visualize the progressions of your ideas through the piece. I often use comments to spit out words that I know aren’t any good and just need to get them out to start formulating my thoughts. Comments can be proposed ### headers that you just haven’t found the right words for yet, or maybe what developers call pseudocode: jot notes that capture the basic idea of what you want to accomplish in a chunk of writing.

In code, it can be something like this:

//loop through $tweets and print each tweet

The function to do that can take more than a couple lines of code but plain-English pseudocode can help you quickly capture your intentions so you aren’t chasing the wrong problem or forget what you’re trying to solve.

If you are using HTML comments, you don’t even need to remove them before you post it. They won’t publish to the visible body of your post, but if someone looks at the source they’ll be able to see it. View Source on this post and you’ll find a comment I used to direct myself while writing.

Write even when you don’t have ideas. Most of the better stuff I’ve written or posts that have gained the most momentum haven’t been ideas that began as grande or novel. A lot of them were link posts I thought I had about a sentence worth of input on. But when you dig and often when you just let your mind be quiet and allow words to percolate, something inside of you makes words. It sounds weird, but if you’ve experienced it, you know exactly why I mean. The more you just start writing even when you don’t have ideas, the more the ideas will appear as magic from your creative soul. Mumbo Jumbo or not, I dare you to try it. Find a blog post to link to, write a couple sentences, but don’t stop there. Keep writing and follow this next tip. You’ll be surprised what you’ve got in you if you just let it come out.

Write past the first logical close. I’ve been trying to push myself to go deeper in the things I write. If I have a clear idea, it often can be straightforward to lay that idea out and wrap it up. But I try to not just end there. This post, for example, could easily have been a list of a few tips that have helped me write better but I decided to push myself further than that and not to stop at the first place it made sense. I don’t let myself stop where it at first feels comfortable because I know—with a little more of the clackity noise—some bigger, greater ideas may just fall out onto the page. Sometimes they don’t and I just delete the extra crap that came out, but more often than not, what I end up with is much better.

What It Means in Life

Write in Markdown. OK. This isn’t as applicable as the others, but do it anyway.

Get to the point early. Use this in emails, phone calls, awkward conversations with your girlfriend or spouse, meetings, and when you’re not sure exactly how to say what’s on your mind. Be concise and just lay things out. Remind yourself why it is you’re doing something. If you can’t remember, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. Make the point of the things you do and say clear and you’ll have more confidence that the things you do and say are the right things. Keep the point clear and you’ll build trust with the people around you.

Use comments to help guide yourself. Jot notes. Write things in your Field Notes or use an app like Day One. Make plain-text notes or write something down in Evernote. Where it is doesn’t matter but what matters is this: there will be arrows that show up along the path. Signs will be posted and you might not notice them right away. Like writing, ideas will come up before they are ready to happen but if you don’t capture them, they can be lost. Don’t worry about how everything will fit together right now, just capture these signs in whatever comments you can and eventually things will start to connect. Your job is to collect the pieces and when you have enough of the parts, it will be obvious how they fit together.

Go past the first logical close. If you wrap it up early, if you give in and give up, you’ll only get that much returned. I’ve found so many places where just a little bit more effort and a little bit more thought has pushed ideas and relationships much further than if I just settled where they made sense at first. Ever been in a meeting and just when things are wrapping up, someone says, “Wait. How about this?” Then they drop the big idea you’ve all been digging for for hours. That’s what I’m talking about. That person’s mind endured through long discussions and was able to pull out the genius when everybody else’s brain closed up shop. You want to be this person. So dig deeper and don’t settle. Don’t wrap things up when you first think they’re done; that’s just when you’re getting rolling and the greatness is about to show up.

Always let the greatness show up.

The English Language and Your Ideas

Words are powerful. Mastering the English language will make your life easier. Where it’s common for language to be filled with ready-made phrases, or business speak — “Let’s touch base later so we can drill down on this”, or “Going forward, I think we need a paradigm shift to really get some synergy”—speaking clearly is necessary to get projects done.

The problem with this broken communication isn’t new. George Orwell, in his essay Politics and the English Language (first published in 1946), outlines these issues while relating them to the presentation of political ideas. Whether its political speeches or your blog post, you need to put in the effort to get your ideas across. Even with clear communication, it doesn’t mean your idea will be well received, but, Orwell believes:

You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you—even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent—and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself.

Success in communicating your ideas comes from truly understanding what you’re trying to accomplish so that you can translate it into things that can actually be said or done.1 The higher altitude something is, the harder it is to explain.

When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning.

Having a clear, concrete idea allows you to find the right words to express it.

What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them.

So you start with the idea and let that choose the words. Dumping meaningless words and phrases from your vocabulary is a start but how do you shape your words into something concise? Orwell offers some steps to form clear sentences:

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:

  1. What am I trying to say?
  2. What words will express it?
  3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
  4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

And he will probably ask himself two more:

  1. Could I put it more shortly?
  2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

Relentlessly desire to express your ideas clearly. Put in the effort to remove abstraction from them and constantly edit your ideas and words. It will take more time and way more effort but by doing this, you will gain the trust and understanding of the people around you and grant yourself the permission to do cooler stuff.

  1. It’s not coincidence that this is a trend in the things I write here. 

Fear and Writing

This has been sitting in my drafts folder for almost a year:

Talking about fear has gone from being an oppressed topic to being overwhelming in productivity chat like 5by5’s Back to Work.

Writing is something I want to do. Writing is something I want to do well. I understand that the latter is dependant on the former and that my fear of publishing is stopping me from doing this. Long ago, I was able to acknowledge this fear — however significant or invalid it may be — yet, I still don’t write regularly.

I’ve put great effort into simplifying my life. Removing distractions, dependancies, and undesirables has allowed me to focus on what I’m good at and what I enjoy doing. Yet, writing hasn’t become one of these things. I’m not even sure why I’m writing this, as a piece regarding my inability to write consistently is much less productive than just starting to write.

When I finished that last sentence I came to a realization and closed the window then wrote—and published—something real. It wasn’t something great but it was a start.

I could write a long, fancy thing about getting over fear and starting on something you’ve always wanted to do but the reality is that your fear is unfounded. It’s not that complicated. Stop talking about how you want to do this thing and stop spending your creativity on excuses.

Just start doing that thing. Start small but start. For a while it won’t be as great as imagined but it won’t be as bad as you’re afraid of.

Go talk to that girl. Click publish on that blog post. Ask your boss for a raise.

Don’t be afraid of something that doesn’t exist.

Jotting Notes and Stealing Ideas

I don’t read back through my Field Notes often enough and it’s 48 pages don’t get filled quickly enough. But as I sat down and flipped through the last few months of scribbling, I noticed something; it’s full of great stuff. The best ideas aren’t mine, though. There’s wisdom from books I’m reading, things from sermons and podcasts, and conversations I’ve overheard. There’s the odd good thing that I can claim ownership of, though it’s probably nothing that hasn’t been thought of before. There’s also lots of crap—doodles and bad math, rhymes and prose that aren’t worthy of any place other than getting shoved back into my pocket.

Paging through the little book, I found that even though the ideas weren’t all novel or penned by me they became mine in the way they were threaded—connected—page by page, in the same messy scribbles, in the same voice and shorthand, all working together towards the same goal. They’re just as much mine, now that I pulled out a pen and made a mark, as the person who first put them to paper. Writing that idea down made it real for me and put it into existance while not taking anything away from anyone else. It’s a positive transaction. Steal as many ideas as you can. Piece together the things other smart people do and say and build them into your platform.

When you capture an idea it’s just a small piece of something bigger. Something you can’t really picture or describe yet. But when you look back through the pages you start to see how the ideas connect and the shape of that something begins to come together.

Cultivate that. Put back into it. Keep stealing so it can keep growing. Then give it all away so someone else can steal.