The Importance of Being Small

I've received hundreds of suggestions about how to grow my list (my primary publishing outlet).

Dozens of people approach me about doing podcasts on everything from music to photography to self-help, so I can boost my "visibility" to the creative community.

A few online course creators promise sure-fire ways to turn my books into six-figure classes.


I don’t want massive growth of my list. My stuff isn’t for everyone and that’s fine. In fact, it’s by design. It would be boring if everyone liked it. I couldn’t afford the maintenance of a big, disinterested list. I like to greet everyone who joins my list personally and hold actual conversations with them. If I can keep doing that, it’s a success.

I've talked seriously with networks and hosts about creating podcasts, but popularity on the podcast circuit doesn’t much interest me either. It seems exhausting. I started recording a new podcast two months ago. I hated the way it turned out and scrapped it. I may resurrect it in a different form, but not for money, popularity, or "visibility." Success for me in podcasting would be meeting interesting people and learning new things. If a podcast doesn't get me closer to that goal, why bother?

As for courses…well, very few are done well. And the ones that are done well involve a level of work and attention that would be horrible for my health. A third full time job would kill me right now. I do have a great idea for a course that would anger every photography guru out there (which I find too hilarious not to pursue in some way), but maybe a course isn't the way. Maybe a print book? Maybe a podcast series?

The best advice I've received lately, however, is from my old self, when I stumble across notes made years ago and long forgotten. When you document what you learn, you often find the best discoveries are re-discoveries. That's why I take a lot of notes.

The advice I re-discovered recently was about the importance of smallness. What triggered it was this quote: 

"[T]he man who works so moderately as to be able to work constantly, not only preserves his health the longest, but in the course of the year, executes the greatest quantity of works.” - Adam Smith

I realized I was no longer working small. I was planning for a year in the future, instead of today. I was trying to write 10,000 words a week, when 200 a day could produce something more interesting with greater clarity. I was wondering how to build my first photo book, instead of implementing a daily photo habit that could lead to 100 photo books.

I've written before about my love of small books, but these past few days I've re-discovered a love of small blogs, small newsletters, and small products in general. Small could mean brief. There's bravery in brevity. Small could also mean minimal, a first step towards something larger.

Small is habit-inducing, life changing, and within reach every day.


 This post originally appeared in my personal newsletter, CJ's VIP List, which includes early access to articles and extras.

Being Creatively Lost is Awesome

Every six months or so I feel a little lost creatively. It leads to a lot of good things, but in the moment it feels disconcerting.

This is something readers write to me about all the time. They want to know what can be done to get them back to where they were. They want a laser-like focus again on the creative pursuits that once thrilled them.

I argue that's not healthy for a few reasons.

First, it's good to move on. Any creative pursuit is more about personal growth and pushing past your own limits, than it is about what is keeping you in one place. Some fear a loss of income if they change focuses. OK, that's fair, but that's commerce, not necessarily art. Commerce is different animal. Art requires you to move on.

You may fear your audience's expectations of you. Will they follow you in your new projects? I'll save you the suspense: some will, some won't. That's not what's important.

Performing on your own terms may mean less commerce in the short term, but it leads to greater satisfaction, and perhaps greater pay days in the long term. How many artists commit suicide or drink/drug themselves to death even with a fat bank account? Too many. Making decisions about art based entirely on commerce is a recipe for regret.

Second, you want something that isn't going to happen: time travel. Not only did you change over the past few months/years, the world did. You changed, because you took in new information and it re-wired your brain accordingly. You can't go back. Also, the audience changed while you weren't looking. You must constantly earn the interest of new audiences as well as yourself.

Being creatively lost is normal, if you're open to new ideas. It's a good sign. Persistence and focus does matter, but when it comes to art, the persistence and focus must be tied to what furthers you as an artist.



 This post originally appeared in my personal newsletter, CJ's VIP List, which includes early access to articles and extras.

Seth Godin on Why He Keeps Blogging and Creating Books

Seth Godin appeared on the Design Matters podcast and got a little more personal than usual about his work and life before he became THE Seth Godin. I recommend listening to the whole thing, but I transcribed a few gems for my own notes:

On why he still blogs daily (and has since at least 2002):

"By frequently and generously showing up, in front of people who wanted to hear from me, I would earn their trust. And, if I earned their trust, it would be easier for me to solve their problems.
Some people go online and measure their return on equity or their return on effort. I’m trying to maximize trust. I think we have a trust shortage. If I have more trust, I am going to be able to make more of a difference.
I’m not looking to be better known. I don’t promote stuff. I don’t show up on Facebook. I don’t work to have any followers on Twitter, because I don’t tweet. This isn’t about that. This is about: among the people who want to find me, can I show up in a way that’s trustworthy and can I do it in a way that will help other people get the joke? Because I’d rather live in a world where more people trust more people." 

On why he still makes books from his blog posts:

"Here’s a collectible that turns the insubstantial into substantial. That turns the temporary into the permanent. It gives you something you can point other people to, which furthers my mission of trust and change, which creates more impact. And, it’s really fun."

Home Screens as Therapy

I have nothing against technology. I do have a problem with using technology as a crutch to keep you from being creative. I have a big problem with my natural, sometimes destructive, tendency to consume a lot of information.

Batching time to consume helps, but sometimes it's more effective to put a real barrier between you and consumption.

The President and CEO of David Allen Company, Mike Williams, has a unique way of dealing with this. He designs his iPhone home screen to create a "micro pause" and ask himself, "Why am I here?"

I first saw one of his screenshots two years ago on the MacSparky blog:

He explains his reasoning:

"My home screen is intentionally very simple. I do this to minimize distractions. The distractions are all tucked several screen swipes away. It is a simple reminder to me to keep things simple. The act of intentionally finding an app helps me become conscious to what I am doing and why. I also turn off 98% of all the alerts."

Apparently he has stuck with his philosophy, because he recently posted a new screenshot to Twitter:

I love this idea. So, as a part of my focus this year on being more mindful with my time, I've done the same with my home screen. I've added a photo that personally means something relaxing and joyful as well (something we could all use a dose of several times a day):

I'm not alone. Jay Miller sent me his, which is beautiful on another level:

This kind of thing represents the best of what the GTD community does these days (and Mike in particular). I may disagree on some of the details of implementation (like the treatment of the calendar), but the general ideas behind GTD and their ties to cognitive studies as well as mindfulness philosophy are always exciting to me. 

I recommend this episode of the GTD podcast to get back on board with the most important aspects of the practice: GTD and the Organized Mind.

Schedule Your Thinking

Tom Kelley and David Kelley in Harvard Business Review:

“Schedule daily 'white space' in your calendar, where your only task is to think or take a walk and daydream. When you try to generate ideas, shoot for 100 instead of 10. Defer your own judgment and you’ll be surprised at how many ideas you have—and like—by the end of the week.”

It sounds silly to schedule time for daydreaming, thinking or taking a walk, but if you don't schedule it, it won't happen.

I know that if I schedule a few hours in a meeting room at the library, I can usually write a few posts and even plan a project or two. If I don't schedule it, none of that happens. I will respond to email, clean, get groceries - literally anything but create something worthwhile. 

There's always something or someone pulling at my time, with perfectly good reasons. But, if I want to accomplish anything, I need to put an obstacle (and some distance) between myself and that obligation.

As for the second part, generating ideas, it works. James Altucher popularized the notion of coming up with 10 ideas a day - 20 if your struggling with 10 (just come up with lots of bad ideas and stop being a perfectionist about it). It's now a part of my morning ritual, which is also scheduled.

Where the Herd Is

Dave Winer (co-creator of podcasting and the father of blogging):

"I'm feeling very Fuck You about controlling motherfuckers. Twitter can't help its users communicate. Facebook breaks the web by not letting writers link to other websites from their posts. Google tries to force everyone to switch to HTTPS no matter what the cost. I don't have to do any of this, and neither do you. So when people tell you to fuck off tell them to fuck off right back!"

It may feel like fighting a battle that's already over, but going around the increasingly strict rules of Google, Twitter and Facebook is liberating.

It's also healthy.

When you write or photograph or create for any reason on any medium in your own way, it's healthy. It creates a more enjoyable life.

Don't let someone else's constraints dictate your art. Following the herd is the opposite of art and it's never been clearer where the herd is.

No Worries

Via Jack Hollingsworth:

"Amateurs worry about equipment. Professionals worry about time. Masters worry about light." -  Anonymous

I disagree. Every photographer should consider their time, equipment and lighting. No photographer needs to worry about it.

Also, why wouldn't the amateur also consider time and light? There's still a lot of assumptions, made by those who write about photography, that need busting.