Consistency

This is one of the sentences I say regularly that drives people crazy:

“Consistency is great, but we don’t want to be consistently wrong.”

Consistency really is great when it reinforces good habits in your readers (weekly newsletters, daily posts, etc.).

It’s terrible when it’s used as a crutch to keep making the same mistakes over and over, because trying something new and different (or “weird”) is scary. It’s akin to saying, “That’s how we’ve always done it,” which is the last wheezing breath of a dying business.

The Value of a “Good Old Newsletter”

From Kai Brach, Publisher of Offscreen magazine and the Dense Discovery newsletter:

“Funny enough though, the good old email newsletter is currently experiencing a bit of a comeback. Perhaps as a reaction to the bottomless, anxiety-inducing social feeds, the email sits patiently in your inbox until you deem it worthy of your attention. Not able to read it now? No problem, come back to it later, it's right there where you left it.

That's why I've always loved email as a medium. Sure, I spend a lot of time reading and writing them – which arguably is not the most creatively productive time of my day – but it's still the one digital medium that abides by my rules (or filters). No sudden change in algorithm; no YOU-NEED-THIS product plugs; no strangers chiming in with rude comments. I decide what and when to read. Perhaps best of all: I can have constructive, civilised conversations with other people. Imagine that?!”

Amen. And it’s a really good time to subscribe to mine.

The Mechanization of Knowledge

“Improvements in communication make for increased difficulties of understanding.” — Harold Innis

This quote messed with my head for a while, yet it accurately describes the point we're at with some forms of online publishing. Breaking the barriers and killing off the gatekeepers was supposed to be freeing. But what if it wasn't compatible with our brains?

Also, this quote is from 1950.

A Lesser Photographer Second Edition Is Out!

The new edition of the A Lesser Photographer book is finally out on Amazon in ebook and paperback formats (more stores and platforms will have it soon).

This edition is all about refining the message of the first edition and producing a book I’ll be proud of 20 years from now. Here’s some of the major changes since the first edition:

  1. Formats: the first edition was only available in PDF format (and a year later in Kindle). This edition will be available all formats, including print, with designs made for optimum readability for each format.

  2. The cover for the second edition ebook was designed by renown minimalist book designer Daniel Benneworth-Gray. The paperback was designed by Liam Relph, whose prior work includes titles from Penguin Random House and HarperCollins. I hope to detail the months-long process of creating these covers in future posts.

  3. Each chapter (or essay) was re-edited for a total of 3 editing rounds by 3 different professional editors. It’s as tight as a book can get.

  4. A few additional chapters and ideas were added. My hope is that they’ll blend in so well no one will even notice what’s new.

In short, a lot of care and money were poured into this edition. Most of it should be invisible to the reader — there’s just fewer obstacles in front of the message.

Should We Stop Listening to Podcasts?

When you mention time and attention theft, most creators think of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (which I call Facebook II). They usually don’t think about Youtube or podcasts, which have the same issues: the ad model and all its abuses to the listener, and the lack of quality in favor of burn-out-inducing “consistency” and quantity (something that is also tied to the ad model).

I didn’t give too much thought about it until recently. I quit Facebook and Instagram years ago. I became the lightest of Twitter users.

I hadn’t cared that podcasts were robbing just as much of my attention. Then, while wondering why I was using two apps to manage them (each does something better than the other and both block ads in their own way), I saw this post from Ben Brooks:

“Isn’t the entire point of a podcast that the entire podcast is relevant and entertaining? Why are people paying to get these “features” instead of demanding better content?”

Then this from Matt Thomas:

“The podcast is free but your time isn’t.”

Both were painful to read, because they were totally true. We’re just numb to the Buzzfeed-ification of podcasts, even (especially?) in outlets like NPR.

Then came popular YouTuber CGPGrey (one my favorite podcasters) and his Project Cyclops. In short, this is a well-known, well-liked podcaster who is now advising people to stop listening to podcasts. He has promised to stop listening himself as well — he will only create.

He followed up his announcement of Project Cyclops with an episode questioning why we’re letting attention seekers (arguably the last people we should encourage) have access to so much of our time. He refers to them as the kids from Drama club (nice people, but with a dire need for our constant attention).

To cap it off, Grey posted this excellent video to begin Project Cyclops. If you’d like to dive into the science and philosophy behind such projects, check out Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows and Cal Newport’s Deep Work.

Funny that I haven’t heard much about this on the podcasts I listen to...or on Twitter. These people usually adore Grey and his projects. It’s almost as if they’re chained to a business model that won’t them be open and honest.

Finally! A Photography 101 Course I Can Recommend

Most mainstream photography courses focus on what matters to professional photographers and ignore the 99.9% of us who are hobbyists. Their advice is misguided at best, and scammy at worst.

My book and blog are an antidote to most of these courses. If you’re here, you know the basics, and probably want to unlearn the rules to get to core of what makes you most creative. Think of it as Photography 301: Unlearning Photography.

So when I do get inquiries about where to go for Photography 101: The Basics, I don’t have many places to link to that I know I can trust.

That changes now with The Sweet Setup’s new course Mobile Photography (The Sweet Setup was kind enough to provide this affiliate link after I first posted this). I checked out the course and I like where it takes its students. The examples used are examples actual hobbyists might encounter, which is rare in a photography course. But most of all, I’ll recommend this to beginners because it comes from a trusted source: Shawn Blanc.

Using Ulysses as a Database for The Van Halen Encyclopedia

My 1999 book, The Van Halen Encyclopedia, was put together using Microsoft Word and stacks of research material. Back then, I wanted nothing more than the skills to put together a database to update each entry, then publish it as a whole book every year or two.

The technology existed back then, thanks to the endlessly hackable Microsoft Access, but I didn’t have the time or expertise to put it together. I could make the database, but I couldn’t compile to save my life.

Almost 20 years later, I’m finding that Ulysses can serve as simple version of this database.

I started by breaking the book down by chapter (or letter):

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Then I broke the chapters down into individual entries. 

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Here’s the best part: You can add updates, citations and images to the entries in the note field. This makes future updates much easier, plus the tags (keywords) make organizing and indexing the book much easier.

For the most contentious part of the book (The Tours chapter), I can upload ticket stubs and tour itineraries as evidence of show dates. It was difficult to convince some fans that their bootlegs were not dated correctly, and that the book had the correct date and location of a show. Now, I can have proof at the ready.

In the future, I can also connect all of this to a website, thanks to Wordpress’s integration with Ulysses, and update the book in real time for readers.

I’m still struggling to adjust my writing to the Ulysses way, but I love the direction the app is taking my organization of the material.

I’m not planning on publishing a new version of the book any time soon. It would take years of hard work at this point to update every entry with all that’s been discovered about the band in the last two decades. But it’s nice to know it’s much more doable now.

My future wishes: Vellum and Squarespace integration.

Brian Koppelman: “Go Do the Thing.”

Brian Koppelman (a fellow Van Halen fan) is the co-creator of the hit Showtime series Billions, one of my favorite shows. This week, the cast and crew of Billions is back at work on a new season and Brian had some words of encouragement for all creators: 

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“This is the call sheet for the pilot of Billions. Note the date we started: Jan 19, 2015. Fifteen months before, I really thought my career might be over. Or radically smaller. Because in October of 2013 a (bad) movie we wrote bombed and we were fired from an HBO show we were hired to run. Our agents at the time told us we were basically un-hirable. Or that the demand for our services had shrunk. I remember walking New York City in a lost daze. It was a dark time...I believed the agents that there might never be another opportunity. And then, somehow, David and I remembered we were writers. That no agent or executive could stop us from the work itself. So, along with Andrew, we wrote the pilot to Billions, on spec, without a deal. I’ve detailed that experience before but just know this: doing it felt like rebirth. And a regaining of power and self determination. Right now, I’m on my way to set for the first day of shooting season four. Never let them tell you you’re dead. You’re not. You’re alive. And you have way more control than you think. Go do the thing. Love.”