Ryan Holiday: “Wanting to be a "writer" was your first mistake”

“The problem is identifying as a writer. As though assembling words together is somehow its own activity. It isn’t. It’s a means to an end. And that end is always to say something, to speak some truth or reach someone outside yourself.

[...]

No one ever reads something and says, “Well, I got absolutely nothing out of this and have no idea what any of this means but it sure is technically beautiful!” But they say the opposite all the time, they say “Goddamn, that’s good” to things with typos, poor grammar and simple diction.”

Holiday is one of those guys who has achieved quite a lot at a young age, and can dole out advice like "go do interesting things" as a 26-year-old without a hint of pretension.

This particular post really speaks to me for two reasons:

  1. I do self-identify as a writer. It's my standard response whenever asked what I do for a living.
  2. I don't lead a particularly adventurous life. A happy one, sure, but it's hard to write interesting things when most of your time is spent at home.

If nothing else, Ryan has given me some food for thought. Perhaps a little more adventure in my life is in order, hm?

* * *

If you want to read more from Ryan Holiday, I recommend his book, The Obstacle is the Way. It's all about applying the tenets of stoicism to view life's obstacles in a totally different light. He also has an excellent book recommendation newsletter I've been subscribed to for years.

Drafts 4 for iOS

Huge update to one of my favorite apps. There are more new features than you can shake a stick at, some of which I listed in this Tools & Toys post only minutes ago.

Drafts 4 is a $5 paid upgrade for existing users, which I hope I never see a complaint about because Greg works hard to keep the app up-to-date and relevant. This is an app I use all the time, and I'm happy to support him again.

iOS 8's Time-Lapse Feature

Dan Provost of Studio Neat examined how the time-lapse feature in iOS 8 works and shares his findings.

“Time-lapse videos look best when they are buttery smooth, and dynamically selecting intervals in this fashion would create a jittery and jerky video. So what does Apple mean by "dynamically selected intervals"?

Turns out, what Apple is doing in quite simple, and indeed, pretty clever.”

Apple's method is indeed clever, even elegant.

(By the way, can I just geek out for a moment about how gorgeous the Studio Neat website is nowadays? My goodness.)

Josh Gintner's Review of the Olympus E-M10

Though I consider Shawn's review of the Olympus E-M10 to be the canonical one—sure, I'm biased—I also enjoyed Josh Gintner's take on the camera.

“I was utterly amazed at the difficulty in finding an online review that documented the real aspects of buying and owning a camera. Every review talked about f-stops, ISO settings and RAW capabilities. All I wanted was a camera that could take pretty great photos on the spot without having to fiddle with four dials in the process.”

Josh's review clocks in at over 4,000 words and includes plenty of eye cand- er, sample photos. He really did his homework on this one.

A Little More Playful

Yesterday, Shawn Blanc guested on Myke Hurley's podcast, Inquisitive. They discussed the Tools & Toys redesign, as well as the site's history and how our editorial team came together. The parts about starting projects and managing teams were particularly interesting.

Side note: I listened to the show live, and it was a bit surreal to hear Shawn talking to someone else in real-time about how he originally discovered my old site, Unretrofied, two years ago.

The New Tools & Toys is Live

The New Tools & Toys

Yesterday, I said I couldn't wait for the new Tools & Toys site to be revealed. Today, the veil has finally been lifted and you can check out the shiny new design for yourself. It's seriously beautiful.

There's a lot more to it than just a fresh coat of paint, though. Our publishing guidelines and philosophies have also been expanded, in ways that truly resonate with me and what I aim for here at The Spark Journal. Shawn Blanc explains further:

“With this new design, we are aiming to become more than just a cool stuff site. Our new, longer-form articles will center around the values of mindfulness, intentionality, knowing your tools (and your toys), and appreciation for quality.

As fun as it is to geek out over the latest and greatest stuff, at the end of the day, there is much, much more to life. Our self-worth is not tied to how fancy our gear is nor how often we upgrade it.”

We will continue to post about cool stuff we find throughout each week, but at a slightly reduced rate so that we can focus more on long-form editorials, reviews, and interviews. The best example of what's in store is Shawn's long-awaited review of the Olympus OM-D E-M10 camera. I love what we can do with photos on the new site.

Credit for the design and development goes to Pat Dryburgh, who is a genius. Hire him for your next project.

Scenes from the New American Dustbowl

Similar to the previous link, novelist Alan Heathcock made a visit that provided real perspective about the climate problem:

“I feel badly, not just because others don’t care, but because I was reluctant to care, too. It’s hard to make people care because there’s a general mistrust of desperation, as if a desperate person has replaced logic with emotion, truth with exaggeration. Each night I’ve gone through my notes and fact-checked the farmers, doubting what they told me. Even after seeing the land and meeting the people I second-guessed their claims and statistics, only to find, time and again, they were telling the truth.”

People tend to write off climate concerns as something that only affects poor people in faraway places, too distant to be concerned about. But it's happening right here, right now.

Even if you're not one of the insane people who deny climate change entirely, you must understand this isn't just a problem for your great-grandchildren to deal with. We will likely feel its effects within our own lifetimes. Our children certainly will.

Think about that the next time you decide to write about how you didn't like your huge iPhone.

Meet the Real Victims of Climate Change

Brooke Jarvis visited Papua New Guinea and was confronted with the issue of climate change more directly than even she had anticipated:

“Elias had heard that ice was melting, but hadn’t heard why. No amount of reading or writing about climate change can really prepare you to look into the face of someone who will soon flee her home and explain the greenhouse effect.”

As if by cruel joke, my cigarette-smoking, motorcycle-obsessed neighbors across the street decided to rev their engines SUPER loud and peel off down the street just as I reached the end of this piece.

Awesome iOS 8 App Updates

Over on The Sweet Setup, we spent all day compiling a list of the most interesting iOS 8 app updates. The sheer number of new things our iPads and iPhones can now do is overwhelming. It's going to take a few weeks to fully absorb it all.

Here are just a few of my own favorite new things:

Notebook Tagging

Notebook Tags

Adam Akhtar shares a clever tagging system for physical notebooks:

“[...] notebooks are hard to organize your ideas. You either split your notebook into several sections for each 'category' and end up wasting valuable pages in the quieter sections or you just write your ideas as they come along making them hard to find later on.

If this sounds familiar then you are going to love this little hack I was taught here in Japan by a friendly salariman. It's a little messy, and not something I'd use all the time but for the right subject could come in handy.”

May implement this idea in my own notebooks soon.

"Like a Bubble Surfacing in Water"

While doing research for this Tools & Toys post about the 2015 Hobonichi Techo planner, I came across this quote from Shigesato Itoi, the guy who created it (emphasis mine):

“When people are alone, they have this hazy, blank period of time they can’t put a name to.

The nameless feelings experienced during those nameless times make up a major element of a person. And one day, like a bubble surfacing in water, something will emerge in the form of words. I hope the Hobonichi Techo can serve as a means to keep those words.

I’d like the Hobonichi Techo to be a fishing net to catch all the things you think and feel during your unnameable times. Of course you can use the techo as a scheduler, but there are already other tools you can use for that. I get the feeling there’s never been a container to keep things that surface during unnameable times, unimportant things that stick with you, or things that resonate with you when you don’t know why.

This translates well to how I think about and use Day One.

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

I just stumbled on this Tumblr and already love everything about it. As the author describes, it's “a compendium of invented words written by John Koenig. Each original definition aims to fill a hole in the language—to give a name to emotions we all might experience but don’t yet have a word for.”

His definition for sonder—which he also produced a video for—is the sort of thing I think about all the time:

n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

This site speaks to me in so many ways. Such a wonderful concept, beautifully written.

Big Morning in My Little Corner of the Web

I woke up to all sorts of good news today:

There's probably even more I'm forgetting but man, this is one of those days when it's awesome to be a nerd.

Pennaquod—The Pen Blog Searcher

I don't profess to be much of an expert on fancy analog writing tools, but I do enjoy drooling over them now and again. I typically rely on internet friends like Brad Dowdy and Patrick Rhone for information and tips about such things.

Pennaquod, a Google search tool put together by Ian Hedley, allows you to search over fifty (!) of these pen blogs at once. If you've ever wanted to know about particular fountain pens or notebooks or even typewriters, bookmark this super-handy site for later.

Fair warning: that site is a gateway into some deep, deep rabbit holes for even the most minor of pen nerds. Tread lightly.

For a More Ordered Life, Organize Like a Chef

Dwayne Lipuma of the Culinary Institute of America, while being interviewed for an NPR piece:

“The world is a giant gerbil wheel right now. I think if we just became a little bit more organized, a little bit more mise-en-place, understand what we really need and only do what we really need, I think we'll have more time for what's important.

You'll be able to sit down at the table with your kids and actually cook a meal. Get up a little bit earlier so you could breathe. You want to greet the day.”

The timing of coming across this article is funny to me, because there's an article about mise en place and other such concepts sitting in my drafts folder at this very moment. I should really finish it sometime. I think it's going to be a good 'un.

In the meantime, you can read more about mise en place here.

Let's Talk About Margins

Craig Mod writes about the power and character of well-designed books (bold emphasis mine):

“On the other hand, cheap, rough paper with a beautifully set textblock hanging just so on the page makes those in the know, smile (and those who don’t, feel welcome). It says: We may not have had the money to print on better paper, but man, we give a shit. Giving a shit does not require capital, simply attention and humility and diligence. Giving a shit is the best feeling you can imbue craft with. Giving a shit in book design manifests in many ways, but it manifests perhaps most in the margins.”

"Don’t write email that people can respond to."

NPR Creative Director Liz Danzico, being interviewed by web magazine Technical.ly:

“As far as Inbox Zero, I’ve tried a few things, and even now I use a modified GTD approach where I transfer all to-do-like email content into a to-do app. But basically those all pale in comparison to this simple approach:

Don’t write email that people can respond to.

If you ask questions in an email, people will respond. If you don’t answer their questions, they’ll ask again. If you write charming email, they will want more. Don’t do those things. Write an email that is impossible to respond to. Answer every question. Tie up every loose end. Write a complete and completely un-respondable email.”

I like her style. (h/t Patrick Rhone)

The Future of Iced Coffee

Alexis Madrigal, writing for The Atlantic, got a behind-the-scenes look at the manufacturing process for Blue Bottle Coffee's New Orleans iced coffee cartons. As an iced coffee fanatic myself, it's fascinating to see how they're trying to tackle the problem of mass-production now that they've mastered the recipe.

One particularly interesting fact in the article: Blue Bottle's sterilization process requires machines that generate six times the amount of atmospheric pressure as one would find at the bottom of the Mariana Trench—you know, the one from that movie—which itself is 1,000 times more intense than what we experience here aboveground.

Talk about hardcore.