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The Professional Sharer

I'm changing the way I run my email list. Some of you won't like it. If that's you, I've made the unsubscribe button as obvious as possible.

Now, the change:

Facebook and YouTube and things like them are, what we call in the business, 'platforms'. People stand on the platform and share things with their audience. Most of this is memes and baby photos and inside jokes for friends and family.

If someones shares enough things that people like and enough people join the audience, that can turn into a career: the professional sharer.

But I've been on The Internet long enough to see a trend. As platforms grow more popular: professional sharers cannot trust the platforms upon which they stand, audiences cannot trust the platform to show what they asked to see.

This isn't to say that platforms are bad, or that people shouldn't use them. The keyword above is trust. A lion tamer is better off with a lion -- the lion draws a crowd and the tamer dazzles them with his skills. But the tamer would be a fool to trust the lion -- to expect the lion to act in his best interests. The truth is the lion and the tamer have incentives that are mostly aligned at the moment, but as the lion grows that may change.

When platforms like Facebook get big enough, they start to use 'bots: little digital machines that watch what you, as the audience member, does. Bots watch you, what you look at, what you click on and what you don't. The bots then make changes to the platform, hiding some things that people have shared, promoting others.

The bots optimize the platform -- usually toward making more money.

There's nothing wrong with money. Running a platform that millions, or literally billions of people use isn't cheap. But when the bots show up is usually the moment the divide between the goals of the professional creators, the audience, and the platform goes from a crack to a schism.

This is frustrating for the professional sharers and the audience that wants to see what they have shared.

On YouTube the 'subscribe' button, which used to guarantee you'd see new videos from the creators you like most, is now mostly a suggestion to the platform of what you might like to see. 'SubscribedToChannelX = TRUE' is now a data point for the bots in their optimizing. Maybe you'll see what you asked for. Maybe you won't.

Professional sharers, like myself, can only exist with an audience. Platforms help bring that audience, and sharers help grow the platform. But growing a platform faster only hastens the day when the bots arrive and the platform can no longer be trusted to deliver what the audience asks to see.

So what to do?

I'm surprised to find myself, well into the second decade of the 21th century, doubling down on a technology invented before I was born: email.

Through a lucky accident, no company owns email. It's like language: used by all, controlled by none.

Also lucky is email has, to a first-world approximation, 100% population coverage. An email address is as required as a physical address to exist in the modern world.

Email is also stable. A simple way to estimate how long something will stay around is to ask: "How long has it been around?" Email has been with us for decades, so it's reasonable to guess it will last for decades more.

If you are, or want to be, a professional creator email is your platform.

All this is to say that my email list -- originally created to send the most occasional of messages -- is going to get a lot busier. There is no other tool I can rely upon to show the people who want to see the things that I have made, the things that I have made.

If getting my videos and articles and other projects in your inbox doesn't interest you, I've made the unsubscribing as easy and as obvious as I can.

But if you want to be sure to never miss out on anything I share, you can go ahead and sign up below.

Book Notes: 'Bird by Bird' by Anne Lamott

I'm going to attempt, for a little while anyway, to make public some of my notes from some of the books that I've read. This is partly because people are forever asking what I'm reading, but it's mostly as a way to try and encourage myself to read both more deeply and more frequently -- a target I have been trying, and failing, to hit for all my adult life.

All projects and hobbies of mine eventually die from lack of attention if they cannot serve multiple purposes. So it is my hope that these notes will add even more reason to engage more frequently with long-form writing.

These won't be reviews, they really will just be some sections of the book with a line or two on why I highlighted them. But I hope that they can give you a good idea of if a book might or might not be for you, and if you should read it yourself. Many non-fiction books can be summarized with a few lines, but Bird by Bird captures, for me, why it still often feels necessary to read the entire thing and why you may want to as well even after reading my notes:

There may be a flickering moment of insight in a one-liner, in a sound bite, but everyday meat-and-potato truth is beyond our ability to capture in a few words. But the whole piece is the truth, not just oust one shining epigrammatic moment in it.

I often decide to pick up a book when I hear about it from too many different kinds of people. So it went with Bird by Bird which I'd been recommended not just by writers but also by many people with entirely un-writerly lives.

The Big Idea

When discussing the weekly column that Lamott wrote she said of the moment she sat down at her desk to actually write something:

Even after I'd been doing this for years, panic would set in.

As a person who makes semi-regular things, it's relieving to hear others express the same thought. After every, single, video I think: “I’ll never be able to do that again”.

The idea of the shitty first draft is that you shouldn't expect the first iteration of anything you do to be good. It's not supposed to be good: it's just supposed to be started.

All I had to do was to write a really shitty first draft of, say, the opening paragraph. And no one was going to see it. So I'd start writing without reining myself in. It was almost just typing, just making my fingers move. And the writing would be terrible.

Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something — anything — down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft — you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft — you fix it up .

Also, trying to fix the unpleasant feeling of creative work is pointless. It’s always unpleasant. That’s just what creation is.

I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts… Very few writers really know what they are doing until they've done it. Nor do they go about their business feeling dewy and thrilled.

Pink Highlights

Pink highlights are reserved for particularly striking or important passages. I found them in the section on writers' 'block':

The word block suggests that you are constipated or stuck, when the truth is that you're empty.

'Downtime' is less downtime than filling-up time. But just because you are empty doesn't mean you are off the hook. Empty isn't an excuse to stop working: it's a warning to just have your non-zero work day and go fill up with learning or experiences.

But if you accept the reality that you have been given that you are not in a productive creative period you free yourself to begin filling up again. I encourage my students at times like these to get one page of anything written, three hundred words of memories or dreams or stream of consciousness on how much they hate writing just for the hell of it, just to keep their fingers from becoming too arthritic, just because they have made a commitment to try to write three hundred words every day. Then, on bad days and weeks, let it go at that.

Actionable Items

Twice Lamott pushes the point of why reaching out to other people while in the stages of your own work is beneficial thing to do:

The truth is that there are simply going to be times when you can't go forward in your work until you find out something… So figure out who would have this information and give that person a call… And it may also turn out that in searching for this one bit of information, something else will turn up that you absolutely could not have known would be out there waiting for you.

By far and away, this is the thing that I have the most problem with:

But by all means let someone else take a look at your work. It's too hard always to have to be the executioner. Also, you may not be able to see the problems.

On rare, rare occasions I’ve asked for feedback on scripts that I’m either particularly uncertain about or that have had unusually tight deadlines. The result is always better than before. But I don’t like the imposition that it causes — even though those same people have, on occasion, asked me to look at their own things and I am always happy to.

Other Notes

On inspiration:

And… you're off and running. And it really is like running. It always reminds me of the last lines of Rabbit, Run: "his heels hitting heavily on the pavement at first but with an effortless gathering out of a kind of sweet panic growing lighter and quicker and quieter, he runs. Ah: runs. Runs." I wish I felt that kind of inspiration more often. I almost never do. All I know is that if I sit there long enough, something will happen. My students stare at me for a moment. "How do we find an agent?” they ask.

On not listening to the radio station in your head:

If you are not careful, station KFIKD will play in your head twenty-four hours a day, nonstop, in stereo. Out of the right speaker in your inner ear will come the endless stream of self-aggrandizement, the recitation of one's specialness, of how much more open and gifted and brilliant and knowing and misunderstood and humble one is. Out of the left speaker will be the rap songs of self-loathing, the lists of all the things one doesn't do well, of all the mistakes one has made today and over an entire lifetime, the doubt, the assertion that everything that one touches turns to shit.

On taking notes:

Hostile, aggressive students insist on asking what I do with all my index cards. And all I can say is that I have them, I took notes on them, and the act of having written something down gives me a fifty-fifty shot at having it filed away now in my memory.

As a man with, at the time of writing, 2,353 notes in Evernote this is a bit of a relief.

You can get a copy of Bird by Bird at Amazon.com

 
 

Hanging Out in Alabama

Last night, far past my bedtime, the tickets for a unique event in Alabama went up for sale. I tweeted, promptly went to sleep and then woke up to a lot of email questions. This is me trying to answer the most common ones as quickly as possible:

1) Are you going?

Yes, I really will be there in person.

2) Will you be wearing one of these?

I won't be hiding my appearance in any way.

3) Won't that be weird?

Yes it will be a strange, strange day for me. If this article of mine really struck a chord with you, you might want to reconsider buying a ticket.

4) Will it be recorded / will the venue change to $LocationBestForMe

No.

5) What is happening on the day?

This event has been quite the evolving thing. But my current understanding is that Destin, Derek, Henry and (possibly?) Brady will be doing a show / presentation of some sort. They've all given real presentations to real audiences before. After their shows there will be a Q&A panel like you may have seen at other conferences. I'll be hanging out on that.

There will also be a meet-and-greet at some stage. I have no idea the logistics of this, but I'll also be there.

6) Can I hug you?

You should probably hug Derek instead. He's much prettier and will like it more.

Still interested? Then you should totally get a ticket here while they're still available.