Seeking momentum

A friend who’s working on a new book (hi Corey!) asked if he could pick my brain about book marketing, seeing as I’d recently released one. Most of the advice I was able to share was just stuff I’d learned from others. Abby Covert sent me a very nice and helpful email of tips when I asked. My friend Brian, a great designer, let me pick his brain a while back about how to communicate better with designers and the AIGA crowd. And ABA connected me with Leslie Zaikis, who sent all kinds of lovely checklists and ideas to help launch and promote the book. There were more. And I suspect someone will be picking Corey’s brain a year from now with similar questions for him.

I hope I was helpful. But the truth, as I shared with Corey, is that I feel like I limped over the finish line on Writing for Designers. It was tough because writing is hard, and because it was my first book, and especially because the process of writing the book overlapped with some really difficult stuff in my personal life. I didn’t have much energy to do nearly as many of the promotional things I would have liked to do before, during, and after the launch back in October. Which isn’t to say I didn’t do anything; I organized a launch party, I sent SO MANY emails, I did a webinar for one meetup group and visited another in person, and lots of other little things here and there. But I felt like I’d left a lot still sitting on the table.

So I’m trying to get back to it. A few opportunities have sailed, sure, but October wasn’t that long ago. The book isn’t even six months old. And it just came out in print a little while ago. I’m in a steadier place now, and I’m trying to use this place to build momentum. I know from experience that you can’t force it. A little bit each day, then a little bit more.

So I’ve been trying to write and tweet more, about writing and design, but also just in general. I’m trying to be zen about having done the best I could at the time, even if it was less good than I wanted, and continuing to do the best I can going forward. I think that’s the real best advice I have to offer: do what you can today.

Why not?

One of several moments when I should have turned around on a long dumb dangerous drive.

I wrote this a month ago, but felt like I couldn’t quite finish the thought, so it just sat on my desktop, a taunting little text file called “why not”. So I’m just going to take my own advice and post what I’ve got. Why not?


It’s been a month since Mom died. I have made it, very much by design, a busy month.

I’m grieving, of course, but I decided I wasn’t going to let grief steal another year of my life. A friend asked me last night what it feels like when it hits. I said it feels like I’m a cartoon character who’s had an anvil dropped on my head. Just absolutely, suddenly, crushingly stunned. I’ve had to put my hands out to steady myself on walls when walking, struck by some fleeting thought, some innocent memory. So I’m grieving. But I just could not, was not going to do it balled up on my couch, alone. I grieved the loss of an old life during my divorce, grieved when mom first got her cancer diagnosis, grieved the death of a beloved teacher, the death of a best friend, the loss of friendships, of partnerships, of a cherished relationship … I’m tired from it. I don’t want to feel like the shape of my life is outlined by loss. So I knew I had to make new things, keep going, trying, fighting. And I’m doing lots of new things, things that seemed scary before. Why not?

I drove Dad’s truck back, a 2,000 mile road trip through bad weather to clear my head, because I wanted to. Why not?

I’ve shot seven rolls of film, which is seven more than I’ve ever shot in my life. And I’ve been sharing them, and bought a new old film camera, and already got some prints made and am scheming on hanging a show somewhere. I’ve always wanted to have an art show somewhere. Why not?

I wrote a new song, and memorized it, and took it out and performed it at an open mic night, which is a thing I have never done before even though it’s been a goal of mine for years. Why not?

I got a new therapist. I’d been meaning to for a year, made some half-hearted inquiries, never followed through. This time I got it done in an hour, made the appointment, went, set some goals. Why not?

I was feeling sad that I’m not better friends with someone I used to date, so I invited them to lunch on a whim and told them exactly that. Why not?

One of the last gifts Mom gave me was courage. It’s almost impossible to imagine something that will be harder than that night a month ago, watching her fade away and die and forget who she was, who we were. Which isn’t to say I’m immune to nerves, nor even especially confident – I literally shook with nerves the entire time at the open mic. But it feels like I’ve been through the worst, and lived. And, while I don’t believe this in a literal sense, I do feel Mom’s presence in my life still, encouraging me and rooting for me. I miss you like crazy, Mom. I love you bunches. Gonna keep giving ’em hell. Why not?

I’m not looking at you

A new post I wrote for work went up on the Brain Traffic blog yesterday. Continues the series on ecosystem mapping. I knocked this one out quickly, albeit late (sorry Bailey), but only after a lot of hemming and hawing. Sometimes I forget my own advice and just stare stubbornly at a blank screen, then get distracted by social media and forget that I’d even been trying to write. No good.

But I did get it done, thanks to my longtime thinking companion MindNode. Dumped some ideas there, quick, so I could see where I was trying to go. I’m more effective as a writer when I have a reference point. I think the habit started in school, when I didn’t really know anything about writing and would improve my papers by printing them out and then just rewriting them from the beginning as I looked at the original.

If I don’t have anything to reference, I’ll look at nothing. Really. If I’m just writing a journal entry or something, or doing some warm-up writing, I’ll stare off into space as I type. (This gets me odd looks at the coffee shop.) Looking at the keyboard trips me up, and watching what I type makes me want to edit it instead of continuing, so I just don’t even look at it.

The mindmap I made bears only a vague resemblance to the finished piece, but that’s not really the point. It was the just grease to unstick the wheel.

What a bunch of nerds we are

Behind the music.

Been writing songs with my buddy Jon for a few weeks now. Our songwriting sessions keep reminding me of the money laundering scene from Office Space:

I can’t believe what a bunch of nerds we are. We’re looking up money laundering in a dictionary.

As you can see in the above photo, I resorted to sketching out a song structure on my notepad during the last session. I also marked out the rhyme scheme (AABB for the verses, ABAB for the chorus) and circled the words that rhymed to make sure it was all connecting. I imagine these things will get internalized more as we gain experience, but for now I’m trying to stick to the basics. One of my top tips in Writing for Designers is to create structure to guide your writing – such as an outline – and I’m finding that helps me with songwriting, too.

Things I’ve wondered out loud during our songwriting sessions include:

  • Wait, how do songs work?
  • Where is a bridge is supposed to go?
  • Three verses makes it a song, right?

It’s been refreshing and enlightening to have: a creative constraint (from weekly challenges issued at the open mic night), a deadline (one week until the next open mic), and a partner (Jon). I’ve gone whole years without actually finishing a song, and in the last five weeks we’ve written three. So here’s to being nerds, I suppose.

Shut up, you

Been using the app Streaks for close to a year. I know this because I borrowed the idea for a “Don’t Die” habit from @hotdogsladies, and that one is closing in on 365.

Habit tracking is about building habits, right? Obviously. You want to read more, so you make “Read for 5 Minutes” a habit, and if you get used to doing that, reading for five minutes or more a day becomes habitual, to where you eventually don’t need the reminder. Except that’s not really why I use it. It’s not the main benefit for me, anyway.

The main reason I track little “good things to do every day” habits is so I can tell the ugly little voice in my head SHUT UP, YOU. If I’m putting too much pressure on myself, or was just unable to pull off any uniquely productive work in a day for whatever reason — I didn’t write anything worthwhile, didn’t take any good pictures, maybe didn’t even leave the house — I can still look at Streaks and say “Today wasn’t so bad. You read. You texted with a friend. You did DuoLingo. You flossed. You ate a vegetable.” And so on. Or, if I didn’t do any of those things, I can still say “No big, man. We’ll get a jump on it tomorrow.”

I mean, I’d rather not be someone who has to regularly remind himself that he’s not a worthless piece of shit. But I am that someone, so I do. Have to remind myself, that is. And habit tracking helps.

Links of late | 2019-02-24

  • Dynamic type support on iOS is a thing developers need to pay attention to. I’m not a developer so I skimmed this, but I am someone with attention and sensory processing challenges that lend me to preferring larger type, custom fonts, and other accessibility tweaks. Seems like a lot of other people are adjusting their font sizes, too.
  • A $15 minimum wage is an antidepressant.” If you want to be all Mr. Logical about how $15/hour is arbitrary and really it should be indexed to the blah blah blah, fine, but if that prevents you from voting for people who support a living wage, buzz off. Politicking is hard and if “Fight for Fifteen” gets people jazzed and builds the kind of support we need to pass legislation to make things better for real people who are alive and working for poverty wages right now, I’m all for it.
  • My friend Adrienne correctly guessed that I would enjoy Can’t Unsee, an online game of spotting inconsistencies between two versions of an interface design. Thanks Ade!
  • Sammy the Beagle, aka Confab Sammy, turned 13 recently and was rightfully celebrated both at work and at home. I did not plan any of this but I did sign the card. Happy birthday Sammy!
  • People’s $300+ Nike smart sneakers are getting bricked by a bad firmware update. LOL.
  • “I’m going to make the case that socialism is good and capitalism is bad and that you should be a socialist and use your life to try to make the world more socialistic.” This is a really good speech.

Unambiguously mine

My book is in print now. Available in print, anyway. Print on demand. I have a printed copy. (I don’t want to get “you wrote a text”-ed about my book and its relationship to paper. But I digress.)

I did not know this was going to happen when I agreed to write for the Briefs series, so it’s been a delightful surprise. I’m glad it happened relatively soon after the original release of Writing for Designers, too.

I’ve been sharing my thoughts on writing and content and design with the broader UX world for almost a decade now. Long enough to see ideas from my talks and tweets and blog posts get … upcycled, let’s call it … into other people’s talks, tweets, even books. Not maliciously, often not even consciously, I imagine. But it happens. So it’s been nice to be able to look at a thing I’ve made and say: “Yes. This is unambiguously mine. I made it and it exists and it happened and here is the proof.”

A lot of things I’ve done are kind of…squishy. Spaces. Events. Programs. Campaigns. Concepts. All things I’ve enjoyed, but not things I can stick directly on a shelf. I’d collect trinkets; a DMMC lighter, a Gross Domestic Product poster, a Market Day button, “Speaker” badges from umpteen conferences. But trinkets get dusty, and untidy, and they aren’t the thing, just a reminder of it. My dad always talked about how satisfying it was to look back after a day of laying brick and be able to see your labor. (He also liked to take circuitous routes through Omaha so Mom and I could see his labor, too.)

So this is what I’m brainstorming now. How can I render and represent my labors? I’m getting more photos printed, for starters. Even hung a couple up in my apartment. Vain? Sure. Inspiring? Also yes.

I’m incredibly grateful to everyone that’s ordered a paper copy of the book, especially those who already bought the ebook back in October. If you’re one of them, please consider sharing a photo of it on your desk, bookshelf…hell, even on top of your toilet tank. It’s very motivating, and I can always use a bit more of that.