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.

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.

Showing up in Seattle

Airplane window view of downtown Seattle.
Airplane window view of downtown Seattle.

Just back from Interaction 19, a big design conference held in Seattle this year. I gave my How to Get the Writing Done talk on Thursday in the Cinerama, a lovely theatre space with an intimidatingly-large screen.

Scott speaking in a movie theatre space in front of a large screen displaying his slides.
Photo by José Lara from early in my talk at Interaction 19.

I almost didn’t go. Thought about canceling when Mom died in December. I didn’t know what kind of state I was going to be in. (I still don’t quite know what kind of state I’m in.) But I’d grown tired of putting my life on hold every six-to-twelve months to deal with some personal tragedy. So I stuck it out. I’m glad I did.

I skipped what I’m sure was a lovely speaker reception, and didn’t stay long at one of the happy hours on Thursday. There were some old friends I should have talked up, and some new connections left unmade. More than my mood could manage. I put my energy into getting there, getting back, and giving a good presentation. Check, check, and check. We’ll call it a win. Sometimes showing up is all you can do.

Interview: The Write Stuff

Corey Gwin is building a writing app called Blurt. To promote the app, he’s been writing about writing. To promote my book, I’ve been tweeting about writing. I tweeted out one of the things he wrote, which made him notice me, and then he asked me to do a video interview for a series he’s doing to promote his app, which I was happy to do to promote my book. Ah, the virtuous cycle of online self-promotion 🙂 

I did it at the office, as my kitchen at home has all the visual personality of a corporate break room. The headset I’d planned to use was not working well, so I was glad I had my trusty Apple earbuds handy. Probably one of the better products they’ve ever made, dollar-to-value wise.

Write every day, yes, fine, I’m trying

My journal is full of entries, my Ulysses inbox is full of notions and half-starts. So I’m writing a lot. I’m writing a lot. Good. Great. But I’m not quite getting to what I want to with a lot of it. I want to be on that Austin Kleon wavelength, you know? That easy, collected, curious tone of a blog written by someone who knows what they’re into and what they’re about, and also knows what people are into about them.

This is maybe the fifth post I’ve started writing tonight. Gotta finish something to be able to publish something, so I’m gonna commit to publishing this one now and keep going.

The difficulty isn’t word making so much thing making. I can make the words go all damn day. The first draft of my book was twice as long as they wanted (whoops). So that’s not hard. Laborious maybe, but not hard. It’s the discipline, the shaping, guiding the words somewhere, toward a thing, a unit you can post and share and promote … or at least pick a damned title for. That’s hard. For me, anyway.

My buddy Rob tweeted recently about not trying to make his posts perfect, and instead just publishing more, which I think is a great sentiment. Perfectionism is a big bad in my productivity rogues’ gallery. But I don’t think that’s quite what I’m wrestling with lately.

“So what am I wrestling with?”, he asked himself, in the hopes of prompting an answer from within.

Yeah, not sure.

I think some of it, tonight especially, has been tripping over … what, ambition? Lack of discipline? Something that starts small and might make for a nice little post blooms out into stubs for several posts, or an idea for a project, or no wait maybe I’ll start a Twitter thread about this! So instead of one simple little finished thing I have five little unfinished things or one big unfinished thing, and in either case they’ve sort of sucked the air out of the room.

My experience with these things is that it’s often a matter of habit. Get used to stopping, proofing it, naming it, hitting publish. Sometimes to finish you’ve just got to stop. So let’s.

(Update: Wrote this several nights ago and not sure why I didn’t publish it? This is maybe a different problem.)

UX Book Club Meetup at Solstice

My friend Michael Metts came out and snuck a few nice photos.
My friend Michael Metts came out and snuck a few nice photos.

Recently back from an overnight trip to Chicago to speak with their UX Book Club. My book Writing for Designers was the featured book, and they hosted a Q&A style event with the author, who is me! This was the first time I’ve been at an in-person event specifically because I wrote a book. I thought I’d be more nervous about it but I never really was, just excited. Blind dates and conference talks are more stressful.

Getting to Chicago

When I first started speaking and embarking on my current career in earnest, around 2012, I was always looking at events like this and wondering: how does that work? Logistically and financially, I mean. Are authors getting paid to do Meetups? (LOL, no.) Are publishers paying to send them there? (LOL, no.) Are authors making enough on book sales from these appearances to justify the cost? (LOLOLOL. No.) For my niche industry book and where I’m at in my career, none of those things were the case. Turns out it’s just a lot of asking people nicely for a bit of help.

As part of the pre-launch marketing for my book, I sent lightly-customized emails to several hundred people (about half of my LinkedIn connections) to say a bit about the book and ask for help. My friend Cate Kompare, a lovely human that I coincidentally met at a different UX book club in Champaign-Urbana many years ago, replied to say that her employer Solstice has been hosting more events, and asked what it would cost to get me out there. I quoted a modest appearance fee for a private event, and said that I could also do it for just travel reimbursement for a public event. They were able to do the latter, and Cate coordinated co-presenting it through the UX Book Club Chicago. Kristina and Brain Traffic have been very supportive, and were happy to handle invoicing my expenses and giving me the time to get down there.

I smashed the trip right into my work schedule. I had a conference call Tuesday morning up until I needed to leave for the airport, and did a bit of work in the afternoon at Solstice before the Meetup started. I was back in the office around 11:30 the next day, and right back to work.

They had a desk set aside for me with some goodies and I got to play-act working at a big company for a couple hours. Someone even came up and introduced themselves thinking I might be a new employee, which was sweet.
They had a desk set aside for me with some goodies and I got to play-act working at a big company for a couple hours. Someone even came up and introduced themselves thinking I might be a new employee, which was sweet.

The flight was about $250, the hotel about $175, and three Lyft rides totaling around $80. I paid for food on my own and took the light rail and bus home from the airport to land closer to the $500 in travel expenses estimate I’d given Cate. (And if I’m not in a hurry, I prefer taking the train home anyway.)

Being the author

I have to admit I was pretty delighted to see this pop up on Google while grabbing directions to the office.
I have to admit I was pretty delighted to see this pop up on Google while grabbing directions to the office.

A couple of days before the event, Cate asked if I’d want to set up a merch table or other sort of display. A totally smart question that caught me off guard. Shit! It’s an ebook! I don’t have, like, a thing! Luckily I still had some A Book Apart buttons and stickers from my launch event in Minneapolis. I made a little display of them and some of my Brain Traffic business cards next to the pizza laid out for the meetup. I’m thinking I might want to get a little poster in a photo frame and a newsletter sign-up sheet on a clipboard, maybe some postcards, for future events. It’s not all that important if people even sign up or take your card, but it does help to make things look more “official” and put together.

Years of Confab experience has made me good at not acting like my picture is being taken while very aware that my picture is being taken. I really enjoyed the conversations during and after the event as folks were genuinely interested in UX writing, not just content strategy.
Years of Confab experience has made me good at not acting like my picture is being taken while very aware that my picture is being taken. I really enjoyed the conversations during and after the event as folks were genuinely interested in UX writing, not just content strategy.

Cate and Shane (one of the Meetup organizers) prepared some excellent questions. There were also great ad-hoc questions from the audience. I tried to stick to my guns of only answering questions I felt like I could really answer, and saying “I don’t know” for the rest, but I did feel a pressure I haven’t really felt before to be the expert. I don’t think this was a good instinct, necessarily, but I did feel liberated to speak with a bit more passion and conviction than maybe I have in the past. If people don’t like my answers they can yell at me on Twitter! I know I turned around at least one question about content testing that I don’t have as much experience with to the audience.

Ten times more

On Back to Work, Merlin has talked several times about the “ten times more” metric. The gist is: look at something in your life and ask if you’d want ten times more of that. For instance, I had a bit of fun buying and selling vintage clothing at pop-up markets and filling orders on Etsy, but not so much fun that I wanted ten times more of it. Realizing that made me it easier to let go of when it became too much.

So that’s what I’m chewing on now, after an event like this. Do I want ten times more writing books, going to meetups, talking to people who care about this stuff as much as I do? I’m leaning towards yes.

Extremely grateful to Cate, everyone else at Solstice whose names I’ve already forgotten (sorry!), Shane and the Chicago UX Book Club, and everyone who came out. Let’s do it again sometime!