Random Notes

The public notebook of writer and essayist Scott Nesbitt

Dave Winer on why you're crazy not to use an outliner :

It's just a tool, not a religion, or a cause, it has no mystical properties. It's just useful. Like you use a hammer for some things and a screwdriver for others. It's also easy to use. Text on rails.

Well, crazy is a bit harsh. But he does make some good points. And yes, Dave, I do use one!

The worst thing that you can do as a musician is listen to your fans, listen to what they want. Don't ever listen because everyone has an opinion. The most important thing is to create music in a vacuum. There's a great irony, a great paradox about being an artist: to be an artist, I think you have to be incredibly selfish but, at the same time, you need people to buy what you do.

You cannot pay attention to what your fans want. To evolve as a musician, to be true to yourself you need to be incredibly selfish.

Steven Wilson

What Steven Wilson said doesn't merely apply to music. It applies to ever creative endeavour. If you respond to the whims of your audience, you'll lose them eventually. And there's a chance you won't gain a new one. Your current audience might become very fickle and turn away when they get bored of you giving them what they want.

David Bowie was successful mainly because he always stayed a few steps ahead of his audience. Bowie shaped the audience's wants, not the other way around.

For most of us, though, that approach can be hit or miss. We might gain a wider audience. We might lose our current one. Or we could be playing to an empty house.

Being selfish, and taking the risks involved with being selfish, is worth it. You stay true to yourself as a creator.

While taking digital notes has its advantages, for many of us the good old fashioned paper notebook is a must.

Why? If you're on the go, or even if you're not, it's faster and easier to jot down and idea or quote with a notebook and a pen than it is with a smartphone or tablet.

What paper notebook you use is a personal choice. I've met writers whose favourites, and the reasons for choosing those favourites, don't mesh with mine. There's nothing wrong with that — I don't believe there's a one-size-fits-all solution to anything.

Here's some advice to help you if you're struggling to find the right paper notebook.

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There are many, many ways to draw eyeballs to your blog. Some are good. Some aren't. And some, to be blunt, are just downright sleazy.

Sadly, far too many (and one is too many) writers take the latter route. They'll write click bait headlines and write (often halfheartedly) about controversial subjects. All in the hope of driving traffic to their sites and, perhaps, picking up a bit of revenue from advertising.

Doing that doesn't raise the level of conversation or argument online. It doesn't teach. It doesn't really inform. It doesn't help anyone.

Why waste your time and effort dancing for a few nickels? Why not write something that's worthwhile? Why not write something that helps people, something that teaches them, something that inspires them?

The goal of writing isn't just to make money. That's a huge part of it; I've been earning my living through words for ... well, longer than I care to admit. And while making money is my prime motivation, it's not the only one. I want to share information, share what I've learned, and to tell interesting stories that some people might not otherwise hear.

How do I do that? Not by writing click bait. Not by being controversial. OK, controversy can create cash. But if you're going to be controversial then you should be honest. You should believe what you're writing. You should be able to back your opinions and ideas up with facts. Don't create controversy just to annoy people or herd them to your site. If you do that, they won't come back.

If you write, or if you want to write, be serious about it. Try not to write simply to get attention. Write to help, to instruct, to inform. That way, you'll build an audience and help ensure your longevity as a writer.

Far too often (and once is too often), I hear or see something by writers who, when looking back at their early work, express shock and horror at how cringeworthy that work is.

It's a silly reaction. They're being far too dramatic.

They seem to forget that they're not that writer any more. The writer they are now isn't the writer they were when they penned that early work.

That goes for you, too. At least, I hope it does.

If you've been doing everything you should have — studying your craft, writing with intent, pressing the Publish button, getting feedback, and repeating the process — you should have grown as a writer. You'll have improved, honed your craft, and expanded your skills.

Instead of cringing or expressing horror at your older work, you should look closely at it. You should take in how far you've come.

You'll see glimpses of the writer you are now in those early pieces. Sure, that work will lack polish and sometimes seem laboured, but the core of you as a writer is in there. A while back, I resurrected an unpublished science essay that I wrote in the early 1990s. That essay needed to be updated, rewritten a bit, and pared down. But overall, in my opinion, it was a good piece of both writing and thinking.

I view that essay, and the writing I did in that period, as being part of the foundation of the career I have. Yes, I would write all of those articles and essays differently if I was tackling them now. That's not the point. Writing all those words, including (I'd argue especially) the unpublished words, were what made me the writer I am today.

So, if you feel the urge to look back at what you wrote early in your journey as a writer then remember to view that work as the first steps you took. The first steps that led you where you are now.

That's telling a person something they're struggling to learn or do is easy.

Sure, it might be easy for you but it isn't for them. If it was easy, they wouldn't be struggling, would they?

Telling a person that something with which they're struggling is easy makes them feel inadequate. It makes them feel inferior. Frankly, it makes them feel stupid.

Whenever you come across someone who's struggling like that, don't tell them that what they're trying to do is easy. Instead, find out why they're struggling. Offer what advice you can or point them to a person or a resource that can actually help them.

Confession time: I have something of a like/dislike relationship with list posts on a blog. On any blog.

On one hand, list posts are a fast and fairly easy way to get posts out on the web. And, if done properly, they can be useful and informative.

On the other hand, list posts can be a lazy blogger's way to slap together a post and, maybe, squeeze out some Google Juice. In many cases, list posts are packed with SEO keywords and aren't as useful as they could be.

While I don't write all that many list posts, I try to make the ones that I do write interesting and informative. I might not always succeed, but it can be done.

Let's take a look at one way to write useful list posts.

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I'm happy to announce that my new ebook, Learning HTML: A Quick and Dirty Guide for Writers, has hit the virtual bookshelves.

As you probably know, most of what you find on the web is formatted with HTML (short for HyperText Markup Language). While you don't need to know HTML to publish on the web, knowing HTML can definitely be an advantage. Especially when you need to fix bad or broken formatting.

That's where Learning HTML comes in. By working through this book, you'll quickly learn the basics of HTML. You'll be able to work comfortably and confidently with HTML code when you need to. Regardless of whether you're a blogger, a journalist, a content strategist, or a technical writer, knowing HTML will benefit you and your career.

This book teaches you:

  • The basic structure of a web page or document.
  • How to create headings, paragraphs, and lists.
  • How to build tables.
  • How to add images, audio, and video to your web pages or documents.

And a little bit more. None of that's complex. It just takes a bit of effort to learn and to master. By the end of this book, you won't be a web designer or a web developer. You will have a solid foundation upon which you can build if you want or need to learn more.

Learning HTML is based on the shortcuts I've used, as well as the training I've given to colleagues and other writers over the years. I've distilled what I've taught to all those writers into short, easy-to-understand and easy-to-digest chapters.

You can read a sample chapter if you're curious. You can buy the EPUB and PDF versions of the book on on Gumroad.

Everything these days seems to be a competition. A drive to convince us that one thing is better than another. Competing products, competing ideas, competing methods and styles. In the end, all that competition is an effort to grab market share and mindshare and, of course, profits.

All that competition is manufactured. The folks spurring on that competition want us to believe otherwise, though. They want to make us believe that our lives and our lifestyles would be diminished if we don't latch on to whatever they're foisting.

In 2015, I went on a small electronics buying spree. One of the devices I bought was a Pebble Time smartwatch. Sure, I could have gone with the more expensive option and snatched up an Android Wear or Samsung or Apple smartwatch. I didn't, and still don't, need everything that the fanboys tout as being great about their particular devices. My Pebble Time was simple, which is a key feature that I look for in many a device.

Maybe the world would be a better place if we didn't constantly strive to crush our enemies, see them driven before us, and hear the lamentation of their village folk. Maybe it would be a better place if we let everything find its niche or its market and not worry about the choices of others.

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