Random Notes

The public notebook of writer and essayist Scott Nesbitt

Not everything you do or create has to be awesome or brilliant or killer. Don't fall into the trap of believing that.

Believing that makes you afraid to fail. It makes you hesitant to publish or ship or to even create. It makes you agonize endlessly, over every little detail.

Most of the time, producing something that's just good is more than enough.

Looking isn't seeing.

Hearing isn't listening.

A knee-jerk reaction isn't thinking.

Unless you pay attention, you missithings. Important things. Subtle things. Little nuances. By paying attention, you understand more. You learn more. You feel more. You wind up not looking like an idiot when you open your mouth or put fingers to keyboard. Or, at least, not so much of one.

As you may or may not know, I write and publish the occasional ebook. It's been in the works for a while, but I'm happy to announce that the second edition of Learning Markdown has hit the virtual shelves.

What's new in this edition? Quite a bit, including:

  • The information about working with tables has moved to its own chapter.
  • I've expanded the sections on working with links and formatting code.
  • There's more information about creating lists, creating links, and working with footnotes.

Why this book? It quickly teaches you how to efficiently format your writing for the web using Markdown. Unlike the many cheatsheets available online, Learning Markdown explains the how and the why of using Markdown. Whether you're a journalist, a content strategist, a technical writer, a copywriter, a blogger, or even a software developer I'm sure you'll find Learning Markdown useful.

You can read a sample chapter if you're curious. And if you're ready to buy the book, you can find EPUB and PDF versions on Gumroad.

We live at a moment in time in which everything we do, everything put out in public must succeed the instant it appears. If not, it's an abject failure and not worth anyone's time. Far too many interesting and promising projects have been abandoned because they didn't succeed from moment one, because they weren't an instant hit.

Sadly, there's no room today for something that needs time to find an audience. There's no room for experimenting in public.

It shouldn't be that way.

Experiments are essential. And not just in science. No matter what you're doing, experiments give you the leeway to try something new. They offer an outlet to test an idea or a concept. They help you learn what works and what doesn't.

In many ways, Buckminster Fuller's philosophy have influenced not just my thinking but my approach to life. I view my life as an experiment — definitely not as grand as Fuller's drive to discover what a single individual could contribute to changing the world and benefiting all humanity but an experiment nonetheless.

Take, for example, this newsletter. In the grander scheme of the world, it's hardly a blip. But for me, it was (and is) a big step. Even though I've been writing professionally for the better part of 25 years, I still lack some confidence in my abilities. That lack of confidence makes me wary of putting some of my writing, especially my more personal work, out there. Over the last several months, I've lost a few subscribers (I expected that), but I gained more. More importantly, I know that what I've written has touched a few of the fives of people who read this newsletter. For me, that's more important than have a wider base of readers who might not be engaged.

I don't see why you can't perform your experiments in public. Doing that offers a lot of transparency into what you're doing. Admittedly, you'll have to endure a number of slings and arrows while experimenting. No matter what you say, those slings and arrows will sting. They will hurt. You need to find a way to go past all that.

What others say shouldn't stop you from experimenting. What you come up with might not change the world, but it could make your little portion of the world better. If nothing else, experimenting will help you grow. It will help make you a better person, even in just a small way.

Sometimes you read something that makes you shake your head. In my case, it was reading this post.

Go ahead, give it a once over. I'll be here waiting for you.

Done? Great. Let's continue.

The thrust of that post is simple: personal blogs have disappeared off the web, and they really need to make a comeback. OK ...

The personal blogosphere isn't dead. It's not dying. There are ... well, I don't know how many personal blogs out there. Some of them are linkstations. Some of them are personal notebooks and journals. Others are outlets for long form writing. Those blogs are as a diverse as the people who publish them.

It's not as if time and the evolution of blogging haven't changed things. You can argue, and quite rightly, that personal blogging got overshadowed by so-called professional blogging. You can argue, as I have, that blogging became something of an arms race and drove away some people who posted for fun. Some, but not all.

What I find hilariously uniformed about that post is the assertion that no one is blogging because there's no platform for them. Uh ... no. There are plenty of platforms. Write.as, Blogger (which Google hasn't killed, regardless of what the writer of that post says), Blot, WordPress.com (which hosts I don't know how many personal blogs), Ghost (ditto), Postachio. I'm sure you can name a bunch, too.

You might find it hard to discover personal blogs by doing a search, as the author of the post I pointed to a few paragraphs back did. It's not impossible. Just typing blog into your favourite search engine isn't going to get the job done.

I agree, though, that discovering blogs is a bit more difficult than it used to be. While Write.as makes it easy, many other platforms don't. That's not a failure of blogging, or proof that personal blogs don't exist or are dying. That points to a weakness those blogging platforms can, and should, address. It also points to the need to revive blogrolls and blogchains.

Personal blogging doesn't need to be brought back. It never left the web. While it might take you a bit more time to find those blogs, they're out there. It can be worth the time to track them down.

Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pexels

Not everything you do or create has to be awesome or brilliant or killer. Don't fall into the trap of believing that.

Believing that makes you afraid to fail. It makes you hesitant to publish or ship. It makes you agonize endlessly, over every little detail. Sometimes, that thinking blocks you from starting something. Anything.

Most of the time, creating something that's just good is more than enough.

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

It's a silly reaction, and I think 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 same writer they were when they penned that early work.

That goes for you, too.

If you've been doing everything you should have — studying your craft, writing with intent, clicking 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 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 few years ago, for example, 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. That essay couldn't compare to my later work.

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.

Talking about using (or not) your time during the coronavirus lockdown:

If you have a personal goal and a thing that you're trying to do in life and you decided this is when you're going to write the book, or put up the shelves or learn to speak a foreign language or whatever and you look around and you go a month went by, and all I managed to do was prepare food three times a day and shower. Great, well done.

This is a strange, stressful time you do not have to come out of it speaking Swahili. You do not have to come out of it having written the great New Zealand novel. You do not have to come out of it having solved some abstruse mathematical equations that you've been planning to do all of your life. Mostly your job is to come out of it.

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