Random Notes

The public notebook of writer and essayist Scott Nesbitt

It may not come out in these missives I send your way every so often, but I've been writing professionally for a long time. Since 1989/1990. I still find that hard to believe ...

While I still have a lot to learn about this craft we call writing, I like to think that I know a thing or two about it as well. A few years ago, I informally coached a few people who aspired to write. Some of them wanted to turn pro one day. Some wrote (and still do) because they enjoyed it and wanted to improve.

There's one piece of advice that I kept giving them: write every day. I sounded like a record that keeps skipping, but that's the key to improving as a writer. Practice. Practice. And more practice.

For a few of those folks, finding time to write was (and sometimes still is) a challenge. To help them tackle that challenge, I advised them to write morning pages.

The idea behind morning pages is simple: first thing, or thenabouts. in the morning you sit down with pen and paper and just writer. Morning pages are a solid tool for getting through a creative block, or just a cathartic therapy.

But morning pages are an excellent way to practice writing, too. If nothing else, writing morning pages clears cruft from brain so you can get the words that you want down on a page or on the screen. Because, as Mike Baron has said many times over the years:

Every would-be writer has a million words of sh*t clogging up his system. You have to get it out before you get to the good stuff.

Your morning pages are your own. You don't have to make your morning pages public unless you want to.

It doesn't matter how much you write — it can be 100 words or 500 words or more. It doesn't matter how you write. You can craft your morning pages by hand in journal or on legal pad. You can write using a text editor or word processor. You can use a dedicated online tool like 750 Words. The key is to sit down and get words from your brain on to paper or a screen. The goal is to write. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Doing that builds the discipline of writing. Having that discipline is key component to 1) improving as a writer, and 2) being able to take a stab at writing professionally.

Someone writing in a notebook Photo by fotografierende from Pexels

It doesn't exist.

It never will.

I'd love to see a world in which no one is hungry. A world where everyone has a roof over their heads. Where everyone is healthy.

I'd love to see a world in which anyone needs to worry about being killed because they're from a different place, of a different community, or of a different ideology. A world in which what you have to offer is more important than where you're from or who you vote for or how much money you have.

I'd love to see a world in which we didn't have to worry about petty, paranoid co-workers waiting to undermine us at every turn. Where the disabled aren't stared at and shunned, but accepted and encouraged.

That world can never exist. But there's no reason why we can't make this world better. It all starts with everyone making a small gesture.

Cities have been on my mind a lot lately. Having been a city dweller all my life, I like to think I understand the good and the bad of these large environments we cram ourselves into.

Thoughts have been poking towards the front of my brain. Questions, too. Questions like:

  • Is the city as we know it sustainable?
  • How can we make cities more liveable?
  • Is the idea of the smart, connected city a good one?
  • What options do we have going forward?

I'm no urban theorist. I'm definitely not a utopian. But those questions, those thoughts ricocheting through my brain just won't go away. I'm devoting quite a bit of mental energy to those questions and thoughts. I'm hoping to muse more coherently, more completely, and in an informed way about the city in 2020, maybe in my newsletter or in a short ebook.

A view of Toronto, the city in which I grew up Photo by Harrison Haines from Pexels

We all come to them at least once in our lives. With some people, it's several times.

So much hangs in the balance when choosing the path to take at those crossroads. Taking that path could change everything, or it could change nothing.

Right now, I'm seeing a crossroads coming clearly into view. I don't know when I'll reach them. I don't know what path I'll need to take. I don't even know whether taking that path will make much of a difference in my life.

Interesting times ...

A crossroads somewhere in Italy Image by Yakir from Pixabay

What do a cheeseburger with no toppings, a piece of new lumber, and some of my writing have in common? They lack fancy touches. They're fairly simple. They're not adorned with any frills.

My writing style has been described as simple. In some cases, simple was used in the pejorative. I've taken heat the lack of frills in my writing and for not adding many (if any) literary technique to the mix.

Yes, my writing is simple. And you know what? I like it that way.

Let me explain.

My writing is all non fiction — articles, essays, documentation, communication, and the like. What I write doesn't lend itself to heavy literary adornment.

Why? It just gets in the reader's way. It disrupts the flow of writing and reading.

On top of that, it can be hard to get fancy when you're staring down the barrel of a loaded deadline. With certain things you're writing you just need to cut to the chase. Nothing fancy, just say Here it is, and here's what it can do/benefit you.


I'm usually very cool towards new technology. I generally don't geek out or go all fanboy when a new tablet or notebook computer or phone comes on the market. Often, that lack of enthusiasm is mistaken for something else.

That something else is fear. Yes, people accuse me of fearing new technology and tools.

What many of them don't seem to understand is that I make my living with technology. I've used more technology over the years than many of them have. Or maybe ever will.

I don't fear technology. But I don't worship at its altar, either.

As I mentioned at the top of this post, most new technology leaves me cold. I have little interest in or use for it. I'm not caught up in any company's or platform's marketing hype or its reality distortion field. I don't believe that my life is or will be better with the newest phone or tablet or computer or gadget.

I'm not emotionally or financially invested in those devices. Or in any technology. My sense of worth and identity isn't wrapped up in the technology I buy or use.

A bunch of devices on someone's desk

There a certain tension between digital and physical books. While I'm not against either, and like reading both equally, I keep wondering whether or not reading ebooks has changed our reading habits. I wonder if we're reading too quickly, not thinking a bit more deeply about what we're reading. I sometimes think aloud whether or not we're getting everything we can from what we read digitally.

Maybe it's time seriously consider reading deeply. To stop and think about what we're reading on our devices. To take notes. To put what we're reading into context with what we know about a subject or an author's work.

Maybe that's a challenge for me. And for the fives of people reading this. For the next week, try to read more mindfully. Take notes. Think about what you're reading and digest it.

An ebook reader atop a stack of printed books

By draft blogger, I mean a blogger who starts writing posts but never finishes them. Someone who has more unfinished blog posts than they do published ones.

Until you finish writing posts, until you publish them, you can't call yourself a blogger. You're just practicing. You're just pretending. You're just going through the motions.

Draft blog posts mean nothing to you or to readers. That's especially true when you weigh those drafts against what you've already published on your blog.


I've said it before and I'll say it again: f**k the tl;dr crowd. There is a place for longer-form writing on the web. And in print, too.

There are many people (far too many, in my opinion) who only want quick hits of information. Headlines. Listicles. Summaries. There's more to reading, and understanding, than small chunks of information.

That's where longer-form writing — writing that runs 2,000 or 3,000 or more words — comes in. Here's why I think it still matters.

Longer-form writing lets you tell a story. Not just a snapshot, but a fuller, more complete story. You can tell that story from its logical beginning and tie in any background that's needed.

Longer-form writing offers depth. This ties in with being able to tell a story. You can go into more detail with a longer piece. You can bring in conflicting view points. You can not just present the bigger picture, but look at the smaller pictures that make up that big picture.

Longer-form writing promotes analysis. Very little in this world is cut and dry. Very little is black and white. There are twists and turns. There are gray areas. By properly analyzing a story or an issue, you can bring some clarity to that story or issue.

Longer-form writing can last. It might not be for the ages, but a more in-depth article or essay or interview has a longer shelf life than the quick hit of information I mentioned at the start of this post. Readers can come back to a longer piece of writing — one which tells a story, offers analysis, and goes into more depth — to learn, to understand, and to enjoy.

What about readers with short attention spans? I constantly hear arguments about some peoples' attention spans are growing shorter and shorter. And how some people won't consider reading anything longer than a few paragraphs.

If you choose to write a longer piece, remember that you're not writing for people who can't or won't focus. Ignore that audience. Instead, tell the best story that you can with the number of words you need to use.

A woman typing, something I hope is long form, on a laptop

The good old paper notebook seems to have had a bit of a renaissance in recent years. Why? I've never been too sure about that. But I've noticed that people who've adopted notebooks tend to fall into three groups:

  • Those jumping on a bandwagon because Productivity Expert X uses and endorses one
  • Folks who feel nostalgia for what they believe to be a simpler time
  • People who actually find notebooks useful

For someone my age, though, a paper notebook isn't a novelty. I've been using notebooks to record thoughts, ideas, quotes, and more for decades. Even though my handwriting is legible only to about three or four people in the world, a notebook is one of the tools I turn to most.

For me, a notebook represents both utility and portability. I can whip out a notebook and a pen, get down my thoughts, and be on my way faster than I can with a phone or tablet. I don't have to worry about my notebook running out of juice or lacking a 4G or wifi connection. The main dangers are my pen running out of ink or there not being enough pages in the notebook.

With a notebook, my thoughts can't outrace my hand. I need to consider and ponder what I write. That forces me to be economical with my words, to pare my thoughts and ideas down to their cores. It's that economy that helps me improve as both a writer and a thinker.

More than anything else, a notebook is comforting. Its heft reminds me that I have a different kind of portable hard drive. One that's analog rather than digital, one that's read/write, and which stands the test of time.

Someone writing in a notebook

Enter your email to subscribe to updates.