(8/17/20) the painful joy of becoming a producer

Hey all,

I just wrapped up 5 weeks of David Perell’s whirlwind of a writing course (Write of Passage). I’ve never experienced anything like it, even though I only had a few hours per week to devote to it.

A few takeaways from the course. Replace any instance of “write” with the craftwork verb of your choice:

  1. You don’t write to prove your thoughts, you write in order to think.

  2. Avoid getting stuck in magnum opus mode. Write small things often.

  3. You are as original as the diversity and obscurity of your inputs (and how you connect them together).

  4. Writing is mostly assembling prior thoughts. Build a simple information capture system so you don’t lose them. I use a combination of Instapaper, Kindle, Readwise, and Roam Research.

  5. Writing should create conversation, which will enrich your writing further.

  6. You have an obligation to share your works and build up the works of others. The world needs more makers, less takers.

(Someone who does all of this very well, in the realm of music … the homie Dr. Srimix.)

I know there are readers of this humble newsletter that should be making and sharing their creations more often. If you’re hesitant or unsure of where to start, please reach out! Would love to hear from you.

What I’m Thinking About

As I started studying UI design this past calendar year, I reached out to a bunch of people in the field, some of whom I knew and some of whom I cold emailed. I wanted to understand what I should be learning and how I should get on the path of mastery.

There was one response that came up repeatedly: Train Your Eye, Up Your Taste.

I compiled a list of great designers and the products they built. I reproduced some of those designs, screen by screen, pixel by pixel, to get a feel for choices made.

Then I tried creating my own designs ... which weren't very good in comparison.

What my designer friends didn't tell me was that by upping my taste, I would for a long time consider anything I made a piece of shit.

I should've seen this coming, because I've stumbled through this same phenomenon while playing soccer as a teen, making music in college, and writing code as an adult.

Initial arrogance, zeal, and interest fades as you get better. And then you get stuck in the no-man’s land of recognizing the good but not knowing how to create it yourself.

This is the fate of makers and craftsmen. You start with the equivalent of finger paintings that your parents proudly post on the kitchen door. You confuse pride in creation with pride in quality. So you show off the painting to other painters, who think it's crap.

The origin story of a maker is at the crossroads of questions. What compels you to keep going? At what point do you decide something is good? Whose opinion matters? How do you continue your development? How do you maintain your motivation?

Maybe these questions have instilled in you a certain reverence for measurements. “What gets measured gets managed,” blah blah.

What complicates things further is that seeking objectivity through data, while a helpful lens, has its limits. As Apple designer-engineer Ken Kocienda wrote in Creative Selection:

Taste is developing a refined sense of judgment and finding the balance that produces a pleasing and integrated whole.

A/B tests might be useful in finding a color that will get people to click a link more often, but it can’t produce a product that feels like a pleasing and integrated whole. There aren’t any refined-like responses, and there’s no recognition of the need to balance out the choices.

WTF! Balance?? All this time I thought I could move towards something irrefutably “good” — and you’re telling me that at its limits, making things well is about balance?! (Engineers call it “tradeoffs”)

It’s no wonder there are more consumers than producers. Creating good things is hard. And the moment you try doing anything well, critics and trolls will emerge from the shadows. You begin to wonder why anyone would take the time to do anything well at all. And yet some of us just can’t seem to help ourselves but try.

Bullet-Point Summaries

Why You Should Design a Life - Ido Portal Interview with GQ

  1. Upgrade your passions into obsessions — that way you discover what drives you beyond mere motivation.

  2. In service of #1, you need to establish a daily centering practice (such as meditation) to examine your fundamental desires.

  3. Most people are torn apart by their minds. Having a “practice” of any kind brings your emotions to the forefront and teaches you how to respond, how to move with yourself and not against yourself.

A Thread on Publishing Books - Nassim Taleb

  1. Wave #1 — fashionable books with planned obsolescence. The entire book industry is designed for these.

  2. Wave #2 — of the above, only a few survive, maybe propped up by famous supporters and academics.

  3. Wave #3 — only 1k to 10k make it here. These books continue to be recommended despite all first-order odds.

  4. Avoid book launches and their wave #1 buyers, who buy books to buy books and rely on book reviews to decide what to buy.

  5. For wave #2 and wave #3, focus on the long term and the bottoms-up. Readers looking specifically for what you do will find you.

I really enjoyed writing this one, and I hope you found something interesting here that resonated. Until next week! I’ve got a few fun ones in the works for you.

Ammar