Creativity Writing

All writing is in the edit

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Like photography, all writing is in the edit.

When you fall into writer’s block — a myth, by the way — you should move freely between devices, formats, and even different places in order to shake out of it. Here’s one recommended writing approach I encourage you to try: 

First, start writing on paper to help generate ideas. Anything goes. Then type out what’s worth keeping on to your phone to finesse your text. Better yet, throw the first draft onto different apps like WordPress (read why I recommend WordPress for blogging here), Byword, Bear, or iAWriter and then process it for grammar through the Hemingway App or my favorite writing assistant, Grammarly.

In summary: 

  1. Write everything out on paper
  2. Type your notes out on your phone or computer
  3. Copy-paste written text into an app like Grammarly for proofreading

Blogger Michael Lopp sums up his writing process nicely in How to Write a Blog Post:

Repeat until it starts to feel done in your head. If it’s handwritten, type it into a computing device. When you are close to done, print it out on paper. Sit somewhere else with your favorite pen and edit your work harshly. If this piece is important, let someone else edit harshly.

That’s right! Print it out and edit it in a different place altogether. Some writers think better to the hum of the coffee shop, JK Rowling included. Others need absolute silence, preferring to stare at a wall so that the only work to look at is the one being created in the mind’s eye.

artwork by Alessandra Olanow

Write with intent to publish

Do you do your best proofreading after your writing is out there in the wild?

Write with intent to publish. Hitting the publish button forces you to scrutinize your work more closely. If you’re lucky it’s a blog post you can go back and edit. If it’s a tweet or an email, you might be fat out of luck.

The writing process is a messy one that includes not only different formats but also different writing environments. Sometimes a great sentence starts on paper; other times it starts on your smartphone. Just be ready to review it a few times before you hit publish.

Music Productivity & Work Writing

Want to focus? Seek ambient sound

One of the greatest myths of our time is that silence is golden. But complete silence will keep you from working effectively. It may even put you to sleep.

J. K. Rowling left the solitude of her own home to write the Harry Potter series in a coffee shop amid the cacophony of people chatting over grinding espresso machines.

The noisy environment inspired her to get to work. Studies show that just enough sound creates an ambient environment conducive to working by drowning out any other unpredictable racket in the background.

The power of music

Studies also show that learning to play an instrument makes it easier for children to learn how to read. Additionally, the “Mozart Effect” is said to improve concentration and study habits. Surgeons often use popular music during operations to relax both the patient and themselves. Muzak takes the awkward silence out of the elevator.

The right type of noise is critical to working effectively. In fact, many CEOs expect disruptions in the form of email and calls to ensure the business is actively operating. Silence is the antithesis of productivity.

In order to stay motivated and remain productive, we need perpetual sound rather than peace and quiet. Sound is productive. Rather, it is the silence between the notes that can be the most disruptive.


J.K. Rowling revisits her masterpiece

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J.K. Rowling reflects on annotating the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

I wrote the book … in snatched hours, in clattering cafés or in the dead of night … The story of how I wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is written invisibly on every page, legible only to me. Sixteen years after it was published, the memories are as vivid as ever as I turn these pages.”

J.K. Rowling

Most authors refuse to revisit their old work. Musicians avoid listening to their old albums. Some actors refuse to see their own movies after they hit theaters.

Art reminds creatives of their daily battles with the blank page, canvass, or script — a craft fraught with sweat and tears, pain and pleasure. Even more, all that work was yesterday’s genius.

“There’s always more to be said, more to be felt,” Henry James once remarked. We can always do better. Yet finishing and moving on is the point. And so we buckle up and start the next one.

art via giphy

Books Creativity Writing

The bookstore that inspired JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series

Livaria Lello is the name of the notable bookstore in Porto, Portugal that inspired JK Rowling in writing the Harry Potter series. 

Known as a reader and writer hangout since its inception in 1906, the bookstore includes the fantastical twisting stairwell reminiscent of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts.   

The bookstore that inspired JK Rowling's Harry Potter series
The bookstore that inspired JK Rowling's Harry Potter series
The bookstore that inspired JK Rowling's Harry Potter series
The bookstore that inspired JK Rowling's Harry Potter series

Find out more about the intricate staircase and beautiful bookshop here.

Images courtesy Livraria Lello on Facebook

Productivity & Work Writing

How to persist after hitting rock-bottom

failure typed out

We can toil in obscurity for years before we get a lucky break. We can also give up and accept that it isn’t meant to be.

But something happens when we feel like a complete failure. We start to simplify everything — what we own, where what we do — and get back to basics.

Defeat offers its own beneficial limitations. It pushes us to play with what he have and stick to the belief in our art.

When JK Rowling hit her lowest point — divorced as a single mother on child welfare with no published books — the only thing she knew was to keep writing. As she said in her Harvard commencement speech:

“I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless.

JK Rowling

Even when the publishers rejected her, she kept on and wrote even more. She leaned in on the process of showing up every day at the cafe and getting to work.

Failure can either be deemed temporary or definitive, depending on how we frame it. “Failure is a bruise, not a tattoo,” poet Jon Sinclair once put it.

With the right mentality, we can leverage the foundation of rock-bottom to help us limit our choices and persist.


Everything we can’t describe in music, Vans legacy, Taking notes by hand, new tunes, and more

Arts & Culture

Everything We Can’t Describe in Music

Timbre isn’t just the sound of music. It’s the guts, the unique frequencies. No two instruments will ever sound the same. The differences in timbre are subtle like the diversity of grapes that make wine. It’s a term that has no precise definition.

In fact, he pointed out that there were a lot of similarities between the way we describe the taste and smell of wine and the way we describe the timbre of an instrument.

PLUS: A YouTube explainer of timbre

Christian Hosoi Reflects on his Incredible Career and Being Part of the Vans Legacy

Vans is turning 50. Skateboard and brand ambassador Christian Hosoi, who famously invented the ‘Christ Air’ and ‘Rocket Air,’ talks about how Vans represents individuality to the people who wear them.

Vans really give the person who buys and wears them their own identity to be whatever they want. An attorney and a lawyer could wear them, and an artist and musician, and a skateboarder; they could be wearing the same pair of vans but on every person they will somehow fit who they are, because they don’t put you in a category. You can wear Vans and be anybody you want and fit in any genre and any subculture.

PLUS: Have you heard the Pack’s excellent song about Vans?

Philosophy & Productivity

Attention, Students: Put Your Laptops Away

If you’re struggling to remember it may be because you’re trying to type everything down. Studies again and again prove that writing things down by hand than merely transcribing is a more effective way to learn.

“The students who were taking longhand notes in our studies were forced to be more selective — because you can’t write as fast as you can type. And that extra processing of the material that they were doing benefited them.”

Network Leadership

Most meetings are a waste of time. On top of that, they force group think which essentially stifles any new ideas. But leaders can steal one from the social networks and start rewarding different voices, not just the popular ones. The social networks can also do better job at bubbling up fresh ideas too.

The problem we have is that the majority viewpoints get amplified, while minority opinions get silenced, as Steven Johnson puts it.

Social Media & Tech

Online Media Is Tested When Social Platforms Come to Town

Social platforms are eating publishers for dinner. Facebook and Snapchat ingest media content and then make you stay on their property to consume it. No one clicks out. No wonder site traffic is down major publishers. As a Gawker executive wrote: “We — the freest journalists on the planet — were slaves to the Facebook algorithm.” Not surprisingly, it’s the same model we’ve seen before, a la Amazon.

Amazon found ways to take advantage of Toys “R” Us, using the relationship, and its presence on their platform, to start a toy category on Amazon, to figure out how to sell toys on Amazon, and then to invite a lot of competing companies on the same platform to compete with Toys “R” Us, which made it a lot less attractive for them to be there.

PLUS: According to Gary Vaynerchuk, teens are gravitiating to Twitter as their public Snapchat alternative.

New Music

Episode 85 | Tunes of the Week

  1. Last Japan – Ascend
  2. Andy Stott – Selfish
  3. Feather – Like No Other
  4. Nathan Melja – No No No
  5. U – Easy Prayer

🎵 Listen here

Thought of the Week

I wish I could just favourite emails instead of answering them. – JK Rowling





How the Hum of a Coffee Shop Can Boost Creativity

the whoosh of espresso machines and caffeinated chatter typical of most coffee shops creates just the right level of background noise to stimulate creativity.

Try Coffitivity, a website that provides ambient coffee house sounds to increase creativity.

Coffee shops inspired J.K. Rowling in writing Harry Potter.

Note:  silence is required for more focused moments:

The benefits of moderate noise, however, apply only to creative tasks. Projects that require paying close attention to detail, like proofreading a paper or doing your taxes…are performed better in quiet environments.


Rowling is not “JK” on her New Book Pricing

I love how JK Rowling flat out declared that her new book would be twice the price as typical retail. Only she could do this.

Rowling doesn’t even need a publisher and she certainly doesn’t need a retailer. She can sell everything at the highest price on her Pottermore website, take all the margin and then drop the price for the ebook and brick and mortar stores.

We’ll definitely see more and more of this model with big acts. If I were Coldplay, for instance, I’d sell the new album online and have different bundle variations that ship directly to fan. Let your biggest fans buy first.

The Do-It-Yourself model is not recommended for smaller artists. Lesser known artists need to build a tribe first and make everything available, even never-before-heard singles. And the more free content the merrier. Build up that database of fan’s emails that can be sold to. At Topspin, the general rule of thumb was to have 10,000 emails before selling anything.

Big authors and musicians and pretty much anyone that creates content with a huge following have an incredible tool on the Internet that allows them to skip traditional retail and make even more money. The content will disperse everywhere eventually, but only after the hardcore fans are treated first.


Pottermore Power

JK Rowling just ripped digital book services a new one, selling her Harry Potter books directly from her website.

The books appear on Amazon and Barnes and Noble but literally only for display and convenience to the customer. The book can only be purchased at the Pottermore store and made compatible for all eReading devices.

This deal would never happen in brick and mortar stores, simply because physical book space is a store’s treasure, accounting for 80% of the revenue (my guess). Even more, the deal symbolizes what’s wrong about the digital book format. There is none!

Just take at look at ALL the book format options on Pottermore. The one I don’t see and that is comparable to the music industry’s MP3 is the PDF. Seth Godin releases his books in PDFs which allows interoperability on any device including my hand. I like to print out PDFs and write notes on them.

We’ve seen direct to fan emerge the last few years starting with musicians. At Topspin, we white labelled our widgets so major artists like Lady Gaga could sell music, merchandise, and experiences directly to fans. Just last year, Louis CK made more money by selling his $5 video (again in any format) directly to his fans. Rowling is taking her brand to a whole new level, basically using digital retailers as props. Sure, Amazon and Barnes and Noble would love to take the traffic!

I can’t wait to see the sales results from the Potter effort. I didn’t even mention the audio versions of the books that are also sold on Pottermore. You get where I’m headed, this is an absolute power play move that puts control in the artists hands and the retailers as side posts.