Tinker

The desire to tinker is strong in this one.

I have this problem when it comes to my blog. The more I start to post to it, the more I want to tinker. The more active I am on the site, the more I notice little things I don’t like and want to fix. The more I post to it, the more I want all my internet posting to originate on it. It’s like an illness.

It’s something I’ve always struggled with, and I confess it’s a side to blogging that I enjoy. The trouble is, the more I tinker the less I post. The more I craft the design, the less time I spend writing.

It’s a battle, although one I’m sure I do not face alone. It’s not just the battle of a blogger, it’s a battle of a designer. Most of the tinkering I do is design related, little details and quirks in my theme which I notice but very few others will. I also know from experience, that I will get to the point where I’ve caught the little tweaks I need to and they will be fixed. Then it’s just a case of resisting the bigger things I’d like to do. Or at least knocking off the major ones first, like finding a way to post photos here and on Instagram, displaying them in a way I’m happy with. The key though, is to keep the posts flowing. Keep to my challenge of posting everyday, and getting through the tinkering stage until I get to the point where I’m just posting each day and all my published content originates here.

Or is it just a pipe dream? Should I just keep posting and ignore the little bits that nag?

But I know I can’t just ignore the nagging. I’m a designer, I like details and its in my nature to keep refining bits until they’re gone. To keep crafting until they as close to perfect as can be, it’s just important to keep the perspective, to keep in mind that perfect doesn’t exist. It’s about getting things to good enough whilst keeping on posting each day and building momentum so that the writing takes over the tinkering and becomes a creative outlet in its own right.

What Do You Write About?

I know what you’re thinking. It’s only the second day of the challenge I set myself, to post to my blog everyday from now until the end of the year, and already I’m asking the question of what do I write about.

I would imagine it’s a familiar story to anyone who’s decided to undertake such a challenge. Going from barely writing or posting to your blog to posting everyday it’s only natural to find yourself wondering what to write about. If I hadn’t been here before it would be a big worry, it might even be so discouraging that I would just abandon ship straight away. Whilst this morning when I decided it was time to write today’s post I didn’t have anything in particular I wanted to write about I know that if I keep going and posting each day I will eventually end up with too many subjects to write about. It’s the nature of the beast, the more you do it, the more ideas you have.

There are a number of different tactics that I’ve come across over the years that are aimed at helping you come up with subjects to write about. Unsurprisingly none of them have ever worked for me, but there is one thing that does. I know it works because I’ve demonstrated it in other parts of my life, be it reading my bible or doing the work for my freelance business.

Showing up every day.

So here I am, showing up. A new sheet in Ulysses, my headphones in and I’m writing. In fact through the course of writing this post I’ve already come up with the topic for tomorrow’s post. There it is in action. Showing up today has triggered the process. The more you do something the more idea’s you have, the first step is showing up.

Ulysses 2.5 for iPad and, Now, iPhone Review ›

A glowing review which I couldn’t agree with more. Ever since I downloaded it for my iPad I’ve been using the app, now it’s on my iPhone as well everything I write for this site goes through the app. Paired with the Mac app, it’s great for writing sermons in as well.

Just Hit Command-N

Just hit Command-N. Those are the words I just read in a post from Manton Reece, and so that’s what I’m doing. I may not be a developer or someone who’s had much of an audience in my life on the Internet. However, for the last few weeks I’ve wanted to start posting to my site again but for whatever reason I’ve never known what to write. So here I am pressing the plus button in Ulysses on my iPad and writing.

I remember when I first got in to the whole blogging way of things. I wasn’t really selective about what I wrote about, I would just write whatever came to me. Of course there was a set of themes that would be covered, but they weren’t chosen with intention, there were just what my interests were. They were me. Since discovering Manton’s blog towards the end of last year I’ve been reminded of my early blog and the early blogs of those who I still follow. They were genuine and full of interesting things because they weren’t overly focused, they were just personal sites. Of course those sites, at least the ones that are still going, are still interesting but they’ve become more focused over time. Although that focus may have happened by a natural evolution as people found what really makes them tick, those sites are interesting in a different way now. Thankfully what I’m starting to see, and what I hope I continue to see, is more variety and new sites that are personal and reflect the whole of the person who writes them. That’s what drew me to this hobby we call blogging, and it’s what I hope will help me return.

So here’s to new beginnings, to starting to write more and to being less bothered about what I should write about and instead just posting what feels right.

On Writing ›

A really interesting and comprehensive post by Ben Brooks about Writing.

What I like about this post is that it isn’t just a list of tools or a workflow. Although he covers those topics, the main meat of the piece is about why he writes. This is the kind of thing we should be reading more of, of course it’s fascinating reading about apps and workflows, but it’s more thought provoking and interesting to hear about why people do it.

Building

I’m great at making statements and promises about things that I want to do. It’s easy. I think of something I wish to do, decide there and then a means by which to do it, then post to my blog declaring it in the public domain.

In principle it’s a good tactic. The public declaration should be enough of a motivation to make sure I stick to something, but the reality is that more often than not I fall short. I might stick to it for a couple of weeks, but then life will happen and that’s it, the idea slides out of existence. Why? Because of a lack of discipline.

When it comes to discipline I’ve generally been quite good when it comes to doing something that really matters, or something that I have to do. The trouble was when it came to doing something I wanted to do, like writing for this site. So as part of getting back into it, I’ve been taking little steps, to build integrity, trust and discipline.

Integrity

Building integrity with myself is critical. The number of times I’ve set out with an aim to do something, then not succeeded to do it are countless, and this carries over into starting new things. Whilst the intention and desire can be strong, the belief that I can do it less so. It’s been erroded by years of unfulfilled promises to myself about starting to write on a regular basis.

The trick, I’ve discovered is to start small. It’s not a new technique, but I testify that it’s starting to work. I started with The Week in Links, my weekly post sharing a few links to good articles or interesting things that I’ve seen around the internet over the week. As of the time of writing, I’ve now posted an edition of that post for nineteen weeks running. I’ve built integrity with myself that I can post to this site on a regular basis, on a schedule I decided and wanted to commit to.

Trust

Now I have built some integrity and belief that I can do something I want to do and not just something I have to do. I’m building trust in myself that I can actually do it. I trust that I can manage the rest of my day well enough, to be able to set aside time to write.

Discipline

The trust in myself that I can do this, builds the discipline that I need to actually do it. Having established a pattern of turning up each week to post The Week in Links, I’m now disciplined enough to carve out that time each week to make sure I keep doing it.

It’s a knock on effect, or maybe more of a circular cycle. The more belief that I have in sticking by my stated intentions, builds the trust I need to be able to make those intentions in the first place. In turn, that builds the discipline I need to execute those intentions, thus giving myself more belief. It’s why this week I’ve added another step into my morning routine so that I can be sat here at my desk and do a half hour of writing before my work day begins. Not only am I building trust that I can work on writing for my site with regularity, I’m also building trust that I can get up and go through my morning routine with the time to do all that I both want and need to do.

Of course there is another side to this. If I do miss one of my carved out writing slots, I must not give myself a hard time about it. Life happens and I won’t always get to do these things. When that’s the case I need to be able to say nevermind, reset and go again the next day remembering that for the past however many days I’ve been able to do it.

The Week in Links

Another new week, another edition of The Week in Links. This week has been a good week with the launch of some updates to a client’s website and a new homepage for 18TWO, so my evenings have been filled with some relaxation and bike riding. Consequently there’s a good number of links for you to devour over your lunchtime coffee, covering MacBook, Apple Watch, photography, product design, workspaces, writing and finishing off with some cycling.

The Week in Links

Writing, future uses of new technology, design processes, an interview with a design legend and Apple Watch. The range of subjects covered in this weeks edition of The Week in Links, has a bit more variety in it than previous weeks. Sit back and enjoy.

Rediscovering the Personal Site

It’s been an interesting start to the year to say the least, but one positive from it has been the renewal of my interest in both my own blog and the blogs of others.

I’ve been reading blogs, or personal sites would probably be a more accurate term in 2015, since I came across them in my second year at university in 2006. Back then I loved the idea of people publishing something to the internet and quickly set my own blog up. I came across a number of great writers who like me were just finding their feet in the world of Web 2.0. In the 8 years that have passed since then, I’ve had a number of my own blogs and lost my motivation/desire to post to them all at various points in time.

In the early days of the blog, there was what felt like a strong community. A group of people writing about what interested them in a way which was new and exciting. It was inspiring to see others sharing in this way and it made me want to do the same. In the years since I left Uni in 2007 there seemed to be a change amongst the blogs I read. They became focused and somewhat same-y in their content, it felt like the blogs lost their personalities as their authors pursued a desire to be better writers. A few of them managed to maintain the personality that drew me to them in the first place, but, many didn’t and as a result the blogs either died off or my interest in them waned. It was sad and with that homogenising of content my own inspiration and desire to write also dried up.

Over the last few months I’ve started to notice something different. Perhaps it’s just that my own mindset has changed, or it could be that I’ve been finding a bunch of new sites, or a reaction to the likes of Facebook who seem to want to be the internet rather than part of it. But the personal site seems to be rising like a phoenix from the flames.

Many of the sites are specialised, with focused content, but they no longer seem to be of one voice talking about the same thing all the time. They have personality. The posts, whilst often being focused around a similar subject, are varied and seem to be a reflection of the people who write them. It’s both inspiring and a joy to read these sites. They might be writing about a pen, a notebook or a new Mac, but they are doing it in a way which is interesting and engaging.

These personal sites have the polish and high standard that the web in 2015 demands, but they seem to be returning to the personality and interest that was so apparent in the the rise of the blog back in the mid naughties. It’s refreshing and I’m thankful for it. I applaud those behind it and I hope it continues long into the future.

Fresh Start

It dawned on me today that I’ve been writing a blog, in one form or another, for the last 8 years. Initially, I was full of the youthful enthusiasm of someone who had just discovered the medium, I could easily sit down at my Mac and within half an hour have published a new post. Within a few months I had found a number of other bloggers who wrote with a little more quality than I did and with a little more discernment when it came to topics they wrote about. They had built a bit of a larger audience than I had, but with some their encouragement I pushed on regardless. By the time I graduated university in 2007 I had built an audience of around 300 subscribers.

It was a decent number of subscribers, but bore an unfortunate consequence. The number of subscribers caused me to stop enjoying my blog. I wanted to provide value to my readers, say profound things. I felt I needed to bring a focus to my blog in order to do that and I began applying pressure to myself. Eventually falling into the beliefs that the posts I was writing weren’t good enough.

Things dried up and I stopped writing until my blog eventually died.

Since then I’ve been trying to regain the blogging vigour I had when I first started. I just can’t seem to shake the pressure that what I write has to be amazing. I haven’t been able to break the fear of posting to my blog.

I’ve even made things more complicated. When I first started blogging, I would just write whatever came into my head. It would get a tag or two and then be posted. But when I started to struggle I began to seek out solutions to make posting easier. I added linked list posts, so I could just post a link and a little bit of commentary. Then I added quotes, and soon after photos. But it never really worked, rather than making things easier, I had really just added a level of complexity that I didn’t need.

When I started working for myself, I thought I would quickly begin blogging again. I hoped I would be able to add another creative outlet, one that I had once found so valuable. The trouble was, I didn’t know what the blog was for. Was it for my business or was it personal. It had my name on the domain but I wanted it to grow so that awareness of my business would grow. Consequently nothing really changed and, despite a few spells of posting links, it’s largely sat dormant.

Starting again

Over the last two months I’ve finally started to use an app that’s been on my iPhone for most of the last two years. I’ve begun to use Day One in a way that has bought me to a place that I want to write. Almost every evening for the last 2 months I’ve written an entry in Day One that has been tagged “3 Things”. Each post consists of 3 things that I’m thankful for from the day that has just passed. Occasionally the entries get an image, sometimes they get expanded on and I add some thoughts about whatever I’m thinking through at the time. One thing that it has helped me with, is finding that I’m starting to enjoy writing again. Starting to want to blog once again.

It’s with this in mind, that I find myself here. Starting again.

I’ve reset my blog. Gone is the archive of posts that are made up largely of links. Gone are the multiple categories and post types along with the complicated theme they needed to look different. Gone are any other bits of cruft that have built up over the years. Instead, posts are now posts, categories don’t exist and posts will likely be tagged. The site structure is simple, there’s the home page and the posts. An archive and an about page will follow at some point, but for now there are just posts. The theme is simple and clean, designed to be read and for any photos in the posts to look good.

In some ways it’s a sad and disappointing move. I’ve deleted an archive of work that has taken a few years to build up. But I needed to take away the burden of expectation, I didn’t want anything to feel like it didn’t fit what had come before it. I didn’t want a barrier to my blog and it felt like my blog itself had become that very thing.

So this is the new PhilBowell.com, it’s my blog and if you’ve made it to the end of this post I’d like to say thanks for your time hope to see you again soon.

In Search Of Flow

Like most of the world, the arrival of an iPad in my life has meant a lot of my established routines and behaviours have changed. I’m no longer setting up camp on my sofa with my MacBook Pro to spend some time reading RSS feeds and going where the links take me, instead this time is being spent using my iPad. I find I’m using my MacBook Pro a lot less than I used too, that’s not necessarily a negative thing though, as the time that I do spend on my MacBook Pro is much more meaningful than it used to be. I’m finding myself going through a shift in mindset as I’m more focused when I sit down with my Mac and don’t find myself drawn to the likes of Twitter and Reeder. My productivity has increased, which can only be a good thing as I gradually pick up more freelancing work. The work that I am doing has become more meaningful, that is with one exception. Here.

The blog. It’s slipped and largely because of my shift in behaviour. Most of my blogging revolved around reading interesting articles and curating them on my site. This then drove me to write longer form content when I wanted and when something attracted me sufficiently. I now find myself both linking less and writing less. Not good.

Reading a Ton More

I follow a lot of very good blogs, most of the things I read are on the internet and since getting my iPad Instapaper has really come in to it’s own. Shawn Blanc nailed it when he wrote

So in short, Instapaper is the best way to read the Internet. And the iPad app … is the best way to read your Instapaper articles.

The trouble is, if a large portion of your reading material comes from the internet, the desire to share increases. It’s so easy in today’s world to share something to Twitter or Facebook, but if you want to add a little commentary to that link and share it on your blog, well it’s a little trickier. On the Mac I can hit Cmd-1 and MarsEdit will fire up with the link pre-populated and any selected text quoted. On the iPad, thats not so easy. Theres no MarsEdit for iPad and well, quite frankly, the iOS WordPress app sucks and copy & pasting back and forth between apps isn’t the easiest or quickest way of doing things. Put quite simply the barrier to entry for posting on the iPad was too high.

So what’s the big deal? Well, like many people I like to write. I don’t consider myself a writer but one of the reasons I started blogging was to give myself another creative outlet; a place to stretch muscles that don’t necessarily get stretched all that much; a place to, should I need, release a little about topics that don’t necessarily interest my friends.

I miss it.

The trouble is I don’t really know where to begin, and so in my usual manner I began to problem solve. The conclusion I reached? I find it easier to write when I have a reasonably steady flow of things going through the blog. Some momentum. The best and easiest way of creating that momentum, or generating flow, is by curating links and pointing people to other well written and interesting content.

For once my thinking on this subject seemed to coincide with some other folk on the internet. Shawn Blanc and Benjamin Brooks touched on this recently in The B&B Podcast. When they visit a site they want to see articles before they will begin to measure if you are worth following. Something I agree with quite strongly, if there is a good article on a site I visit I will take note, if there are a couple in close succession, chances are you’ll end up in my feed reader. But if there are large gaps between articles and nothing else posted it makes a site feel stagnated, a stagnation I feel has begun to develop here. I want my site to feel alive and the best way to do that is to write regularly, and, because I’m out of practice the best way to break a cycle of not posting is to link to others. It’s not and nor should it be the sole purpose, but an active site is a cared for site and a cared for site usually brings good content.

Beginnings of a Redesign

Seeking out an easier way of building that flow led me down the path to the beginnings of a redesign. I needed an easy way to share links on the blog.

So to help me begin to develop this flow I’ve made a few changes to the site. A slight facelift which aligns to a grid but really is a framework for the future and has allowed me to make a couple of adjustments to the behaviour of my links. For those of you who have noticed the titles of the links now point straight to the site I’m linking too, so rather than including the link in the text as I’ve done in the past I’m now free to just include my thoughts. It leads to a more streamlined way of posting from both the iPad and my Mac.

Thanks to Ben Brooks’ adjusted bookmarklet and the plugins that it requires I can now post more easily to the site. The pace isn’t quite what I’d like it to be but it’s developing and my hope is that I can pay more attention in the long run and begin to write my own articles with a little more regularity than the sporadic posting that I seem to have settled into.

And thinking about writing is not the same as writing.

Reading about writing is not the same as writing.

Tweeting about writing is not the same as writing.

Having a conversation about writing is not the same as writing.

Shawn Blanc in Writing vs. Writing

Replace writing with whatever it is you want to do. Designing, taking photographs, running a marathon. You’re not doing it unless you’re doing it.

Writing vs. Writing by Shawn Blanc