Link Roundup

Thanks to everyone who commented on last Friday’s blog post re: what should I write about next?

Taking your advice well into mind (while also doing exactly what I wanted to do in the first place), you’ll get a post on “sticky systems” tomorrow. Very very very excited to start writing about this; also excited to work in some personal finance stuff.

Today, it’s LINK ROUNDUP TIME.

Bluebird Manifesto, Hilary Gan

There’s a lot that has been written about deliberate practice for musicians, but not quite as much about deliberate practice for writers — in part because many people assume (and I would gently suggest mistakenly) that music is better suited for the kind of practice where you work a small chunk of material over and over until it is specific, replicable, effectively communicates your intent, and so on.

Why wouldn’t writers want to work their own material in the same way?

It’s the “replicable” part that might cause a writer to assume that deliberate practice might not work for their discipline, I think. Scales and free throws and triple axels and all of that stuff lend themselves to a “how can I do this the same way every time” mentality, and writing is more of a “how can I create something new every time” thing, except (EXCEPT!) the part of playing music (or shooting free throws) that needs to be replicable is the craft part, aka “how do I create a body of knowledge that I can access and manipulate at any time,” not the “how do I make something new from what I already know” part.

And writers can also work on improving their craft to the point of internalized replicability.

Just like musicians.

(I teach this, btw. Take one of my classes, and it’ll be there.)

Anyway, all of this is to say that author Hilary Gan recently published a short ebook that touches on the concept of how to apply deliberate practice to your writing. Here’s how she describes her Bluebird Manifesto:

A writer’s guide to living an artistic life, sustainably. Some helpful exercises, advice on how to apply the concept of deliberate practice to writing, and four central tenets will guide you through shaping your artistic and creative life around the demands of everyday life—without sacrificing your authenticity.

Here’s one of the most intriguing quotes from the manifesto (feel free to discuss whether or not you agree with it):

The Golden Rule calls us, as artists, to prioritize the work itself higher than anything else in our lives. Other things can be priority, but the work — the painting, or the writing, or the music-making — must be the highest priority. Higher than family. Higher than exercise or selfcare. Higher than love.

Here’s one way in which Gan applies deliberate practice to her writing:

So, in short, I identified a very specific skill I wanted to improve at: plot. I looked for examples of writing that exhibited expert-level plots and analyzed them until I understood patterns and commonalities between those works of art. Currently I am in the process of applying what I learned to my own work. After that, I will measure my success in improving this skill based on the metric we established before: can I get it published?

Bulletproof Musician, Noa Kageyama

On the subject of applying deliberate practice to things: I recently discovered Noa Kageyama’s Bulletproof Musician — “Learn how performance psychology can help you beat nerves and perform your very best on stage” — and am slowly working my way through the blog and resources.

I say “slowly” because Dr. Kageyama’s resources are so so so good that I want time to both process his tips and (here comes the pun) put them into practice.

Here’s a very short excerpt from “8 Practice Hacks” (a free PDF you get when you subscribe to the Bulletproof Musician newsletter):

Let’s say you were only allowed to practice two hours today. What would you spend your time on? How would the intensity of your focus change? What shortcuts or strategies would you develop to ensure that you make the most of your time? What decision rules would you create to avoid getting too bogged down in details that don’t represent the most effective use of your time and energy?

Since I am only “allowed” (by which I mean I only “have time”) to practice for two hours on a good day, that little tip made me rethink how I was spending my time — and whether I needed to put any new decision rules into (no, wait, I already used the “practice” pun, I should use another one) play.

Laser Campaigns, Laser Malena-Webber

On the subject of musicians who may or may not be able to stop bullets: Laser Malena-Webber is one half of The Doubleclicks (“an internationally touring, Billboard-charting sibling folk-pop music duo with a cello, a ukulele and a meowing cat keyboard”) and the author of Crowdfunding for Musicians: Using Kickstarter, Patreon and More to Get Paid for Your Music.

I’ve known Laser for years, and their musicianry and businessianry are top-notch. They recently launched Laser Campaigns, a consulting service to help motivated musicians and creators grow a genuine fanbase and take their careers to the next level.

Want to know a little more before you decide whether to sign up for creative consulting? Here’s an excerpt from one of Laser’s blog posts about how to build a successful Patreon:

You need to promote your Patreon to get people to back it, absolutely. However, you shouldn’t promote your Patreon page to people who don’t care about you yet. When a fan first hears about you, they should get excited, they should dig into your art, they should get to know you as a person, they should experience more art, and then they should invest their money. So set up ways for all of these things to happen! 

Patreon, Tara K. Shepersky

On the subject of setting up ways for people to support artists’ work: Did you know that regular blog columnist Tara K. Shepersky just launched a Patreon?

Tara is using her Patreon support to create poems, essays, photos, & creative play projects, and notes that you might connect with her work if you like “seasons, ritual, walking, silence, sunrise, owls, sacred reading, moon-watching & star-singing, secret urban stairways & narrow field-paths, the sea that calls forever inside the heart.”

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you probably already know whether you connect with Tara’s work. If you haven’t, here’s an excerpt from her most recent guest blog post:

Silence comes in many forms. I happen to have a deep need for the one form over which I have no control: silence external to me, all around me. On the particular day I am remembering, I didn’t have it. What I did have: the ability to still my own hands, and close my own mouth on sighs of frustration, explanations, and that talking-it-through-out-loud thing I often do when I feel stressed.

There’s a particular serenity that attends the arrival and settling of inner silence. I cannot compel it. But I’ve discovered that I can invite it by the practice of outer silence. The outer sort and the inner are not equivalent; one does not necessarily even lead to the other. But their substances are similar enough that it’s worth learning how to do the one you really can affect. It’s also more difficult than it sounds. Try it — for more than a minute, or an hour, or a day, whatever your threshold is — and you’ll see.

“Still Jack,” Jack Herlocker

On the subject of people who have been reading this blog for a while: Jack Herlocker, whose name you probably recognize if you’ve spent any time in the blog comment section, recently published an essay in Crow’s Feet on navigating life after a traumatic brain injury:

I keep a log file of how my days go. The trend is not awful. I have some bad days. I have a lot of good days.

But I know how it goes. At some point the “bad days” become “days.” Then it becomes notable when I have “good days,” which used to just be days. And by that time I will stare at my log data and not understand what it it trying to tell me.

Note to Jack: Your writing is beautiful.

Also, PITCH THE BLOG. ❤️

Book Review: The Courage to Be Happy by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga

Nicole Dieker reviewed The Courage to Be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga in 2019. It remains the most popular book review she’s ever written.

There’s one chapter in The Courage to Be Happy that I haven’t stopped thinking about since I read it — and although I know I shouldn’t spoil my favorite part of the book for you, I’m going to do it anyway:

The philosopher had brought out a piece of paper folded into a triangular column. From where the youth sat, only two of its three faces could be seen. On one face were the words “That bad person,” and on the other, “Poor me.” According to the philosopher, the complaints of anxious people always ended up being one or the other. And then the philosopher slowly rotated the triangular column with his thin fingers, and revealed the words written on the remaining face — words that shook the youth’s heart.

These words — the ones that literally change everything — are “What should I do from now on?”

I can’t tell you how often I’ve thought about that little triangle, and the way it asks all of us to make a choice. Make a change. Make magic.

The rest of the book, unfortunately, is slightly less memorable.

If you had to choose only one of the two books — that is, The Courage to Be Disliked or The Courage to Be Happy — the original remains the better read, both in its explication of Adlerian philosophy and in its life-changing insights (separation of tasks, living without the desire for recognition, vertical vs. horizontal relationships, and so on).

The Courage to Be Happy focuses primarily on how a person can apply Adlerian philosophy in the classroom — that is, how one can teach without rebuking or praising (because both rebuke and praise create a vertical relationship in which the student is not encouraged to complete their own tasks).

Except even this is explained better, and more succinctly, in the first volume:

Philosopher: Having understood that studying is the child’s task, one considers what one can do for him. Concretely speaking, instead of commanding from above that the child must study, one acts on him in such a way that he can gain the confidence to take care of his own studies and face his tasks on his own.

Youth: And that action isn’t forced?

Philosopher: No, it’s not. Without forcing, and with the tasks always kept separate, one assists the child to resolve them by his own efforts. It’s the approach of “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” He is the one who has to face his tasks, and he is the one who makes the resolution.

Youth: So you neither praise nor rebuke?

Philosopher: That’s right, one neither praises nor rebukes. This kind of assistance, which is based on horizontal relationships, is referred to in Adlerian psychology as “encouragement.”

I’ll give you an example of what this looks like, from my actual life: Yesterday, I played the first and second movements of Mozart K332 for L — and when I was done, instead of telling me what he thought of my performance (creating a vertical relationship in which he had the power to decide what was good/bad about me) he sat very quietly and looked at me and then I told him what I thought of the work I had just done.

And then I told him what work needed to be done before I played for him again.

At that point, L (who teaches piano, when we aren’t enjoying the rest of our lives together) could provide assistance; tips, technical exercises, and so on.

That’s the difference between encouraging and rebuking/praising.

The trouble is — and this is what much of The Courage to Be Happy is about — that many young people haven’t yet developed the presence of mind to think clearly about the work they’ve done or what work needs to be done next.

The youth argues that children need to be told what is good and bad, by someone who knows, before they can develop this skill on their own.

The philosopher argues that all you have to do is encourage, and through this process the child will become motivated to evaluate and improve their own efforts.

Is that true? It would be wonderful if encouragement always led to motivation — if encouragement led to courage, as the youth finally figures out — but I know from my own teaching work that some students leave my classes eager to put their new techniques into practice and others just leave.

Which could mean that I am not as encouraging of a teacher as I could be.

It might also mean that encouragement-based education doesn’t scale; that any time a teacher is working with multiple students at once, it becomes difficult to encourage each one individually (and very, very easy for students to notice who is being encouraged and who isn’t, creating a classroom hierarchy that causes some students to feel discouraged instead).

The book also argues that if certain students are not fully committed to your classroom, it may be because their primary motivations lie elsewhere; they might not want to become a pianist or a writer, for example, and might have their own projects and interests that they are courageously pursuing in their limited free time — to which the youth responds “that’s great for piano or whatever, but everyone ought to learn basic literacy and numeracy and history and so on, how do you teach that without rebuking or praising?”

Encourage them to take up the task of learning, the philosopher says again.

And then the youth essentially says “My students are not the little self-motivated Adlerian models that you describe! Teaching is a lot harder when you have bad students instead of perfect ones! Poor me!”

And then — well, you know what question the philosopher asks next. ❤️

Book Review: The Time-Block Planner by Cal Newport

Nicole Dieker has written many book reviews, including posts on Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You (“a must-read guide to building a creative career”) and Deep Work (“which makes me wonder if people can only tackle a large creative project if they don’t have any more-important problems for their brains to solve”).

I’m never going to use Cal Newport’s Time-Block Planner.

But that’s only because I’ve been time-blocking, on my own, for years.

I can’t remember when I first wrote about time-blocking — I know I wrote about my personal time-block strategy for The Write Life in 2017, and YES I CITED CAL NEWPORT AS ONE OF THE ORIGINATORS OF THE TIME-BLOCK PRODUCTIVITY METHOD, always cite your sources, but the point is that I have all of this stuff already laid out on a spreadsheet.

What I’d like to do with every part of the day, from the moment I wake up to the moment I start winding down.

Cal Newport’s Time-Block Planner — aka The Time-Block Planner: A Daily Method for Deep Work in a Distracted World — asks you to do much the same thing. To plan out your day in advance, blocking off dedicated chunks of time for your most important work. To stick to the plan as closely as possible, whenever possible. To make a plan that works for you, including overflow time (because something always overflows) and enough space in your day to care for both yourself and your loved ones.

Plus, of course, the all-important rest and recovery that you’ll for-sure need if you want enough energy to spend dedicated chunks of time on your most important work tomorrow.

There’s a reason Newport wants you to do this on paper, and it has something to do with paper not having Twitter attached to it, but at this point I am so in touch with my personal time-block spreadsheet that I’m not interested in making the effort to switch.

Plus, the Time-Block Planner only includes thirteen weeks’ worth of time blocks. You’d need to buy four planners to get you through the year, and you probably already have a spreadsheet program on whatever device you’re currently using to read this book review.

Of course, that device also comes with Twitter attached. And email. And whatever might distract you from doing the work of planning when you are going to do your work.

Which is why, if you are interested in an absolutely analog method of time-blocking, a paper planner could be an effective tool.

(Please note that analog /= distraction-free. Your device could still beep at you while you’re writing something in your paper planner. The doorbell could ring. You could accidentally bump your coffee mug with your elbow and have to stop everything to clean up your mess.)

How does time-blocking work? I covered the jist of it at the beginning of the book review (plan your day, hour by hour), but effective time-blocking essentially centers on two series of decisions:

  1. Decide how you want to prioritize your time
  2. Decide how you want to prioritize changes

A paper Time-Block Planner asks you to cross out the sections of your time-block plan that no longer work (because you spilled coffee all over everything and cleaning it up took the 10-minute slot you were going to give to email) and draw a new time-block plan immediately to the right, with a newly-prioritized schedule.

A spreadsheet lets you shuffle cells around, although Newport argues that the paper method is superior because you can see how you planned your day vs. how you actually used your day, and that information can help you create better plans in the future.

Also, you’re supposed to actually use your day the way you plan it. That’s the biggest part of this whole deal, and the part that no paper or electronic sheet can make you do unless you come into this process already wanting to do it.

If you don’t stick to your plan, whether due to external or internal circumstance, you’re supposed to open your Time-Block Planner, cross out your beautifully-drawn plan, and draw up what you hope might happen next.

Or, to quote the Time-Block Planner (and Cal Newport) directly:

Your goal is not to stick to a given schedule at all costs: it’s instead to maintain, at all times, a thoughtful say in what you’re doing with your time going forward — even if these decisions are reworked again and again as the day unfolds.


Does time-blocking work? YES.

Does time-blocking work if you have the kind of job where your day isn’t solely yours to plan? YES. (Having done both, I’ll admit that time-blocking is easier when you are 100% in charge of your workday — but if you have a job that gives you at least some discretion in how you spend your time, time-blocking can help you use that time effectively.)

Does time-blocking work if you have a partner who also has ideas about what the two of you should do with your time? YES. Especially when you use the time-blocking system to block off time for the two of you to spend together.

Does time-blocking work if you have kids? I DON’T KNOW. Cal Newport has kids, so I’d wager a yes on that one… but you’d have to ask him yourself.

Does time-blocking allow for unscheduled time, spontaneity, wandering conversations, actual wandering, etc. etc. etc.? YES. You can put as much “whim time” in your Time-Block Planner as you want (I have literally written about the importance of scheduling unscheduled time, go read it).

What if I don’t want to do the thing I blocked into my Time-Block Planner? Change your plan. (If you never want to do the things you block into your Time-Block Planner, you may need to change a few other aspects of your life as well.)

What is your favorite part of Cal Newport’s Time-Block Planner? The page on which he writes “work accomplished = time spent x intensity of focus.”

I’ll write more on that particular equation tomorrow. ❤️

Book Review: Mind Management, Not Time Management by David Kadavy

Last Wednesday, I got an advance copy of David Kadavy’s Mind Management, Not Time Management — a book that officially released to the public this morning.

Which meant that if I wanted to help Kadavy’s new book garner the most support and/or impact, I needed to have my review ready to go by this morning as well.

Reading a 264-page book in under a week is not that big a deal for me; I read fairly quickly.

Finding the time to read Mind Management, Not Time Management was the bigger concern. Especially because I was categorizing it as “a task I wanted to complete during work hours, so I could shut down completely every evening and spend my after-work reading energy on Better Chess or one of the other books I’m currently studying.”

Which brings me to the obvious question:

Did I use mind management or time management to get the job done?

On the “mind management” side, I cleared my mental decks (as it were) by deliberately avoiding workday distractions like Twitter and Facebook. I often dip into social media on occasion (like most of us) but I am aware of the cost — the way two minutes can turn into twenty minutes, for example, and the way that a single tweet can prompt an emotional reaction that makes it that much harder to go back to thinking about and/or focusing on your work.

This distraction-avoidance strategy wasn’t designed to keep me focused on Kadavy’s book, though. It was designed to keep me focused on my freelance writing — the most important work I do every day — so I could complete it as efficiently as possible. That way, I would have 20 extra minutes at the end of each workday to read Mind Management, Not Time Management.

That’s also a mind management technique, in a sense — I wanted to give my best brainpower to my generative freelance work and use what’s left over for a less generative task like reading. Putting Mind Management, Not Time Management at the end of my workday (instead of the beginning) also prevented me from putting off my freelancing in order to read “just one more page” of Kadavy’s compelling narrative.

But these strategies wouldn’t have worked without years of training in time management. At this point in my career, I know exactly how long it takes me to write 1000 words — and almost exactly how long it takes me to read a 264-page book for review. I know my creative sweet spots (a mind management technique, and one of my favorite chapters in the book), but I also know how to schedule my day so that my most creative work falls during those creative peaks (which would seem to be time management).

I get why Kadavy put the word “not” between the concepts of mind management and time management — it makes for a much better title, for starters. That said, so much of his book argues for the importance of both. One chapter, for example, argues that we should have a weekly routine that assigns tasks based on mental energy and the natural flow of the workweek, instead of a daily routine that assigns tasks based on individual hours — but you can’t really have one without the other. What does it mean to say that you’re going to do a Weekly Review every Sunday after dinner, or that you’re going to batch all non-urgent administrative tasks for Friday at 10 a.m.? Where does the internal organization of the mind end and the external organization of the clock begin?

If I hadn’t prioritized time management, I wouldn’t have achieved my goal of reading Kadavy’s book in under a week while still keeping my evenings free. If I hadn’t prioritized mind management, I wouldn’t have been able to make the time to read.

So I’m going to have to argue that it’s not not.

That it’s and.

Circadian rhythms and clock rhythms, working together in perfect time — or, shall we say, as of one mind. ❤️

In Which My Career Is Profiled in a Book About Art and Artists

In 2017, award-winning essayist and critic William Deresiewicz emailed me and asked if he could interview me about my life, work, art, and finances. (Those are four of my favorite topics to discuss, so of course I said yes.) Deresiewicz explained that he was writing a book about “arts careers in the new economy” — and this summer, The Death of the Artist: How Creators Are Struggling to Survive in the Age of Billionaires and Big Tech was published.

A lot has changed, in terms of my life, work, art, and finances, since 2017. Even back then, I wouldn’t have said I was “struggling to survive” — I think my last official “struggle” year was 2012, and I spent half of it living off the $10K I’d saved up (and the other half going into $14K of credit card debt that I finally paid off in 2016) so it doesn’t even really count.

That said, the way I am profiled in The Death of the Artist is lovely, honest, and insightful. Here’s how it begins:

Nicole Dieker is pretty much the ideal person to have tried to self-publish a work of literary fiction. Dieker grew up in small-town Missouri, the older of two daughters of a piano teacher and a music professor. Her upbringing taught her to value the arts, but above all, she told me, it taught her to practice. “The idea that every day you’re going to sit down at your instrument and you’re going to try to get better at it—that taught me as much about how to be an artist as the actual art itself.”

If you want to read Deresiewicz’s thoughts on why my freelance career has gone so well — and his analysis of The Biographies of Ordinary People both as a text and as a marketing project — you’ll have to read The Death of the Artist for yourself.

The other artist profiles are pretty good, too. ❤️

Book Review: The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr

I recently got — well, I’m not actually sure I can call it an advance reader copy since the book had already been published, but I recently got a review copy of Will Storr’s new book The Science of Storytelling.

It’s a really lovely book, first because of its insights into storytelling and second because of its insights into the human condition.

Structurally, it reminded me a lot of Chuck Wendig’s Damn Fine Story, which is one of my very favorite books on storytelling — though, as the title implies, Wendig uses a lot more swears. (I am fine with swears.)

Storr’s book, as his title implies, links story to science:

My hope is that what follows will be of interest to anyone curious about the science of the human condition, even if they have little practical interest in storytelling. But it’s also for the storytellers. The challenge any of us faces is that of grabbing and keeping the attention of other people’s brains. I’m convinced we can all become better at what we do by finding out a bit about how they work.

What does that mean? Well, for starters, human minds are wired for three things: patterns, change, and connection. A good story incorporates all three elements in a way that keeps us captivated until the very end. But Storr breaks storytelling down even further, bringing in everything from peripeteia to theory of mind to, by the end of the book, a step-by-step guide to creating a scientifically sound story — though Storr also notes that some of the best stories transcend anything that can be summed up in a step-by-step guide.

That said, if you want to know how to construct a story in a way that might command a reader’s attention, The Science of Storytelling will provide you with a framework.

And if you just want to know why human brains are attracted to stories, and why we transcribe our own lives into stories even if we aren’t writers ourselves, The Science of Storytelling will give you all the answers you need.

Consider it highly recommended. ❤️

DOUBLE BOOK REVIEW: Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski and How Emotions Are Made by Lisa Feldman-Barrett

🎵 BODY BUDGETS

B-B-B-BODY BUDGETS 🎵

Sooooo… I just read two books that describe the same thing in two different ways.

How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain, by professor and neuroscientist Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett, explains that what we experience as “emotion” derives from an adjustment in our so-called “body budget.”

As Barrett puts it:

An emotion is your brain’s creation of what your bodily sensations mean, in relation to what is going on around you in the world.

She’s not saying that our feelings are wrong, or that we aren’t feeling what we’re feeling. She’s just saying that what we call “emotions” are culturally based concepts that we use to describe physical/neurochemical changes created in the body. (Feelings are, literally, the way our body feels.)

She also notes that if we experience too many physical/neurochemical adjustments that withdraw from our body budget without enough corresponding adjustments to replenish our body budget, we’ll burn ourselves out.

Which brings me to Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Drs. Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski (twins with doctorates in health behavior and music, respectively).

I was a little curious about what I’d find in this book, because I’d seen some excerpts and reviews that suggested the secret to unlocking the stress cycle was, like, to dance it out—but it turns out that Nagoski and Nagoski are making the exact same argument.

Emotions are the names we give our body’s neurochemical adjustments.

Dancing after a stressful event (or laughing, or hugging, or crying) reduces the levels of body-depleting neurochemicals and completes the stress cycle. Or, to use Barrett’s terminology, rebalances your body budget.

We burn out if we experience too many stressful events without opportunities to complete the stress cycle in between. The more stressful the event, the more time you need to recover/rebalance.

Which is kind of obvious, if you think about it—but it must not be, because I can’t stop thinking about it.

Of course, I also really really like budgeting, and the idea that my body also has a budget is kind of fascinating. (That, and I’m the kind of person who is more likely to take time off to “replenish my body budget” than I am to take time off because I “feel sad.” Sometimes it really is all about the way you look at things.)

Consider both books VERY EXTREMELY RECOMMENDED. ❤️

Book Review: The Complete Book of Birthdays by Claire Gibson

It’s my birthday today, and I give Claire Gibson’s The Complete Book of Birthdays FIVE BILLION STARS, because this is about the most accurate thing I’ve ever read:

The November 4 page from The Complete Book of Birthdays. It says I'm exactly who I believe myself to be.

Yes, I know that I probably shouldn’t show you an entire page of this book. However, I’m pretty sure I just convinced at least one of you to get your own copy.

Also, this is what 38 looks like:

And, since I promised you photos of me in my black-tie-optional outfit for last weekend’s Art Museum Gala, here’s what three-days-before-turning-38 looks like. ❤️

Book Review: Indistractable by Nir Eyal

This isn’t a book about smartphones.

I mean, yeah, there are some tips and tricks to help you optimize your smartphone use, one of which I wrote up in Lifehacker last week, but Nir Eyal’s Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life isn’t really about why phones are bad or why the internet is destroying our attention spans or any of that.

It’s about knowing what you want and then knowing how to go after it.

When I first wrote about Indistractable for Lifehacker, I got the title wrong. (NOT IN THE FINAL DRAFT, JUST THE FIRST ONE.) I called the book “how to choose your attention and control your life.”

Because that’s what Indistractable is really about. How to make active choices regarding what we pay attention to, based on the standard Eyal sets in the very first chapter:

Distraction stops you from achieving your goals. It is any action that moves you away from what you really want.

Traction leads you closer to your goals. It is any action that moves you toward what you really want.

The rest of the book is all about strategy and tactics, and you can go read it for its very excellent strategy and tactics, but I’m going to swerve away from a discussion of Indistractable‘s actual contents (which are great, go read them) and towards the question Vaxtyn asked at the end of last week’s book review:

Any recommendations for someone who is struggling with the “where you want to go” part of the equation?

Boy howdy.

There have been periods in my life during which I didn’t know where I wanted to go next; all I knew was that I didn’t like where I was. What got me out of that was, literally, trying a bunch of different stuff—I took a cooking class, I took a language class, I went to a bead shop and bought a bunch of jewelry-making supplies, I tried starting a Mad Men recap blog. (This should tip you off to how long ago this was.)

I was in the tail end of my twenties, working as an executive assistant. I wanted to keep my job because I was good at it and because it was bringing in enough money for me to save my first $10K, open a Roth IRA, and invest in my first Vanguard lifecycle fund. But I didn’t know if I wanted to keep it forever. I’d read that famous Paul Graham article about makers vs. managers and I knew that I was a maker.

I just didn’t know what to make yet.

So I went to hacker spaces and tried learning how to code; I went to Quantified Self meetups; I did a bunch of project management training workshops because my boss thought I might like to move into project management someday (I didn’t, but I loved using the framework and principles on my own projects). I tried to write three or four different novels. I read books like Barbara Sher’s Wishcraft, Martha Beck’s Finding Your Own North Star, and Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way in the hopes that they’d help me figure out what I was meant to be doing with my life.

Then I went to a They Might Be Giants concert and saw Jonathan Coulton play a Zendrum.

I had no idea who Jonathan Coulton was. I almost skipped his part because the last TMBG concert I’d gone to had included a really dull opening act. But there he was, singing funny, thoughtful, sad songs on what appeared to be a cross between a guitar and a Super Nintendo controller, and I wanted to do that.

So badly that I could hardly wait for the concert to be over because all I wanted to do was get back home and start doing it.

There wasn’t enough room in my budget for the Zendrum, so I bought a guitar instead.

The point of this story—well, there are three points. The first point is that it took me a long time to fall in love with a creative activity that I actually wanted to practice. Like, two years of creative dating before I found a guitar to go steady with.

The second is that I kept my creative work and my money-earning work separate. When I did eventually decide to try to make my funny-thoughtful-sad songs the primary source of my income, I ended up in $14,000 worth of credit card debt. IN A YEAR. (I also sold $20,000 worth of CDs, in case you were curious. It wasn’t a total folly; it just wasn’t monetizable in the way I’d hoped it could be.)

The third point is that once I found THE THING that I wanted to spend more time doing, finding the time itself was relatively easy—though using tricks like the ones Eyal suggests in Indistractable helped, a lot.

Also, you can see how all of this stuff helped feed into what I do now (personal finance writing and lifehack writing, both of which I love) while simultaneously teaching me that THE WORK and THE LIFE and THE MONEY are all separate things.

And—if you want to throw a fourth point in there—it’s worth noting that earlier this year I was trying very hard to write PORTAL FANTASY BOOK and it felt like a huge huge huge slog and other priorities kept coincidentally popping up, and then I woke up one morning and thought “I have a brilliant idea for a MYSTERY BOOK” and finding the time to work on the project became easy.

So. That’s my answer to Vaxtyn’s question. (It’s also my review of Indistractable. Go read it.)

What about yours? ❤️