Finished reading: Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad by Austin Kleon 📚

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you just are who you are, forgetting the power you have to take action and become who you want to be.

Let’s not let the challenges of the past and the present hold you back from moving forward towards where you want to go.

Keep taking those steps, no matter how tiny they may feel. They all add up if you just show up and keep moving.

Smile when you can. It makes the journey more fun.

So here’s to the future, and the steps we’ll take to shape it.

A sandy beach covered in footprints with the ocean behind

Finished reading: Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller 📚

Apple recently shared a great Q&A with its UX writing team from last year’s WWDC.

Lots of good insights here. If you’re a writer it’s worth checking out the article in full, but I want to share their advice for explaining technical concepts in simple terms:

First, remember that not everyone will have your level of understanding. Sometimes we get so excited about technical details that we forget the folks who might be using an app for the first time.

Try explaining the concept to a friend or colleague first — or ask an engineer to give you a quick summary of a feature.

From there, break down your idea into smaller components and delete anything that isn’t absolutely necessary. Technical concepts can feel even more intimidating when delivered in a big block of text. Can you link to a support page? Do people need that information in this particular moment? Offering small bits of information is always a good first step.

This ‘delete anything that isn’t absolutely necessary’ applies to more than just good UX writing. It’s also solid advice for marketing copy, especially when talking to a broad audience about technical products. It’s so easy for readers to get lost and just give up on figuring out what you’re trying to say.

As they go on to say: “Clarity should always be the priority”.

Interesting to hear Malcolm Gladwell talk about his writing process on MasterClass.

He shared how he breaks every piece of writing down into small, numbered sections before stringing it all together and figuring out what goes where and working on transitions. He didn’t mean sections like chapters in a book or even subheadings in an article, he suggested that his sections are often far more granular than that.

Sounds pretty basic. But this approach makes large, intimidating projects easier to handle. It also helps build a feeling of ongoing momentum. I do something similar but without the numbers. Think I’ll give the numbers a go.

Finished reading: The Creative Act by Rick Rubin 📚

Finished reading: Naples ‘44 by Norman Lewis 📚

This has been a year of discovering American sports. Feels like they never stop, except for the ads. Chose Chicago as my base, don’t ask me why. It amazes me how frequently Americans stop me in the street to talk about the Cubs when I’m out in my cap, even in some of the most remote corners of Europe.

The Merlin Bird ID app really is a remarkable piece of kit. Its Sound ID feature tells you the type of bird you can hear after recording only a few seconds of song. Works more often than not for me here in Italy, even when the bird song is quite faint.

Finished reading: Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg. This book was recommended at a poetry event I attended a few months back. Thought-provoking advice on the craft of writing, scattered with a dash of memoir and lots of good prompts to fight the blank page. 📚

Can’t remember how I stumbled upon The Odin Project web development curriculum, but I’m glad I did.

I like the way it points you where to go to dig deeper into the topics, and it offers a nice blend of different learning materials and assignments.

I find it way easier to learn new things by reading about them instead of watching videos. Pissed that it’s taken me so long to figure that out. I think this is one of the main reasons why I’m having more success with this course compared to other ones I’ve tried in the past.

Need to decide whether to progress to Ruby on Rails or full stack JavaScript. I guess sticking with JavaScript should offer a deeper knowledge of the language but I heard that Ruby is a joy and Rails makes it easy to do a lot on your own.

I find myself at a fork in the road, and my research is all getting a bit Robert Frost, but I’m trying not to take too much time mulling it over. To borrow a phrase from James Clear’s newsletter today, I think this decision is more of a hat than a haircut or a tattoo.

Italian Sundays are made for passeggiatas. Here’s a shot from our stroll today in central Lecce.

The front of Santa Croce church in Lecce, Italy

Hit a 77-day streak on Duolingo today. The gamification of studying Italian is working wonders. Duolingo has become a daily habit, and this also trickles through to other tools I’m using to learn Italian. Wish I found this app years ago.

Enrolled in Harvard’s CS50x: Introduction to Computer Science course. Enjoyed working through an older version of this years ago before abandoning it about halfway. Let’s see if I can make it to the end this time around.

Finished reading: Dickens and Prince by Nick Hornby. It’s a niche one for sure, but right up my alley. These two geniuses had more in common than first meets the eye. 📚

Whoa, we’re half way there 🎶

A blue and white cappella on the coast directly in front of the ocean.

Finished working my way through the Learning How to Learn course on Coursera. This was recommended as a helpful resource at the start of The Odin Project.

So much depth. It’s great for anybody looking to learn something new and study more effectively, especially if you’re procrastinating or finding your subject difficult to wrestle with.

When I close my computer and head outside, sometimes it feels like I’ve stepped through a time machine instead of a door.

Vintage Fiat 500 sitting still on a cobbled Italian street.

Finished reading: Dreyer’s English by Benjamin Dreyer 📚

In a chapter in Baseball 100 about Japanese baseball player Sadaharu Oh, Joe Posnanski compares baseball training in Japan to spring training in the United States.

Training is much more gruelling in Japan apparently. He explains how, culturally, the sport is just viewed differently there.

When American manager Trey Hillman managed a Japanese team and tried to make some training sessions less intense, in an apparent effort to do the players a favour, the players weren’t happy about it. For them, there was honour in putting in an extreme level of hard work that was just part of their sport.

Got me thinking about my approach to studying web development. Web development training, if you like.

I’m often banging my head against a wall trying to understand new things. It’s tempting to look for shortcuts, AI assistance and other ways just to speed things up.

I hope that putting in the time and work to more fully learn and understand things will help me build a solid foundation on my path to digital craftsmanship. Totally get that finding efficiencies will be key later down the road, but I’ve got a few muscles to build first.

I’m currently listening to The Now Habit audiobook by Dr Neil Fiore. 📚

It’s about beating procrastination. My main takeaway so far is the idea of replacing ‘I have to’ do [task] with ‘I choose to’ do [task].

If there’s something to do, and I’ve agreed to do it, then that was a decision I made instead of facing the alternative. So just do it and stop whining, or make the decision not to, deal with the consequences and move on to the next thing.

Dr Fiore highlights that productive people are able to reduce the agitated energy of a huge pending task by focusing on what can be done now. No matter how small the step.

Perfectionism is another big cause of procrastination. It’s something I’m certainly guilty of. Dr Fiore emphasised the importance of accepting you’re human and that it’s normal to make mistakes and for things not to go perfectly. He suggests not giving yourself big expectations as this can stop you from doing the things you need to do.

Sounds quite simple when you write it down like that, but it’s much more difficult to put into action when you risk something going wrong.

For me the ongoing energy, mood and consequences of procrastination are worse than almost anything. It’s something to fix.

Good listen so far, will keep going.

Funny? Funny how?

Watched a MasterClass video with the poet Billy Collins about reading and writing poetry.

He made the point that it’s easy for anybody to pretend to be serious but impossible to pretend to be funny. You are either funny or you aren’t.

Got me thinking about how so much B2B content could do with more humour and personality. Is your audience really so serious?

It’s easy to pretend to be serious with a stern face and half-baked ‘thought leadership’, but it’s much more difficult to put yourself out there with some personality and a sense of humour.

I think the world needs more of it. What an opportunity.

Collins highlighted that Chaucer and Shakespeare loved to throw in jokes all over the place, and then the romantic poets came along and tried to bring that to a close.

Keats and Wordsworth are great poets. But I would probably rather have a chat, and a couple of drinks, with Chaucer or Shakespeare. When technology allows, of course.

There’s a whole world of B2B content where jokes and puns are frowned upon. You may feel the need to be serious to get your content signed off. Yes, humour has its place, but why not expand it where we can?

And the punchline? Well, just watch this post gain hardly any traction and imagine my expression as I realise where I’ve been going wrong.

LinkedIn post

Em dashes (—), en dashes (–) and hyphens (-)

I’m currently rereading Dreyer’s English to brush up on some American grammar and enjoy the excellent prose of a man so in love with the craft of writing.

While chatting about this book on a call with somebody this morning, the conversation turned to hyphens and dashes.

Lots of people don’t give much thought to the fact that em dashes (—), en dashes (–) and hyphens (-) all have different lengths and should be used for different purposes.

Hands up if you’re guilty of reaching too quickly for the hyphen.

This paddle boarder had the right idea. Need to get myself one of those for days when the sea is as beautiful as this.

Paddle boarder alone in a calm sea.

Watched: Noam Chomsky’s ‘Independent Thinking and Media’s Invisible Powers’ course on MasterClass. 🎥

Well worth the time. Being sceptical of the information we get is perhaps more important than ever. About two billion people are voting this year in a world where AI makes it easy to facilitate misinformation and disinformation on a massive scale.

Finished reading: Chokepoint Capitalism by Rebecca Giblin and Cory Doctorow 📚

New year, new home for my thoughts. Let’s make writing here a habit in 2024.

Becoming a Digital Craftsperson

My career has not exactly been a straight path.

I have no regrets about that, I much prefer it that way.

But it’s funny, because looking back at some of the moves I’ve made, it’s easy to think at first glance that many of them went in the opposite direction to where I ended up landing.

Now I can see that what felt at the time like huge shifts ended up getting tangled back up with the skills and the experiences I gained earlier.

For example, my time working as a nurse in a hospital emergency department certainly helped me keep my cool when facing other types of emergencies from the comfort of my office desk.

Distance adds perspective

I’m writing this blog from rural southern Italy. It’s an environment quite different from the London suburb where I grew up.

The slower pace of life down here has allowed me to think. I’m talking about the type of thinking that I rarely had time for when living in London with a head full of worries and a train to catch.

As the local church bells chime every hour with what feels like increasing frequency, I realise that 2024 is just around the corner and I’m in danger of being left behind as time moves on.

Taking pride in good work

One of the things I notice about many of the Italians I meet is the pride they take in their work.

Here in Puglia, I’m fortunate to be surrounded by some fantastic craftspeople. Many of them are using skills that have been passed down in their families for generations.

  • When buying a leather belt, it’s possible to go to a workshop and meet the person who created it with their own hands.

  • When buying a pizza, the kitchen is on display and you can watch the pizzaiolo flip the dough, place the toppings and manage the busy logistics of the oven.

  • When buying mozzarella, you can go to a local farm to see the cows that gave the milk and the person who created the cheese that very morning.

All of this got me thinking about where I stand. What do I build? What can I take pride in contributing to the world?

This led to a big change a few months back in my freelance business when I decided to focus more on email marketing. When done right emails have a huge positive impact on the people sending them as well as the people receiving them.

But working with all of this email design and code, coupled with the bruises I’ve gained from my battles with WYSIWYG website builders, made me realise I’m looking for something important.

Digital craftsmanship

This post is a public commitment to studying web development with the approach of a craftsman.

I mean, there’s no turning back now it’s here and you’ve read it, right?

This is not so much a pursuit of a new career or a complete change of direction, although I do not rule anything out.

I’m going to try to become a digital craftsman who can build websites I’m proud of and document some of the things I learn. In fact, the idea of sharing as I learn is one of the main drivers behind starting this blog and trying to form a new habit.

Who knows how all of this could tangle itself up with the past to lead me to somewhere I’d love to be? I don’t know what that place looks like yet but if I sit still I’ll never find out.