I saw a YouTube the other day. A character called Ali Abdaal who has 5 million subscribers said something like this (I’m paraphrasing not quoting) If you have something to say that at least one other person in the world will be interested in reading, then write an essay about it and post it to a website. Keep doing that every week for a couple of years.
The video was actually about why it’s worth having a website and how to build one, but I already have two of those, my Nick James Illustrator one for drawings and this site for everything else (including this – doh!) OK! So far so good, and I love writing. Anyway: my guru of the moment told me I have to do this for a year or two, and this is the season for New Year Resolutions – something I have never done before.
So here’s a first:
Throughout 2024, I will write and publish one essay a week.
That’s 52 essays. There I have said it now.
What to write about? Ali Abdaal says something else good and inspiring here. He said, ‘Don’t try to create; document.’ he suggested listening to a podcast and writing about it, reading a book and writing about it. My kneejerk reaction to that was that I like creating – it’s a big part of my “Why” (more of that below) but I still like the concept, because a major difficulty with creating, is thinking of the subject. So this gives me a nice easy fix on finding 52 subjects. I read or listen to what I’m interested in already, and naturally, I think about that stuff on my next walk or when I’m tidying up the kitchen. So I’ll never be starting from a blank sheet. And what I’m writing will be my reactions, not a description of the original. That’s creative. So I can tick that box too.
The other discipline I am putting on myself is that I have to bring something extra to the table. For my own creative satisfaction, I need to push the concept of whatever it is forward a bit. I do that already when illustrating other people’s stories, I never just draw what the words say. I always add. When I write and illustrate together, I always try and arrange it so that both halves leave gaps to be filled by the other. That’s a thing I do. You can copy it if you like. You’re welcome.
Bringing something additional to the table will also help with Ali Abdaal’s ‘At least one other person will be interested.’ (not this essay! this one is absolutely navel gazing and if you’ve got this far, you’re being very loyal; thank you. I promise it’ll be different next time.)
Now books? podcasts? What will be the seeds and compost in the mindgarden where I will cultivate my essays? Now every time I have read a book in the past two years I have already written about it. Here are my reviews on Goodreads. I like putting a book to bed like that. But those reviews don’t intend to build on the subject. I deliberately don’t use my Goodreads reviews to fall into the trap that the late Christopher Hitchens fell into by writing an essay of my own thought that pretends to be a book review. (Have to smile when I think of Christopher Hitchens – so smug, so bright, so brave, so bloodyminded) – there’s an idea: I’ll write an essay about him one day.
Podcasts on the other hand are a potentially richer seam for this kind of jump-off stuff-to-table bringing mixed metaphorical type of thingy. See: I’m the kind of guy who can only do one thing at once. But there are two exceptions. One is irrelevant but I’ll mention it anyway. When I drive solo, I listen to loud music. The second is this: I like tidying up. So as a regular evening task, I have adopted the job of re-ordering the chaos that the day has made of our family kitchen. When everyone else has wandered off to bed, all the surfaces are typically covered two layers thick in dirty plates, cooking pots, misty fingerprinted glasses, cutlery and leftover food scraps – all challenging the concept of “angle of repose”. The first task is to make some kind of marshalling space, which I can gradually expand and work into and out of as I reduce the chaos (Life as the antidote to entropy – there’s another subject.) It’s a beautiful and elegant system that brings as much satisfaction, as anything – that doesn’t actually create new produce – can.
Once the challenge of finding marshalling space has been addressed, then my brain can go into autopilot and for the next hour (less if the place where we are staying is cursed with a dishwasher) I typically listen to a podcast. No one writes reviews of podcast episodes the way they do of books (do they?) so they are fair game for having all their good ideas ripped out and stuck into the machinations of my head and rotted down for a week and spat out as essays. So that seems to be a rich seam. I make two promises: I will always acknowledge the podcast that inspired me, and I will always add some new angle to enrich or develop the discussion.
I’m not limiting myself to podcasts. At this moment I have a Notion file containing 11 Essay Idea Skeletons, gosh that’s 20% of the year already. And I’m not writing off books just yet.
Meantime, I’m going to diverge a tiny bit to help me think about the angle I will take on stuff. I did this thing the other day with the help of a coaching colleague called “Find your Why” It is an initiative by Simon Sinek, and as I have been doing a lot of self-reflection recently as a result of Lifecoach training and CPD, I thought maybe I should address the question of my own purpose in life. The result was a bit of a surprise and a bit of not a surprise. The outcome, polished up a little after a week was as follows:
To interpret complex ideas in simple representations expressing depth, fun and finesse so that I enrich my exchanges with others.
There are synergies here with a lot of the stuff I wrote on the matter of self-reflection when I put my Trajectory website up. It implies but doesn’t differentiate between creativity and productivity, and it also covers my comfort zone media both writing and illustrating and even goes some way to explaining my pleasure in kitchen tidying. It probably also helps to understand why although I love music and movies I’m not much good at making music or movies.
On subject matter – my current favourite podcasts are about philosophy, universe futures, and our boundaries of understanding of physics and AGI. Here are some names in reverse order saving the best to last.
But first what you won’t find here is any self improvement stuff. I deeply believe in coaching as a gateway to real personal development, but memes books and buzzwords leave me cold. Also for the record, I am anti-history and anti-news. Maybe I’ll explain why in a future essay maybe I won’t bother because they aren’t worth the candle. So here at the positive end of the spectrum:
Philosphy: Alex O’Connor though I think he is a bit trapped by his own inability to find meaning in life which will be extinguished both on his own death and in the ultimate heat-death of the universe. I will definitely be doing a few essays on meaning and philosophy, referring to this guy and his guests.
I doubt if I will be writing much about these two they are pretty comprehensive already.
My favourite at the moment and with the biggest potential positive impact on the kind of world I aspire to (and to providing seeds for my own thought development) : 80,000 hours – These kids are young and bright and really want to make a difference. As an old geezer I have to forgive them for all their “wow”s and GenZ argot, but that’s very easy because they really have some bright movers and shakers in there.
See yah next week.