My website has featured a blog, in one form or another, for a long time. The trouble is that I’ve never really known what to do with my blog. It always seemed like a good idea to have one. In theory, my blog provides a place to share my process and ideas in a more personal format than the rest of the “finished” work on this site.
In practice, however, blogging has always occupied an awkward place in my workflow and I’ve struggled to write new posts with any regularity. Part of the problem is that blogging always felt somehow tangential to the actual work I do. I’d finish something — a drawing, a print, a website, a client project, etc. — and then I’d try to write a blog post describing the inspiration, research, process, or techniques I used along the way.
That’s a totally valid subject for a blog, I think, and many of the blogs I follow do just that. But sitting down and doing it for myself always felt somehow onerous. It felt hard to put time into a task that, in the end, felt like after-the-fact documentation rather than creating something new. If I have time available, I usually feel a need to spend it working on the next thing rather than reviewing the last thing. I’m a restless soul, for better or worse.
Somewhere in 2020, I gave up on blogging entirely. The pandemic lockdowns reduced my family’s lives to something far more concentrated and dense… and exhausting. My wife and I scrambled to figure out how to take care of our kid, how to do our jobs, how to stay healthy and alive, how to shop for groceries, and (hope springs eternal) how to fit in a decent night’s sleep. Time became unspeakably valuable.
The upheaval forced me to rethink what I really wanted to accomplish in life. Or, what really mattered to me, period. There was no time to waste on distractions or side quests. I found myself focusing on small, simple, everyday things, with a kind of longing I’d never felt before. Sunlight in our window, early in the morning. The constellations passing through the sky each night. Falling leaves. Water ripples. My daughter getting taller.
I couldn’t shake the feeling that life was slipping away from me and I needed to see and remember every moment before it dissolved in amber-colored oblivion. I collected little observations, one after another, of little things passing by, as though I could somehow pin each one in a sterile vitrine and keep it forever. This impulse, in part, drove my Inventory series of drawings.
I modified my routine. I began to rise earlier. I’d get up, get the coffee started, and then retreat to the office to write about 150 words. I did this every day if I could manage it (and still do). I empty my sleepy brain into my notebook as the sun rises. The writing habit has became another way to capture small things, every day. It’s become such an important ritual to me that, if I miss a morning, I feel a little bit off the rest of the day.
Sometimes all I write in the morning is stream-of-consciousness. The color of the sky, the shape of the clouds, how the coffee turned out. That’s fine: the point is just to get my hand moving. But sometimes, an idea will emerge that I’ll end up chasing over several days or weeks or months. Sometimes bigger themes will start to emerge, which I’ll eventually develop into projects like Patapsco.
I loved writing that essay and I want to do more. But it also took a long time to finish. A few months of research, outlining, and compiling material; a few months of writing and revising drafts; a few months of illustrating; and a few months of coding it. (Note: I’ve recently re-architected my website with this kind of longform work in mind, so hopefully that will help me publish work like this with less coding. But I know, deep down, that every new project means new features and new bugs to work out. There’s always more code to write. )
There’s a big gap — in both time and work — between the rough ideas in my notebook and the finished essay. It’s all too easy to lose momentum between the protean ideas and the published work. I often lose the thread amid other commitments or concerns. I often feel overwhelmed by the scope of work. Sequestering myself, say, in a remote cabin on some months-long writing retreat is a pipe dream — albeit a very, very seductive one. I have commitments that can’t wait: a kid who needs to get to school and a house that needs renovation and clients who need to get their projects printed/published/launched. If I want to tell bigger stories, I have to find a way to finish them, bit by bit, in the daily mix with the rest of my life.
What I need, I realized, is more rituals. The write-in-my-notebook-every-morning ritual has been a raging success. By now I’ve filled several hundred notebook pages with potential material. There’s a muscle memory that comes with routine and habit. It turns hard things into easier things; big efforts into automatic reflexes. It’s a way of marking time that makes me feel like I’m not just floating downstream.
Then it dawned on me: blogging is a kind of ritual that could help me develop ideas and write drafts.
A blog is a good middle ground between my notebook scribbles and my longform projects. My process could follow a kind of cascade. The best ideas from my daily notebook entries could become weekly blog posts. The blog is a place where I can refine those ideas, share them publicly, follow threads to flesh out bigger themes, and get feedback. Then, finally, the best ideas from my blog posts can serve as building blocks for bigger stories like Patapsco.
The notebook › blog › longform cascade could be the ritualized process I need to build bigger stories from small, everyday contributions. And I might have finally found a place for blogging within my workflow rather than as a tacked-on promotional chore.
We’ll see how it goes, but I’m excited about this. I’ll try to publish a new post every Wednesday. You can subscribe via RSS if you use a reader (Note: And if you don’t, I recommend it — it’s a great alternative to social media feeds. ) , and I’ll link to new posts on my social media channels as well. Thanks in advance for reading, and I can’t wait to share all my in-progress ideas, random thoughts, and research with you.