Posts From February 2011
For the most part, I had all the details of the Membership launch ready to go about three weeks before I announced anything here. All the content was written, the membership drive giveaway prizes were lined up, and the whole signup process with PayPal and the IPN was in place. 1
Back in early January, when I decided to do the membership, my original idea for the perk was a members-only email journal. It was going to be a once-a-month email with written content just for members — primarily the Members Showcase, the Q&A, and then something called “The Cut List”. 2
However, there were several problems with an email journal that, in the end, didn’t sit right with me. Primarily, I didn’t want what I was writing to be hidden behind a paywall. Nor did I want to force you guys to have to get another email.
Though I liked the idea of some sort of members-only communication that had a personal touch, doing it via email, private forums, or an authenticated RSS feed just didn’t make sense.
In part because it would have made it more difficult for you, and in part because I didn’t want to have to draw the line between what writing went on shawnblanc.net and what writing went to members only. I wanted it all on the website.
Why should I put what may be some of my best work behind a paywall and then make it more difficult or annoying for members to access it? If anything it should be easier for members. And the only way I know of to keep it easy is to publish it publicly and let you continue to access it the way you have been.
So I canned the idea of the members journal. Which left me very few perks: the Members Showcase, the Q&A, and the promise of doing some giveaways to members throughout the year.
But something was still lacking. I mean, clearly, the whole point of becoming a member is to support the main writing that I do here on the site. But I still wanted a cool and exciting perk for the members.
And then, just less than a week before the announcement, I had the idea for Shawn Today. Why not do a short, daily broadcast just to the members? The premise is that the members are the truest of the true fans. So why not talk to them, “check in” with them, and let them know what’s in the pipeline for the website that day or that week.
Or, to put it another way, if shawnblanc.net is a movie, Shawn Today is that Disc 2 which contains “The Making Of” and “The Director’s Commentary”.
Having it be audio (and sometimes video) meant it was a unique enough format that any member who loves my writing but isn’t interested in the broadcast wouldn’t feel like they were missing anything. And it would be personal enough so that those who do love my writing would feel like it would be the icing on the cake.
It was the final piece of the whole puzzle that made me feel proud of the members-only perks.
What I did not expect was what a huge hit Shawn Today would actually be.
Currently more than 90% of members are listening to Shawn Today. And in the past week I have gotten more email from members regarding the broadcast than any other topic. Some have written in with responses to topics or questions I’ve thrown out during various shows, some have written in just to say how much they love it.
What current members are saying about Shawn Today
“Shawn Today is fast becoming one of my top podcasts. Concise and full of great content.” — Orin
“You guys are really missing out on @shawnblanc’s Shawn Today.” — Ben Brooks
“Dude, I know you must be hearing this a bunch. But I am loving Shawn Today!” — Myke Hurley
“Really enjoying listening to Shawn Today on my way to work. Great work!” — Stephen Hackett
“Just signed up as a member and wanted to let you know I’m really digging the extra members-only content. Already enjoyed your blog posts, so it was an easy decision.” — Alex Knight
“I listen to @shawnblanc’s Shawn Daily as I’m getting started in the morning. It’s like we’re hanging out. It’s nice.” — Dave Caolo
Here are a couple of my favorite broadcasts so far:
Thoughts on Fanatics: Thoughts on fans vs. true fans (fanatics), and how I haven’t yet had a chance to read the latest Apple rumors.
Hot Coffee: Stories of brewing coffee at Anna’s grandparent’s house in northeastern Colorado.
“Aren’t We All Just 8th Graders?”: Debunking that feeling of “once I get big enough then I’ll start pursuing my idea.”
If you’d like to get access to Shawn Today you have to become a subscribing member. Your membership will help me take shawnblanc.net full time.
Ideally the value and enjoyment you already get from shawnblanc.net is worth 3 bucks a month to you and the perks like Shawn Today are just icing on the cake. But whatever your reason may be, I would love to have your support as a subscribing member.
- I had been putting off writing “Beginning” though. I didn’t write that until the night before. Mostly because I was so nervous about this whole venture and writing and publishing that article was the final step that would seal the deal and make it official. ↵
- The cut list was going to be a list of links that never made it onto shawnblanc.net for one reason or another. The name for The Cut List was Sean Sperte’s idea. ↵
Beginning the first week in April I will be writing shawnblanc.net as my full-time gig.
It is hard to put into words just exactly how excited I am about the days ahead — I’m equal parts giddy and petrified over here. There’s that feeling of: I’m actually going to do this! Um, wait. I’m actually going to do this!?
In order to make this happen for longer than a few months, I need the support of you, the reader.
And so, leading up to my first day on the job, I am hosting a PBS-style membership drive. Which means that, for the next three and a half weeks, I’ll be talking somewhat regularly about the membership. (Though I promise that it won’t be all I talk about between now and then.)
Ideally, you are signing up to become a member because you feel like this site is already worth 3 bucks a month to you. The members-only perks are a nice bonus of course (Shawn Today seems to be a smash hit already), and the fact that your membership will be a significant contributing factor to my ability to go full time is the icing on the cake.
But let’s face it: everyone loves free stuff. And, to be honest, I really do love to give things away. And so there are things to be won if you sign up to become a member.
The Membership Drive
Starting yesterday, and running until midnight CST on Sunday, March 20, anyone who signs up to become a member of shawnblanc.net will be entered to win a prize. These are all top-notch prizes from some of my friends and heroes in the creative professional community.
First & 20 t-shirt: 5 of these fantastic t-shirts. I’ve got one and love it. ($20 each)
Evernote Essentials by Brett Kelly: 5 copies of Brett’s definitive guide on Evernote. ($25 each)
Fusion Ad Burst: The Fusion Ad network is giving away one Burst Campaign. This prize will only be given to a member with something relevant for the Fusion Ad network. ($500)
A signed copy of Being Geek by Michael Lopp ($25).
A signed copy of Managing Humans by Michael Lopp ($25).
Cameron Moll’s 24×16 Signed Colosseo Poster: This thing is gorgeous. ($100)
MarsEdit 3: A license of the best blogging software on the planet ($40).
Limited Edition, Pre-Production, Proof-of-Concept Coffee Mug From Yours Truly: I have no clue how much these will be selling for once they’re available, but I have an extra pre-production model that I’m giving away.
Learning ExpressionEngine 2 by Ryan Irelan: Two bundles of the complete series basic training screencasts for EE 2. ($48 each)
MySQL and ExpressionEngine by Ryan Irelan: Two copies of this screencast primed to help you do some customizing of EE 2. ($12 each)
Securing ExpressionEngine 2 by Mark Huot: Two copies of this ebook which details the steps you can take to make your installation of ExpressionEngine even more secure. ($10 each)
LittleSnapper: 5 licenses of Realmac Software’s popular screenshot library tool. ($25 each)
Pixelmator: 2 licenses of this top-notch, image editing application for Mac OS X. ($60 each)
Flux: 1 license of The Escapers Web-development software. ($113)
Canned: 10 copies of Sky Ballon Studio’s iPhone app for sending pre-built text messages. ($.99 each)
Canned Email: 10 copies of Sky Ballon Studio’s iPhone app for sending pre-built email messages. ($.99 each)
Attachment Tamer: 5 licenses of Lokiware’s Apple Mail plugin. ($15 each)
Flare: 5 copies of the brand-new photo effects editor from the Iconfactory. ($20 each)
Due App: 10 copies of this great timer and reminder app for your iPhone and iPad. ($5 each)
Clyppan: 5 copies of this clipboard history manager for Mac OS X. ($5 each)
TrackTime: 5 copies of the time tracking application especially built for freelancers and creative professionals. ($25 each)
The total value of all these prizes is over $2,028. Thank you to all of you who have donated to make this giveaway possible.
How to Win
Anyone who signs up for a membership by midnight CST on Sunday, March 20 will automatically be in the runnings to win something.
You do not have to live in the United States to win — international members are most welcome and most eligible.
I’ll be setting up a way for you to request a certain prize if there is one in particular that you’d love to get.
The drawing will be sometime the last week in March. Winners will be contacted by via their PayPal email address.
This morning, around 7:00 am, I was just sitting here in front of MarsEdit with the announcement written and ready to publish. And I just sat here. Too nervous to hit Publish. It was probably just a minute or less, but it felt like half the morning.
In some ways I thought today would never come. And for those few final moments before I published “Beginning” I had this uncanny feeling of sheer excitement coupled with total fear. I was giddy at the thought of letting you guys know about such a huge and exciting change. And simultaneously afraid at what trolls may come out of the woodwork to criticize my decision or poke fun at my (admittedly) bad video.
My wife, Anna, was this site’s very first reader back in July of 2007. She has proofread, edited, and given constructive feedback on every major article I’ve written — I never post those things without her feedback first (I figure if she likes it, and I like it, then it can’t be all that bad). Anna also helped me behind the scenes in the early days of this site by giving suggestions on questions I should ask certain interviewees — such as asking John Gruber what he eats for breakfast.
It was some time right after this past Christmas, just before the 2011 New Year, that Anna and I were having dinner at home and I pitched the idea to her about actually taking shawnblanc.net full time. I’ve tossed it out there before over the years, but it was always somewhat casual. But this time I meant it. And she meant it when she said she would be 100% behind me.
I brag about the readership of this site quite a bit. And I mean it when I write how amazing and talented you guys are. But, with all due respect my fellow nerds, this site would not be the site it is today without the support and encouragement I have received from my wife.
Thank you, Anna, for everything.
Also, I want to thank you guys, the readers. The support and positive feedback I received today has been absolutely phenomenal. Many of you have been helping spread the news on your website or via Twitter as well as writing in to say congratulations. Please keep it up, because so far sign ups are looking good.
It hasn’t even been 24 hours yet, so I really have no way to know if things are going really well or not. But I do know for sure that there is still a long way to go in order to make the memberships a viable enough source of income for me to keep the full-time aspect going for longer than the summer.
Those of you who have signed up already, thank you! If you haven’t, what are you waiting for?
Current Members: Regarding your Perks and Info
For some reason unbeknownst to me, PayPal won’t let you build or customize the autoresponder emails that are sent when someone becomes a subscriber. Which means that the information about your perks as a member are given out on the final page stage of the subscription process. This includes the information on how to subscribe to the members-only broadcast, Shawn Today.
This was, by far, the most frustrating piece of the whole membership puzzle for me. There are many alternate options and workarounds, but I opted for what I felt would be the easiest for me to maintain and the easiest for you to access.
If you’ve signed up for a membership and accidentally missed this information during your subscription check-out, please email firstname.lastname@example.org from your PayPal address and I’ll send you the info you need.
Coming up next: A Membership Drive With Some Sweet Giveaways
A little surprise for tomorrow: some extremely amazing and generous folks have donated a handful of prizes and gifts as bounty for a membership drive that will kick off tomorrow.
In short, between this morning and midnight on Sunday, March 20th, anyone and everyone who signs up for a membership will be eligible to win some amazing prizes. And these aren’t just hum-drum giveaways. They are top-notch, drool-worthy, items. But more info on that tomorrow morning.
This is a sentence I never thought I would publish: Beginning the first week in April I will be writing shawnblanc.net as my full-time gig.
When I began shawnblanc.net in July of 2007 it was with the intention of enjoying and exploring that place where creativity and computers come together — I am fascinated by that blend of the artful and the technical. And for almost four years now I’ve been exploring that place while writing this site on the side, as I’ve been able.
But writing on the side, as I’m able, is no longer enough for me.
I simply have to go full time. And so I’m jumping in head first. I’m actually doing it. And I can hardly believe I’m saying this.
After four years and hundreds of articles it all feels like the beginning. As if the hundreds of thousands of words that I’ve written here so far are simply the prologue. I cannot wait for what is next.
The Next Chapter
In many ways, shawnblanc.net will be the same as it has been. The focus and direction of this site is not changing.
But in some other ways shawnblanc.net will be different. Or, at least, I hope it will be different. I hope that the quality and the pace of the publishing will rise to a new level of excellence. I hope that the community here will be able to grow and connect more. And I hope to expand to new communication methods in addition to writing.
It is hard to put into words just exactly how excited I am about the days ahead. I’m equal parts giddy and petrified over here. There’s that feeling of: I’m actually going to do this! Um, wait. I’m actually going to do this!?
And so, in order to make this happen for longer than a few months, I need the support of you, the reader.
I am inviting you guys to join me on this journey, and help me take shawnblanc.net full time by becoming a member.
A membership subscription is just $3 a month — like a good cup of coffee — and includes some members-only perks. You can read all about the membership and watch a video I made by checking out the membership info page. But here’s the gist of the members-only perks:
- Supporting the full-time writing and growth of shawnblanc.net
- Access to Shawn Today, a daily video/audio broadcast of ideas plus what coffee I’m brewing that morning
- The Members Showcase
- Ability to ask questions, get advice, etc…
- Possibility of winning some cool stuff
Hopefully the value and enjoyment you already get from shawnblanc.net is worth $3 a month to you and these perks are just icing on the cake. But however you slice it, I would love to have your support as a subscribing member.
Surely shawnblanc.net has one the most amazing readerships out there. Because of you guys this site has been able to grow and mature into what it is today. And that is what is enabling me to take this leap and go full time.
And so now, I’m humbly asking, will you take this next step with me?
There are fans and then there are true fans. The fanatics.
You can be a fan of many things. But when you encounter a brand, or product, or person that you really connect with — that’s when you become a true fan. A fanatic.
For instance: I’m a fan of Starbucks, but I’m fanatical about Crowfoot Valley Coffee (the local coffee shop in my home town).
Fans are people who have decided to give you their attention. They like you, and they’re willing to watch what you do and to stop by to say hello from time to time.
But true fans — the fanatics — they go out of their way to stay in touch with what you’re doing. They read every word on your site. They talk to others about you. They buy every one of your albums (even the crappy ones). And they miss you if you don’t show up for a few days.
The reason I’m a fan of Starbucks is because they’re convenient. They are all over the place and I know I can go to any one of them and get a decent cup of coffee. But I’m fanatical about Crowfoot Valley Coffee because it’s one of a kind. Not only does the owner know me by name, he makes the best Americano in the country.
Am I biased about the quality of Crowfoot’s coffee? Probably. But fanaticism is, by definition, single-minded.
The bridge from fan to true fan is built with emotion.
Anyone can get fans by simply showing up day after day and being genuine. But to get fanatics you have to do something long enough to create nostalgia. Or you have to do something crazy or wonderful enough to give your current fans something to get fanatical about.
“Writing is not just jotting down ideas. Often we say: ‘I don’t know what to write. I have no thoughts worth writing down.’ But much good writing emerges from the process of writing itself. As we simply sit down in front of a sheet of paper and start to express in words what is on our minds or in our hearts, new ideas emerge, ideas that can surprise us and lead us to inner places we hardly knew were there.
“One of the most satisfying aspects of writing is that it can open in us deep wells of hidden treasures that are beautiful for us as well as for others to see.”
— Henri Nouwen
And here’s another good Henri quote:
“The word is always a word for others. Words need to be heard. When we give words to what we are living, these words need to be received and responded to. A speaker needs a listener. A writer needs a reader.”
Yesterday’s article on writing received quite a bit of feedback. Much of it in the form of great advice and stories from other writers about how they write. Thank you all for your feedback; this site has a lot of great readers.
Iain Broome responded with his attitude towards writing and editing:
Writing is relatively easy. Writing well is extremely tough. Without that extra, uncompromising attention to detail, you’ll find yourself writing without Writing.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of editing my work. All work should be edited. I certainly spend far more time editing the articles I post to shawnblanc.net than I do writing them. I even edit my emails before hitting send.
Let me try to reiterate the two things I was primarily harping against in my article yesterday: (a) my tendency to avoid writing when it doesn’t feel like I’m producing my best work to date; and (b) my tendency to edit my work in real-time as I’m writing it.
What these two tendencies mean for me is that I often write each word, one at a time, slowly, so as to get just the right word. There are a lot of people who write like that, but I don’t know if it’s the best habit for me. But more on that at the end.
Another bit of feedback came from reader Rory Marinich via email saying there is no such thing as bad or good writing as it relates to voice — there is simply honest writing: “Honest subjects, honest voice, and that’s all writing can ever be.” Moreover, Rory said how writing effortlessly does not necessarily mean that a writer has “arrived”, because every writer has their own, unique pace.
Thanks, Rory, for the sage advice. And in fact, this is what I was trying to communicate in my final paragraph yesterday when I wrote:
But suppose one day I do arrive at some level of skill where the ink flows like honey and the prose like fine wine. I wonder if I’d even realize it. It may very well feel just like it does right now…
My point is that my perception of what it’s like to write compared to what I imagine it may be like to Write is most likely an arbitrary perception. The process of growing as a writer — or any other creative profession — is a slow and iterative process. Today feels just like yesterday, and tomorrow will feel like today. But if we were to skip back 2 years or skip ahead, then we would notice the difference.
It is easy to compare the difference in our finished products. I can read an article I wrote two years ago and compare it to an article I wrote last week and see that the quality and flow is higher. I can see that I have better grammar and use of vocabulary. But what I can’t see is my process for writing that article two years ago compared to my process of last week’s. To me, I remember them as being the same.
Lastly, is Randy Murray who was able to sum up my entire point in a single tweet: “give yourself permission to suck, then get better.”
This is exactly the struggle I have recently found myself in. I’ve noticed that I will not publish or even write something simply because it doesn’t feel absolutely incredible at the time I’m trying to write it. It’s likely that I’ve been hindered by this fear of doing crappy work for years — who knows — but I’ve only recently become aware of it.
And though I prefer not to post gushing articles like this (especially two in as many days), I know that many of you are writers, designers, podcasters, and more. And so my hope is that by me expressing my recent discoveries and shortcomings as a writer they will help you find ways that you can grow in your craft as well. Because that’s the whole point, right? To learn and to grow?
But that’s not all…
I want to come back to the two tendencies I’m trying to pull out of: (a) my tendency to avoid writing when it doesn’t feel like I’m producing my best work to date; and (b) my tendency to edit my work in real-time as I’m writing it.
I don’t know if these are the best habits for me to grow. Which is to say that I have questions about the amount of time I spend editing my work. Mostly, I’m curious about what would happen if I spent slightly less time editing my writing and then slightly more time creating and writing the next thing?
As I said, I am a big fan of editing. But what if I edited less and wrote more? Is it possible that I would slowly become a better writer in need of less editing? Ray Bradbury seems to think so: “Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed.”
This is me, thinking out loud about my writing.
There is writing, and then there is Writing. And I am amazed at how often I will shy away from the former because it doesn’t feel like the latter. There are times when I put far too much emphasis on the fine-tuned components of writing, and not nearly enough emphasis on simply getting the words down.
You know the difference I’m talking about. The latter is tangible — it’s the times when the words seem to write themselves. But then there are times when you feel like you’re back in the 2nd grade playing Oregon Trail and it’s all you can do to remember the Home Row. In fact, for me, writing rarely feels like Writing.
I may never be a capital “W” Writer. I may never win a Pulitzer, or write for the New Yorker, or even get pen to paper for what could be the next great American Novel. But I want to shoot for it. I want to be the best. I want my writing to be engaging, clever, and quotable. I want my articles to be insightful and memorable. But that will never happen if I only ever allow myself to write when it feels like Writing.
It’s suicide to stop before I start just because I’m not feeling it. I’ve got to settle the fact that sometimes it’s just plain writing and get over it already. Because wanting to write is not the same as writing.
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.
Some of these help me grow into a better writer, but how often are they really just ways of procrastinating that don’t ever produce something written? If I’m not sitting here writing then I’m not writing.
If I’m not sitting here writing, I’m not writing.
Dorothy C. Fontana said: “You can’t say, I won’t write today because that excuse will extend into several days, then several months, then… you are not a writer anymore, just someone who dreams about being a writer.“
Do I want to be a capital “W” Writer? Yes. Do I want all my writing to feel like Writing? Yes. But I have to be okay with the fact that right now, I’m not and it doesn’t. I’m just a writer and most of the time writing is hard. It may never be otherwise.
But suppose one day I do arrive at some level of skill where the ink flows like honey and the prose like fine wine. I wonder if I’d even realize it. It may very well feel just like it does right now — like today — when it seems as if I can’t even put two words together using copy and paste.
Somewhere, a few years back, I was listening to a live broadcast with Seth Godin. I think it was a radio show targeted towards non-profit organizations, and Seth was giving advice about marketing and spreading ideas.
I took a few notes from what Seth said and just recently came across them in my Yojimbo. Here are the bulletpoints of Seth’s advice from that radio show:
- Ideas that spread, win.
- Free ideas spread better than non-free ideas.
- You monetize it by selling souvenirs.
- For example, books are souvenirs. But it’s not about selling books. If you’re in the idea business the books will sell themselves.
- Permission is the only asset. If people ‘complain’ when they don’t hear from you, then it means you’ve got permission.
- Conversations are marketing. If you can get people to talk about what you’re doing then you win.
- Words for readers, not readers for words (it’s why The New Yorker and Rolling Stone are so great, and the magazine industry makes 10 times the book industry).
- Blogs work. It’s the successful nature of dripping ideas into the place where they can spread.
The creative professional community is full of independents. And the best content, apps, and services are increasingly coming from independent writers, developers, and entrepreneurs. I want this quality to increase — especially amongst my favorite developers, writers, et al.
Which is why I give my money to a handful of websites, services, and content producers whom I love. For example: I buy everything Shaun Inman creates. In part because it’s worth it, but also because I want him to keep building and creating. It’s also why I have a subscription to 5by5 and Instapaper. It’s why I buy people’s eBooks. And it’s why I buy the software I use, even if there is a free version that works just fine for me.
Obviously I can’t afford do give my money to support every website I read and for every cool app that I come across. And so, when I can’t afford to pay for something then I spread the word about their product using Twitter or my website. Or, for some apps, I try to give as much of my time as I can by helping them test and improve their software.
For the handful of my most-favorite websites and apps which I continually find value from, supporting them is a win for both of us. It’s a way to thank them and it helps them keep building and creating for the long run.