A few months ago I was asked by Ian Hines to conduct an interview via email. Unfortunately that interview was never completed. I am a slow correspondent, and just recently Ian had to end the interview early because he was taking his weblog down for professional reasons.
Ian was a fantastic interviewer, and I was not the only person he was chatting with. He also conducted interviews with Pat Dryburgh, Kyle Baxter, and Jorge Qunteros. All of which had interviews that were never published to Ian’s now-dissolved weblog. So instead, these three gentlemen posted their interviews with Ian onto their own sites. And so I’ve been provoked to do the same.
- Ian Hines: Let’s start at the beginning: How long have you kept a weblog, and what made you get started in the first place?
- Shawn Blanc: I remember writing that first post as if I published it yesterday. I so clearly recall the first time I felt the novelty of writing something combined with the adrenaline rush of publishing it. Even now, four years later, I still feel that same novelty and that same rush every time I publish a new article.
That first post was written on January 27, 2006 during a trip to Colorado. I wrote it on my 12-inch PowerBook G4 and published it on Blogspot.
(Back then, all my blogging friends used Blogspot. Randy had been publishing his weblog for like 6 years already, and Josh was going on three or four I think. About six months later I migrated it to WordPress (version 2.1 I think) because the WordPress WYSISYG editor seemed way better than Blogspot’s.)
I have always considered myself a writer, despite the fact that until I began publishing a weblog in 2006 I had barely done any writing. (Funny how it works like that.) So perhaps that is why I still recall that first post so much — because I was finally writing.
Publishing a weblog has been the best thing I could have done for my writing. It is a format that really works for me: I enjoy it, I’m challenged by it, inspired by it, and frustrated by it. I love it and I hate it. Some days I cannot wait to sit down at my keyboard, while other days I consider quitting altogether and spending all that new free time building furniture. And but so the blend of emotion is sort of my proof that I ought to keep growing and writing.
But if I ever did quit, I know I would miss it. Blogging in its purest form — when Iâ€™m not being influenced by stats, etc. — is really enjoyable to me.
- Ian: It’s interesting that you mention the tension between loving blogging and thinking of quitting; I gather that that is a common feeling among dedicated bloggers. I’m curious how your blogging influences your professional and personal life, and visa versa? Would you say that you continue blogging in spite of it’s impact on your offline life, or because of it, or… what?
- Shawn: Publishing my website influences my home and work life much the same as any other pursuit would. Growing up and all through school I studied Martial Arts, and it effected my whole life. I trained five days a week, and everything I did or thought revolved around Tae Kwon Do. My friends were in Martial Arts, we only ever watched fight movies, I read books about weapons and Japan and ninjas (seriously), and I made sure to buy clothes that would be most appropriate in case I were to get in a fight in a back alley.
After that it was playing the drums. From my senior year of high school, on through college, and for my first five years on staff with the International House of Prayer I was a full-time drummer. My best friends were my bandmates, I visited drum websites, watched drum-solo videos on YouTube, spent all my money on drum gear, and listened to a lot of Carter Beauford.
It was in 2007 when I began transitioning out of my life as a drummer and into a life of graphic design, writing, and much higher interest in technology and software.
Obviously it’s not as cut and dry as I’ve made it sound — I am still a Black Belt, I still own my drum kit, and I was writing and designing and being nerdy before 2007. But my point here is that there are seasons of my life which can clearly be earmarked by what hobby or pursuit I most had going at the time, and usually for a decade or more. Each of these pursuits had a profound impact on my daily life.
So to answer your question, I write both in spite of, and because of, the impact on my offline life. I mean, of course it impacts my offline life. If it didn’t it would mean I wasn’t putting enough of myself into it. If I didn’t want my online writing to have an effect on my offline life then I suppose I ought to go find something which I would.
The reason I sometimes consider quitting is probably just like anyone else who considers quitting something they do. There is always that feeling of the grass being greener on the other side. Will I be publishing my site 10 years from now? I don’t know. But I do know that for this season of life I have the time and the energy to write and I want to make the most of it so that when I look back it won’t be to see time wasted fiddling around on the internet.
- Ian: Well said. But how about we flip it around: how does your offline life influence your writing?
Back in early February you published a piece about titled “A Job Should Also Be an Education” in which you said:
My uncertainties, struggles, and discoveries as the director of a marketing and creative team are something Iâ€™d very much like to talk about more here on shawnblanc.net, but I honestly donâ€™t know where to begin.
I started to briefly in â€œMarketing Shoesâ€ and in my responses to Cameron Mollâ€™s questions on leading an in-house design team. And posting my 1:1 form was another attempt at it.
But talking about management, leadership, marketing strategy, and creative solutions from a corporate-feeling, non-profit organizationâ€™s standpoint is something I donâ€™t feel very smart in. (And I generally prefer to only talk about things which I feel very smart in.)
I, for one, would love to hear more about your work at the International House of Prayer, your hobbies, etc., but that doesn’t seem like something you’re inclined to focus on at SBnet.
I guess what I’m really asking is: how do you decide what to — and what not to — write about?
- Shawn: Well, I primarily decide what not to write about by wimping out — sometimes before I even get started. Or sometimes mid-way through.
I think to myself: “Self, nobody cares about this crap. It’s not worth your time to write it, and it’s certainly not worth anyone else’s time to read. You and they both have something better to do.” Perhaps I’m being hard on myself at those times, or perhaps it truly is the voice of reason. We may never know.
How do I decide what to write? No clue. I just write it I guess. There is no content strategy or research plan. I just write whenever I have a clear thought that I’d like to communicate. If I get stuck during the process of working out that thought then I’ll save it as a draft in MarsEdit and re-visit it later. More often than not I do come back to that post, finalize it, and publish it.
And actually, I am inclined to talk more about my work on my weblog. Although that inclination has yet to translate into actual posts. As of this writing I have a handful of draft articles started which are not related to Apple or technology at all — they’re about marketing, the creative workflow, and management. Hopefully one or more of them will get finished and published soon and will pave the way for more of the like to follow.
- Ian: Hmm… That leads me to an interesting thought: roughly how many draft articles do you have in MarsEdit right now? I tend never to have more than a few at a time, mostly because I find that when I get an idea it gnaws at me until I publish it.
- Shawn: Roughly 30. The oldest dates back to February 2008. Some of the drafts are only one or two sentences, and are simply the start of a thought. Others are hundreds of words yet still incomplete, and a few are would-be links.
- Ian: Do you find that — at least in your personal opinion — you write better when the idea pours out of you or when you take more time to write it in drafts?
- Shawn: I guess it depends on the definition of writing better. If I have an idea that just pours out then yes, the initial foundation for what I’m writing is certainly much stronger than an idea I’m unclear on and trying to winkle through. But a piece that I were to write quickly and then publish would not nearly be as well written as one I took the time to write, edit, re-write, and then edit some more.
In my opinion, my strongest articles are ones which I spend a significant amount of time on (sometimes several weeks) before publishing. Some of those articles started as an idea that just “poured out”, but some of them didn’t.
- Ian: Makes sense. I’ve never really been much for drafts in any context; even major academic papers are usually just written in one go-through. I tend to edit as I go (for better or for worse).
- Shawn: Yeah, I tend to edit as I go too. And I hate that I do that. It slows me down and I don’t think it leads to a better first draft.
When I edit as I go I have too much focus on writing well and not just writing. That’s Natalie Goldberg’s big thing in her book Writing Down the Bones — she’s always saying to just write. Write. Write!
The trouble with editing as I go is that I lose track of where I’m going because I focus too much on where I’ve been. Even now, as I’m typing this answer at this moment I’m editing it as I go. (!!) For me, it’s a habit I want to kick but it’s easier written than done.
- Ian: You are, I’d wager, best known for your glowing and fantastically spot-on app reviews. In fact I feel like I’ve seen you refer to yourself as a software evangelist. How did you come to start writing those?
- Shawn: Thanks for the kind words, though I can’t ever remember referring to myself as a “software evangelist”. I certainly do like the stuff though.
How exactly I fell into writing those winded reviews I’m not really sure. Though I do know it all started with my review of NetNewsWire. I wanted to write something of length that had a storyline, yet was chock-full of nerdy content. A review of an app that I love seemed like the perfect solution. And it was.
For me, writing a software review isn’t so much about giving the ins and outs of an application. It’s about telling a story and sharing a point of view from my eyes and then weaving the piece of software into that storyline.