Text playlist

Text playlist

Frank Chimero keeps a text playlist:

[O]ne made of the best writing on the web I come across. I take this list and revisit and reread it every 4 to 8 weeks. You could almost consider it a playlist of text: it’s very select (I artificially limit it to 10-15 articles), I typically read them all in one sitting, and the order and pacing is very purposeful. Most revolve around what it’s like to be making things in 2010, and a lot of the people that I respect the most have pieces in it. It’s almost a pep talk in text form. I visit it when I’m down, when I’m lazy, when I’m feeling the inertia take over.

In a bricked basement in Savannah earlier this year, I found myself trading playlists with a woman I’d never met. She, writing a somewhat academic second edition of a book that wasn’t hers the first time around, was experiencing some sort of block. Have you read the “Clackity Noise,” I asked?

It was then I realized that I had a writing playlist.

I explained to her that whenever I’m feeling uninspired, I reread a handful of things that remind me, ground me, reframe and reposition me, sometimes frighten me frankly, back into or out of where I was. I have websites of this sort. Posters. Trees. Scraps of letters. But these, these were the most threadbare. Does she not have that? She did not. I presented her with the playlist. Taking a page from Frank:

Anne Lamott: Bird by Bird

Shitty first drafts are applicable for writing of course, but it’s well beyond that. Broccoli also plays a protagonist.

Frank Chimero: Platforms as Tables, Tables as Platforms

I read this piece as a reminder that one should have research partners in the world, thinking parallel things, doing similar research, inspiring you, pulling you forward. It’s important to have them. You may never meet. In fact, sometimes it’s best if you never meet your research partner. But as partners, you inspire each other to be the best thinker and maker of things you can be. This piece is that reminder.

Jeremy Denk: Yet More Verbiage About The Goldberg Variations

That song you hear playing in the background but you can’t place it? You know you’ve heard it before, but you trust it, you know it. You feel comforted, informed, educated, transformed even by it? This is Jeremy Denk’s writing. No matter what you think of music, hurry off to take a look. A deeply trustable happiness.

Jonathan Harris: World Builders

I read this for the first time as I returned from time away from home where I was on land and space designed by an architect who’d carefully considered how people interact with the surroundings in a natural way. Authenticity, in particular, was intensely important to him. Ever since, I have been trying to build worlds without having to leave my place — to gain objectivity and authenticity while staying home.

Merlin Mann: Making the Clackity Noise

When I forget where I began, and when I can’t remember where to go next, this is what I read. There’s a piece of this post in everything I write.

Milton Glaser: Ten Things I Have Learned

Often recited from memory, and often used to validate tough decisions, I go back to them often. Timeless.

Paul Graham: What Startups Are Really Like

When a new thing isn’t making sense at all, it’s a good reminder of why we need to be perceptive, aware, paying attention. Familiar models don’t always fit, and the best we can do is be aware of them.

Ralph Caplan: Why you should write in your books. Or, Talking Back to Aristotle and Loewy

Aside from paying homage to my unnatural love for marginalia, this reminds me to get past heady and down to what one cares about as a teacher, as a designer, as a human. Feel something? Don’t shuffle around bewildered about how to get it across. Say it out loud. Shout it from the margins. Thank you, Ralph Caplan.

Robin Sloan: The Future of Designed Content

Ideas, whenever they occur to you — however — should be written about. Sometimes we feel that the desk must be perfect, life must be tidy, the world in order, before we have to do our best work, our clearest thinking. This, one of my favorites from Robin, was written as he sniffled from his bed. His sick bed! Had he thought that way, we would never know his thoughts on the future of designed content. This is my reminder.

Seneca: On the Shortness of Life

Perhaps dramatic and certainly not new, but reminders that need reminding.

There are many more. So, sporadically and without purpose, I track paragraphs I love for no good reason. No playlist per se. But if paragraphs were collected like stamps, butterflies, coins, and stickers, this would be that. And I would be a collector. Thanks, Frank.