What it Took To Create That Post

I knocked out two blog posts in as many days that were helpful to me, and perhaps helpful to anyone reading this website, about planning from ground-level up to 30,000′.
I teach social media marketing, and WordPress website development, and I am aware that what we teach does not always translate into students having the ability to create content on the fly. I thought about what it took to get those two posts from conception to publication. There are a lot of skills involved, and a lot of tools. Here’s a flow chart:

The skills and tools used to create the posts about Levels of Planning

The skills and tools used to create the posts about Levels of Planning

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Processing an Idea for Content

What do you do when you have an idea for social media or website content?

Just like entrepreneurial wannabes who think their ideas are worth millions, it can be hard to know exactly what to do when you have an idea that could be useful content marketing material, if only you knew what to do with it.

I’m learning Creately, the process mapping tool, and I find myself creating decision trees to help clarify my thinking. This is another one: processing ideas for content. I do this on automatic pilot now, but it wasn’t always that easy. I tried to document the steps I follow.

What to do when you get struck by an idea for a potential content marketing item.

What to do when you get struck by an idea for a potential content marketing item.

Let me know if you have questions about the map or the process. I’m still learning the tool. Building a real map that can be printed on paper helps me see where the sticking points are, as well as where my thinking is cloudy.

Live version of the map

Glue it up!

Glue up your spreadsheets, that is.

You see things differently when it's all on one page.

You see things differently when it’s all on one page.

Glue sticks.  Simple product, magic effects.  How did we ever manage before they were invented?  (For that matter, do you remember life before post-it notes?  You can even buy post-it note glue sticks…)

Warehouse store box of glue sticks so I never run out.

Warehouse store box of glue sticks so I never run out.

A boatload of years ago, before the internet but after spreadsheets were invented, I worked on two huge bid packages for one of the computer processing giants.  We wanted to manage parking operations.  Both cities are huge; massive infrastructure needed; lots of moving parts.

One of my co-workers insisted that he could look at spreadsheets printed across sheets of paper and understand everything that was going on.  He was wrong. He did not understand the scope of the project. (Neither did one of the cities, for that matter. They had underestimated the work by roughly $14M. When they saw our spreadsheet, glued up (before the internet, remember), they went back to their drawing board. We found more moving parts in their operations than they realized they had.)

(There’s something to be said for not printing, I understand, but there’s also risk in not looking closely enough to see what’s going on in the moving parts.)

Glue up your spreadsheets.  You see information differently when you don’t have to turn the page.

What do Big Rocks Look Like?

There’s an old story in the productivity world, about a professor with a jar and rocks and gravel and sand, and the punch line is that if you don’t put the big rocks into the jar first, there won’t be room for them later, after you add the sand and gravel.

Easy to say; we’ve all heard it.

But what do the Big Rocks look like, especially when you don’t really know what they are? “Set your goals for the quarter,” they say. “Figure out what you want to have accomplished.” Sigh. I’ve been flailing around with this for most of my life. I get by, enough, and I get stuff done, enough, and I have a body of art work and a boatload of websites and two published books to my name.

And yet, the question of Big Rocks nags. And more, why is it so hard to put the Big Rocks in first? Right now, in my life, it’s because I don’t know what they look like. I’m not sure exactly what they are. I have clues:

  • Need income, and that income ideally takes the shape of selling art rather than providing in-person services to people
  • Tons of art ideas to make, few of which will sell at a profitable dollar-per-work-hour rate
  • Know how to create an e-store, and to make products to sell. I have not found products that will sell, yet.
  • Good enough at social media, writing, and photography.
  • Have a need drive faith calling to help people solve a certain set of problems and figure out how to get on their own useful path
  • Know a lot about the limits of helping other people
  • Want a business like some of the motivational product companies, only one that’s true to my insight. I don’t know where to start.
  • Know a lot about the processes of making art and creativity
  • Have a certain amount of faith that where ever I am at this moment is just fine, and I can’t be anywhere else. I actually believe that Hell is wanting to be some place else. Try that on.

Anne Lamott said, in one or another of her books, “the more amorphous tasks–the ones that are not so crucial right at this moment but will ultimately shape your life into something worth remembering–those are harder to face.” (I think this is AL; it sounds like her; let me know if it’s not.)

What do you do when you don’t know what it is you are supposed to be doing?

  • List books that try to help. (Would do this, but you have them, you’ve read them, and you can find them on abe.com yourself.  Or read some of my reviews.)
  • List of exercises that I could do, if I actually did exercises rather than read about them. You’ve read those same books yourself. If self help exercises worked, there would be no shelf of self-help in the library, or in the bookstores.

People who appear to be doing, or did, work that I think is similar to what I want to do:

  • Laurel Burch
  • Jessica Nagy
  • Brian Andreas
  • Thomas Kinkaid, till it went south
  • Hugh McLeod
  • Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Austen Kleon
  • Anne Lamott, except she writes >> paint

I know a creator needs six things in order to create:

  1. An idea
  2. Skill
  3. Systems
  4. Materials
  5. A place to work
  6. An understanding of what “work” means and looks like*

The work feeds itself.  Sometimes you start with the big idea, and sometimes you start at the bottom and the big idea grows out of that. *This last one is huge, and constitutes a lot of what I write about on this site.

My big rocks for 2017 are The Illustrated I Ching, and the Inspirations business that doesn’t have a name yet. As I type even that, I see part of the problem: it needs a name.

To Roget:

Inspiration

  • Genius 466.8
  • Bright idea 478.9
  • Creative thought 533.2
  • Motivation 646.9
  • Encouragement 891.9

Consider also Usefulness.  Nothing.

Roget’s a wash.

But then I … look at a card taped above my desk, “I was hoping you would answer,” that was a comment received on a Quora answer last summer. Someone needed what I have to say. Boom. Done. Bought the URL. And from that, I know what to do next. I need 20 hours a week on these two projects, combined, and everything else will take care of itself. I’ve done this before; I know it works for me. Find a time tracker. Go.

(Honestly, this part of my business planning took shape just as fast as I could write this post.  However, I have been working in this arena since the beginning of the year, pretty much, trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the year.  Inspirations happen, and seeds grow better in prepared fields.  This field had been prepared.)

Levels of planning 

I wrote the post about big rocks and 30,000 foot views yesterday. This morning, I started thinking about what specifically happens at each of these levels. I thought there was a blog post in it, so I made a sketch of the collage of pictures that were attached to the post, and let myself think. What happens in each of these levels?

what type of thinking happens at different levels of planning

Thinking about what happens at the different levels of planning from yesterday’s blog post

At the very highest level, Blue Sky Thinking, is the name of the business, the understanding that if I simply put in 20 hours a week it will all work out. This may not work for some people, but I do know through past experience it works for me. My brain will figure it out.

There’s not much difference between the top image and the one below with more fluffy clouds; just a little bit more detail. This is where looking at what other people do helps me figure out what I need to be doing. How do they work?

When you get low enough to realize there’s a river coming up, it’s time to think about the specifics: what are the tangible, real-world challenges I’m going to have to solve sometime between now and having an income producing company. I already understand intellectual property and copyrights, for the most part. I’ll need a website. Already bought the URLs. What do I need to solve for?

Deep in the clouds, I need to trust my instruments. I need to have a pretty good idea of what I need to know, what I need to do, so that when I can’t see what’s ahead, I can be making progress.

When I first posted the picture of the plane sitting at the gate, I thought it was similar to flying on instruments, but this morning I realize that it’s actually more about going over checklists. Everybody connected with that flight professionally is reviewing checklists to make sure everything is okay. The pilots, the ground crew, the flight attendants: they’re all doing prep work, getting ready, getting things in place.

Flat fold stash, for weaving and sewing.  Inaccessible.

Flat fold stash, for weaving and sewing. Inaccessible.

For me, the equivalent is creating space for my look for my art, creating systems, documenting systems as best as possible, and thinking about how to create when I need to create reliably, and repeatedly. I need to set up better access to raw materials. I already know to work in series. With series, come checklists. I have most mine in my head, and they need to be documented.

I need to write a post about Doctorow’s statement that you can get to California from New York City with no more vision than you can see in the distance illuminated by your headlights. I have to straighten that stash out. It always looks different in the dark, but if you kind of know where you’re going. It doesn’t matter,. You can still make progress.

Finally, on the ground, in the fog, it can be pretty hard to know what to do when everything’s confusing and nothing makes sense. At this stage, doing nothing might be doing something. Meditation is usually good for me. I can also fall back on simple tasks like the Fly Lady’s 27 fling Boogie, when I clean something up. Vacuum, rake, mow the grass, do something. With a pretty good understanding of where I’m going, there’s usually something to be done in my life.

Why Use a Manual Typewriter?

My favorite thrift shop had a manual typewriter on display. The lady behind the counter said, “One just like that sold just last week—I can’t imagine why anyone would want to use a manual typewriter!”

I said, “Maybe the power goes out a lot where they are.” And then, “Maybe they just like the way they think when they use a manual typewriter,” and the people at the counter looked at me a little strangely.

I guess they hadn’t noticed that the tools they use affect how & what they think.

Gold plated claw hammer, given to my aunt Mildred Tiede, when she retired from the Stanley Works after 50 years of service.

Gold plated claw hammer, given to my aunt Mildred Tiede, when she retired from the Stanley Works after 50 years of service.

I know my thinking varies, according to the tool in my hand. The way I think varies with the light in the room, too.

I always start the day on paper, with a fountain pen, by candlelight, if I’m up before dawn. When I get ideas for art, or presentations, I may reach for a gel pen, and sometimes, a pencil.

I have never had a thought that made me reach for a ballpoint. Now, I won’t let them in the house. Rounded up every ballpoint pen I could find two years ago and donated them to the local elementary school for the kids who can’t afford pens.

I can write on a keyboard just fine, and I type using all ten digits as fast as I can think. Nevertheless, I create differently when I dictate. Some stories appear more easily if I talk to the screen instead of typing.

I am uneasy about the idea that children are not taught to write longhand, and that they go straight to the keyboard. They are missing something, and we won’t know what it is for years.

If I want to get all the good ideas out of my head and into the real world, I need as many tools as I can find.

If your only tool is a hammer, you’re a pretty limited carpenter.

(Yes, that is a gold plated hammer. It was given to my aunt, Mildred Tiede, on the occasion of her retirement from Stanley Works after 50 years of service.)

Knitters Do Math

I had my hula hoops in the infield at the 2016 Clyde Fest, Bynum ballpark, on Saturday. When you’re in a 10 x 10 tent at an event like this, lots of your friends will stop by and talk to you.

I got on the topic of 8020 with one of my friends. He was familiar with rule. He knew how to apply it in politics. I explained how we taught it in the social media class at NC State, using the Pareto principle to evaluate the most productive part of the marketing budget. I talked through the example we use in class, doing the math in my head. I suspect he was about to have an interesting Sunday as he thought about applying the 8020 rule to parts of his business he hadn’t thought about that way before.

He had stories of his own, where he had been able to do some ballpark estimation, and save enormous amounts of door-to-door work.

We joked about how few people are able to do math, and how complicated they make it.

(You may never have considered that hula hooping is an example of physics: it’s all about angular momentum.

L = m * v * r, and bigger radius, bigger mass, means you can have less velocity and still keep the going. In short bigger is easier.)

Then today, I sat down to look at ring 9 of the that I’m knitting as a fundraiser for the Pulse shooting in Orlando Florida. I’m not thrilled with the way the designer has laid out the final round. I’m in ring 7 now, so I have a couple of days to think about what I want to do.

The shawl is designed to incorporate 49 heart motifs, one for every person who died at the club that night. So far I’m working on 42, 6 in the 1st 12 in the 2nd and 24 and the 3rd ring. I need to knit 7 more. At 24 stitches per heart, and 576 stitches per ring, that leaves a lot of space in ring 9.

The designer selected intarsia with blocks of one color for the hearts and one color for honeycomb in between them. Intarsia requires knitting back and forth and I don’t like doing that; I like to knit forward all the time which you can do on circular needles.

I thought there must be a lacy heart pattern somewhere in my collection of books about knitting. I went through them today, and I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for. Marian Kinzel, in Modern Lace Knitting, has two heart patterns but they are too big for what I want.

Working out the details for a section of 53 smaller hearts.

Working out the details for a section of 53 smaller hearts.

I started sketching and counting and doing math and subtracting 24 stitches per heart for 7 hearts. I wanted 53 additional hearts, one for each person who was injured at the club. It came out to roughly 8 stitches a heart. If I knit them side-by-side, that wasn’t going to work to all, but I’m a designer. I played and I figured out a way to do it. I need to check the details and I need to test a swatch to make sure to work the way I think it will.

I took a picture of my work and posted it to the work in progress blog posts I’m creating for the shawl on Karen Tiede Studio. And then I realized why it was so easy for me to talk math on Saturday. I do this stuff all the time. Knitters, and textile artist in general, do math every day of the week, when recalculating warp and weft, when we’re figuring out whether we have enough to finish the round, when we need to know we need to make changes in a pattern to fit us or because we don’t like the way it’s going.

Teach your children to knit. You can sneak some math and at the same time and they’ll hardly notice.

Working on Ring 7, with 24 hearts, in gold mohair.

Working on Ring 7, with 24 hearts, in gold mohair.

Knowledge, or Imagination?

New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become.

Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.

Albert Einstein

Why is it that the man known for his art and imagination reveres knowledge, while the man known for his science and knowledge reveres imagination? A quick search of the first pages of Google failed to turn up the text of the original Saturday Evening Post article (“What Life Means to Einstein: An Interview by George Sylvester Viereck,” October 26, 1929, The Saturday Evening Post) which carried the interview with Einstein. I’d love to read the question that prompted his reply. It’s quoted everywhere; IMO, by people who could stand to invest in a bit more knowledge that supported their imagination. Wikipedia doesn’t hesitate:

In various spheres, however, even imagination is in practice limited: thus a person whose imaginations do violence to the elementary laws of thought, or to the necessary principles of practical possibility, or to the reasonable probabilities of a given case is regarded as insane.

On Notebooks

I started a new notebook this morning. It’s the latest of more than 50 (at last count*). This one is thoughts about business of Red Tuxedo, <> morning pages. It’s a 10×7, wire bound, 100% recycled paper sketchbook. I bought it last Friday evening at the bookstore specifically for this purpose — knowing I needed somewhere to write about business <> blog posts <> journal or diary or morning pages <> daily planner <> client meeting notebook. And now it starts. I’ve numbered the pages, to 31 so far, numbering only the odd numbers. I left two pages for a table of contents.

Active Notebook Inventory

  • 8.5 by 11 blank hardbound journals. Mostly, I use these for art. Textiles has three volumes, jewelry has two, color has two.
  • composition books with the black-and-white cover. I can count 14 on the shelf from where I sit. Mostly, they are full of written notes that don’t warrant a larger volume, often notes about websites I’m developing, or events that happen repeatedly but not very often, like my annual Penguin party or what I gave people for Christmas this year (and every year since I started the book in 1994.
  • Page per day record books–the green ones, they don’t have a year: I keep one for the garden and one for big events in my life so I can remember when it was that happened.
  • page per day record book, dated: I found a 1985 edition of the page a day record book, the oversized kind that costs $59.99 at Kmart today at the thrift shop in 2009. They wanted $1.50 for it. It had not been used very much at all, and I glued some blank paper over the entries I didn’t need to see. I think I have a smaller version of this book in stash from a different year.
  • Small blank books that I received as gifts. Some of these have lines. I them for health records, one for me and one for my animals, in separate volumes. I keep these records by month. It’s good to know when the newest dog was neutered,  when the cat disappeared, or when did I receive the rabies series?
  • 5.5 x 8″ blank books, with a glued spine. I used to keep my reading list in one of these notebooks, but this year I started keeping a list in MS Excel.
  • 11 x 14″ blank sketchbooks. I keep ideas for the bigger art in here, but carving and my furniture. I have four of them within reach.
  • An engineering notebook, with graph paper. I use this to sketch layout plans for furniture and construction projects, such as the installation of the rain barrel system at my house.
  • A record book with lined, eye–ease green pages that are numbered. I use this as my daily planner. I started this system in 2004.
  • Plastic portfolio books: a 8.5 x 11 for my formal art portfolio. I carry a 5 x 7 version in my purse all the time. I keep two 11 x 14 books, one for press clippings about my art and one for organizing magazine articles about different ways of managing ideas.
  • Engineering field record book with waterproof paper. I found four of these at the swap shed several years ago, and I keep one in my street fair backpack to record hoop sales.

Notebook Qualities That Matter

Notebook size. Binding. Flatness when open. Paper quality, feel, and tooth. Paper color. How the different pens that I use move across a particular paper. Whether the paper is lined (not as much fun), graph, or blank. Blank paper is the best but it’s hard to find.

Editorial

I sometimes have to smile when I see bold or extravagant or creative covers on the blank books section at the bookstore only to open the journal and find it full of neatly ruled paper. I can only assume the vendors have tested the sales of the product, and that lined paper sells much better. It is unfortunate, in my opinion, to be encouraging creativity by telling people to stay within the lines. Daytimer, the planner people, once offered blank calendars — each page had the day and date printed in the upper corner and the rest of the page was blank. I had planned to buy the set the year after I saw it in the catalog, but it was gone by the time I was ready to order. I suspect that Daytimer recognized that creative types wanted more freedom in their planner, but at the same time, creative types are perfectly capable of inventing their own planners.

Yesterday I purchased a brand-new 2006 planner for $.25 at the Habitat Re-store. I think my life would be smoother if I did a better job of planning out the shape of my week, and where I intend to get various tasks and projects done. I’m hoping to use the shape of the week inside this new book for that purpose. To that end, it doesn’t matter about the number on the day or the year; all I need is the shape.

I suppose I could get much the same benefits by printing out the week view onto a blank or recycled sheet of paper. However, you can’t ignore your own history. I like the feeling of a notebook as it fills up. I like the way the paper changes over time, with writing. I like the way the notebook gets thicker. I like the way I can flip through the filled pages and see what I’ve done, or not done; I simply like a notebook than a collection of sheets of paper. For a quarter, what do I have to lose?

Incidentally, a friend of mine once lost her ability to pursue intellectual property theft because she tore her notes out of a pad of paper before she went to her lawyer to discuss the case. Ever since then, I’ve been particularly careful to keep important notes about my business in a bound book with numbered pages. I could probably make the case that it’s the value of my own intellectual property that drives me to keep notebooks, but the fact is that I have kept them since I could write.  I have them all and I pay a mortgage on a house big enough to store them and as my BF says, “that’s how I roll.”

*I know this because I really did count them all, once. I read some creativity teacher encouraging students to get a special journal for a particular body of work, saying it was OK to have more than one. “More than one?!?,” I thought. “I must have 10!” and then I counted, and stopped at 51, in active use within reach of my desk, not counting the new or recycled notebooks in inventory, waiting for a brain storm, and that was several years ago.