Sort by category: On Writing

Zero inbox

Of all the productivity hacks I’ve picked up in the past year, committing to a zero inbox has had the single biggest positive impact on my day-to-day output.

This zen-like state is thanks to an app called Mailbox.

Mailbox is an iOS and Android app that accepts Gmail, Google apps and iCloud accounts. It uses a gesture based interface to allow you to quickly process incoming emails as read, flag them for deletion, add to a list, or schedule for reading at a later date.

Think of it as a cross between a task list and email. In this day and age, when emails are pretty much just longwinded task reminders anyway, Mailbox is ahead of the game.

And now that the Mailbox OSX desktop companion has entered beta, I feel like the open email loop of my life is finally drawing to a close.

When you first install Mailbox (on iOS, Android or OSX), the app will ask permission to move all of your existing inbox mail to an archive folder. The mail is still available, but its no longer in your face. It’s a small gesture with a big payoff — everyone starts from zero.

Of course, this is no leap of impossibility. You could do this today in Gmail by creating a new folder and dumping everything into it. But Mailbox is the only … Read more

Passages of note

A couple of years ago I switched from hard copy to an e-reader, and I have never looked back.

At home I have bookshelves filled with books I never enjoyed and regret buying. And every couple of years when I move house I’m reminded of my various failures in accurate selection when I pack each book into a box, lug it across town, and unpack them, one by one.

I read more and regret less with an e-reader.

With my short attention span I’m not what you call a voracious reader. I go through a few books a month and besides the delightful weight of the device, the ability to sample chapters, the recommendations and low price of admission, what I love most about e-reading is the ability to highlight and save passages.

Once I might have dog-eared pages, every so often underlined or scribbled notes in the margins, but more often than not, I left it up to a sketchy memory to preserve what I read.

Electronic highlighting improves the way I read and the quality of what I recall. Every so often I go back to check them out and see where I’ve been, what I’ve loved and learnt. So here, in no particular order, are a selection of highlights from the past six months:

Morad smiled,

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Using lessons from charcoal drawing to burn through to your best work

Charcoal Drawing

For me, a writer and small-fry filmmaker, cultivating the ability to surprise myself is key to a fulfilling creative career.

Sticking to what you’re good at or comfortable with might yield short term success, but it can also lead to frustration and a lack of personal growth. So part of my approach to creativity these days is to try out new forms and mediums, and see what each could add to my perspective.

Whilst writing has always come naturally to me, I have never had much natural aptitude for drawing.

I can copy a flat 2D picture with passable accuracy, but up until the beginning of the year I had never drawn more than a few minutes at a time, rarely for enjoyment, and certainly never considered the mathematical relationships between objects in a 3D space.

So to embrace the uncomfortable, I took up drawing.

At the moment I’m doing a weekly class which involves drawing with charcoal, a medium I have never really understood or used before. And when I started a few weeks ago, I was quickly unimpressed.

Previously I had been drawing with pencil, and in comparison, my first attempts with charcoal seemed unpredictable and imprecise.

My first lines were wobbly and uneven, and I found it difficult to account for the way a charcoal stick constantly … Read more

Ursula Le Guin on war as metaphor in fantasy fiction

How refreshing it is to read a fantasy novel that isn't filled with battlefield porn and white guys beating on other white guys.

It was more than twenty years ago that I first read Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, and in re-reading it this month I discovered anew why the world of Earthsea and the adventures of Ged the wizard enthralled me so long ago.

I have always had a soft spot for fantasy. As a child the genre fed and developed my imagination. But today, much of what I read feels stale and predictable, products of the genre, rather than of a great stories.

At a time when fantasy is enjoying renewed interest from mainstream readers and audiences, it feels important to shine the spotlight on authors who are more fixated on redefining the genre, than polishing its tropes and character staples.

I am always on the hunt to rekindle that romance I once had with the genre. And damn it, if I can’t get it in the present, I’ll visit the past. And that’s how I came to recently re-read A Wizard of Earthsea.

Despite being initially pitched at the Young Adult market, Earthsea is a rare breed of fantasy that I would describe as literature; having qualities that make it readable by all, at any stage of … Read more

10 Ways to Fill A Journal

This year I set myself a challenge to reflect more on the everyday through daily journal entries.

Social media tends to place much emphasis on the now, and yet, many of the most memorable lessons in life come from past experience. So a diary is my solution to that. A safe place to work through the events of the near past.

Today marks my 120th day of continuous daily journal entries.

I thought it was time for a bit of macro reflection on the process, a summation of the last few months into 10 ways to fill a daily journal entry.

1. The weather. The laziest icebreaker in the world, and the perfect start to a journal entry. Everyday I sit down to eat breakfast, open my diary, look up in deep thought and note the appearance of the street tree in front of our apartment. The observation provides an steady increment of time passing, and of progress. Each day I sit down, the tree has subtly changed – leaves fall, bark flakes free, winter exposes its skeletal form – and it has become a kind of metronome of my journaling process.

2. Frustrations. About one in three of my journal entries express frustrations with work, relationships and creative endeavours. Most are petty, many are repetitive, … Read more

Moleskine Roller Pen Review: A pen for people who don’t write much


Ever since I can remember I have had a thing for pens.

I have delicate, womanly fingers. There I said it. And regular ball points give me finger strain. For a long time, a certain part of my life has been devoted to the hunt for a gentler, more nurturing pen.

For the last decade, my go to pen has been a black Uniball Eye Fine (0.7mm). At around AU$4.30 each, the Uniball Eye is relatively cheap, dries almost instantly and has minimal to no blotching on most paper. Best of all, they are almost completely frictionless, hence gentle on the fingers over the long term.

For my day to day writing I match the Uniball Eye with a soft cover Moleskine Large Notebook. This particular Moleskine offers a nice tradeoff between portability and writing space, and the creamy paper is generally dreamy to write on. I’m sure there are cheaper, and likely higher quality, notebooks out there, but I happily bought into the whole Moleskine cult a number of years ago, and with plenty of black notebooks already on the shelf, I now have a tradition to uphold.

Though I’ve always been fairly happy with the Moleskine-Uniball combination, lately I’ve developed a certain yearning for the kind of maturity that … Read more

Sleight of hand

There is a magnetism passing between writers and books, once you determine yourself to be a ‘writer’.

Each passing year, this magnetism draws millions of our brethren to publisher’s craggy shores, where we proceed to beach ourselves, time and time again, with the same intense mystery of the whales attraction to land, not for health, not for wealth, and most certainly not for happiness.

Well, after a year off from tapping keys, with much ruminating (if bouts of laziness could bear such description), and spectating the year that print bit its last pillow, I have discovered something unholy: I am not a writer after all.

A brief flashback: I can remember the day I became a ‘writer’. Fifteen years ago I started work as a copywriter for a local newspaper. It was monkey work really, ‘writing’ in the same way turning screws is ‘carpentry’, but the day I started my boss took me in front of our department and introduced me: “this is the new writer”.

Proud as peach I was and soon after I joined the club, which I presumed to have many members, though scant few of these I would actually meet in the flesh over the next … Read more

Oh Pioneer! mixtape

If you are as keen on writing/reading soundtracks as I am, then you will love these three mix tapes curated by the clever ones at Oh Pioneer!

50 curated songs over three themed albums, encompassing winter, roadtrips into the wilderness and, my personal favourite, a mixtape devoted to that heavenly beacon of humanity, campfire:

This playlist has been personally tested to be suitable for fireside chats in the woods, falling asleep in a tent, quiet nights reading, driving through the mountains, fly fishing, and whatever adventures you can get yourself into.

The perfect accompaniment to a quiet room, a glass of hard liquor and some creative kindling.

Enjoy! more

True grit

A recent 99 percent article examined the relationship between achievement and a quality of self control called ‘grit’.

The article highlights a number of studies looking at the divide between talent (or intelligence) and the qualities that assist us in unlocking and delivering talent. So, looking at a large number of people, from Einstein to Darwin, right through to West Point graduates, musicians and finance bankers, and exploring what enabled those at the top of their field to unlock their talent, and in some cases, to succeed even where talent isn’t immediately obvious (apparently Darwin never considered himself an intelligence powerhouse).

One of the researches, psychologist Angela Duckworth, isolated those qualities that might serve as a predictor of outstanding talent:

  1. The tendency not to abandon tasks from mere changeability. Not seeking something because of novelty. Not “looking for a change.”
  2. The tendency not to abandon tasks in the face of obstacles. Perseverance, tenacity, doggedness.

Which Duckworth boils down to the quality of ‘grit’.

People who accomplished great things, [Duckworth] noticed, often combined a passion for a single mission with an unswerving dedication to achieve that mission, whatever the obstacles and however long it might take.

Seems some of us have … Read more

Embracing failure

Some choice words on professionalism, personal development and facing failure from legendary designer Milton Glaser.… Read more

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