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As Amy watched the Seahawks decimate the Broncos, I read Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. The result – Amy was sad while I was delighted.
King’s book is part memoir, part instructional manual, and part motivational tool. While I read a lot, I rarely read books by writers about writing. However, several people, including Amy, suggested On Writing to me so I kindled it a while ago.
After a long, hot run on the beach in Miami as part of my Boston Marathon training, I took a shower, a nap, and then settled in on the couch. Last week was much too intense for my tastes so I decided to lose myself in a book. This one was at the top of the Kindle queue.
I’ve read a number of King’s books over the years. I wouldn’t consider myself a fanboy, but they almost always capture me. Firestarter remains my favorite, but after watching The Shining recently, I’m going to revisit it, The Stand, and then read Doctor Sleep.
While most of my writing has been non-fiction, an increasing amount of my writing time is being spent on fiction and science fiction. As a reader, I’ve always been completely entranced by science fiction – the good stuff, not the junky stuff – and several of my current writer friends are science fiction writers. I’ve woven this into my work, since much of what I like to invest in could be considered science fiction of “not too long ago.” I’m going deeper into this in several ways, including an upcoming conference at Silicon Flatirons titled SciFi and Entrepreneurship – Is Resistance Futile?
King’s reflections on writing are crisp. His memoir is fascinating and brief enough as to not detract from the instruction manual. The bulk of the book is filled with tools, examples, and stories, which nicely reinforce King’s message, especially to get rid of adverbs. Damn – I suck at that. But I can get better. I know I can.
If you are a writer, do yourself a favor – read King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. And enjoy all the special bonuses you’ll find.
Congrats to all my Seattle friends. Y’all completely dominated tonight. Damn – there’s another adverb.
One of my goals, and a tactic for being happier, this year is Doing More By Doing Less More Deeply. To that end, I’ve decided to stop writing for other web sites and magazines.
Over the past few years, I’ve expanded the “channels” that my original writing appears in. In some cases, I’ve written specific content for sites and magazines like Inc. and Entrepreneur. In other cases I’m participating in the grand content expansion strategies of sites like LinkedIn, Huffington Post, WSJ, and Forbes. And in others, it’s just random stuff on sites from people building up their content in a particular area.
While it’s been a fun experiment, it has become an overwhelming chore. I get a request for something new from somewhere multiple times a week. I say no a lot, but I’m constantly having to think to myself “do I want to do this or not.” I’ve never been good at moderating, so it’s much easier for me to abstain and just say no to everything.
In some cases I’ve done this to learn about the content expansion strategies of either tradition or new media companies. I feel like that learning has hit very significant diminishing returns – sure there is more to learn, but it’s not significant enough to outweigh the effort and cost.
I love to write. And I very much appreciate the opportunity others have given me to contribute content to their sites. But I’ve gotten tired of the pressure from external sites to produce material for them on a particular time frame or in response to prompted topics, which some people love but I’ve grown to dislike. And most importantly, I’ve realized that I really like three types of writing best.
- Short form that I completely control, such as blog posts like this.
- Long form, such as books like Startup Boards.
- Commentary on other people’s writing, such as comments on other people’s blog posts or GoodReads book reviews.
I’ve been spending a lot of my writing energy recently on a new project that we are about to unveil. I expect that by stopping writing for other sites, I’ll free up enough energy to allocate what I want to for this project. And that feels like Doing More By Doing Less More Deeply.
Chris Dixon has a good short post up titled What the smartest people do on the weekend is what everyone else will do during the week in ten years. He wrote it on Saturday so it’s got a delightful self-referential twist to it now that he’s a partner at A16Z.
I’ve always thought this was a great interview question. I’ve used it with founders of companies I’m looking at investing in, TechStars founders, and execs for early stage companies. Basically, anyone who I’m trying to understand what they are thinking about long term. The variety of answers is fascinating, often deeply personal, and occasionally very confusing to me. But they are always enlightening.
My answer for a long time has been “write, read, spend time with Amy, run long distances, catch up on what just happened the previous week, and recharge myself to go back into the fray on Monday morning.” Amy likes to look at me on Sunday night and assess whether I’m patched up and ready to go again for another week. Unfortunately, there have recently been too many Sunday’s where her assessment is that I’m not and need another day, which I rarely have.
The idea, and execution, for all of the Startup Revolution stuff came out of what I do on the weekend. A lot of thinking about it rolled around in the back of my brain during long runs. While I wrote Startup Communities during two months last summer, most of my work on Startup Life was done between 5am and 9am during the weekend and over the weekends during September and October. And Startup Boards seems to be following the same pattern for me.
Historically, most of my writing has been either on my blogs or the books that I’ve written. Occasionally I’ve written for magazines, like a year-long stretch I did for Entrepreneur a few years ago, and longer form articles of mine appear in different places every now and then. But pretty much everything I write ends up on Feld Thoughts at some point.
I’m going to experiment with some different channels this year. The two that I’ve already gotten into a regular, once a week rhythm with are LinkedIn Influencers and the Wall Street Journal Accelerators. I’m putting up a lot more content on the Startup Revolution site and I’ll be adding at least one more channel in the next 30 days. Finally, I’m doing more guest posts, such as the article I wrote for Amazon Money & Markets titled Startups Are Everywhere.
Up to know I’ve been generally reposting these on Feld Thoughts. But in the next 30 days I plan to change the landing page for feld.com to include all the different channels, and I’ll also do my best to splice up a single feed for everything I write.
Like all things, this is an experiment. I haven’t figured out whether I like this or not, but I’m enjoying playing with different channels, different audiences, and engaging with an audience and other thought leaders around a specific topic.
For example, this week’s WSJ Accelerator question was “Is it possible for a startup founder to work on two or three products (or startups) at once?” Some posts include mine, which was “No, Mostly“, Steve Blank saying “Don’t Confuse Science Experiments With Commitments“, and Joanne Wilson stating “Choose One Company and One Company Only.” Each different article adds to a broader thought, which is part of the joy of “mentor whiplash” we talk about all the time in TechStars. Ultimately, you have to make your own decision as an entrepreneur – we are just providing data for you.
I’m at CES this week. If you want to see why, check out my LinkedIn post titled Why I Go To CES. And, if you are at CES and want me to stop by your booth, leave a comment here.
If you’ve figured out a great way to be a multi-channel content publisher, I’m all ears. Or, as a reader of this blog, if you have a strong opinion about what I’m doing, please weigh in. Remember – this is just an experiment.
Amy and I shipped the final draft of Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur yesterday. “If you are interested in this book, go pre-order it now on Amazon to help our pre-order numbers“, said Brad the Book Salesman.
The backlog of things on my to do list is at an all time high. I’m normally super responsive to everything and have zero backlog. That is not the case right now.
The only thing in front of me for the next seven hours is the Detroit Marathon which I’m going to go suit up for after I finish writing this blog post. I don’t expect this to be a pretty marathon – I haven’t been running very much, or consistently, since my bike accident six weeks ago, but I’m running to support my partner Jason Mendelson who, along with Jill Spruiell and Becky Cooper from Foundry Group, are running their first marathon. Our partner Ryan McIntyre is also running today, along with Andrew Tschesnok of Organic Motion. I think it’s pretty cool that 36% of Foundry Group is running this marathon.
While my backlog is huge, I’ve been focused on making sure I’m responsive to all the top order stuff. In my hierarchy this is Amy, my partners, the CEOs of companies I’m an investor in, anyone else who works for a company we are investors in, and our LPs. That’s it – everything else is in “the next bucket.” I’ve gotten plenty done outside of this, but all my excess available time over the last thirty days has been allocated to shipping this book. If you check with Kelly and ask about my schedule, she’ll suppress a laugh as she tries to fit you in somewhere.
Every time I ship something I have new respect for all the entrepreneurs and people who work for the companies we are investors in. I’ve had a lot of time (almost 30 years) to work on my “prioritization algorithm” and feel like I’ve got it well tuned. I’ve always had a continual overcommit problem – where I take on slightly too much and then have to back off on some optional stuff – and this cycle repeats itself regularly in my life. However, when you commit to shipping something, like a book, you have a deadline and suddenly have to execute against it. The high order priorities come into clearer focus. The separation between them, and everything else, become crisp. When I’m sitting in a hotel room at 11pm after a day that started at 5am, I no longer am thinking that I’m going to get through all of my email. Instead, I’m learning the brilliance of using Google Circles to search my inbox for circle:”foundry ents” label:inbox and make sure I get all of those done before I go to sleep.
While I’ve got a ton of other things I want to get to that are interesting and relevant to me, none of them are either timely or important, at least to me. I realize they are timely and important to the person on the other end so I’ll eventually get to them, but the prioritization filter gets tight and the first constraint to enforce is timeliness. I try not to spend any time on stuff I don’t think is useful. As Amy likes to tell me “I’ll be the judge of that” – and I am the judge of what I want to spend my time on, and I’m sure I get this wrong some of the time. If you aren’t in the “inner circles” (yes – Google really got this right) then you have to wait. I’ll eventually get to it, but it won’t be first.
Everyone I know talks about how busy they are. And I’m sure they are. But if you haven’t shipped a product lately, I encourage you to configure something you are working on to look like a product that you are shipping. If you don’t have an external deadline, give yourself one. When you are working on something that has to ship in two weeks, you realize how much stuff is trying to get your attention that isn’t a priority, or even relevant to your mission on this planet. It’s a good way to remember how to prioritize. And it’s an excellent reminder to me about the pressure the people I invest in are under who continually ship products.