In school, I would often get in trouble in math class for not showing my work. I would know the answer, could even figure out the answer, but the process I used was often a combination of intuition and huge logical leaps, none of which translated well to paper. As a result, it was often hard to show how I had arrived at that conclusion, and thus had a hard time “showing my work”, much to the chagrin of both my math teachers and my grades. Math aside, however, I have, especially as an adult, become a huge fan of showing my work.
Very little is new in the world. While the technology to do something may change, the thing itself seldom does. For example, there is a very real difference between people like me who write on blogs, and people like the pamphleteers of the 1700s in Colonial America that stoked the colonies onto Revolution, but it is largely a difference of technology and not type. Had blogging been available to Benjamin Franklin, he would have been far more dangerous.
For those of us who are doing work that is self-generated, as opposed to work that someone else tells us how to do, we are constantly scrambling, looking for models or examples of people who are already doing the sort of work we want to do, so that we can glean from them how to do it.
There’s nothing scandalous in this – in the ancient world one learned to be a rhetorician by reciting the speeches given by famous people, and by so doing, one learned how to deliver a speech, as well as phrasing and sentence structure, so that when you went to write your own speech, you had a mental model to compare it to.
But first, you have to have a model.
If you work at IBM in sales, this isn’t a problem at all. You will be assigned to work with a seasoned veteran who will show you the ropes, who will walk you through best practices, who will tell you how he organizes his day and how to handle the follow-up. But I don’t work in sales at IBM. I, like a lot of so-called creatives, have to generate my own work, have to figure out my own solutions.
In the early days of blogging, we are all out there, floundering. I remember when my friend Richard, who also had a blog at the time, showed me the analytics he had set up on his blog for the first time. This was in perhaps 2004, and they were primitive compared to anything we have now, but I didn’t even know such a thing existed. But once I did, I knew what to look for and there was no stopping me.
Often back then, bloggers would have a colophon on their blog, either in the footer or on a separate page, where you told what tools you used. This gave a newcomer to blogging breadcrumbs to follow. If one wanted to start their own blog, now they had links to follow, terms to Google. It was an incredible act of generosity to people who didn’t have traditional tech backgrounds or who came from historically disadvantaged communities. FYI: mine for this blog is here.
When I was looking for creative models for this sort of creative universe (or Hughniverse, as a Patron called it the other day)of projects I have, I lucked across Craig Mod, who writes long essays about how his business works, which had links and examples galore. One could almost take that essay linked to above and duplicate his workflow. You could absolutely duplicate his tech stack.
So, a thing I am committed to doing going forward is showing my work. How did I build a blog from scratch? How did I put together a newsletter? What host do I use? Should I use Substack or Mailchimp? How did you arrive at that conclusion?
In other words, I’m going to start showing my work.
- I recognize this isn’t the sort of content that people subscribe to this blog for, so I will be posting it on my other blog, Leftovers. I will link to relevant articles in my Friday newsletter, which you can subscribe to here.
- As an example of what that could look like: Over the last few weeks, I ran a reader survey over at my newsletter Life Is So Beautiful. I got pretty valuable insight (and scads of affirmation!) from a bunch of readers, and now I know how to make it better. And so I wrote up the results and my thought process, so anyone who wants to survey their readers now has an example and something to go on.