the holy trinity of palm pilot, flip phone, and ipod

Judging from that thousand-yard stare, you’ve been reading the news again. Stop that! You’re not going to fix anything, unless you’re Robert Mueller, in which case, stop procrastinating and get back to those indictments.

For the rest of you: While I can’t help you unsee any of the things you’ve seen, I can, however, distract you from the Desert of the Real. (Whether you think this is a reference to The Matrix or the work of French cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard, you’re a nerd.)  Settle in and keep reading.


Maven Game reader Margo Aaron runs a “virtual co-working space” called the Arena. (Two virtual co-workers enter, one virtual co-worker leaves.) Margo describes it as a place for freelancers and solo entrepreneurs to hang out with each other, share tips and support, and strategize. Personally, I enjoy the crushing loneliness and bitter uncertainty of solopreneurship. I prefer wandering in a wilderness of ignorance and despair. But hey, maybe you’re different. If that’s the case, you have until this Monday to apply for the next round of admissions. Arena memberships include subject matter expert interviews, curated introductions to other members, all kinds of good stuff.

Yes, the Arena costs money. The law of the market: you get what you pay for, and the internet corollary, if you aren’t paying, you’re the product. And no, this isn’t a joint venture. I just think it sounds like a handy resource and I’m sharing it because I’m a generous, thoughtful, handsome, and modest person. Plus, I admire Margo’s discriminating taste in newsletters. So go check out the Arena and apply today if it sounds like a fit.


I came of age on the Web with Jason Kottke. Reading this interview with him about the death of blogging makes me feel old and tired. 

I got serious about my own blog back in 2003, according to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. That’s when I appear to have moved it from Blogger to my own domain at fancyrobot.com.

(Feel free to browse the fancyrobot.com archives at the Wayback Machine if you’re curious. Just don’t go to the actual fancyrobot.com. I’m pretty sure it’s been porn ever since I let the domain lapse.) 

Blogs were exciting in 2003. They didn’t really go mainstream until 2004 or so; it still felt like a secret club. Yet, somehow, people found what you wrote. It just kind of bubbled up. (Yes, even without Facebook’s brilliant algorithms.) I once likened the appearance of avant-garde theater director Richard Foreman to animated cartoon character Droopy Dog. Within a day, interns at his theater in New York had discovered the post and shared it amongst themselves. Delighted by the (apt) comparison, they offered me free tickets to Foreman’s next show, which I happily accepted. (I mean, he is a great director. Just droopy.)

The true magic of the early Web only becomes more apparent as it recedes further into civilization’s rear-view mirror. When I think of all the odd and interesting bits of serendipity I enjoyed thanks to my blog or, a couple of years later, my podcast, it’s hard not to feel like I took it all far too much for granted. (Is this how Boomers feel about rock and roll and the Man and all that?) I went to some of the very first flash mobs, and when I blogged about them, my posts went to the top of the search results like magic. I used to be the internet authority on Star Wars Kid, too. After I started podcasting, complete strangers recognized me from my voice. This is while I was reaching only a few thousand people. How bizarre is that? Yet I let both the blog and the podcast lapse after a certain point to focus on my “career.”

I guess I assumed that the Web would always be there for me when I chose to take advantage of it again. After all, technology always gets better with time, right? Blogs, podcasts, RSS readers: sure, they were good, but the best was yet to come.

Little did I know. 

Cal Newport recently shared Joe Rogan’s interview with Perfect Storm author Sebastian Junger. Junger admits that he still uses a flip phone, that he in fact has always used a flip phone. Junger writes a lot of big, amazingly crafted books. This is not a coincidence.

The Junger piece dovetails nicely with what I was actually going to write about today, before I got derailed. (This should come as no surprise. I always get derailed. In fact, there are no rails. This is an all-terrain, four-wheel-drive newsletter.)

Tech does always improve in raw metrics like size, speed, and power, but I think it goes in cycles when it comes to how it feels. For example, people enjoyed their cars way more in the 50s than they did in the 90s. Every technology has its happy periods and its sad periods. And the internet was a happy technology in 2003. In 2017, to quote one of its prominent users: sad.

There’s a theory that every technology reaches the true peak of its development the moment after it becomes obsolete. Sailing ships, for instance, reached their design apotheosis only after the arrival of steamships. So maybe that’s part of it: when your technology suddenly becomes everything you’d always dreamed it could be, it’s a sign that it’s already been disrupted.

Personal technology was a happy technology in 1999. That was the year of the Palm V. The Motorola StarTAC came out a few years earlier and the iPod a couple years later, but I remember a distinct moment during this era when I had a perfect personal digital assistant, a perfect flip phone, and a perfect MP3 player in my pockets. (Cargo shorts?) Regardless, they all worked beautifully and made my life better. My only thought was: one day, I’ll have a device that does all three of these things, and then life will be perfect because I won’t have to wear cargo shorts anymore.

Compared to these marvelous devices, the Blackberry was just sad. Sure, it was a status symbol. A Blackberry meant power, at least at Penguin. It was still pathetic, though: the blinking light, the constant, fearful checking, the furious thumb-typing. To me, thumbing away at an “emergency” on a Blackberry looked like a grown-up version of the large-iced-coffee-and-pajama people theatrically stumbling into college lectures. “Oh my god, I was up studying all night.”

When the iPhone arrived, I scoffed. Sure, it seemed to fulfill my vision of One Device to Rule Them All, but it was comically slow and fussy. It couldn’t offer the crisp efficiency I enjoyed adding calendar events to my Palm with “Graffiti” or selecting a song on my iPod with the click wheel. I’d always have that.

Little did I know.

Ultimately, what I now hate about my iPhone is the very same synthesis I once craved: Palm Pilot + iPod + Flip Phone + GPS + Blackberry. So I’ve devised a solution that’s worked very well for me so far. I’ve subtracted the Blackberry, the sad little nougat at the iPhone’s center. Not only have I blocked every non-essential website, I’ve actually taken email off my iPhone entirely. No more thumbing away at “emergencies.” Now, I use my iPhone for calendar, tasks, phone, music, and maps. And I’m happier for it. I’m living the tech dream of 1999. Join me.

taking the social media babies out of the social media bathwater

I don’t use Facebook right now. I may never return. Facebook, IMHO, is a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad thing.

That said, I distinguish between Facebook, the person—corporations are people—and the actual, you know, people who do Mr. Facebook’s bidding. (If Facebook is a person, he’s a dude. I’m picturing young Harvey Weinstein in a hoodie.)

Question: are Facebook’s employees complicit in the damage? I don’t know. They’re just people, not Illuminati lizard men. (Sorry, Illuminati lizard people.) 

I’ve known some very nice Facebook employees. The same is true for Google, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft. As a younger man, I’d blame my Microsoft friends every time Word ate one of my documents. I’d yell at them. “You’ve got to get rid of Clippy, dude!” I didn’t know any better. I had no sense of the scope of these places—the unwieldiness, the systems-within-systems—until I’d worked for one myself.

Even if someone is on the “Office team,” their capacity to noticeably affect, let alone improve, Microsoft Word, for example, is minuscule. With products as colossal and complex as these, you’re lucky to be a cog. You’re probably just a sprocket. Between the big five tech firms, you’ve looking at roughly 865,000 employees. That’s the population of Columbus, Ohio, all roundly demonized by talking heads and talking TEDs. “Tech bros” are destroying our ability to concentrate, form real-world friendships, ever feel happy again, etc., i.e. unraveling the fabric of society itself.

How many are actually positioned to make a difference? Maybe none.

I got to experience society’s righteous fury firsthand when I helped start Amazon’s New York publishing imprint. People got mean. Literary agents would snub us at parties. Even readers blamed us. My wife and I ran into her colleague at the museum. This woman knew I worked in publishing but that was it. Clutching a New York Times, she inveighed against Amazon’s dangerous new imprint. It would destroy everything we all loved about books, she told me. These people are disgusting, aren’t they? My wife’s colleague understood the business ramifications because she’d read all the clear-headed and accurate coverage in the Times. (Wait a second. Was I a victim of fake news? Wall!)

I smiled and nodded. What could I say? Big tech employees experience outbursts like this from relatives, friends, even perfect strangers. Pity the Facebook developer at Thanksgiving dinner: “Grandma Doris doesn’t have a problem with your new boyfriend, Albert. She’s crying because your company helped elect Donald Trump.”

Cal Newport just wrote a scathing piece about Facebook deliberately exploiting its users. Others, like the brilliant Doug Rushkoff, have been ringing this bell for years. Social media is a problem, potentially the problem of our time. Something needs to be done about these corrosive systems. I’m just not sure we should target the individuals working at these companies. They’re trying to pay the bills. I mean, it’s San Francisco. We considered moving there a few years ago—from Brooklyn—and decided it would be far too expensive by comparison (!)

The fact is, many of the most vocal and active opponents of big tech’s influence today are former big tech employees themselves. The same is not true, for example, in finance. 

As we try to sort out what should be done about all this, let’s start with empathy and kindness. Most of these 865,000 people aren’t all that happy with the larger situation and every one of them is a potential ally, once they leave. In their current roles, each one thinks the blame rests elsewhere. 

I felt the same way working at traditional publishing houses. If only the company’s leaders would listen to me, I’d think, we’d get this whole industry collapse under control! I’d innovate the hell out of things. At the time, this meant something about putting videos in ebooks. Or doing author events and book readings in Second Life. (“Guys, I hear HarperCollins is building its own island. We’ve got to get on top of this!”) It wasn’t until I actually had the opportunity to sit down with various leaders and share my brilliance with them that I realized: (1) they had already considered and dismissed all of my ideas and (2) the real obstacles to progress were bigger and thornier than I’d ever imagined. I happily went back to my editing.

That’s the thing about being inside a system. You’re not a part of the problem; you’re the only one with any sense. When dumb stuff happens, it’s because of those people out there. When good stuff happens, it’s all you. Only long after you’re out—or if you’re ever unlucky enough to be put in charge of the thing—do you realize how little impact you can make either way. Even CEOs struggle to improve, even affect, things at their companies—paying them more only makes it worse.

We need a systems-thinking approach to fixing toxic systems. I’ve heard several people rave about Thinking in Systems so I’m putting that on my list. In the meantime, be kind, cultivate empathy, and stay the hell off social media. Mr. Facebook is not your friend.

I don’t believe in subject lines anymore—it’s the maven game, OK?

On Thursday, I brought my month-long digital sabbatical to a close. I’ll admit it, I was pretty jazzed to do so. I kicked back, cracked open the MacBook, and opened a whole slew of tabs: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, RSS reader, New York Times, Slate, Reddit, etc.

By the way, I won’t pretend my digital isolation was in any way perfect. We still watched TV in January; I got the gist of current events from Jimmy Fallon’s monologues. That said, I was mostly disconnected for a month and, coming back to it all, I was surprised—kind of—at how little of significance or genuine interest I’d missed.

I also noticed the physical, mental, and emotional toll of spending an hour back in the stew. The unmistakable sensation of a monkey gently clambering up between my shoulder blades and getting itself a firm grip on my brain stem. (What a horrific metaphor that turned out to be. Yet: apt.) 

So, with nary a pang of regret, I shut it all down again. Decided to go another month. After all, maybe this particular January was just slow. On March 1, I might find that I’ve missed all kinds of valuable things. For now, I’m sticking with books. I feel better after reading books, not worse. Reading books, by the way, is so much easier without social media as an escape hatch. Now, when I run out of gas on one, I’ll just switch to another. It works.

So if you want to connect, again, email me. I love email. More now than ever, though I’ve loved getting and receiving emails ever since CompuServe, MindSpring, Earthlink…

It struck me yesterday: one thing that might improve the medium of personal email today would be the removal of subject lines. (Cue record scratch.)

Hear me out. It would be just like letters. Remember letters, oldsters? Think back to when you sent personal letters in the mail (unless, of course, you’re an avocado-toast-eating Millennial). What could beat the feeling of receiving a stuffed #10 with your name written in pen on the front? You knew who’d sent it to you, but you really had no idea what it was going to be about—maybe lots of different things—and that was part of the fun of it, like a J.J. Abrams’s mystery box.   

Sure, marketing messages and app updates should still have subject lines, but wouldn’t it be nice if you could set it so that personal emails and newsletters—real ones, not content marketing funnel stuff—just showed up in your inbox and you had to start reading them to find out what they were about?

In fact, there should be a service dedicated to sending and receiving personal emails and newsletters. Throw personal blog posts into it, too. I’d be all over that app. Eventually, some VC-funded creep sipping fresh-from-the-tap kombucha in a WeWork pod would growth-hack it to death somehow, but that’s life. Someone builds something cool, it’s good for a bunch of people for a while, and then the barbarians get greedy and devour it. Like Twitter. Or Rome. Or the United States of America. (Too soon?)

Speaking of emails, Derek Sivers sent one out to his list just now. (You really should sign up if you haven’t already, down under “My private email list.” Derek likes his sign-ups unobtrusive.)

As I’ve mentioned previously, I love Derek’s whole online thing—it jives with my principles and sensibilities as very few do.

Related aside: A Maven Game reader recently wrote: “I hate newsletters—loathe them. I’ve stopped hanging out with real-life friends because I can’t tolerate their online personas. BUT! I read yours, regularly, and I really like it.” This guy’s friends, by the way, are major online personas. I don’t repeat this to toot my own sax. It’s to remind you, as you craft your own persona/brand, that there are “metrics,” and then there are “people.” Who are you writing for? The acid test for your digital self should be: regardless of how a subject line or campaign or Instagram caption might shape my persona for countless unknown strangers, what will the real people who actually know me make of this?

In short: cut the shit. Let’s all cut the shit.

Derek Sivers really embodies this mentality for me and he’s become a bit of a role model. I watch what he does very carefully.

So, in his latest email, he mentions that he’s editing a new edition of his ebook for musicians and that a few pieces are online already.  

This is a good one.

Art is useless by definition. If it was useful, it would be a tool.

Let that sink in. Like the Black Swan, it’s one of those simple ideas that starts unpacking as you think about it and ends up going all the way down. Derek got it from Kevin Kelly but puts his own spin on it in the essay, which is well worth reading. We make our best stuff when we make it to please ourselves.

A related anecdote: Back in high school, I thought of myself as a writer. Like you, I was one of those kids. Then I had a teacher who almost destroyed that. Contemptuous, judgmental. Some stuff was writing, some wasn’t, he was the arbiter. Everyone would submit their creative writing pieces and he would select a handful to read aloud, anonymously. He made his opinions clear through these selections, always the “honest, raw” confessional-type stories about parties, drugs, teenage sex. Henry Miller or bust. Those stories were “real writing” because they had dicks in them.

Naturally, he never read one of mine. Cynically, I wrote a story to his exact literary parameters and immediately made the cut. (I did a similar thing years later to get something published in a literary journal. It worked again. I guess I’ve always been a natural ghostwriter.)

Succeeding with the guy didn’t spur greater effort. It made me sick. What I’d done was totally artificial, like copywriting according to a formula to achieve a certain growth metric. The experiment nearly put an end to me as a writer for life. “So that’s what it takes!” I thought.

Thankfully, the next year I had Ms. Karp for creative writing instead. Ms. Karp didn’t judge. She knew we were far too young and too unformed as writers for that. If anything, you got a sense of gentle, unhurried appreciation of your effort from Ms. Karp. Instead of dissecting us, she gave us the opportunity to feel things out for ourselves in a self-directed way. Each class, we’d write as we pleased, share as we pleased, and get feedback if we wanted it. She’d give us a writing prompt, we’d write, and then we’d read it aloud if we felt like it. The rest of the class would then write what they thought of the piece on a slip of paper, anonymously, and put it in a basket. Then you’d get all those slips to read, or not.

Mind you, this was not a safe space. Those baskets of paper were more like a YouTube comments section, including the death threats. But that’s what made the positive feedback, when it came, so valuable. You saw what people genuinely responded to in your writing with no posturing. People could respond however they liked, outside of the dynamics of high school. And for every person who promised he’d murder me on the way home from school that day, there were four or five who’d found what I’d written hilarious, or compelling, or at least pretty good. I came back to life as a writer in that class. I learned that I could write to please myself and that I would do my best writing for others in the process.

One day I’d like to run a writing class like that.

cobbler, stick to your last

If you like the Maven Game, you’ll love Doug Rushkoff—assuming you aren’t already familiar with his work. The world is a scary place and increasingly I prefer Doug’s lens for making sense of it.

Read Doug’s most recent book, Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, if you haven’t already. Next, subscribe to his podcast: Team Human. I’m on Team Human and you should be, too. Team Human, being Team Human, can’t find its audience through “growth hacking.” To quote Doug’s most recent newsletter, “I’m loathe to employ social media, and I’ve always had faith in the organic spread of good things.” Should he? Let’s show him.

On a related note, a joke made by several late night hosts recently: Somebody quits Facebook only to post about it on Facebook.

Yep. I’m still off social media. I can’t say I’m any wiser for it. I am less wired, less stressed. (Not that much less. I still watch late night TV.) When the occasional crazy-thing-that-happened-in-the-world filters through, I realize that not having known about it the moment it happened made no difference. It’s a good feeling.

This gets me thinking about the lures of social media specific to expert-writers and those adjacent.

Facebook has gotten pernicious, hard-to-eradicate, cockroachy. It offers myriad things to myriad people. (My use of “myriad” is one of myriad ways I annoy myriad readers.) Facebook weaves little threads of value throughout the fabric of your day-to-day life so that there’s never just one cord to cut. If I leave Facebook for good, what about shared photos from Thanksgiving? What about FarmVille with friends? What about posting to that exclusive private group I got to join? Whatever it takes to bait the hook. (Yes, bait. Facebook is a fisher of men. Unlike Jesus, it plans to eat its catch.)

For writers, one last wriggly piece of worm-bait makes Facebook irresistible.

In a presentation to the sales force, the head of a publishing company where I used to work tacitly acknowledged Goldman’s adage that “nobody knows anything.” Editors did their best to pick good books, she admitted, but ultimately there is no telling where lightning will strike next. All we could do, she explained, was plant as many lightning rods as possible.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls this exposure to positive Black Swans. (If you haven’t actually read The Black Swan, please do so. It explains 2017. It will explain 2018. I’d say it will explain 2019, but let’s be honest. What are the odds we see 2019 at this rate?) There’s no predicting big, life-changing surprises, so all you can do is “get out there” where something really good—no knowing what—is more likely to happen.

So for writers, Facebook, and social media in general, seems like a perfect lightning-rod planter. When you post on Facebook, you’re planting a lightning rod, right? Same with every tweet. You’re getting yourself out there. Sure, much of it is ignored, but you never know. What if Soleil Moon Frye happens to retweet your tweet to her 1.49 million “followers”? (Hint: nothing. I’ve seen it happen.) 

But still, stuff does “go viral.” Doesn’t it? I mean, people were nobodies, and then they were somebodies, and social media was involved, somehow. Right?

This, right here, is the rack on which writers are currently stretched.

At one publishing house where I worked, an unknown author wrote a book. Nothing happened. It came out in paperback. Nothing happened. A few years later, he filled in on a TV panel at the last minute. Right panel, right moment, right message. The paperback hit the list and made a mint, as well as the author’s career. Does that mean spend all your time trying to be a substitute panel guest for any show that will have you?

I’ve got examples from back when blogs existed where a single post on a brand-new blog got mentioned by a popular blogger. Boom. Right audience, right time, right recommendation: bestseller, career, etc.

What are you supposed to do with information like this?

I can tell you what not to do: scurry away in your hamster-wheel, posting and tweeting and sharing, slurping at little oxytocin hits where you can get them, trying to make lightning strike the spot it struck last time.

I’m all with Taleb that we want to expose ourselves to positive Black Swans. He’d be the first to say that this does not mean doing the thing that got the last person some attention. Taleb points to our absurd response to terrorist attacks, where we put all of our efforts into preventing the exact same attack in the future. Guy had a shoe bomb? Everyone takes off their shoes to go through security. Terrorism: solved.

For the umpteenth time I’ll quote from Robert Henri in The Art SpiritHis advice is more than a hundred years old yet perfectly apt. Here’s a letter Henri wrote in response to a friend’s request:

I understand from your letter that you would like me to write an article. This brings up, however, the matter that we have several times discussed—whether the cobbler should stick to his last—whether the artist should paint, and put all his energies, his whole heart and mind in what he is best at, both from inclination and experience, instead of lecturing, writing, going to meetings, or going into society.

(“Going into society” is old-timey for “regram @selenagomez,” by the way.) It breaks my heart to think of all the writers—and filmmakers, musicians, designers, inventors—who created even one less thing because of time, effort, and emotional bandwidth invested in the work of social media. Sure, Henri wrote articles and lectured, but through discipline he was able to “spend six to eight hours a day in actual painting.” Could he have done the same today?

Imagine if Beethoven only wrote 8 symphonies because he was too busy composing tweetstorms?

There’s a word for this: ultracrepidarianism, defined as what happens when the cobbler puts the shoe down to publish an old blog post on Medium, just in case.

I’m not going to tell you to get off social media. I will ask you to consider designing and implementing a positive Black Swan strategy. Consider all the effort you can potentially invest in planting lightning rods, not just on the internet, but everywhere: professional networking, outreach, and, above all, publishing your stuff in lots and lots of different ways, online and off.

Then, invest that time strategically.

When you invest money, you start with a limited quantity. Lots of people got rich on lucky bets, but if you invest in a handful of lucky-looking stocks to imitate that success, you will have no more money.

Time is different. We can keep making the same mistakes with our time and energy and, sadly, we just run out of life, eventually. We don’t get better at our work and we don’t create as much stuff as we could have, all because we squander our precious resources chasing someone else’s path to success.

the awkward power of actual community

It’s hard to sit and write. I clench at the very thought of it. Have you noticed this clenching phenomenon? I imagine it’s similar to standing in front of Tony Robbins’s 57° F plunge pool. You can’t think about doing it before you do it or you’ll just make a run for it. Then Tony has to tackle you, and that’s no fun for anyone—he’s bigger than I am. You just have to jump into that dark coffin-shaped aqua-prison and to hell with all the sensation in your extremities.

Writers, as a class, abuse plenty of substances, but ultimately what we all really crave is a pill to get us through that one instant. Something, anything, to push us through the clench and into the pool. After that, we’re usually golden.

My 8-year-old son is doing his first chin-ups and his 3-year-old sister has been trying to imitate him, with a little help from Dad. I find her determination to defy gravity inspiring. Brow furrowed, jaw clenched, she tries valiantly to draw herself up: “Princess … isworking!” (She was referring to herself in the third person, naturally. Royalty!)

It's my new start-writing motto. Whenever I feel the urge to avoid the laptop, I remind myself: Princess is working, Dave. Princess is working.

On Thursday, I attended the 800-CEO-READ Business Book of the Year Awards. (Janesville won.)

Familiar with 800-CEO-READ? They've played a key role in the business book industry for years, facilitating bulk sales for business book authors in ways specifically tailored to their needs. Amazon simply can’t compare.

I’ve talked before about how readers (and even book publishers) conflate All Things Book-shaped. Categories matter, a lot, not just in how you make a book but also in how you make a book work. If you publish business books, you're in an entirely different business than if you publish romance novels. You’re not going to do both well. Physically, you’re producing the exact same object, but everything else differs in important ways. 8CR understands this. They’re still going strong after all these years. (If you’re stuck—with your writing, your business, whatever—stop casting the net wider and ask yourself: How can I specialize even further?)

Because 8CR specializes in business books, they’re able to participate authentically in the community around these books. There were a lot of folks at the party on Thursday night and most of them knew most of the rest. Authors, editors, agents, publicists. All socially awkward. It was a bit like prom.

Lots of people talk "community” but there’s a difference, an enormous one, between a Facebook group or Slack mastermind channel and an actual community of actual people willing to go to the same actual location at the same time. For twenty years, a handful of technology companies based in Northern California and journalists based in New York City have tried to convince us that one is an effective substitute for the other. I disagree, and the vehemence of my opposition to this notion increases with each passing year. 

You, the person reading this, are a part of this little community, and I do hope we get to see each other in person now and then. (I'm not ready to launch the Maven Game Unconference, don't worry.) Chances are we know each other, or that we know people in common, or that we at least do similar stuff, like write in our pajamas and microwave the morning’s coffee when we’re feeling lazy.

I don’t think of the Maven Game as marketing content. (What would I be marketing? Animated GIFs and snark?) This is a letter. I’m writing you a letter. I’m just also sending the same letter to a bunch of other people, too—that makes it possible to justify investing a huge chunk of my weekend in writing it. (I know—hard to believe.) Since this is a letter, I like it when people write back. Counting opens and clicks doesn’t compare. Hint hint.

I don’t know what you’re supposed to be working on right now, but probably something. Whatever’s causing you the most anxiety: that. Here’s William Zinsser in On Writing Well discussing the great H.L. Mencken:

The secret of [Mencken's] popularity—aside from his pyrotechnical use of the American language—was that he was writing for himself and didn't give a damn what the reader might think. It wasn't necessary to share his prejudices to enjoy seeing them expressed with such mirthful abandon. Mencken was never timid or evasive; he didn't kowtow to the reader or curry anyone's favor. It takes courage to be such a writer, but it is out of such courage that revered and influential journalists are born.

Take courage. Start writing. Forget technique—be pyrotechnic. Forget currying the reader’s favor and express your prejudices with mirthful abandon. And remember: “Princess is working!"

Dave

p.s. Check out the Maven Game site, now featuring Matthew Butterick's new Hermes Maia font, the one I raved about last week. Nice, right? But does it make my writing's butt look too big?