Steven Johnson (author of one of my favorite books of last year Where Good Ideas Come From has a new blog on Medium called The Writer’s Room. In his first post, he writes about the idea of what he calls a spark file, a running repository of all his ideas and hunches that aren’t quite ready for execution (much like how people use Moleskines or Evernote):
Now, the spark file itself is not all that unusual: that’s why Moleskins or Evernote are so useful to so many people. But the key habit that I’ve tried to cultivate is this: every three or four months, I go back and re-read the entire spark file. And it’s not an inconsequential document: it’s almost fifty pages of hunches at this point, the length of several book chapters. But what happens when I re-read the document that I end up seeing new connections that hadn’t occurred to me the first (or fifth) time around: the idea I had in 2008 that made almost no sense in 2008, but that turns out to be incredibly useful in 2012, because something has changed in the external world, or because some other idea has supplied the missing piece that turns the hunch into something actionable. Sure, I end up reading over many hunches that never went anywhere, but there are almost always little sparks that I’d forgotten that suddenly seem more promising. And it’s always encouraging to see the hunches that turned into fully-realized projects or even entire books.
I have a document similar to this in Simplenote where I write down quick ideas—design treatments, topics for this blog, a random thought that I don’t know what to do with, even just a theory for something that I don’t know is true. The key, as Johnson points out, is to frequently return to the list because any visit could reignite a forgotten idea.
Daring Fireball, John Gruber’s famous Apple-focused blog turns ten years old today. I think I’ve been reading Gruber for roughly five years and I would probably go as far to say it’s my favorite blog. Gruber consistently brings an authoritarian perspective to topics I care about and I always know what to expect when he posts.
The Atlantic has a nice feature honoring this momentous anniversary that perfectly captures why Daring Fireball is so consistently great:
Gruber’s best when he’s writing about perfection, excellence and what it takes to achieve either. He can describe eight iPhone Twitter clients, or the software limitations of the iPad, and evince a common sense of aesthetic. His voice can be muscular and rigorous. The man’s clearly animated by a hatred of everything he knows to be BS.
He writes through the context of Apple, but this is exactly right: the broader theme throughout everything he posts is about excellence. Excellence in your products, in your work, in your business, in your life.
And then, quoting Gruber himself:
There’s a certain pace and rhythm to what I’m going for [when I share links], a mix of the technical, the artful, the thoughtful, and the absurd. In the same way that I strive to achieve a certain voice in my prose, as a writer, I strive for a certain voice with regard to what I link to. No single item I post to the Linked List is all that important. It’s the mix, the gestalt of an entire day’s worth taken together, that matters to me.
Few bloggers — few writers — have achieved such a rhythm that overarches everything they do the way John Gruber has for the past ten years. That’s how you do great work.
It’s 11:00 on the uptown R train. At the 23rd St. stop, an older gentleman steps onto the car and pauses in the doorway as he scans the half-empty seats. A smile slowly speads across his face. Whispering, as if talking to himself, he slowly walks towards the woman in the corner seat. She’s smiling too, their eyes are locked. He slides into the seat next to her and she removes her headphones as they lean in for a kiss.
I quietly observe this interaction from the other side of the car. Something about these few minutes seem strangely ritualistic. I like to think they do this every night. After a long day at work, they’ve arranged to meet here.
In that seat.
In this car.
At this stop.
On this train.
The corner seat on the uptown R train is theirs. In the middle of the huge city, they’ve carved out a spot to meet so every night, at 11:00, they know where to find each other.
When I got off the subway a few stops later, they were exchanging stories about their days. I smiled as I stepped out of the car onto the platform. The city is moving all around them but to those two that seat in that car on that train was their universe. Because every night at 11:00pm, that’s the only spot that matters. Everything else fades away.