Hi, I’m Ben—I help creative people power up. Every week, I publish a new article for my mailing list, Three Things. They’ll appear below soon after, but you should probably sign up so you don’t miss ’em.
New This Week
09.18.17 // I Got Engaged. Here’s How My Future-Wife Subtly Changed My Life ⟿
What my engagement has taught me about the importance of a supportive partnership, making friends, and not overthinking things.
09.11.17 // Why You Should Think of Your Schedule in Batches, Not Blocks⟿
If you’re a maker, then you need to get off the manager schedule.
09.04.17 // Why Too Much of a Good Thing is No Good⟿
Make sure you audience wants more before you give it to them.
08.28.17 // How to Be Authentic in Everything You Do ⟿
Why being yourself is the best way to sell your writing, improv classes, products, and even yourself.
08.21.17 // On Brevity ⟿
If you want five minutes of someone else’s time, you’ve gotta spend five times that making sure your message is as brief and and clear as possible.
08.14.17 // On Puzzles ⟿
Although the blank page scares people away, starting a new writing project is, ironically, the easiest part. Like a puzzle, you know exactly what you’re setting out to make.
08.07.17 // On Cake ⟿
When you started blogging it felt fun and freeing. But over time, it became a burden. If this sounds familiar, it might be because you stopped eating cake.
07.24.17 // Do You Want to Quit? Follow this Flowchart First ⟿
How do you know when it’s time to quit a project that you’ve poured your time, energy, and maybe money into? Follow this flowchart to find out.
07.10.17 // HOW TO START A NEW PROJECT, PROMOTE YOURSELF AUTHENTICALLY, AND MAKE TIME FOR YOUR CREATIVITY ⟿
Two weeks ago I asked you to ask me a question or let me know what you needed help with. Here are a few of your questions and what you should do next to keep kicking butt.
06.26.17 // WE CHANGE EVERY SIX MONTHS. SO HOW CAN I HELP THIS CREATIVE CYCLE? ⟿
Sometimes, I think constant shifts and changes in tone and substance mean I’m a terrible, no good, very bad writer. But I am coming round to the fact that maybe that’s just not me. And that that’s OK. Maybe we’re supposed to change every six months?
06.12.17 // YOUR OLD WRITING IS AN EMBARRASSMENT ⟿
With time and experience, yesterday’s work will always pale in comparison to what we can achieve today. And, paradoxically, it can be a positive reminder that you’re growing, that now, you’re capable of more.
05.29.17 // Quitters Never Win. But That Sure as Hell Hasn’t Stopped Me. ⟿
If you’re too busy for something today, then you’re going to be too busy for it next week. Busy has become the catch-all on which we hang our hopes and dreams.
05.15.17 // Why Do You Always Want More? ⟿
What this one crazy AI thought experiment about paperclips can teach us about the danger of never stopping to ask “why do I want more?”
05.01.17 // How to Get an F in Podcasting ⟿
Confession: I’ve spent the last two years fantasizing about my future Best-of-iTunes-podcasting-career. I never did anything to move towards that goal…until now.
04.17.17 // WHAT PUBLIC HEALTH CAN TEACH US ABOUT CYBER-SECURITY ⟿
In the early 2000s, it was still strange to type your personal information into an online form. But when it comes to cyber-security have we swung too far the other way?
04.03.17 // Why The Press Will Never Be Free ⟿
The People share the common goals of freedom and upholding the democratic system. The Press shares those same goals, but each individual organization also has a more selfish goal—that of breaking news so they can make money for their outlet. These two overarching objectives stand at odds.
03.20.17 // The American Divide Is Not New and It’s Not Accidental ⟿
This is not a story about the 2016 Presidential Election. It’s not a story about coastal elites and pious countryfolk. At least, not directly. It’s a story about division. A story about divisions we all take for granted, that we assume are “natural,” when in fact that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
03.06.17 // I DESPERATELY WANT TO GET BACK TO FRIVOLOUS READING. D.C. WON’T LET ME ⟿
When we’re happy with the present (or merely bored), we look forward to the future. When the present is dark, we turn to the past. In the good times, we imagine the bounty that lies ahead. In the bad, we turn backward, searching for clues.
02.06.17 // ON SHAME, SELF-REFLECTION, AND Taking a Break from Blogging ⟿
The minute I hit “publish” on Monday morning, I am already falling behind on the following week’s essay. This aggressive publishing schedule biases my writing towards articles that are easy rather than those that are interesting.
01.23.17 // Journalists, to Survive, You Need to Understand “Trust“ ⟿
Why you need to quickly learn what bloggers figured out years ago.
01.16.17 // Cure Information Overload By Being Intentionally Inefficient ⟿
Our challenge, in 2017, is finding the right balance between refreshing open loops and doing literally anything else. But the problem we all face is that the creators of those open loops don’t want us to log off. They want to grab our attention for as long as they possibly can — because that’s how they make money.
01.09.17 // Why You May Never Finish Anything Ever Again ⟿
Absent global nuclear winter and the destruction of the Internet, we will march ceaselessly towards the world of open loops, of flows, of verbs, of becoming rather than being. But that also means we’re entering a world that is constantly threatening to outpace us. We’ll have to sprint simply to stay in place.
01.02.17 // Stake Out Your Lighthouse ⟿
I choose a single word that will serve as my guiding light for the year ahead. No matter how choppy the waters of 2017 get, this word will be my lighthouse — a shining beacon, guiding my decisions and steering me to safety.
Is Democracy Worth Saving
From a U.S.-centric perspective, my life has been marked by increasing political partisanship. I was not old enough to understand the Clinton presidency, I watched the Supreme Court determine the 2000 election and put a popular-vote loser into office. I voted for Obama, only to see congressional republicans obstruct his agenda at every turn. And now…Trump.
The Best of 2016: Books
I look back on my favorite things from the past year and give a few recommendations on how to spend that holiday cash burning a hole in your pocket. This week, books!
Read the Acknowledgements
Acknowledgements are vastly under appreciated. The secret is that they contain a wealth of information for writers looking to improve their craft, that should not just be read, but studied.
Why We Need Gatekeepers
Most of us are busy, we cannot spend (or do not want to spend) as much time as a professional gatekeeper finding, cultivating, and sharing new works. As hard as it is to make something new, it’s equally hard to separate wheat from chaff.
Haven’t You Read This Before?
Facebook did blind the left to Trump’s popularity, but it’s moronic to claim that this was somehow Facebook’s fault. It is wholly our own. We overfitted ourselves. We liked what we saw, so we never took the time to step outside our own personal utopia.
Where We Go From Here Is Up To Us
There’s one topic on my mind. It’s the same topic that’s on everyone’s mind. And I don’t really want to write about it. But it’s Monday — I have to write something. For my own sanity. To prove to myself, and to everyone else, that the world keeps spinning.
I Am Very Scared…
With time and distance, we convinced ourselves that things were getting better. That we’d been making steady progress toward the liberal ideals of true freedom and equality for all. That we were all on board. Now, that conviction has been dispelled as the illusion it’s always been.
Showing Up Is the Key to Success
Last week, I went to a concert. There’s nothing odd about that. A lot of people go to concerts in a given week. What was strange, though, is the headliner didn’t show up.
How to See The Future
Superforcasters make use of that data by finding patterns, telling a story and making an educated guess on where we might end up. In our personal lives and our creative lives, we must do the same.
Magic Always Beats Marketing
It doesn’t take a fancy sales funnel, a weekly email, content upgrades, and product validation to be profitable online. Those things might help, but they’re no substitute for “The Magic” — the passion and love for an idea that drives you to stay up all night working on it, that fuels you even when you’re down or when things aren’t going well.
“Skill fade” is real. Automation is making us dumber. But it’s only bad if you want to see it that way — if you want to focus on the extreme short term.
How to Write Like a Graphic Designer
Writers have no way to pack that immediate feeling of awe and beauty into a single second the way a visual artist can. I guess that’s why they say a picture is worth 1000 words.
I’d always said that a social media detox “wasn’t for me.” That it probably was beneficial for some, but I personally couldn’t. I needed Facebook to promote my writing, to communicate with my improv teams, to post funny statues, to see event invites, to stay abreast of current events. Or did I?
Well…This is Awkward
This week, I’m going to break with my usual format and share an interview I just did with Express (the clothing store) about St. Louis, improv comedy, and my writing.
Wouldn’t it be nice if brands treated every commercial they aired with that level of care? Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if, rather than an interruption, commercials could be a source of art and entertainment in their own right?
Should Creatives Go On Vacation
Vacation is the absence of routine. To fully embrace its restorative power, you have to stop thinking about your creative work. Otherwise, what kind of vacation is it? You’ll either spend the whole thing working — carrying out your routine in a new setting — or not working (and stressing about what’s not getting done).
Make stuff that matters and put it out there — hell, charge for it if you want. But next time you look at your balance sheet and find that you’re coming up short, rather than chalking your work up as a failure, maybe try rethinking “revenue” instead.
Clickbait exists because the system rewards eyeballs, not reads, listens, or watches. And despite the fact that not a single person likes clickbait, we keep clicking. We keep getting seduced by the idea that a single blog post will have the silver bullet that will get us exactly what we want.
The Tools I Can’t Create Without, A–Z
Since I’ve been writing this blog for over two years, I thought it might be interesting to reflect on my creative process and some of the tools I take for granted (in a fun A-Z format). Hopefully I can recommend one or two that will help you make more cool stuff.
Reading for reading’s sake is no better than turning on Netflix and letting the queue take you for a ride.
Is Every Improv Scene Salvageable
After thinking about this question all week, I’ve come to the conclusion that the answer is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter. It’s a red herring.
So You Want to Be a Copywriter?
My first piece of advice — do not, under any circumstances, try to do what I did. I was an accident.
Rather than share another “writing process” article, I thought I might attempt to advance the conversation by helping you with the actual craft.
If You Had One Shot
Practice doesn’t make perfect. Performance does.
Failure is a feature of the creative process, not a bug. But that doesn’t make failure any easier to swallow.
Am I Boring You Yet?
Focusing on any of these specific “tactics” misses the point — consistency is about setting expectations and then meeting (or going beyond) those expectations over and over. It has nothing to do with form and everything to do with the promise you make to your fans.
It’s So Hard to Sell Out
As much as I wanted to stop doing those things, I couldn’t. Because stopping would mean that I’d have to give up on selling out. And selling out, according to every writer ever on the Internet, was supposed to be easy.
1>100, A Math Primer for Creatives
The farther away I get from Calc 2 class, and the deeper I get into my creative career, the more I realize the math I learned, the math I was good at, isn’t useful. It’s not useful because I’ve had to master a new kind of math — one that’s diametrically opposed to what they taught me in school.
You have to create a system that forces inspiration and motivation to happen.
The Dark Side of Creativity
When you start something new, your brain is flooded with dopamine (the feel good hormone released during sex), but as time passes, the chemicals wear off. Ultimately, there’s nothing but sheer willpower to push the project forward, and often, that’s not enough.
Make reading a priority — it’s the best, most tangible, most lasting way to expand your knowledge.
The sad truth is that mantras like “content is king,” “if you build it they will come,” and “you have to build a product first and audience second” are hollow. Building a large social media following requires a lot of hard work in addition to the hard work of creating valuable content (which I’m sure you’re already doing).
How to Write Like a Professional
You have to stop worrying about quality and trust that, if you put in the hard work, quality will ultimately take care of itself. You have to trust that the process will guide you along the way, that you’ll make it home safely as long as you keep moving forward.