On Writing for Exposure

Traditional writing advice is to not write for free, or for “exposure.” The idea is writing for free for another outfit cheapens your work, and lets someone make money off your work with nothing tricking back down.

From 2003-2006 I wrote for free, and for exposure. The freelance success I had after that made it all worthwhile. I am the exception to that rule.

In 2003, the web and blogs weren’t what it is now. WordPress was just coming out. Free or low cost web hosting wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is now. A lot of blogging type sites required custom CMS platforms. Also, in 2003 I was rapidly approaching my 40th birthday. I didn’t want to be that guy bemoaning I didn’t give writing a chance.

At the time, I was pretty passionate about video games1. Worthplaying was looking for writers and were very clear the gig wasn’t a paying gig. I contacted them because I figured getting my writing out there in a public fashion would help my writing. I’d get used to working with editors, the inevitable commentary from internet readers , and writing on a deadline. It worked. I wrote a ton of stuff for them over those three years.

Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOs) were just starting to become the rage then. EverQuest was a few years old. World of Warcraft was close to coming out. Not many writers wanted to invest the time it took to review and understand these games. A traditional game might take 20 hours to form an opinion on, but an MMO was at least 50 hours of base work. I liked these types of games quite a bit and started to become known as “that MMO guy” in a period there weren’t many of us. I was also able to start building up my contacts with developers and PR people.

In 2006, I decided to take the next step: to see if I cold get paid. I sent clips packets off to the three major game magazines: PC Gamer, Computer Gaming World, and Computer Games Magazine. I remember standing in line at the Boston Post Office with my manilla envelopes of printed out samples with a cover letter offering my services. I had the weird idea that printing them out on glossy paper would make them look more like they were printed in magazines. These were also magnum opuses of reviews. My EverQuest 2 review was about 8-10 printed pages.

I was almost immediately contacted by the EIC of PC Gamer magazine. He knew of me from Worthplaying and needed someone to write a review of an EverQuest expansion. There was just one small wrinkle: famed Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling usually wrote the EverQuest reviews for PC Gamer. This was good for PC Gamer since they could put “Curt Schilling reviews EverQuest” on the cover. The EIC was torn at the time since Curt hadn’t said yes or no. I called him back a few days later and said something along the lines of: “Hey, if you want me to review this let me know. If not. I’ve got another place wanting me review it and I can just go with them. We can do the next review together.”

He gave me the gig.

This was an immediate eye-opening experience. The reviews editor emailed me and said, “Yep. We want you do the review. Give me 150 words in two weeks.” One hundred and fifty fucking words. My opening paragraphs for a review were 150 words. How the hell was I going to write an entire review in 150 words. I did it, though. A few minor revisions later, a few months later my review hit the newsstands. I wrote for PC Gamer until 2008 or so. I then wrote for WoW Insider for a year, then Gigaom for another five years. I haven’t had a paid writing gig since 2015.

The line for me is clear: writing for free for Worthplaying lead to paid writing gigs. It gave me the experience I needed to go pitch to editors with a body of work from a reputable source. I also got a lot of free games out of the deal. Where the exposure gigs falls flat for some people is no one approached me wanting to pay me to write. I had to go out there, pitch the work and do the legwork to make those contacts. I also established myself as an authority on a niche market that was going through a growth spurt. Even now, spending three years trying to cram massive reviews into 300 words or less has help make me an economical writer at work.

I don’t know if this path would work today. Back in the 2000s, there was a viable print market and publishers would pay for writers. For gaming PC Gamer is the only real gaming magazine these days. CGW and Computer Games Magazine are gone. A lot of the big gaming sites are now consolidated into IGN and Gamespot. The market has consolidated. As I said in my piece about writing, making money creating content these days is hard.

As much as people bemoan the idea of writing for free, I feel you gain some valuable experience. Even if you start your own blog and pump out content, paid writing typically requires collaborating with someone. Be it an editor, or the artist for something you are working on. The ability to create content on someone else’s schedule is invaluable for creators. Obviously you have to weigh the pros and cons. With Worthplaying, it was obvious the site was such a labor of love for Rainier and Judy I didn’t mind helping out. I’d write for them again, even for free.

  1. Still am, to be honest
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iPad Life: My iPad Pro Usage post-MacBook Pro Purchase

Fraser Speirs — a long-time iPad-only advocate — is leaning towards getting another MacBook Pro. Fraser is famous for a piece he wrote about going iPad-only entitled: Can the MacBook Pro Replace Your iPad? It was an interesting reverse take on the whole “Can your iPad replace your laptop” argument that is bandied about.

I am both glad and disheartened to hear this. I was glad because it’s easy to get into a situation where taking a stance on something like going iPad-only is tough to back off from. Your identity can be wrapped up in “that guy who went iPad-only”. Inevitably, you hear from all the people who gave you grief about it two years ago with an extra helping of “told you so.” So, being able to publicly and critically assess whether a tool works for you, and change course if it isn’t, is a good trait. It’s disheartening that Fraser feels that iOS 11 doesn’t meet his needs anymore and he needs to use a Mac again.

There are four people I follow on Twitter that are iPad-only folks. Not sorta-iPad only, but full-time, only use an iPad people: Matt Gemmell; Ben Brooks; Fraser Speirs; and Federico Vitcci1. CGP Grey is also a heavy iPad user so he deserves honorable mention here. Of these five, two of them are either using the iPad less after iOS 11 or are thinking of moving back to a Mac. CGP Grey needs a Mac to create his YouTube videos, so he’s always straddled that line. iOS 11 was supposed to be the big start of iPad productivity, but instead people I follow who use the iPad heavily are leaning towards walking away from it.

I am happier with iOS 11 than I was with iOS 10, but not drastically. I think the new Files app is a great step forward. Drag and drop is pretty useful. iOS 11 has helped me not use Workflow app as much as I used to. However, iOS 11 has some weird bugs that are driving me nuts. I’ve been having a lot of rotation issues where I unlock my iPad and the rotation is stuck until I engage the gyroscope again. The Apple Smart Keyboard has been flakey and I need to snap it on and off again to get it work. That said, I think the drag and drop, the Dock, and the new Files app are a net win. I wouldn’t go back to iOS 10. I don’t think I can do tasks I couldn’t do on an iPad before iOS 11, but some of the suffering around those tasks has declined.

Fraser’s comments made me think a little more about my iPad usage after I got the MacBook Pro in March. Has my iPad usage increased or decreased? Unfortunately, I don’t have any data to back up my theories. The best example is my iPad usage last night when I was working on my schoolwork for the week. I’d been taking part in an informal case study on a MacRumors post regarding using iPad Pros for school. Like any thread about iPad productivity it devolved into a thread of half-truths, assumptions, lies, and bold statements of what you can and could not do on iPad. So, when this semester hit the midpoint I posted my findings about 5 weeks with the iPad. I considered the experiment closed at that point. I haven’t gotten any responses to that thread in a few days, so I guess a lot of people consider the experiment closed as well. I could go back to using my MacBook Pro for school and not think twice, or feel I had sold out the cause. Instead, when I got down to the business of doing this week’s assignments I just picked up my iPad fired up PowerPoint and worked on the assignment. When I was done, I uploaded it to the shared Google Drive folder and emailed my classmates.

Was this inertia from having a rhythm of working on school work this way for the last 5 weeks? I don’t think so. When I was doing some writing this weekend I found myself always reaching for the iPad first. For a lot of creative work like drawing and writing, the iPad is such a natural fit now for how I do that work. That’s not to say the MacBook Pro will sit unused. My beloved Topaz filters only work on my Mac. I use Tableau a lot and there is no iPad version. Sometimes I need the might and power of the full Office suite. Today I am working remote and need to connect to our virtual desktop system to do work. That type of work is still best done with a pointing device you can right-click on easily.

So, in conclusion my iPad use hasn’t really changed for the core work.

  1. Federico uses a Mac to record his podcasts, but that is it.

iPad Life : Apple’s New iPad Pro Ad

“What’s a computer?” she asked.

I love Apple’s new ad for the iPad Pro. It shows a young girl using her iPad throughout the day. It starts with her grabbing it off the floor, working on schoolwork with Word, drawing with Procreate, using Goodnotes, and reading a comic on the way home. At the end, her neighbor asks her, “What are you doing on your computer?”

“What’s a computer?” she replied.

What I love is everything they showed her doing wasn’t bullshit. It’s all stuff you can do on an iPad. It’s all stuff I’ve done on an iPad. It’s not some bizarre video that only works in certain conditions that most people can’t replicate. It shows the iPad isn’t a computer, that boring, old, heavy, kludgy thing her parents use.

It’s not a promise for the future. She seamlessly switches between apps, drags a photo in Message and uses her Pencil at various times during the day. My favorite part is around the 30 second mark where she is using the iPad with a Smart Keyboard on a glass counter at a cafe while she waits for her order. When she is ready to leave she smacks the iPad down into the folded position by lifting it up and giving it a practiced smack down that and folds the keyboard under the iPad. The movement reminds me of an Arthur Fonzarelli moment.

The spot also shows off what I consider to be the canonical iPad setup: iPad with the Smart Keyboard and Pencil.

I’ve watched this spot so many times. It’s everything I love about how Apple markets their devices — a little short film showing how people actually use the damned thing.

App Subscriptions

In August 2017 my favorite writing app, Ulysses, changed from a one-time purchase price to a subscription model. They gave a lifetime 50% discount for existing users. If you just purchased the apps recently you could be eligible for up to 18 months free1. While I don’t use Ulysses every day, it is my primary writing tool on both macOS and iOS.

Even with a generous discount, I still wasn’t happy with the change. So, I looked at other writing tools that weren’t based on subscriptions. I’m not going to go into a lot of that analysis here, but basically none of those apps were as tuned to my writing process as Ulysses is. Most of them would let me write and post to WordPress, or work on long-form writing, but none of them worked for me as smoothly as Ulysses. So, I paid the yearly subscription price and told myself I had a year to see if this worked out for me. My chief problem with app subscriptions is if I stop paying for the app, I have to stop using the app; it’s a rental vs. owning model.

Recently, Clip Studio Paint came out for the iPad Pro. It has a 6 month free trial, and then jumps to $9 a month (or $108 a year to save you the math). I got into a Twitter exchange with Eric Merced about my thoughts on the pricing. Looking back on it, I realized his position on Clip Studio Paint’s subscription model was similar to how I ended up defending Ulysses when I switched to the subscription app. Eric also mentioned to me that the desktop version of Clip Studio is $219, and the iPad version is a near feature-complete version of that app. So, one way of looking at it is that two years of subscriptions pays for the app, with free upgrades thrown in. Eric was correct when he pointed out that most people would pitch a fit over a $219 iPad app.

I liked the old method of software development: I pay you for your effort to create the app and if you create a new version, I will likely upgrade to that. This model, though, doesn’t work for app developers. The App Store itself is a race to the bottom. Users want free updates for life from the 99-cent app they bought and cry foul when the developer releases a new version and charges for it. Apple does not have a system for paid upgrades. Developers are kind of in a lose-lose situation. Users of these apps are also.

I’ve worked at reducing my total subscriptions this year. With apps like Affinity Photo, I was able to eliminate my Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. School has an Office 365 account so I can use that instead of needing a personal account. I do pay for iCloud storage, though, because it provides value. Eliminating those subscriptions allow me to feel good about subscribing to Ulysses.

A lot of people — myself included — have argued that the iPad Pro (especially the 12.9”) is a pro-level device, and pro-level apps need to cost more than a buck to sustain development. The subscription model falls into a bad analogy. Typically, the response is something along the lines of: buy a few less coffees a month, you cheap bastard. The problem with that argument — outside of the fact that I buy a high-priced coffee so little it’s not worth discussing2, those $4-8 a month subscriptions add up to some serious money. It’s death by a thousand paper cuts. At what point does an app subscription become too much? Does one set a budget on subscriptions? By having a monthly subscription a developer is forcing us to ask each month if their app is worth paying for. When that answer becomes no, the revenue goes away. It’s a bit of of mental overload thinking about this every month.

Desktop OSs are fairly stable at this point. There is little in a macOS upgrade that will break a lot of apps at this point3. iOS upgrades aren’t there yet. Sweeping architecture changes occur every year. New iOS versions frequently break existing apps. Either because they changed how an API calls a function, or the developer hacked together a solution the upgrade breaks, or iOS just changed enough. App developers have to scramble to get their apps upgraded. I don’t think it’s fair to expect free upgrades for life because Apple adds new features to iOS. Subscriptions give the developers a way to fund those yearly upgrades. I’m not 100% against subscriptions. I think the complexity of the app coupled with the pace of feature-rich upgrades factor in to whether I will subscribe to the app. I’d also like it if the app reverts to a model where you can at least export your content if you let the subscription lapse.

  1. This involved whether you own the iOS and macOS apps, and when you bought them. So, if within the month or two prior to the announcement, if you bought both apps you would get 18 months free.
  2. Funnily enough, I’m sitting in a Starbucks drinking one while I write this.
  3. Yes, High Sierra introduced a new file system, but those types of architecture changes are few these days.

Nuke it from Orbit

This is Part 2 of the thoughts behind Sacred Places of Work.

Burn it down, I think. Nuke it from orbit.

My MacBook Pro has been exhibiting some weird signs, well since I got it. Originally I had a problem where menus in Safari or Finder would flash and not let me select them unless I Force Quit the app. I had a few issues after upgrading to High Sierra where the Finder would hang. There is also apparently a bug where the GPU doesn’t respond properly when waking from sleep mode resulting in poor gaming performance1.

Last year, I bared my Air. I got that saying from Patrick Rhone’s Enough podcast, where he would ask, “How bare is your Air?”. Patrick was a big proponent of living on the 64g MacBook Air. When I got my MacBook Pro, I thought about just getting the 256g model. Since the storage is now soldered onto the logic board, I couldn’t upgrade later if I wanted. So, I got the 512g model.

A common theme for me recently is talking about my frustrations with working on personal creative endeavors. On Episode 102 of Under the Radar they talk about Procrastiworking. I had to laugh when I saw the episode title, since me writing and posting about my lack of getting stuff done has felt like I’m being creative in some way. It’s not, but writing is writing, so whatever. It feels good to write about it and bring some order to the chaos that is my mind.

Working on my creative side projects — I always feel I need to keep adding these disclaimers that this does not pertain to the day job — requires a lot of level-setting and honesty with myself. I wrote last year about The Medicinal Value of Fucking Off, and I still stand by it. Some nights or weekend days you could fool yourself into thinking you could draw or write, but, you just don’t have it in you. Better to just take a kind of vacation day, play video games, and recharge. Balancing personal projects during a crazy work week means some weeks the personal project loses the battle. Or, you might have the energy and desire, but you know there is a possibility you could get interrupted in the next hour or so. If that interruption is going to throw you, it’s hard to start. When I start painting a miniature, I know it’s a 2-3 hour shot where I can’t do much else or my palate will dry up. When I write, I rarely get so far into a zone that it’s a hassle to come out. Working on a presentation or a diagram, yes. Even then, it’s still not the end of the world.

I got the PS4 to move game playing out of my office. Games still ended up on my MacBook Pro under the auspices of just seeing how they run. In the same way that the 27” monitor parked on my desk feels like a failure, so does having World of Warcraft sitting on the MacBook Pro.

At work we are Lean practitioners. One of the Lean tools I love is the 5S: sort; set in order; shine; standardize; and sustain. It is a way if making sure your work space is neat and orderly. In Sacred Places of Work, I worked on getting my personal space in order. Now it is time to think about my digital space.

Burn it down, I think. Nuke it from orbit.

It would be the computer created by a sadist: Dere vill be no gamez on dis komputer. Der vill be no fun. The computer would be sorted, set in order, and standardized. The hard part, as always, is sustain. It would be the digital equivalent of throwing everything you own out.

There is a catharsis to this purge. Each addition to the computer should be the result of some analysis: What does this app do that the built-in app can’t? Do you need 3 writing apps? Is this game worth taking up 20g of space?

Scorched earth feels good at the time but it isn’t an optimum solution. I’ve purged the apps, but what about the data? What about the 230 gig of iCloud Drive data that will automagically sync down — and take the entire weekend — when I log back into iCloud? Shouldn’t that be part of the nuke from orbit? Archive the entire drive somewhere and only move the recent files you are working on back into iCloud Drive and your computer. We fret and worry about data loss. We create complicated backup schemes to ensure we can always recover from a complete system failure. What if that near-complete data loss is a freeing thing? If we are not our belongings, then we are also not our data. I’m not even sure what is in some of these folders.

Eighty-three point five (83.5) gigabytes free of a 512 gig drive. That is how much free space I have on my MacBook Pro. Only 16.3% of the drive doesn’t have some form of crap on it. I mostly write and do school papers. Not exactly the type of thing to suck up a ton of data on. My Lightroom library is about 25g. I bet 100g of that is games.

This is why I like using iOS and my iPad Pro so much. The file system is hidden away. When I want to write, I open Ulysses and my project is there2. I want to draw and I open up Linea or Procreate or Clip Studio or any of the other drawing apps I use and my drawings are right there. It is all backed up into iCloud, so if I do need to do a total system restore, it’s all there and I am up and running in a few hours. Matt Gemmell wrote about being done with file systems, and I agree with him. He’s gone iPad-only since he wrote that, and the piece is prescient of his future decision.

I’m not going to nuke the MacBook from orbit. It’s too much hassle for too little gain. Games on it aren’t why I’m having issues getting stuff done. The underlying reasons are something I’m doing a lot of soul-searching with little answers. What writing about it here reminded me of, however, is how few barriers to productivity exist for me on the iPad Pro, and to continue to reach for that device when I want to create.

  1. What a bizarre argument I have here: I’m going to reformat (and likely downgrade) my operating system because a game runs poorly. The main reason I’d burn it from orbit is the game is even there in the first place.
  2. To be fair, since the app data is store inside Ulysses and it syncs via iCloud, it’s also on my Mac.

Learning to Get over Myself Learning to Draw

Thirty years ago I went to Interior Architecture school. It hurts thinking of that. Thirty fucking years ago. I was a great hard-line draftsman but never took the time to learn freehand. Even now, I bet I could sit down at a drafting table, grab a t-square and triangle, and bang out a respectable floor plan.

I miss drawing. I miss designing. I love writing and making music, but I miss creating visual art. Part of the reason I got the iPad Pro and the Pencil was to eliminate excuses. The iPad is always with me, therefore I always have the tools to draw. I’ve drawn some, but not enough. I’ve been having a problem getting motivated to do more than quick warm up sketches.

I was listening to a podcast with Stan Prokopenko as the guest. Stan runs a great website, proko.com where he shows off some amazing beginner lessons. On the podcast, he mentions that to get good at art, you need to spend 40-50 hours a week working on your art. Drawing the same thing over and over. Sketch a gesture. Rip it up. Sketch another one. Learning the fundamentals of guitar was easy. Learn the basic open chords and you can pretty much play most of the three-chord rock songs out there. Hours of entertainment. AC/DC made an entire career out of this. Learning to draw, however is harder. Every time I grab the Pencil and open up Procreate, I think: this thing I am about to create is going to suck. That’s not false modesty. Look at any Master’s output the first time he or she picked up a pencil and it will be laughably bad. It’s hard not to wonder if this is all just a waste of time. Will I ever get good at it? What’s my definition of good enough? Finding motivation is hard when you see an established artist do a quick sketch that is better than anything I could think of drawing.

My experience with architecture school tells me its probably not a waste of time. Even though freehand wasn’t a strength, I could still get the idea of what I wanted do in a sketch. A year ago when I made an effort to learn to draw I was pleased with my progress over a short time.

There is a hard and lengthy fought battle over tracing in art. A lot of people think it’s horrible, and a cheat. Before I continue, let me say that laying down tracing paper over someone else’s drawing, tracing it, and passing it off as your own is theft. However, let me tell you a story about how I created perspectives in school.

In the early 90s, CAD programs were in their infancy. There was a great one for my Mac called MacPerspective or something like that. I started using it when I was having a hard time getting the perspective for an atrium correct. I put in a rough version of the floor plan, walkways, and skylight into the program. I then picked a camera angle I liked, printed it out, stuck it on the drafting table and put my vellum over it. I then did all the little detail work and finished the drawing. I didn’t think I cheated. I just needed to get the damn drawing done. I could screw around for a day or two getting the perspective and vanishing lines done, or I use a tool to get the grunt part done. Norman Rockwell would project photographs onto his canvas and trace over to get the rough sketch done.

Where I’m going with this getting my mind around parts of the process. Some drawings I do I might sketch out from nothing. Others I might put a photograph on a background layers and sketch out from there. Jack Skellington is a basic enough character that it would be fun to use his head as an exercise in circles and shading. A picture of a friend with a sword, though, might end up in a background layer where rough out the anatomy to become an orc warrior.

iPad Life: Ease of Recovering from a Total Failure

There is no good time for a tech failure, but this one had a taste of self-infected. When I started working on my homework for my graduate class recently I noticed two things: my 256g iCloud Drive was almost full; and so was my 128g iPad. The iCloud Drive I knew about. I had dumped up 40g of videos to it and thought I would have more space free than I did. The iPad was worrisome. I’ve looked like even though I had Optimize Photos turned on, my iPad was still storing full images locally. When I signed out of iCloud and signed back in it told me I needed another 50g of iCloud storage. It wanted to re-upload all the images I guess.

So, I ended up just reformatting the iPad via the settings menu. I chose to restore from a recent iCloud backup and about an hour and half later the restore was complete. All my passwords were there. My apps were in the right locations. If it wasn’t for having to re-download my books in iBooks and the Kindle app as well as a few missing text messages, you wouldn’t have known it was a fresh install.

I’ve been thinking of reinstalling macOS on my MacBook Pro. The reasons are a topic for another day, but the time it takes to get everything back up and running is the main reason I haven’t. There are a lot of large apps on there plus the data from my cloud storage. It is the type of thing that will take a weekend to recover from.

iOS, though, is about two hours total.