Northern Voice 2012, Part 2: In Brightest Day, In Blackest Night

Part 2 of my NV12 recaps: productivity, voice, and comics

Mike Vardy‘s talk on Saturday dealt with Better Blogging Productivity. He offered some commonsense tips such as:

  • Be realistic (or in his words, “get real!”): get clear about what you can and can’t do in the windows of time available to you. If you only have a little bit of time, do simple things like catch up on email or collect ideas. Save the really creative work for when you can focus on it
  • Build a schedule. In Mike’s words, blog proficiently not prolifically. Start small, get used to a blogging routine, and build up from there.
  • Avoid distractions (as opposed to disruptions). Distractions are messages, email notifications, anything nonurgent and avoidable.

Commonsense, sure, but this is stuff I definitely need to work on. I don’t have a blogging routine, and as often as not I’ll check my email when that little red circle appears over the icon. Hey, at least I turned off the sound notifications!

Then Mike offered a number of tools to help with this productivity: tasks managers like 30/30, email filters like AwayFind, forced discipline apps like Freedom (on the Mac).

But the kicker to me was when he said, “discipline is not enough. You need willpower.” Mike told the audience that he wears a Green Lantern ring when blogging as a physical focus. Green Lanterns, as everyone knows, are powered by will. And who is Green Lantern’s arch-nemesis, he asked? “Sinestro,” I replied from the front row. And what does Sinestro run on? “Fear,” I replied again, thus outing myself as a big nerd. Bottom line, then: fear impedes willpower.

And you know what? I totally get it. My take on the discipline vs. willpower dichotomy is that the former is going through the motions, tools and habits that you need to internalise until they’re second nature. Willpower, on the other hand, is the clarity of hearing that little voice pushing you to create and excel. Fears, doubts and insecurities definitely get in the way of hearing that voice.

(Incidentally, Mike and I chatted over lunch for a bit, and I learned about the Green Lantern animated series. I watched the entire first season the day after the conference, and I’m here to tell you it’s awesome. I didn’t think I’d be crazy about the CGI animation, but the technology’s come a long way, and the story, characters and action are all fantastic. Any series that stars Atrocitus, Mogo and Saint Walker is tops in my book.)

After lunch, Shane Birley‘s keynote The Evolution of the Blogger’s Voice took us on a whirlwind sci-fi trip through his blogging history. There was no real plot, just a collection of vignettes from 1998 to the present day: his time in Victoria, meeting Allyson, getting laid off from Cayenta, starting Left Right Minds, and the million other projects he’s currently got going.

Some of his posts (especially the early ones) were about looking for vindication, feeling grumpy, feeling tied down, and looking for his voice. And then his voice came, though sometimes it didn’t feel that way. The moral is: you already have a voice, you just have to find it. It may not be through plain text blogs. Try podcasts, vlogs? Keep digging, and you’ll find it.

And here’s what I’m taking from this talk. I’m not sure if this was really Shane’s point, but here goes, my interpretation:

The thing is, discipline will keep your world ordered, and willpower will keep you putting one foot in front of the other, but you need to see where you’re going, or at least hope that the tied-down-ness and the grumpiness will pass, and you will find your voice one day. All will be well.

My personal view is that Fear has many opposites, not just Willpower. Another is Hope. That’s in the comics too, by the way. Blue Lanterns (powered by hope) by themselves are apparently the weakest of the emotional spectrum (I guess reflecting the fact that hope alone is passive and kind of useless). But team them up with a Green Lantern and they boost each other’s power so as to be nigh-unstoppable. Hope and Willpower together are the greatest force in the universe.

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