Super secret literary society!

(It’s so secret that you didn’t even realize you were a part of it, huh? Other secret societies can only wish they were as secret as mine.)

I’m writing to you from a tiny coffee shop, click-clacking away at this essay about photography. Last night I moved all of my notes out of Keynote and into Figma because 1. my enthusiasm had stalled and 2. I hoped that just pushing things around would encourage me to delete a lot of junk or fill in the gaps that have been sitting around since February.

And it worked!

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Okay, that doesn’t look like anything. Let me explain.

After an hour of messing around in Figma this morning, hopelessly clicking and typing and designing, the whole thing just snapped together with a literary, website-building thud. My thinking went like this: I want to write about photography and this one specific camera but I’m not a good photographer. So, sharing a mostly eh picture from a great camera is unlikely to explain why I love it and what this thing means to me. So, so! What if I could suggest that I took a good picture...without actually taking one at all?

Also, I was thinking about comic books this morning and how there’s tons of stuff going on in a panel—explosions, jumping, fighting—but often the only meaningful thing that’s really happening on the page is in the little white text box. The explosions and the punching is usually the background stuff.

And! I was also thinking about belly bands—or obi. They’re paper jackets that stretch across the cover of a book and I’ve always loved them because you can make a beautifully illustrated cover and put all the marketing junk on this little paper strip and bin it afterwards.

So with these three ideas bouncing around my noggin—hiding my photos, comic books, and belly bands— this is what I quickly sketched out in Figma:

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Um, okay, so why am I excited then?

I know this is just a big white box sitting on top of an image but I really like this! Sure, it’s nothing revolutionary, but it solves the problem well (or will do, once it’s all finished). I need to hint at the photographs, but not really show them. And I want to zoom in on a subject to set the right tone for whatever it is that I’m saying in each frame, but, I don’t want to point at the photograph that is likely 90% thumb.

Side note: the neat thing about Figma is that it has an iOS app and when ya pair that with prototype mode you can make little websites really, really quickly to test ideas out. So although this is just a bunch of images with some text on here, I can click my way through it on my phone and the pacing feels good and dare I say great. It’s somewhat similar to Instagram Stories, which reminds me: I will always think that Stories is the best and most underused storytelling format of our time and nothing anyone can say will convince me otherwise. These designs for my essay—and maybe all essays from here on out—will be/are heavily inspired by that feature.

But this is fun! Again, just a white box on a photograph but it feels like the right direction. Definitely not finished in any way, but most certainly a literary, website-building thud if I’ve ever heard one. It’s a beginning, a direction, a way out of my writing malaise. It’s the first clue to a mystery I have to solve.

So right now if I zoom out in Figma once again, this is what I’ve got today:

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See those dotted lines and how the frames are a bit disjointed? That’s because I need to jump from one section to another but I don’t know how just yet. I need to flesh things out, do more research, take more pictures, tidy up the design. I need to make sure each of the images are optimized and cropped properly and I ought to play with dozens of combinations for each frame to try and make it funny or a bit more creative than "white box on photograph."

But that’s fine! Having lots of work to do is a good sign that there’s something there there.

It’s interesting though because a lot of really exciting publishing things to me are extremely, stupidly simple. Lots of folks make all these bananas animations or these really complex books, they build web applications with all this JavaScript and what not but each time I sit down and feel like I’m onto something writing-wise or website-wise or typography-wise it’s because I’ve made something so obviously dumb that it feels like it’s been done a million times before. I want this thing to feel like it couldn’t have been made any other way. I want it to be impossible to turn this thing into a book or a Kindle thing or literally anything that isn’t a website on a tiny screen.

Anyway, I’m going to keep experimenting with these designs because this project went from ugh to suddenly exciting in the flash of an eye and I want to hold onto that feeling for as long as possible.