The Year in Words
The new year is upon us! As I’ve lounged around the Christmas tree and drunk as much mulled wine as humanly possible (alas not that much because I am weak), I’ve been wondering if this was a good year for writing. What did I get done? Did things slip or was progress made? So I’m introducing a new tradition here: let’s look back at the last twelve months of writing and see if there’s any patterns or anything to watch out for in the future.
This should act as a jolt of encouragement to do better in the new year and help me figure out what good writing is; what I should push towards and what I ought to run away from. Let’s begin!
So, was last year good for writing?
Yes! Here’s the year by numbers: 90 notes, 1 essay, 34 newsletters, 12 newsletters for CSS-Tricks, and 2 posts for Sentry. That’s a lot of typing! I’m happy that I’ve been publishing a lot more on my blog too but what I’m most proud of is the experimentation in style, tone, and topic. Not everything worked—many pieces were very clunky—but I want to keep that momemtum going in 2023.
Can I keep up the pace of this short-term work alongside longer written pieces that may take months/years to complete? We’ll see, but that’s the big question for this year.
New Design, New Process
In June I introduced a lot of design changes: the wall of text on the homepage with links to each post is likely the most striking change, and I still think it’s neat!
It’s overwhelming and weird, as if the contents of my mind are spilling out onto the page. I’m also enjoying the big type changes I introduced around the same time, like on the /essays page where they’re taking up all the space in the world:
Look at that wobbly text! Yeah!
Welcome, New Readers!
The average number of monthly readers went from around ~9k to ~13k this year. I don’t trust these numbers too much since I only check analytics once every other month but I’ve noticed an uptick in folks returning to my site which is nice. I also don’t care too much if that readership expands a lot in the new year either but what I do care about is diversifying that group of folks; writing outside of web design/front-end circles might be the biggest/scariest goal for 2023.
Huh. It’s interesting that there were months where I barely wrote anything at all and it wasn’t really until June of this year that I started typing like hell. The new design was to thank for that but also a lot of technical changes to the way I publish things: making my website easier to deploy taught me that the fewer barriers you have between you and your blog, the better you’ll blog. Duh.
Anyway, let’s take a look at some of the highlights!
In January I wrote about clocks and my partner:
C is a great force, a little combustible engine of focus and care and love on the smallest of scales; she physically cannot sit still without fixing something nearby. And whilst a great wave of despair consumes me where I’m basically useless for days or weeks thereafter, C is always sat somewhere nearby, mending things.
Later that same month I was promoted to senior product designer and I felt real weird about it:
How the hell can I be a senior anything at this point in my life? If I was a chef in the restaurant of Jiro Dreams of Sushi then I would only now have progressed to the stage where I’m allowed to hold the eggs.
In mid March, Chris announced that Digital Ocean had acquired CSS-Tricks and it felt like a good time to hang up my front-end apron and say goodbye to my weekly routine of writing the CSS-Tricks newsletter:
How dare I get all sappy about saying goodbye to a newsletter. But this is the longest-running project of my career! Almost 300 weeks of drama! 300,000 words! That’s more than a Moby Dick of CSS rants! So although at the beginning I was somewhat terrified (how on earth are we going to keep writing about this, we’re going to run out of useful things to say, “agh”, etc.) I think that covering every bit of front-end drama has ultimately made me a better writer, a better designer, and a better lover (okay this was the last bad joke I will write here, I deserve this).
Back in April I wrote about a trip to the UK where I struggled meeting my family for the first time in almost three years:
A conversation with my family is like trying to gather shards of broken glass in your hands, and looking back on conversations with them I remember only fragments. Plus, talking about this stuff is depressing as all hell because you want to imagine your parents as being charming and dazzling, brilliant and funny. Everyone wants their parents to be heroic.
In June I published In Praise of Shadows, a review of the Fujifilm X100V:
To put it simply: this camera is in constant shhhh mode.
And through this constant shhhh-ing, it encourages you to perk up and look closely.
In August I started work on a book version of my newsletter, Adventures in Typography, and wrote about it for the first time:
Here’s the plan. Collect a bunch of short stories from this here newsletter, Adventures in Typography, edit them, cajole them, weld them together...
By September that small project then turned into a much bigger thing; a real physical book. In an effort to keep myself accountable, I started a pop-up(ish) newsletter called How Not to Make A Book:
Each week we’re gonna draw a very rough outline and then, with each new edition, we’ll zoom in and poke and prod these 19,748 words until there’s something dazzling by the end.
And I hope you stick around because this is going to be a lot of fun.
Later that month I wrote about how I don’t believe in sprints:
Sprints and backlogs and pointing tickets—the nigh-on universal method for making software today—is stupid. All this junk around the work makes software slower and more difficult to build. It’s form-filling monkey work and the only way we can improve the quality of software is to throw all those best practices away.
(Hot take alert!)
A week later I then wrote about taking care of your blog:
Blog your heart out! Blog about something you’ve learned, blog about something you’re interested in. Blog about cameras or HTML or that one browser bug you’ve noticed this morning or blog about the sky above you right this very second. How many clouds are up there?
In October I found myself flailing all about the place, struggling with working too hard and for too long:
I know the cure: work less! Take a break! Stop doing things and do even fewer things than you think you ought to! Take a week! Take two! Stop all forms of work, go exercise and write, go learn how to do something entirely else. But each time I forget my own advice until I’m at this point, where I am now: basically useless.
With those last few posts exploding in attention—much, much more than I’m familiar or comfortable with—I wrote about the right kind of attention:
106,820 people visited my website last week. Two posts had been upvoted to the top of the orange website and a hellish amount of attention was suddenly thrown my way.
A few days later I wrote about an old photograph in my parent’s kitchen:
Somewhere in this sea of mustaches is my great grandfather on my mom’s side, William French. He could be any one of these faces; there’s no blondish hair, big-ish noses, or any other genetic quirk of chance that’s familiar to me. All these men look the same, and I could be related to each and every one of them.
I learned an important lesson at the end of the year, about how design is politics:
Let me frame it like this instead: great design only ships when you care for the people you’re pitching it to. That’s politics. And that’s something worth repeating until it sticks.
Finally I wrote about the last walk with our dog:
The boy is now struggling to walk around the block so I rub my nose, wipe my eyes, and pick him up. He is a warm potato, soft and cozy with his wiry hair poking out of his little jacket. He is heavy and round too, but my favorite thing about him is how he smells. A dozen wet old men have dried themselves with the same dirty towel. That is what this boy smells like.
So what’s the goal for 2023?
- Finish the book
- Start a new essay
- Work with a new publication
- Connect with other writers
What I like about these goals is that they’re ambitious without a hint of desperation. There’s no “to the moon!” thinking here that would lead to stress or disappoinment. I’m not planning on becoming the next Shakespeare but I do plan on taking my work to the next step—whatever that might mean—and polish my writing slowly over long periods of time. Bigger pieces! Better stories! Weirder styles and tones and voices!
There’s so much potential for progress to be made. I can feel it.
To the new year!