2012

End of year review

I love the week between Christmas and New Year: it's a great time to get loads of work done. Sounds perverse, but no-one thinks you're working, there are no distractions (say what you like, but the TV's shit) and it's generally quieter.

That makes it a great time to take stock and plans some big goals for the year ahead.

Some of my favourite people online do this every year, including Chris Guillebeau and Mars Dorian so here's my own addition. It starts, by looking back.

What I did well in 2012

The theme for my year had two parts: create and learn.

At the start of the year I realised I was still giving too much time to quick-hit things like blogging (quick to write, quick to read), tweeting and Facebook. I was doing too much talking about being a creative entrepreneur - but not much doing.

So I decided to change. I cut my blogging back to a weekly post, culled a huge number of people I follow on Twitter and stopped using Facebook altogether. I pledged to start making things, shipping fast and shipping early. To some extent, it worked: looking back over my year, I shipped 22 things (roughly something new every two weeks or so) including a book (which raised $4000 for charity), a big research paper, a short film and nearly ten websites, which I designed and built myself.

Which brings me to the learning bit: I promised to teach myself three things in 2012: web design, piano and French. The web design has been the real pleasure and as I say I've produced more than half a dozen sites, including no fewer than three versions of my portfolio site. I've slowly learned to build more ambitious designs, and eventually build my own Wordpress themes. Across the year I can see a huge improvement in skill and although I'm no professional I have come a long way.

And what else? I've seen dozens and dozens of films I'd never seen before, started swimming again, and got to visit some great places (Italy, Amsterdam, and New Orleans to name a few) some for the first time.

I start 2013 by moving to Paris, so hopefully there'll be more of the same!

What I failed at in 2012

Create and Learn is a process that has worked, although I am still not making enough of things I want to make. I have made lots of websites because to some extent, web design not as energy as intensive as, say, directing a film. I can do it late at night or even lying in bed, and it just requires a simple idea. Outside of client work, I only produced one film in 2012, and even that was actually shot in 2011. I've struggled with creative block a lot of the year; brute force is the likely solution in 2013.

Collaboration is still a problem for me. I naturally migrate towards projects I can do on my own (books, magazines, blogs) but it limits the scale and reach of my work. Like 2011, it's not through lack of trying, but collaborations are difficult things to make stick. Generally I self-limit the ambition of my work, and in 2013 I want to be braver in what I do.

Things I realised in 2012

The wrong path

Journalism - or at least news reporting - was a path I chose for the wrong reasons. Back when I was 18 and looking to my future, I knew I loved TV, film and storytelling but I convinced myself it was too difficult to get into those worlds. Journalism was the obvious compromise: a way in which I could be a filmmaker but with a laid-out career path.

I should have followed my heart from the beginning...but that said, I don't regret past choices. Without my career in news I wouldn't have become a digital publisher, and I know explaining complex issues and ideas is something I am passionate about and good at.

News is a commodity now

I think it was Tom Standage at the Economist who made this point some time this year, and it's true: news and facts are a commodity, they're like rice and oil, which means people don't care where it comes from as long as it's cheap (read: free).

I wouldn't start a news site, or a hyperlocal blog or anything like that now. Let other people cover the news. The value is in creating in-depth, insightful and immersive experiences. This is really hard, and requires lots of practice, which means it's there for the taking for anyone who is ready for the slog.

Going native

I am relatively late in being able to articulate this idea, but I realised this year that if we are going to succeed in publishing online we have to think differently about what we do. By this I mean we have to shed our preconceptions about what a book, or a magazine, or a video looks like, and redesign it from the ground up.

Craig Mod explained it best with his article on SubCompact publishing: magazine publishers online are making their digital products look just like the print equivalents. This is madness. We are using the internet as a place to 'dump' our content, when we should be using it to enhance our stories.

Slowly, more producers are starting to understand and embrace this idea, but the more experience you have in publishing, television, film, newspapers or radio, the harder this is for you. It seems the only people with an advantage right now are web-developers (with an understanding of the net, but no publishing experience) and children. Both groups seem to be running away with it.

This idea will be the focus of a lot of my thinking in 2013. I have already started experimenting with the idea, producing this short story, and in January I'm publishing a web-native magazine.

Do one thing and do it well

I was already a convert to simplicity and minimalism at the start of the year, but the idea of doing less, better has now hit home. From Matter Magazine, to Hiut Denim, businesses that focus on one thing stand out.

In London, a pop-up bar called the Taproom opened for 21 days recently. It served only ales, and only ten or so different kinds. Each comes in a handle jug and each costs the same. Winner.

Play the long game

The professional doesn't care about bad days and setbacks, because they're focused on the long play: they can see five, ten even twenty years ahead and are content as long as they're steadily moving towards it.

The pro refuses to get hooked on daily results.

I now know my long play: to work towards mastery in what I do. That doesn't mean I harbour aspirations of some day being called a master - I may never actually achieve it - but I do want to wake up every day and spend at least a couple of hours working towards it: diligently and with humility.

I'm still working on my specific goals for 2013. If I get time, I'll post them here.