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Important tools

One of the things I often think about advice is that it usually reflects the advice-giver’s needs rather than being some kind of universal law. “Don’t smack yourself in the face with a frying pan,” okay, sure, but once you leave that realm, you’ll run into “definitely write every day because you need the momentum” and “definitely don’t write every day because you need to take breaks,” and…those two things are advice designed for different people who have opposite problems. And the milder versions, “momentum is valuable” and “rest is valuable” are both true.

So I’ve been thinking about another pair of aphorisms in tension. And they are “it’s a poor crafter who blames their tools” and “get the right tool for the job.” I think this is a case where both are true and it’s a matter of finding the balance and figuring out where you are on the spectrum of “how true is this at the moment, how much does this apply to me right now.”

Example: for Christmas in 2018 I got a traveler’s notebook. And that has been astonishingly helpful for my productivity. I was productive before, no one who lives outside my skull could deny it. And yet this: this is staggeringly useful. This is a thing that helps me be both more productive and more relaxed about it. What is this magic. It is an amazing tool for me. It is objectively much, much better than its absence. Was it worth spending the money? Oh God yes. (It was not my money, it was a gift. But if it had been? STILL YES.

Now: if my productivity device had been an extremely fancy laptop instead of a traveler’s notebook, this math would be somewhat different. Or if I was finding productivity leaps from a different system every month. Because then you start asking: are these genuine productivity leaps? But I think we’re culturally skewed toward Puritanism in some ways. We’re skewed toward sit down, shut up, you can’t possibly benefit from the thing, do not ask for anything.

Except…hammering with a hammer is better and more efficient and safer than hammering with the handle of a screwdriver. You can hurt yourself doing that. There’s a reason professionals use a hammer. No one is going to hurt themselves trying to write in a spiral notebook from Walgreen’s instead of a nice traveler’s notebook, but it’s entirely 100% possible that they might not get as much written. I myself have written on basically anything, computer, paper, whatever. The back of junk mail. Just to prove to myself that I can, that I don’t need a special system, that if I’m in a random location with scrap paper I can still write. I still do that now, so that I don’t get too precious about having to have things exactly right. Buuuut having things that I like is actually great and it is totally okay if you want things that you like too.

And the difference between, for example, really good artist-grade colored pencils and the bottom of the barrel cheapest colored pencils is staggering. You literally can make immensely better art with the good pencils. That’s not being “precious,” that’s not being spoiled or demanding or a snob, that’s…there is a difference in the quality of what comes out.

I suspect that nobody reading this has infinite choice. I suspect that I have not attracted any billionaires to be regular blog readers. (If so, hi! I have a whole list of artists you could patronize, billionaire reader!) So it’s a matter of balance, balance, balance, as in so many things. I just…feel like there’s a certain amount of cultural default that if you purchase organizational tools to make things easier, you’re being self-indulgent and you don’t really need them, and I want to push back on that. Sometimes the right tool that fits your hand is amazing, and you can do better work with it. Hurray for finding those moments. Let’s celebrate them when we can. Even when they seem random and weird from the outside.

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