I Applaud You – No Apology Necessary

From time to time I see posts written which outline how the author is taking a break, reducing the frequency of posts, or something similar.

The reason cited most often is a lack of time due to other commitments (be they other projects — yay; or the day job — boo). It could be just a general reordering of priorities, blog direction or topics, or simply new ideas. At times a significant life event might be just around the corner.

Sometimes there is an accompanying suggestion of a drop off in post quality — always by the author mind you — us readers are generally enjoying them as much as we ever have. Perhaps the notion of guilt is expressed because a regular posting schedule has been missed, or even a feeling of dread because self-imposed deadlines are looming.

That is no fun.

The very essence of a personal blog, whether named as such like this one, or named in connection with its primary topic such as those linked to below — is just that — its personal. That is, your personal “thing”. Your project, or hobby, or endeavour. Whatever you choose to call it, or how you approach it — yours it is, and yours to do with as you please.

I have read three such posts from sites I follow (and very much enjoy) in fairly quick succession on this general topic. There have been many others, and I link to these merely because they have been posted in the past couple of weeks:

Making Time For Fiction – Write Analog
Stay Tuned… – Johnny Anypen
On taking a step back… – All Things Stationery

This post is not so much about those above, more so my thoughts on what I, as a reader, am owed in terms of an explanation from the author of any site I chose to read.

I am very happy to read about upcoming plans, changes or new projects from those I enjoy reading, and found myself saying: “good for you” when reading each of the posts above. I say the same when reading posts describing how things are a little busy, or difficult, and the author is taking a break. I equally applaud and enjoy reading about the “why” of both.

Just one thing though — there is no way you ever need to apologise to me for making changes to your blog. The particular posts above have not done this, yet there are others that have.

Your blog is almost certainly a hobby. The thing that either excites you or helps you wind down (likely both). Something to take your mind off your day job. Perhaps it’s a portal to another world — one which you also frequent on Twitter, Instagram, Slack or any other means of interaction with the community of your fellow bloggers.

Of course my frame of reference here is the pen community, however I am sure the same applies to many others.

You’ll notice I’ve referred to hobbies, winding down, taking your mind off your day job. All positive. Things which bring us joy. Perhaps a sense of satisfaction or accomplishment (maybe a little fear) every time we hit publish. Contributing, sharing — caring even — about the community and what we may bring to it.

When the “positive” changes, or is harder to see or feel, you have every right to — and should — make changes. Set goals and plans, but feel free to change them. Suit yourself, not a “recommended” posting frequency, topic and length — prescribed for “maximum page views” (unless you want to of course).

If the frequency drops? Myself and other readers who enjoy your posts will still be here. When the next one hits our RSS or Twitter feed, inbox or web browser, our smile will be broader than ever. Because you’re still writing and we know writing brings you joy — perhaps as much as reading your words brings us. Personally, I’d rather read six posts a year than none at all, and I’m sure there are many readers who feel the same.

Who knows, perhaps after that break, the post you return with might be a cracker.

So, if you deem changes are preferable, or even necessary on your blog? Please make them, and by all means you may profusely apologise if you want to — it is just that in my humble opinion as a reader, I don’t believe you need to.


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Generosity

Time, money, objects, advice — to name but a few. Generosity can be demonstrated in many forms.

You might usually find greater expression of it amongst friends and family. Between complete strangers? Perhaps less often, yet a little more likely where there are common interests.

What follows below continues to amaze me as I write and read through it, yet also reinforces to me there are some wonderful people out there, and I have been indeed lucky enough to recently become acquainted with one.

Initial contact

Readership of this blog has built slowly and steadily over the two years I’ve been writing here. I do receive feedback occasionally on what I write — not a lot — but enough. Some offer encouragement, others push me to think a little differently about what I have written, though it is always well-intentioned and respectful. I consider myself very lucky in this regard.

Earlier this year I received some kind words from a reader on a couple of my pen related posts. I of course responded with thanks as is usually the case. Thankfully, he also reached out via email, through the contact page of this blog.

What the email contained is something I’ll never forget.

A most generous offer

Earlier in the year I had concluded I would be satisfied with my current pen collection in the short-term — and convinced myself I wouldn’t be making any significant purchases (perhaps only a bottle of ink here or there) until the second half of the year.

Not long after, I received the email which contained an offer I must admit left me somewhat stunned upon my initial reading.

I know what you are thinking — the email contained an unbeatable deal and I broke my current and future planned budget restrictions all at once.

No. It was much more than that. Way more.

The writer of the email mentioned owning a number of pens, and considering himself a user rather than a collector — was looking to pass on some of the pens he no longer regularly used to someone who might use and appreciate them.

Somewhat more significantly for myself, he went on to say he enjoyed reading this blog and would like to do something to support that. Very kind words and encouragement which in themselves already more than made my day. Being offered these pens was… well — you can imagine how that felt.

I continued reading.

The list of pens here was nothing short of amazing — particularly to someone like myself looking to expand a fairly limited collection. An endeavour that was to date progressing — though fairly slowly. Remember we are talking about doubling my fountain pen collection overnight — with each of these pens worth more than any (bar one) I already owned.

Needless to say I was somewhat flabbergasted.

A few emails back and forth later — and I had provided an address for the pens to be sent.

Arrival

A little excited at this point.
A little excited at this point.

Needless to say, an exciting few days wait ensued before an express post package arrived at my desk in the office. Being the somewhat private person I am, waiting until people were off in meetings and such for a quiet time to open it was one of the hardest things I have done in recent times.

Again. Totally amazed.

Although through the previous email exchanges I had known what was coming — actually having them in my hand was unbelievable.

At no cost to me, I had just received: a Pelikan M400 (green; EF nib); Pelikan M215 (black and rhodium; M nib); Pelikan M205 (red; F nib); Lamy 2000 (F nib); Tombow Object (red; F nib); Platinum Multi-pen; and a selection of ink cartridges.

IMG_3170
In all their glory.

 

I think anyone familiar with pens will see the value in those above, and anyone who isn’t — well let us just say we are looking at a significant amount of money if I were to buy them.

What can I say?

Having received the pens in the middle of March, I have only now been able to sit and write some thoughts on this act of kindness, with the extent of my good fortune having finally sunk in.

To me, it goes way beyond the monetary value which can be calculated from the list above. The kind gentleman who made contact can certainly be assured the pens have been warmly welcomed into my collection, and no amount of thanks could ever be sufficient, though I will indeed give it my best shot.

He has made no money, has no blog, Twitter or Instagram account to link back to — and even if there were – I get the impression a link would be politely declined. Also, my query as to whether he wished to be mentioned by name, and to read this post before it went up — politely declined. To me, it is a very real reminder of the kind and generous people in the world (and within the pen community) that we may never see nor hear from. Or at least if we do, not often.

These are the people I write for.

As this piece of writing nears conclusion, something else has struck me you know. I mentioned time and advice in opening of this post. Two very valuable things I have also received far more of from this kind gentlemen than I’d ever hope to receive, and to that end, I look forward to each and every email.

As far as this generous gift I have received?

I can only hope that someday — if I am in a similar position – I would do the same, but it mightn’t be with any of these particular pens. No, these I’ll likely be keeping as reminder of the immeasurable kindness and generosity that still exists in the world.


No Need to Ask – I’ll Tell You

As so often happens, the internet tends to feed you a lot of what you do not necessarily need at the time (that’s what your favourite read-it-later or bookmarking/archiving service is for). Then, some days it slaps you in the face with those “you’ve got to be kidding me — that’s what I was just thinking” moments.

This post has been written after the latter occurred last week. Two posts — each written with a different focus — yet I believe, concepts which are inextricably linked. Introversion, and that old chestnut — the corporate “brainstorming session” — yes, you may shudder at the thought. I know I do.

The writing in question:

Introvert by Iain Simpson on his personal site (shared on Twitter by Matt Gemmell)

Isaac Asimov’s Advice for Being Creative (Hint: Don’t Brainstorm) by Cal Newport, on his Study Hacks site.

Some background

I work in a corporate office. There is brainstorming. Thankfully not often, with my role as a manager providing at least some authority to dictate the frequency of such sessions.

Occasionally this is not the case, and the result would be familiar to many of you. The “brainstorming day” which is beyond my authority to avoid. The large room of 20-30 people; the introduction of why we are here and how it will work; the groupings; the breakout sessions; the ideas we will generate which will create immediate solutions to problems years in the making; the solutions no-one has thought of in the past five years. Yet we will come up with them on this very day — oh yes we will.

I think you get the picture.

As far as introversion is concerned, I would certainly say I fall somewhere towards that end of the spectrum. Iain Simpson’s opening paragraph:

I hate attention. I can’t think of anything worse than being the centre of focus in a room. Everyone looking at you, thinking about you, listening to what you say. I feel unwell just thinking about it.

I describe myself as a very private person1, so in one sense I can relate to the above — yet mainly the first three words. I am the first to admit I am not great at small talk or self promotion, and am often fairly intolerant of the office loud talker — though here I am talking on the inside — as of course, I understand we are all different.

As my working life progresses, I have become more adept at leading my team and conducting group training sessions and seminars both in-house and across the industry in which I work. I would not therefore, say I have any great problems with everyone looking at me and listening to me, and certainly don’t feel unwell thinking about it.

Would I choose a career solely as a presenter and group trainer? Absolutely not, however my role dictates that I have important, relevant and valid things to say, and I am happy to share them to a group.

If I am guilty of anything in relation to these presentations it is over-preparing, however my experience indicates I have very different views on what constitutes “over preparation” to those around me.

The eye of the storm

So, away we go. Into the room, butcher’s paper strategically placed in every corner, ready for those ideas to be scribbled illegibly for all to see (and vainly attempt to read); spoken aloud by the group representative standing in front of the easel — back half turned to their audience — often articulating their idea with:

.. err.. I’m not sure why we wrote that. That was Jim’s idea.. uh.. umm.. ah.. Jim? Do you remember what we meant by that? Actually I can’t even read the rest um.. so uh.. I’ll just keep going..

Ground. Breaking. Idea. Lost.

Of course it wasn’t — and you know how these sessions go. You hear from the same people you always hear from — repeatedly. Good for them, I have no problem with that, otherwise there would be silence and all we would see on those easels would be large blank sheets of white paper. In fact I applaud these people for continually showing up and shouting out.

My main issue lies with the fact you don’t hear from the same people you always don’t hear from. Some are disinterested perhaps, however many simply are not suited to be thrust into the limelight at a moments notice, expected to give their thoughts — on what is often a complex and broad problem — to a larger group who wait expectantly in deafening silence for a response.

What comes with the “we’re having a brainstorming session today” is of course the “I expect everyone to contribute”. Because supposedly, in that deafening moment of silence I referred to above, the past six years of a person’s employment — grinding and grafting away day in and day out, making small suggestions quietly to their manager about how things perhaps could be done a little better is not — at that moment — a contribution. Well, today it’s not my friend, unless we hear something right here, right now.

Somehow the suggestion that these ideas are not real, meaningful, or actionable unless the form part of the “Action Plan” emanating from today’s “session” is laughable, and shame on you manager if you do not at least acknowledge and listen to these “grafters” from time to time in your day-to-day operations.

Why on earth we expect the best ideas to come out of a brainstorming meeting between 3:00 and 4:00pm on Tuesday when it is scheduled — wait..what? Oh, its been rescheduled — so the best ideas to complex long-term problems will now be generated between 9:00 and 10:00am on Thursday. Of course. If you must strike gold with a great idea on Tuesday – please hold until Thursday – but as God is your witness you certainly better have one when standing at that butcher’s paper come Thursday.

This is where I like the explanation from Asimov as outlined in Newport’s article:

The goal for creative meetings is not to come up with new ideas, he argues, but instead to transfer the raw material for these ideas between participants. As Asimov explains: “No two people exactly duplicate each others’ mental stores of items.”

Once done — we just need to get back to work (Newport again):

The goal of collaboration, in other words, is to quickly increase the store of material that the creative can then work with once returned to his or her isolated cogitation.

Further, as Newport opines, chatting around tables with butchers paper or in open plan offices is not likely to generate “deep insight”.

Don’t even get me started on open plan offices.

The intersection

If you are still with me at this point, then an explanation of where these two aspects of introversion and office practices intersect is probably unnecessary. That said, a couple of things bear highlighting.

Remember, deep thinkers are not by default slow thinkers — they simply consider things in more depth; require more information to formulate an opinion; and do not necessarily like to express it prematurely. Deep thinkers who may also be introverts to varying degrees by nature — do their best work alone, quietly, and without undue attention or fuss.

As Iain Simpson puts it:

If I haven’t told you how I feel about something, it’s probably because I haven’t decided how I feel about it. I can’t make decisions without all the information, and I don’t offer solutions without understanding the problem.

When they have something meaningful to say, they will say it, and expect you to listen. Conversely – at the very least — respect their silence. They are not disinterested, but are most likely thinking.

And when they’re done thinking and have a well formulated, meaningful answer?

No need to ask. I’ll tell you.


 

  1. Yet I write here, for the world to see – touché reader. Small fish – very big pond.

 

A reviewer — or not?

I have posed the title of this post purely with reference to my own writing about pens — a genuine question as to whether I should be considered a “reviewer”. My immediate answer is no, however I realise that is perhaps incorrect.

The Oxford Dictionary definition (insert “pens” if you will):

a person who writes critical appraisals of books, plays, films, etc. for publication

For publication – I guess writing on a blog satisfies that. Where I originally thought I differed slightly is that I do not set out to “critically appraise” pens — rather, I write about the pens I own and what I like or perhaps dislike about them. The reality is though, that is probably a reasonable definition of what it is to “critically appraise”.

First though — a little background. The stimulus for posing this question (mainly to myself — albeit now aloud through this site), was a post on Fountain Pen Economics (FPE) calling on reviewers to review bad pens. Although I have had some thoughts on this numerous times before — mainly when deciding how I want to write or what my “style” should be when writing about pens — now seems a good time to put them down.

A couple of prominent pen bloggers or reviewers were mentioned in the FPE post, which coincidentally came at a time when there has been a little — shall we say — “unrest” in the pen community regarding negative YouTube/blog commenting or online “trolling” – which is absolutely appalling and should be (and thankfully often is) widely condemned.

That said, I wonder if there is ever really a time where behaviour of such a nature is not occurring to some degree. I do applaud those who push on in the face of it, and add my encouragement for them to continue doing so.

Objectively based opinion and discussion — even of the “robust” variety — I believe, is valuable for the growth and maturity of any industry, community or even small working team. Of course not everyone has to agree, but if we are all working from roughly the same set of rules and respect each other, then theoretically there will be no problems — right. Right?

I simply want to say here that I do not think there is anyone in the pen community who would disagree with the sentiment that reviewers should be honest and transparent, and as a whole, I am comfortable with the current landscape relating to this. To be fair in relation to the FPE post, it is also made clear the author believes this to be the case. Speaking in broad terms, regarding the possibility of false positive reviews for “product”, FPE notes:

Now, I’m not saying that any reviewer in the community does this at the moment, simply that the potential exists.

A reviewer?

Here is where I believe things are a little less clear. Not simply in reviewers neutrality, but in what constitutes a “reviewer” in the first place. Back to what I mentioned above — all working from the same set of rules.

Here I am very much referring to myself, however perhaps there are others who see themselves in the same light. The very site you are reading was not set up to “review” pens — nor anything else for that matter. My About page indicates I started this blog for two reasons:

to share some experiences and ideas, and to continue further down the road of personal development and knowledge acquisition

Although the page probably requires some updating, I believe the above remains accurate today. I must admit though, at times I still don’t know exactly what this blog is for to be honest, but I do enjoy writing here. Therein lies the point. I enjoy writing here, and I enjoy the things I write about — one of which is the subject of pens.

So in relation to pens, does that make me a reviewer?

I say no — but is that simply because I say I’m not? Conversely, what if I do describe myself as a pen reviewer? Back to the Oxford Definition above — do I not critically appraise my own pens in some way?

Further, is there really any meaningful distinction?

To officially be classed as a reviewer, would I need to receive products for free — specifically for the purposes of a review. Would I get to keep them, return them, hold giveaways or on-sell them? Must they be from a manufacturer or a retailer — does it matter? Is my site reliant on page views and ads, and/or affiliate links or sponsors to generate some form of income? Do these relate to the suppliers or products I am also reviewing?

If it is reliant on one or all of these factors, when do I become a fully accredited reviewer — when my monetary return from the blog reaches a certain level? If so, what is that level?

Further, at what point do I then seek out pens to review which I know I am not likely to enjoy writing with, to ensure a balance of good and bad pen reviews appear on my site? That is, at what point do my responsibilities to readers outweigh the responsibility to myself to buy the things I enjoy — and perhaps write about them along the way. Do I have an obligation to review every pen I buy?

Or – more simply, as is often the case — am I one of the large number of people on the internet who buy pens with money from their own pocket, and write about their experiences, joys and excitement associated with their hobby? Simply someone who bought their first fountain pen 18 years ago — then not another for 15 years — only to again become hooked in the past three? Who, due to this renewed interest, stumbled onto a massive online community who write and share information about these things, and felt the urge to do the same.

I’d say this is exactly what I am — however does it really stop there?

What are my responsibilities?

Do I even have a responsibility that is defined by a certain set of parameters when I write about pens? I believe I probably do.

What exactly are those responsibilities?
I probably need to understand that anyone reading what I write might be influenced in some way by my opinion. In re-reading that statement it is hard not to laugh — from the point of view of: who do I think I am that my opinion counts enough to sway someone’s purchasing choices. Therein lies the very point doesn’t it. How is any first time reader of this site to know if I have absolutely any idea what I am talking about?1 Even if I do, how are they to know whether I know enough to warrant them taking heed of any of it.

Should my about page have a pen bio:

  • Year of first fountain pen;
  • Number of pens owned;
  • Number of forums active in;
  • Pen blogs regularly read;
  • Syringe experience;
  • Nib preference;
  • Number of custom nib grinds;
  • Pen shows attended etc

Of course not (well — at least I don’t think so), but you get what I mean. So, at first glance, or perhaps coming in at a random post on my site, none of the above will necessarily be obvious to a first time reader. Nor will it — in actual fact — to long time readers necessarily.

Therefore, I need to make sure each post or opinion is well written enough (hopefully) to get my point across clearly and concisely, with good, objective reasoning — again a difficult proposition in what I find to be such a subjective topic area2. I’m a firm believer in the theory that if you give someone enough information, they can at least make their own mind up from what you have provided.

Facts and opinion — with one the basis for the other, regardless of the pen or where it came from. Beholden to no-one other than myself to write honestly about what sits in front of me.

So what on earth am I trying to say here?

When I sat down to write this post I had several key points in my mind that have somehow blurred, bleeding out like De Atramentis Permanent Blue on the cheapest recycled office notepad.

A few things to finish if I might ask for a fraction more of your time.

I wholeheartedly agree that transparency and honest reviews are a vital part of the pen community. Where I find things a little more difficult, is in suggesting fellow bloggers (particularly those who buy the products they write about) get their hands on some bad pens to review. I say this, mainly because with so many items on my wish list, I’m not about to waste a cent on something I am probably going to dislike. Again, in fairness the FPE post, I think the perspective there was perhaps related more so (I think) to items specifically received “to review” from sellers.

After all, in doing so, I would then be left with something I rated poorly, didn’t like, and would either have to accept the monetary loss or try to sell it. But to whom? “Here, this is a really bad pen — please buy it from me, and then when you hate it — see if you can then flog it to someone else”.

Let’s not even start on how you might review a pen you may not like that was given by a family member as a gift for example. To avoid offending the giver, there is every likelihood the review would either overlook some of the negatives, or perhaps not be done at all. In this particular case we are back where we started aren’t we.

In conclusion

That’s it – I’m done.

I fear that in highlighting some of the difficulties in actually coming to a definitive conclusion about all of this, I may have simply come across as being argumentative or a bit of a contrarian. This is not my intention.

To those who love writing about their pens — be they bloggers or reviewers or both — please continue. We love reading about this great hobby of ours. While you’re at it, make sure you remain transparent and objective — but you already do that, so here I’d also simply say — please continue.

 

  1. Of course there are the usual criteria of blog longevity, update frequency, number of ads and overall style to go by – but again – how does that make me any more knowledgable about pens?
  2. I highlight the subjectivity of pens thinking of one of my favourites, which I never would have bought if I had read a couple of reviews prior to clicking “checkout”.

 

Memberships: money in – value out?

Last week I signed up as a paying member to a site I regularly read.

Startling news? Hardly. It is simply something I have not done before, and all in all, the decision to do so was not as straightforward as I’d imagined.

In the end, I’m very pleased I signed up, and will now receive the member’s only newsletter (amongst other things) from Matt Gemmell, my favourite online writer/author going around.

In the context of what this post is about, the actual site in question is not important, however credit where credit is due – if you have not read any of Matt’s work, I suggest you do so, as there is wealth of frequently updated, quality content at the link above.

The following are simply my thoughts on membership in general and a few other things that were a consideration along the way.

You can read Matt’s introduction to his particular membership here.

The Cost

My online purchases, whether memberships, eBay, backing Kickstarter, or buying coffee or pens, all come from the same bucket – our household income. Irrespective of whether money is put aside for such indulgences, it is still money that could be put to very good use elsewhere.

At first glance, a membership such as this seems a fairly insignificant monthly cost (as my Tweet below demonstrates), and certainly a competitive one as far as other memberships I’ve seen. However it is a cost nonetheless – and a recurring one at that.

Oh very clever Peter!
Oh very clever Peter!

A couple of points here. Living in Australia, or wherever currency exchange is involved, the actual purchase price is never the actual purchase price. For example, standard membership is $US4.00. The cost at checkout to me was $AU5.32. Not a deal breaker, however one consideration1, and again, a factor in all site memberships – not solely the one in question.

Clearly not relevant on this particular occasion, however shipping costs are a significant consideration in just about every other purchase I make online. Shipping costs at times can be a little unkind, however I am not about to shout too loudly, for after all, there are UK customs charges, and from what I hear are the embodiment of the devil incarnate.

With Kickstarter in particular, I have backed more than one project just under the first reward tier to provide my support for what I consider are worthy projects. This of course means I miss out on the actual product, however also avoid the postage – which sometimes adds almost 50% to the total cost.

Please note that none of the above is written in the context or tone of poor me – every purchase, which I’m sure is also the case with you – involves decisions. Some of these decisions simply relate to logistical factors, some of which I have described here.

The benefit

The clincher really isn’t it.

How do we determine what value we receive from laying down our hard-earned cash? I’d say this determination is relatively easy when considering a physical product which arrives on your doorstep.

Perhaps not so easy when considering “content” we consume on a daily basis – much of which is on the internet for free. Although I doubt it, perhaps there is free content out there I could access, similar in quality and topic to what I have just signed up for.

Even if that were true, I would say it is entirely missing the point.

In part, I have signed up for high quality, member’s only content through a regular newsletter.

I’d also like to think I’ve signed up and although not necessarily paid for, at least acknowledged, the high quality content I have already read – and which is freely available – on Matt’s site.

Finally, and probably most importantly, I have signed up on a promise. As a show of faith in what is to come. As a way to express (over and above any links, mentions or the like – which from myself are such a small, small drop in a very big ocean) the sentiment: “I love what you do, I believe you are great at it, keep doing it, and I’m looking forward to more”.

On balance, after reading the first newsletter and accessing the additional content which came with it – I’d say the real winner in all of this is definitely yours truly. I get to feel part of something, yet do none of the hard work. I see another side of quality workmanship, and at the same time, see a little more than what everyone else does.

But most importantly, I have more access to many things I am confident will assist my own writing to improve, and what price would I really place on that.

To finish

In summary, paid membership is of course so much more than: “What will I get for my few bucks”. To be honest, there are so many more thoughts I could throw in here, however I did not set out to write a 900 word post on why I subscribed to a particular site, and I think this is probably enough. In any event, not all would be relevant to your particular case.

Suffice to say, if you do find something which aligns with your interests, has proven longevity and quality2, paid membership is something well worth considering – provided of course it fits your particular criteria for committing your dollars.

I hope my contribution – which I feel very satisfied in making – goes a small way in assisting a great writer produce more great writing, though of course that will occur anyway.

So in that case, I’m happy to contribute to the next bottle of The Balvenie DoubleWood.

Cheers Matt – and thanks in advance.

 

  1. In fairness to Matt, there are options above and the below the standard $4.00 membership – down to as low as $1.00. I considered a $3.00 option, bringing my $AU price to $3.99. Somehow it just didn’t feel right – so the standard $4.00 / $5.32 it was.
  2. Again imposing my own standards here. I have been reading Matt’s work for a couple of years now, however I believe he is up to 12 continuous years updating his blog!