Help me resist a $60 webinar that is aimed directly at my craving heart.
December 7, 2021 12:43 PM   Subscribe

Noted sufferer of ADHD Steven B. Johnson has been regailing me for years with tips about integrating technology with the writing process, often using different applications to create semantic connections between his notes. Now he has a $60 webinar that I desperately want to purchase but can't afford and that won't help at all. Please talk me down.

I live for this stuff, the promise of technology and new workflows to erase my writer's block and increase my productivity and creativity, even though rationally, org mode and a half dozen other writing app/technology schemes have not magically turned me into a consistent and productive writer. Because he is the embodiment of evil, SBJ has created a web seminar that promises to share the newest, coolest technologies and workflows that he has acquired in the last decade since his book on creativity came out. His pitch, which I won't link to, is cunning and perfect. I can' t begin to express how badly I want to drop $60 on this, all the while knowing it won't make a difference. Please talk me down from the ledge, and if you feel like it, share your your cool new writing technology hacks, methods, or whatever, even though they won't help. Methadone, as it were. Thank you.
I apologize for the triviality of this request.
posted by craniac to Writing & Language (20 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Well... there are lots of podcasts, YouTube vids, and blog posts out there that cover the same tools. If I had to guess, based on the semantic connections thing, there's some flavor of the Zettlekasten method in there. Maybe also Roam Research/obsidian, given their status as the new hotness right now. If all you want is writing workflows, there are so many free walkthroughs for these sorts of things.

But. If what you really want is to hear Steven B. Johnson's methods, is $60 worth that information (or the enjoyment you'd receive from it)? Put differently, are you actually looking for the information or are you actually just in it for entertainment value?
posted by bluloo at 1:16 PM on December 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

I get it, when one of these finds just the right angles it can feel like a promise that this is the One that will Change Everything. But, as you note, this isn't your first tech/productivity scheme, and I'm guessing it's probably not the first webinar you've tried. I know I have my share of things I thought would be real neat, and then I didn't follow through with it or I did but it didn't work or...

One part of this is recognizing the pattern. You want new enrichment, that solves the problem you can't/don't want to solve. Now that you're recognizing the pattern, and mapping how you're feeling to how you felt at each step of the way before, you can make a change earlier in the loop than "aw hell, there went $60".

Another is, I've never had any luck with using someone else's Grand Unified Plan. Sometimes there's neat scraps I can glean & repurpose, but it works for them because it's molded to them. It'd only work for you as-is if you molded yourself to be Steven B. Johnson. And maybe that's what you kinda want, is to be that guy who can regale others with tips about tech & writing & ADHD. So recognize that, and ask yourself, "Is he using someone else's system? Or did he build his own?"

As for "Cool new stuff", my best discovery in that front has legitimately been Obsidian. I've been looking for something like it for a while, and for whatever reasons it 'clicks' for me. Probably because it hits what I was looking for in being file-backed "Markdown + some extra juice". Now, I know that a lot of people who get into it want to go overboard right from the start, downloading every plugin they can find & tweaking their own custom theme and...

Breathe. If you're going to be your own "I want it & I hate that I want it" rival, you have to start with what works for you, and fill in gaps as you find them. There's no sense building out a sprawling architecture of notes if you're put off filling them out because of the added effort. When you do start finding those rough edges, Obsidian Roundup is a neat (free) newsletter that distills what's going on in that community.

And then. Only then. Once you've taken all this built-up yearning and tried pouring it into your own thing? Then you might be ready to borrow from what he does. It's not like that webinar's going anywhere. (or if it is, that's a warning sign of its own)
posted by CrystalDave at 1:20 PM on December 7, 2021 [10 favorites]

Oh, a last thing. What's worked for me, personally, with Obsidian?
• Daily note built-in plugin. It sets up a note a day, with a template I set.
Here's my template:
# {{date:YYYY-MM-DD}}
## Morning

## Wrap-up

### Deliver, Thrive
![[Balls In Air]]

Simple as that.
• What am I doing when I start the day? (and it's a scratch-pad as I go through my day)
• At the end of the day, I use the second field to put a pin in where I'm at so I have something to get back up to speed the next day with.
• And then the last thing transcludes to a file that's my "what's front-burner vs. back-burner?" log, so it's carried forward & not repeated each day.

If you're reading that and going "but it won't work for me because X, Y, & Z!"? Good, that's to be expected. Note what X, Y, & Z are. That's telling you something about what might work for you. Then go forth. Maybe borrow bits from my template. If you do, I'd love to hear it.
posted by CrystalDave at 1:25 PM on December 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

Oh boy do I feel this post... I have ADHD and I'm a writer and I get *so sucked in* when someone creates a pitch that promises to help me fill the exact gap I have in my life and my work.

Anyway my trick for resisting the perfect pitch is to ask myself: IF THIS PERSON HAS INDEED DISCOVERED ~THE ANSWER~ WHY IS THEIR OWN WORK STILL SO MEDIOCRE? Anybody can write a sales pitch. People who have actually found ~The Answer~ can't help but use it to produce their own fabulous, astoundingly creative original work. Right?

Proof of concept, MF'ers.
posted by MiraK at 1:42 PM on December 7, 2021 [14 favorites]

Best answer: Hello I am you! I, too, have tried 'em all. I'm a long-term org-mode user because I won't get burned again by non-free/proprietary systems, and nowadays the iOS support for org documents is pretty robust.


Some things I have learned over the years of trying to build The System:

- connecting things is a dead end. The idea of making a web of knowledge is (at least in my case), ultimately self-defeating because in reality, in the deepest truth, everything is connected to everything else. The connections become less and less meaningful and soon the entire network becomes a tangled mess.

- trying to make your brain live outside your body is also a dead end. The allure of The System is that it will free all the stuff from the confines of your skull. But even if it were possible to exteriorize your entire mind, now you have two problems: keeping your external brain synced with your internal brain. You would spend as much time filing and organizing your thoughts as you would thinking them. Plus, the secret sauce of good thought thinking comes from being inside your body and specific subjective personhood. The subjective consciousness is the value, not the individual thoughts. It's hard to articulate this but I think it's important. You can't transplant a working mind into a non-living structure and keep the things that make minds useful or brilliant.

- forgetfulness is a gift. I've been at this nonsense for over 10 years now. I still have scraps of old ideas I filed away in Evernote, in OneNote, in Workflowy, in todo.txt... And you know what? It would have been fine to lose them. Most of my thoughts are stupid. One consequence of GTD-style "universal capture" is that it flattens all thoughts to the same level of atomicity, which they don't deserve. That's part of the simple elegance of its promise, but again, it just doesn't align with reality in my experience. There are the urgent things, like taking the laundry out of the dryer, that I want to remember for the very short term. Then there are the "someday/maybe" things, stubs of ideas, dreams, plans, whatever -- I've come to the personal conclusion that most of those things should be permitted to pass through and be forgotten, not filed for fear of losing them. If I think of a thought 5 or 10 times, then I might turn it into a project. But the discretion, the soft-editorial power of forgetting, is way more valuable to me nowadays.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 2:11 PM on December 7, 2021 [43 favorites]

If you read a bit about the guy and ask yourself what he is going to say, you will probably be right. How often are you surprised by a presentation?
posted by SemiSalt at 2:20 PM on December 7, 2021 [7 favorites]

You would spend as much time filing and organizing your thoughts as you would thinking them.

I would like to second this and add the suggestion to watch (or re-watch) SYNECDOCHE, NY. I can even promise it's going to be better than the webinar, OP. :)
posted by MiraK at 2:53 PM on December 7, 2021 [5 favorites]

I am a fellow ADHD sufferer and a writer. I'm fortunate to have had some success (financially and otherwise) with my work. If that were not true, I'd be a basket case. Fuck it. I'm a basket case anyhow. But the success (financial and otherwise) gives me a sort of safety net, you know? I may be basket case, but that's okay because I've somehow won the lottery of life.

Anyhow, I got distracted there.

@overeducated_alligator's response is AMAZING. Seriously, love love love. It explains why my own attempts to solve this shit never work...
posted by jdroth at 2:54 PM on December 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

I've been thinking about this for a while, and I have notes in my current system going back around three years. I have been (and am) working on chasing the siren song of building my own thing.

Right now, I use Obsidian (and Syncthing and Markor for mobile). It's pretty mediocre, but the things that are actually important really surprised me: I've been journaling every day for the past three months, and the thing that got me there was finally setting up the Daily Note feature. I thought that all of this hierarchical tagging stuff was what was holding me back, but it turns out that the biggest improvement was reducing the number of clicks to make a daily note from like three plus a little typing to just one.

I think there are really quickly diminishing returns to messing with a lot of this stuff. Figure out what you want to do, make doing that as low-friction as possible, and then stop worrying about it has been my approach. Once I've been using something for a few months, I'm going to be in a better position to try to hack on it anyways.
posted by wesleyac at 4:55 PM on December 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

I've read so many books and listened to so many podcasts about creativity hacks that I could have written a novel in the time I've spent on it. It's very addictive, and it looks like appealing to people like you and me with some fancy new solution is a great way to make buckets of money. That's why there are creativity gurus all over the place.

I'm finally getting some consistency in working, but I think this is all very individual. It's like improving the way you eat - you figure out what works for you through trial and error, and someone else's secret may not help you at all.

For me, what is working now is:
1. Create a tiny daily goal - right now, that is 20 minutes of butt-in-chair writing per day. I set a timer.
2. Give myself a reward. This is a literal sticker on my calendar. It's silly, it's juvenile, and it totally works for me.

My personal belief is that if you don't meet your goal, it's too hard. Make it easier. Or follow William Stafford's advice: Lower your standards.
posted by FencingGal at 5:02 PM on December 7, 2021 [4 favorites]

Buy like 3-10 new books instead. Books not even related to your issues, but because you want them and want to read them or pretend to read them. Heck, buy a video game.

Don't spend $60 on something that won't give you one speck of joy.

You want to watch a webinar? My firm does several of them every month that might actually be informative, and they're free. You can catch most of them on every law firm website.

There isn't new technology to beat ADHD that isn't better controlled by decent therapy and medication. From one broke brain to another, I'm sorry. There aren't any easy ways out.
posted by General Malaise at 5:08 PM on December 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

Don't spend $60 on something that won't give you one speck of joy.

word. otoh, if you start a gofundme, I'll pitch a $20.
posted by j_curiouser at 6:05 PM on December 7, 2021 [4 favorites]

Read this article instead.

This is the only thing that's had a real, noticeable impact on my productivity (most of which is writing, some of which is creative and some of which is academic). Though Marvin is a nice productivity app. But my productivity only really improved when I set a harder upper limit of 25 hours a week of focused work (this includes both academic and creative writing), with the aim of not doing more than 4 hours per day. If I hit four hours and I really want to keep going, I'll go for another hour, but otherwise I stop and take the rest of the day off.

This sounds impossible and like you'll never get anything done, but I finally feel like, for the first time in my life, I'm (almost) on top of things while also getting time to work on my creative writing. YMMV of course. But this is free to try and may at least give your brain the sparkle of "new method to try!!" for long enough that you forget about the webinar, even if it doesn't ultimately work for you.
posted by brook horse at 6:06 PM on December 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

P.S. if you want that "integrating technology" itch scratched, you can block out your hard limit in your Google Calendar (or app of choice). In fact I think that visually seeing how little time you have in the day to write hacks the ADHD brain into "OH GOD DEADLINE" mode which as we all know is free dopamine.
posted by brook horse at 6:11 PM on December 7, 2021 [4 favorites]

On a general level: when I get hit with the feeling that I have to have something, that it'll make everything better as long as I have it... then, generally not having the budget for such stuff, I add it to a list and revisit maybe half a year later. Usually at that point, my cravings have moved on to something else and the once-desired thing doesn't look so magical anymore. If it still does, then I think about it, though with less urgency since it's clear I can put it off for X months and still be fine.

On those occasions where I do actually buy something I had high hopes for, I also try to add it to a list of such things and review every once in a while, comparing my expectations pre-purchase to my evaluation afterwards. It's becoming ever easier to link the feelings of disappointment in purchases past to the feeling of wide-eyed belief in purchases future.
posted by trig at 8:15 PM on December 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

MiraK and overeducated_alligator speak the truth to my own ADHD brain, which often says, But If I Just Had The Right System, I Could Fix…

One of my antidotes is this tiny story, which I hope will speak to you, too.

On Exactitude in Science

Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions, translated by Andrew Hurley.

...In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.

—Suarez Miranda,Viajes de varones prudentes, Libro IV,Cap. XLV, Lerida, 1658
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 9:11 PM on December 7, 2021 [4 favorites]

I'm with @j_curiouser. It's maybe too small an amout for a GoFundMe type campaign. MeMail me your Venmo deets.

An earlier post asks, for a person who pitches such a program..."Why is their work so mediocre?"
In general, I agree, but in the case of Steven B. Johnson... he has quite a track record of excellent writing. Excellent!
posted by at at 9:17 PM on December 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

There's a lot of great resources out there that you don't need to pay for. And everyone's brains and needs are so different, it might take you awhile to find the magic sweet spot of what works for you--and it might not be the $60 webinar.

As one example, Notion is a tool that works well for a lot of ADHD brains, including mine. It's available for free (there are some limits but individual users rarely run into them--if you do and it's valuable enough to you, you can pay $4/month to get past them).

Marie Poulin has some great free resources on using Notion with ADHD. This video (transcript included below the video) is a great start.

You can also easily go down a rabbit hole of Notion-for-ADHD resources on reddit and YouTube to see what's out there.

(Disclaimer: I do have a professional connection to Notion, but I'd been using it for years before that happened, and I get no benefit from recommending them here.)
posted by rhiannonstone at 10:45 PM on December 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

One more approach, if it helps: Assuming this webinar does well and has value, there'll be enough demand that he'll do another one later on. That next webinar will probably have even newer stuff, better-tested stuff, improvements and refinements and so on. You can start saving your money now for this new and improved webinar that will one day arise, and for which you will not have funds if you spend them on this preliminary version.

(In the best case by the time Webinar 2.0 comes along you'll have moved on, or will find yourself willing to wait for the innovations in 3.0. This too is a Life Hack.)
posted by trig at 5:39 AM on December 8, 2021 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I just wanted to sincerely thank everyone for these great, useful bits of advice on avoiding impulse purchases and developing a useful writing system that works with ADHD. The word "wisdom" is often thrown around too casually, but there is some hard-earned wisdom in this discussion. This entire thread is golden. Also, thanks to those who offered to pay for the webinar. Greedy me wanted to say yes, but the truth is I have money, I just don't want to have to explain the charge to my partner later :)

My growing collection of Obisidian bookmarks on Pinboard (great web app, incidentally).
posted by craniac at 9:17 AM on December 9, 2021 [3 favorites]

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