The King and I

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BB King in Japan

Blue Note Jazz Club, Fukuoka, Japan, ca. 1995.

B.B. King played a one-night gig at this small, intimate nightclub, with just 80-90 people in the audience, all of whom paid about ¥12,000 (roughly equivalent to about US$120 at the time) for a ticket. There were about 5 of us “gaijin” (foreigners), none of whom knew each other, but at the end of the concert we had gravitated towards each other and were happy to gather at the end of the long line to greet Mr. King.

He couldn’t have been more gracious, a real Southern gentleman. Maybe he was also a little happy and relieved to chat in his native English — most of the club’s patrons spoke only Japanese. He sat with us for a bit, signed autographs, and gave each of us a few guitar picks (the shiny, gold-colored buttons you see in the picture).

I’ve since lost the guitar picks, but the framed photo remains a prized possession on my bookcase.

RIP, Mr. King. You are dearly missed.

iDoneThis, iDoneThat

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I’ve been trying out iDoneThis for a week now and realize that I’m still in the honeymoon phase, but wow, it makes me giddy.

I use it exclusively for work, especially to help jog my memory when our biweekly updates are due, but for now I’m testing it out on a personal account. Entire teams at Automattic are using it to keep track of their milestones, especially our developers, and I can understand why it’s such an appealing and maybe even addictive tool.

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My favorite feature is its app integration. Since our entire company spends an ungodly amount of time on Slack — it pretty much remains open on my screen anytime I’m at my laptop, and I’m sad to admit that I periodically scroll through it even when I’m not officially working, like at the doctor’s office — it’s so easy to pop into any channel, type something like /done Posted a trac ticket about x theme’s documentation, and watch with deep satisfaction as the app robotically congratulates me on getting things done and adds the new iDoneThis event to my daily diary.

I’ve resisted using it for awhile even though many of my colleagues have raved about it, preferring instead to keep things simple by throwing completed tasks into a blank Note every day. Now that I have a massive collection of Notes, though, with no easy way to search them (especially since I have a lot of non-diary Notes thrown in there for good measure, too), it was time for me to try something actually useful for a change. So far, so very good.

Now if only they’d change the name. As a writer with a bit of an OCD tendency to mentally correct poor grammar on billboards and movie titles, hearing and reading iDoneThis evokes a reaction somewhat akin to the noise produced by fingernails on a chalkboard. I mean, okay, iDidThis.com has been registered since 2007 (based on a quick whois search), but surely there were other, less grating options?

On the other hand, it has a nice, edgy sound to it. Plus, sometimes when I look at my daily diary and see a long list of completed tasks, I do feel like pumping my fist and declaring, “Yeah, I done this!” The grammatically correct alternative just doesn’t sound quite as emphatic or powerful, you know?

Coming June 24: A Special Longreads Live Storytelling Night in San Francisco

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Marjorie R. Asturias:

I attended a Longreads storytelling event during the Portland Press Publish event a few weeks ago and was enthralled. If you’re in the San Francisco area on June 24, I highly recommend that you attend this!

Originally posted on Longreads Blog:

Save the date! On June 24, Longreads will be hosting a free night of storytelling at the Booksmith in San Francisco, featuring:

Clara Jeffery (Mother Jones)

Mat Honan (BuzzFeed)

Susie Cagle (journalist & illustrator)

Elizabeth Lopatto (The Verge)

Emily Thelin (writer, Food & Wine)

Dan Stone (Radio Silence)

* * *

Wednesday, June 24, 7:30 p.m.

The Booksmith

1644 Haight Street

San Francisco, CA 94117

Free

http://kjellreigstad.polldaddy.com/s/longreads-signup

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Remembering the Milk, Moving on to Wunderlist

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One of the things I love about working at a place like Automattic is being surrounded by like-minded folks obsessed about productivity. Our internal operations manual even has entire pages devoted to particular productivity apps like Alfred (<3) and Things. Much of the conversation is driven by my colleague Bryan V., who is the productivity master, but overall Automatticians are very much a productivity-driven bunch of folks.

I wasn’t always this way. Before I got my first smartphone (a Palm Centro in 2008), I relied exclusively on a hefty Day-Timer. Bulky and packed with Post-Its, business cards, and receipts, it nevertheless served me well for years – I ran my entire freelance writing career on it and somehow managed to accomplish way more than you’d think considering how limited a paper planner seems now.

Once I launched my social media/content marketing agency in 2009, though, whatever latent obsession I had with productivity and efficiency suddenly bloomed and I found myself trying out ever project management tool, task manager, to-do app, and calendar app on the market. Seriously, name a project management tool, and chances are, I’ve at least researched it. Especially after I began hiring contractors and other freelancers, my need to find the perfect productivity tool expanded, and I must have subjected my poor brain to a new tool every month. I somehow managed to get things done, but I was frazzled with the learning curve each new tool demanded.

Eventually, it dawned on me that the tool itself wasn’t the problem. I was the problem. What I needed wasn’t the perfect tool but rather the dedication to actually using the damn thing. Anyone halfway familiar with how productivity works understands that, but despite my college degree and graduate education, apparently that basic fact escaped me for years.

So I picked the app that seemed both the simplest and most comprehensive: Remember the Milk. I used it for a few years, moving it from my old Nexus 4 to my current Moto X and then my iPad. I even paid the annual $25 subscription fee for premium features, primarily the on-demand sync option. When I find an app that helps me get things done, I’m more than happy to pay the developers to help them continue maintaining and updating it.

Recently, though, I’ve been trying out Wunderlist, which I’d experimented with a couple of years before but somehow dropped. I don’t remember why, but the current interface on the Android is beautiful, yet still minimal. Unlike Remember the Milk, where all your tasks for the day are just thrown into one big list, I can view my entire day’s tasks on Wunderlist on one page, broken down into different categories. I can just focus on my Work tasks when I’m at my desk, but also scroll down quickly to view the Phone Calls list or the Emails list if I find myself with spare pockets of time during the day. I don’t ever have to leave that particular page.

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Plus, bonus: Wunderlist also has a handy-dandy Chrome browser extension that lets me add any page on the web to my to-do list, and even categorize it right within the extension.

I still have my Remember the Milk account, but I haven’t looked at it in several weeks as I’ve been resting out Wunderlist. I have a feeling it will be a keeper, especially since it’s free. There’s a Pro version, but it seems to be largely for businesses or freelancers, so while I’m happy to pay for an app I use all day, everyday, if I don’t need to, $25 is still $25.

The Business of Freelancing, Blogging, and Books, According to Author Jennifer Armstrong

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Marjorie R. Asturias:

Great interview with a full-time, working freelance writer, including a peek into her daily routine and how she manages to fit in writing books, writing blog posts, and pitching stories in her packed schedule.

Originally posted on WordPress.com News:

First, I should note: I am not related to Jennifer Armstrong. But! I have followed her writing closely over the years — first during her years at Entertainment Weekly, and more recently as the author of books like Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted (Simon & Schuster), which offered a definitive history of the classic TV series. Her blog also happens to be a must-follow on WordPress.com: She gives glimpses into her current work (she’s doing a Seinfeld book next) and she’s refreshingly transparent about the business (and hard truths) of being a freelance writer in 2015. I spoke with her via email about the business of writing and tips for how she makes time for her own blog.

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Have you Pressed Publish yet?

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Press Publish in Portland, OR.

Press Publish in Portland, OR.

I’ve been on WordPress since at least 2007 (maybe earlier, but my aging memory doesn’t go back that far), but in all honesty my blogging journey was really launched on Google’s Blogger.com. In fact, it wasn’t until well into my tenure here as a Happiness Engineer at Automattic that I finally took down my Blogger site and moved everything here to WordPress.com. I still have a few self-hosted sites that I maintain (namely this one), though, and have been passionate about WordPress and its credo of open source software since I built my first, admittedly primitive self-hosted site in the mid-’00s.

Still, until I volunteered at last year’s WordCamp San Francisco, I’d never attended a WordCamp or even a WordPress meetup. I’d been evangelizing WordPress for years and built client sites exclusively on the platform, but the WordCamp universe always eluded me. It wasn’t just the fact that I was running a business, volunteering, taking care of a busy household with a professional spouse and 4 active dogs, and otherwise living a pretty full life – I still found plenty of time to attend networking events and even the occasional out-of-town client meeting or conference. But a local meetup of fellow WordPress enthusiasts? I dunno, it just didn’t appeal to me.

I figured out pretty quickly that it wasn’t so much the busy schedule that kept me from attending, but rather this perception that the meetups and WordCamps were all populated largely by technically savvy developers and designers, the kind of folks who literally spoke a different language and generally dwelt in the deeper parts of a software that I wouldn’t dare go.

Sure, I’d built plenty of sites, but I used premade templates and taught myself basic php — just enough to add a function or two, maybe tweak a design feature here and there. But my sites — all for small, local businesses or microentrepreneurs with miniscule budgets — were a result of some basic hacking on my part and a little help from a more tech-savvy developer friend.

I couldn’t imagine what I’d have in common with the folks who attended a WordPress meetup. I’m a writer. What do I know about plugin development and APIs?

Of course, now that I work closely with developers and designers in my everyday job, they’re not so mysterious anymore. Sure, 75% of what they talk about whiz right over my head (insert whooshing noise here), but my comfort level just being around them is so much higher now. I don’t mind asking questions, pleading ignorance, and sometimes even diving in and exploring some bits of code when it drifts by my desk. I have no desire to ever be a programmer, but it’s not quite the black box it used to be. Now, I’ve not only attended a few WordCamps but have even spoken at a couple of them. In fact, god forbid but I’m also part of the organizing committee for the DFW WordCamp coming up in the fall.

And yet.

I’m still a writer at heart. Not a content contributor or content marketer or whatever Fast Company uses now to refer to words or text strung together to deliver a message or tell a story. I like reading blogs, writing posts, and meeting other bloggers. One of the best features of WordPress.com is the Reader, which makes it so easy to keep up with my favorite bloggers and even discover new ones via the Freshly Pressed and Recommended Blogs sections.

And now, with the Press Publish series of WordPress conferences exclusively devoted to the storytellers and bloggers who use WordPress, I’ve found yet another reason to be excited about being a part of the community.

I not only attended but also spoke and helped out behind the scenes at both the inaugural event in Portland in late March as well as the most recent one in Phoenix this past weekend. The organizers packed each one-day event with a tight, carefully curated schedule of brilliant speakers and workshops, all focused on providing attendees with both information and inspiration on how they can become better bloggers and writers.

My own talks were on social media, DIY PR, and a little bit on how to make money from blogging (affiliates, ads, ecommerce). I’d like to think that most attendees found some useful tidbits of information from my presentations, but really, every workshop, tutorial, and speaker presentation was well-attended. I’m not sure that a lot of folks were especially interested too much in the monetization aspect of blogging, which is so alien to me, coming from a heavily PR- and marketing-focused universe where everyone wants to become the next Dooce.com and rake in a million dollars a year in advertising fees. In other words, I loved it. Thank god they only gave me 15 minutes for the monetization session. I don’t think I got more than one question about that topic in each city.

Yes. Writers. I so <3 that it was all about writers.

Automattic is evaluating the Press Publish series to see if it’s something that we can and should continue, but in the meantime the videos for each event should be online very soon. If you’re a blogger and are interested in attending a future event — assuming we have others — be sure to follow the event’s official site to get the latest updates.

Press Publish, Phoenix

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Marjorie R. Asturias:

I worked the event as well as part of my job as an Automattician and loved just about all of it. More thoughts of my own about the event, but in the meantime my colleague and friend Karen wrote a great post about it as well. Enjoy!

Originally posted on Karen Alma:

This past Saturday, April 18th,  I got to hang out with about 130 amazing bloggers and 13 of my coworkers at Press Publish in Phoenix, a new WordPress.com offering. The first one was in Portland a couple weeks ago.

I gave a 15 minute presentation about Blogging on the Go with the WP mobile app and spent the rest of the time at the Happiness Bar helping people with WordPress questions and issues.

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While I’ve been at my fair share of conferences and have enjoyed them all, Press Publish had a unique vibe that I can’t quite place my finger on. Perhaps it was the focus on blogging, the workshops about writing, and presentations about finding your voice. Perhaps it was the energy of notable bloggers like Kathy Cano-Murillo, Russ CrandallKatherineFritz and Emily Austin. Or perhaps it was the sea of smiling enthusiastic Automatticians (my coworkers at Automattic), I always…

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