“I might be creative.”

Warm.

“I could be creative.”

Getting warmer.

“I was creative before, but…”

Colder!

“I am creative.”

Yes! Bingo! You’re on fire.

Yes, you’re creative. Of course you’re creative.

I’m always amazed to see creators put forth their work, and yet they believe that their impact isn’t enough. Daily drawings of animals and nightly blog posts about sound design are considered smalltime compared to trailblazers and household names in the creator community.

Truth us, even something as small as a 60 word blog post can change somebody’s life. My buddy Chris Jordan wrote a short article that inspired me to do something I’ve never done before: launch an online course. His article was only one word shy of the 350 word mark. 349 words – that’s it! That’s all it took for me to see, sit, and persist.

See.

Sit.

Persist.

And give.

This is what our creativity is for.

OF COURSE YOU’RE CREATIVE launched yesterday on Gumroad. Within the first 14 hours, 46 generous creators signed up to learn how to see ideas everywhere and make an impact everyday. There’s videos and illustrations to go along with the ~15,800 word ‘book’ that this course ended up becoming. I’ve never launched anything like this before so I’ll be reiterating and improving it as I go. Consider this the alpha release!


Note: If money’s hard for you right now, DM me on Twitter and I’ll see what I can do for you. Wherever you are, whatever you’re starting with, I know you have it in you to make something magical with all that makes you, you.

Mike Newton — In Presence of Tea: A Conversation on Mindfulness, Creativity, Art, Anime, and Sharing Moments That Matter (#37)

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We are here to learn and do something. And what are we here to learn and do? We are here to practice. And what are we practicing? We’re practicing living.

Mike Newton

This is one of the most important conversations I’ve had on the podcast.

This is a conversation about tea.

It’s almost 2 and a half hours long because we had to cover restroom clams, tea that tastes like compost, isolation, loneliness, the meaning of life, J-rock, happiness, nootropics, chemicals, bodies, hurry, anxiety, wine, coffee, God, sake, beer, seasons, anime, overwork, stillness, books — everything you’d expect when two perfect strangers meet. This conversation summarizes everything I love about podcasting.

How can a simple warm beverage be so profound, so elusive, beautiful, subtle, and wise? Is there anything useful we can learn from such an unassuming liquid? Those are the questions I asked myself as I went into this conversation with Mike Newton (@thetealetter), creator of The Tea Letter, a blognewsletterYouTubechannelPodcast about tea culture.

GO FOLLOW MIKE EVERYWHERE

The Tea Letter Blog, Newsletter, and YouTube channel

Mike Newton on Twitter

Mike Newton on Instagram

In this episode we cover…

  • (7:00) My attempt at homebrewing Pu’er tea over a stove without a teapot or kettle
  • (8:00) A tour of mike’s tea setup, and his tea of choice
  • (10:00) Tea as a hobby: “Low floors, high ceilings, and wide walls.”
  • (12:00) Life lessons from the practice of tea (we circle back to this point a lot).
  • (15:00) “Tea makes time real.”
  • (20:00) Are you awake at the wheel?
  • (23:00) What led Mike to discovering the practice of tea? How has tea helped him alleviate anxiety?
  • (26:00) What does Mike do and use to prepare the perfect cup of green tea?
  • (32:00) How does the preparation of tea, and the tea room itself, reflect the season?
  • (36:00) What are the differences and similarities between tea and coffee?
  • (43:00) How to reuse leftover tea leaves
  • (45:00) Mikes mission to spread the lessons from tea culture
  • (47:00) Happiness, doubt, and art
  • (53:00) A history of the World in 6 glasses, how the drinks we love define our culture
  • (55:00) How does tea create community?
  • (58:00) Nuance: coffee, tea, sake
  • (1:07:00) “You can spend a lifetime drinking Oolong tea and nothing else.” A lesson on what makes tea…tea.
  • (1:12:00) Why do we like what we like?
  • (1:16:00) The one thing about tea that shook Mike to his core
  • (1:20:00) What, philosophically speaking, is in a cup of tea?
  • (1:28:00) “Now we’ve arrived at the core of it.”
  • (1:33:00) Book recommendations
  • (1:37:00) Thoughtful reading, drinking, and living
  • (1:44:00) What constraints does Mike apply to do his best work?
  • (1:48:00) Scheduling empty space to boost productivity and think clearly
  • (1:52:00) Thom Yorke, Masaaki Yuasa, Satoshi Kon, FLCL, etc.
  • (2:11:00) What does Mike do to get unstuck?
  • (2:13:00) Sendoff: the final message

Mentions

The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzō

From Mike’s blog: Getting into gongfu tea

In Praise of Shadows by Junichiro Tanizaki

John Daub

A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage

white2tea

Cliff tea – Oldwaystea

Organic Chaga Tea by Buddha Teas

David Perell

Ryan Holiday

Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Brave New World

Aldous Huxley

Carl Jung

The Bhagavad Gita

The Practicing Mind by Thomas M. Sterner

Tea in Japan by Paul Varley and Kumakura Isao

Wind in The Pines by Dennis Hirota

The Japanese Way of Tea: From Its Origins in China to Sen Rikyu by Sen XV Soshitsu

Wabi-Sabi by Beth Kempton

In Rainbows by Radiohead

Asian Kung-fu Generation

Masakatsu Takagi and Mamoru Hosoda

Kenshi Yonezu

Sakanaction

Jon Hopkins (the musician)

Coheed and Cambria

Masaaki Yuasa, Tatami Galaxy, and Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!

Satoshi Kon

FLCL (the greatest anime of all time)

Jed Henry

The Four Pillars of Chanoyu

Please enjoy! Cheers, and here’s to your good health.

Listen on Spotify | Listen on Apple | Watch on YouTube

Does The Penguin Latte Podcast remind you of fresh presents on Christmas morning? If so, please consider leaving a review on Apple Podcasts/iTunes. It takes all of 60 seconds (61 if you’re feeling extra spicy). Reviews make the podcast 1% better. If 500 of you leave reviews, the podcast gets 500% better. Plus, I love reading all of your juicy comments. Thanks!

This episode is brought to you (and powered) by Flow State Coffee!

My buddy Greg Frontiero started a company that sells products designed to put you in that groovy sensation called Flow. His first product, Flow State Coffee, is some of the best coffee I’ve tasted. Plus, it doesn’t make you feel like you’re about to have a heart attack after drinking 6 cups of it (I’ve tried).

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Use this link to buy a bag with code PAUL automatically applied for a discount.

My Inner Circle of Evil: How Bad Influences Help You Succeed

Have you ever shared a project with a friend or family member, hoping to get some feedback?

This is great!

Wow, I love this

Your father and I are so proud of you sweetheart

This is great I guess this explains why you never return my calls

This isn’t feedback. It’s protection.

Feedback hurts. We’re programmed to avoid getting hurt. And so we avoid feedback.

The most promiscuous way we avoid feedback is surrounding ourselves, for our entire lives, with a circle of friends and family members that “only have our best interest at heart” (read: I want to suffocate you with a pillow.)

Make friends with people who have skin in the arena. Make friends who know which game you’re playing, and know the rules like the back of their hand. Make friends who understand that not taking risks is the riskiest risk of all. Make evil friends. Dastardly friends. Viscous friends, friends who might hurt you!

…with feedback.

My inner circle of evil is a group of 6* people I can rely on for feedback. Real feedback. The feedback I’d rather not hear, but need to. I don’t bother them with drafts of these daily posts. I send the big guns. The risky stuff. The projects with a high probability of failure, the stuff that people might mock me for. These friends are a bad influence on me. Their insidious charisma seduces me into doing things I don’t want to do. They tell me to aim higher. They tell me to raise my hourly rate. They tell me to start a business. They tell me to “fuck it.”

And fuck it I do.

Who’s in your inner circle of evil?


*The most evil of numbers

But if I make something everyday…

Also on Spotify for all your podcast needs

…then I won’t have time to make it good.

If you’re making something everyday, yeah, it won’t be as good as if you dedicated a year of your life to perfecting it. Stanley Kubrick never made a movie in a day. Nobody can whip up a storyboard on Sunday and turn it into a masterpiece on Monday (if you’re the exception, please let me know.)

The point of making something everyday is to fix your posture. We hear of athletes who train everyday, professors who write everyday, chefs who cook everyday…but what about creators? We’re too busy floundering around waiting for divine inspiration. We go to sleep hoping we’ll dream about our next Big Idea. Luck is our discipline.

Making something everyday means getting your form right. Stretching. Correcting your posture. It means avoiding injury. Athletes train carefully to avoid injury. Avoid injury and you get to play tomorrow. Creators should do the same. Avoid injury and you get to create. Over and over and over
like a monkey with a miniature cymbal.

You missed your chance.

Because you overslept. Because you weren’t looking. Because you arrived too late, too soon, unprepared, unexpected.

Or, you simply didn’t care.

But that’s okay. You will have another chance 3 seconds from now. Missed it? 12 minutes from now. Missed it? An hour. Missed that? Tomorrow. That one too? Next Wednesday. Next month. Next year…

Chance is as common as oxygen. We breathe it in all the time, take it for granted just as often.

Worse is not better than good.

What is the most important tool that every creator needs?

Is it diligence? The perfect cup of coffee? The silence of dawn before the family wakes up? Is it sight? A brain full of magical ideas? A handy-dandy notebook to write down those magical ideas? Ambition? A network of High Class Connections?

Nope. None of that.

The most important tool is restraint.

I understand that this is paradoxical. How can you hold back, while simultaneously pouring every gallon of your genius into the work? Like all paradoxes, the answer is in the balance of two seemingly opposite forces.

Restraint equals taste. Taste means knowing that if you add more to this, you’ll end up making it worse. Worse is not better than good. Nobody wants a worse chair than the one they’re sitting in now.

Creative people love having the freedom to come up with ideas. It’s what creative people are do: come up with ideas. The C in creativity means Comesupwithideas. It’s fun to come up with ideas. I’m sure you know someone who (whether they know it or not) identifies as an Idea Guy. Creativity? Psh. Easy. Just slap on some more Ideas. Boom. Better.

But what about maximalism? What about the awe of complexity? Some of my favorite works of art and music feature many moving parts. Complex systems in art and machinery are beautiful because complexity is hard to manage. How does one manage complexity? With intent. With care. With restraint. Complexity does not mean cacophony. Complexity does not mean chaos for the hell of it. Complexity only appears chaotic. And then we get used to it. Complexity and restraint are like yin and yang. Can’t have one without the other.

Creators must choose between making something stellar, or making something mediocre. If they tell you that you should have added more to it, they might be right. More gusto, only if the actor is too timid. More dissonance, only if the violinists sound too clean. More sauce, only if the chicken is too dry. Simply adding more ‘ideas’ does not make something better. Artists that know when and what to hold back are artists that care.

School taught us that the one thousand word essay is the benchmark. It’s easy to get cynical about this somewhat arbitrary standard. I used to repeat myself so that I’d have enough words on the page. But, stringing together a thousand words is not the point. The one thousand word essay is a test of exploration. It’s about depth, nuance, connecting the dots. It’s about seeing the invisible, and adding your perspective. If you can write that many words without backtracking, without regurgitating (not restating), without copying what you said before, then you understand restraint.

The first domino

My first freelance gig was to create a trailer for Writer’s Bloc, an online community of essayists, bloggers, and newsletter authors. I did it for free. This was my first domino. The project led me to landing my next gig, and my first paid gig, and my second paid gig…

The next domino can’t topple over unless you knock down the first one.

How I Design: Creating a Trailer for Ali Abdaal’s Part-Time YouTuber Academy

Hello!

I was hired to by Ali Abdaal (@AliAbdaal) to create a trailer for his online course, The Part-Time YouTuber Academy. (If you’ve got an online course with a dedicated cohort and lot of leftover zoom recordings, click here to see my work.)

This post is the first in a series I’m calling How I Design. If other creators like these posts, then I’ll keep sharing behind-the-scenes looks on how I make my videos, oversee projects, consult with creatives, make podcasts, write, and more. This is for the nerds, geeks, and behind-the-scenes junkies.

In this post I’ll take you through:

  • How I landed a gig to create a trailer for a YouTuber with over 1 million subscribers
  • My design philosophy
  • How I sorted through over 350(!) YouTube channels to find clips
  • What it was like to work with Ali Abdaal
  • Advice for freelancers

Alright, let’s dive in.


Getting the gig

In the summer of 2020, I joined an online group of writers, playfully dubbed ‘Writer’s Bloc.’ After 2 months of joining their weekly group sessions over zoom, I had an idea while talking to Cullin McGrath, co-owner of the group. It was 6:00 p.m. I asked him if I could make a little commercial/trailer/video thing for Writer’s Bloc. Cullin had seen the video trailers I made for my podcast before.

His answer? Hell Yeah.

I finished the video at midnight. It took me six hours.

To note, I wasn’t paid to make this. I did this entirely out of a love of the community. It’s my favorite piece of work. The first domino. (That’ll be a blog post one day about creating one thing that leads to many opportunities.)

In November of 2020, Robbie Crabtree asked if I could make trailers for his public speaking course, Performative Speaking. (Note: now acquired by On Deck!)

Echoing Cullin, I said Hell Yeah!

Key takeaway: even if you’re making something for free, pour your heart and soul into the work. It will pay off later. I promise.

Three days after Robbie pinned the video to his Twitter profile, Ali Abdaal dmed me to ask if I could create a video for his online course.

Can you guess what I said?

I said NO.

Kidding. I said Hell Yeah!

Key takeaway: keep making good stuff. People will take notice, and opportunities will come your way. This is inevitable.


Meeting and working with Ali Abdaal

Two days after getting the DM from Ali, we met over Zoom. This was the first time I had ever spoken with him. I was nervous. Looking back, I had no reason to be so nervous. He’s only another human being, after all. When we meet with people with high numbers, we tend to put them on a pedestal way higher than we think we can reach.

I was nervous I hadn’t yet accepted my new role/identity as a freelance creative. I couldn’t yet believe that people were taking notice of my work, and willing to pay me for my services.

Key takeaway: If you’re working with someone who seems bigger/better/funnier/more than you, take a deep breath and remind yourself that they’re human just like you.

This nervousness quickly subsided thanks to Ali’s friendly disposition. Working with him on this project was incredibly easy, as he gave me what every creator dreams of: nearly unlimited creative freedom. Being granted this much freedom came as a surprise. But when you cultivate a style that people enjoy – a joke that people get – don’t be so shocked when clients let you express your best judgment. So much of the creative process is about cultivating good taste. Taste is a skill that anyone can learn.


Creating the video

Ali gave me access to an excel spreadsheet which contained nearly 400 YouTube accounts created by students of the course. He also gave me access to a Google Drive with all the marketing assets.

I had to decide which clips from this huge amount of YouTube channels to use for the trailer.

15 of nearly 400.

98% of the channels missed the cut. There were so many good ones. But I couldn’t use them all.

I wish I could tell you that I had some fancy pants process for selecting which clips to use.

I didn’t.

I clicked at random!

When I finally found a clip that fit my design philosophy (see below), I recorded the clip using OBS screengrab software (Archaic, I know. I also use archaic video editing software.)

This part of the job took the longest. Editing is the easy part. Choosing which clips to include is the part that drives editors insane. Choosing, though, is an act of taste. And taste, as I’ve said, is something you practice.

Which clips I used, and why

“Is this thing rolling?”

I like to begin each trailer with someone saying something snappy. The first clip is always the most important clip. You have half a second to set the tone for the video. Half a second. That’s all you get. If you don’t set the appropriate tone within this microcosm of time, you miss the opportunity to convey the message behind the video.

“My name is…”

These clips (calling them cohort clips) convey a sense of community. These clips show viewers that this cohort or community is full of people who see things the way you do. I first employed this technique back in my video for Writer’s Bloc.

“On this channel…”

Shows viewers that this is a community of YouTubers, not a community of plumbers. Specificity! Who is it for? YouTubers. Got it? Good!

Cut to first graphic of course logo

Now the viewer knows exactly what this trailer is for. It’s for The Part-Time YouTuber Academy. Not Spanish class. Again, specificity matters!

“Welcome back to my channel…”

Callback to the previous set of cohort clips. Further reinforces the assertion that this is a course for people who want to learn how to grow a YouTube channel. Also features the variety of content that these people are creating.

Quick text flash 1: fashion music food tech people

I have a fetish for this cut. I don’t know what it is. I love these quarter second cuts of words that express the values, themes, and characteristics of the project. I think I get it from watching the opening of Neon Genesis Evangelion a thousand times.

Hideaki Anno is a genius.

It’s become part of my signature, and I’m going to keep using it in my projects until it gets old (and then I’ll keep using it because I love it so much.) It’s extremely simple, easy to do, and effective at conveying a lot of information in a short timeframe.

The only draw back to this clip is that sometimes it’s too fast. For me, the faster the better. But for some clients, the slower the better. My rule of thumb for this dilemma? Respect your clientele. If they ask you to change something near and dear to your precious creative process, don’t let your ego takeover. Listen to them. They might be right.

Speedy clips of Part-Time YouTube Academy students in their videos -> speedy clips of students talking to the camera

Besides having clips of people saying they’re making YouTube videos, I wanted to show the audience exactly what they were making videos about. Also wanted to convey communication, without bombarding listeners with too much noise. Less, but better.

Quick text flash 2: creators

Used the slow version in the final cut. Here’s the quicker version.

This cut shows the who of the course. For whom is this course for? Writers, programmers, chefs, doctors — creators. Once again, I’m a total bitch for snappy cuts like this. There’s no technique. Anybody can do this. It’s all a matter of taste.

“Do it a hundred times…one day at a time, that’s all it takes…”

To convey that this course is hard work. It’s not going to be easy, but that’s okay. We’re here for you, and we’re in this together.

“Welcome to homemade…today I’m going to talk to you about…”

These clips show off how Ali’s course teaches students of any professional or hobbyist background how to combine YouTube with their craft, expertise, or passion.

More sped up scenes of cohort members. Just music.

Nodding to one of my favorite directors, Makoto Shinkai, I use shots of people facing the camera to further convey a sense of community and belonging.

Final: Just hit 100 subscribers!

This is the transformation that Ali and his team deliver through the course: an audience eager for more.

Though I relied on random selection, I aimed for a diverse selection of clips. The course is for YouTubers, but it’s actually about teaching doctors (like Ali), dentists, chefs, students, tea drinkers, coffee geeks, and creatives of all kinds how to make a living off of YouTube. Which brings us to,

design: philosophy

Like all the trailers I make for online communities and courses, I wanted to convey these two core elements:

  • Community
  • Transformation

Considering the tone of the project, I always ask myself: how can I make this exciting? How can I take these clips and leftover zoom recordings, and turn them into a work of art? How can I do this job better than anybody else? How can I best deliver my services in a way that will delight not only the client, but everyone involved in the community or course?

Sony Movie Maker. Archaic, but it works.

Finally, for those of you who were wondering, I don’t storyboard anything.
I play the music by ear.

Alright folks. That’s everything I could cover.

Cheers, and here’s to your good health.


If you have questions about creativity, design, or just want to say hello, reach out to me on Twitter. If you’re a creator, my DMs are always open. And if you’re interested in hiring me to work on a project, here’s a link to my portfolio.

It’s good to be an influencer.

Influencer. We say it as if it’s a bad thing.

A modern definition of influencer: someone who does a very good job at convincing someone else that the path to happiness and wealth is found by posting stuff on social media.

Your favorite rapper influences you. Your favorite guitarist influences you.

I wish we could say the word influencer without walking on eggshells.

Pick any artist. That artist hyperlinks to another artist. That artist hyperlinks to another, and so on. Animal Collective’s music still carries remnants of Grateful Dead plus Pavement plus Beach Boys. Influenced means nodding to what came before.

“I wanna be like that.”

Dalton Mabery — Faith, Consistency, and Productivity with Intent (#36)

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“I’ve got to offload everything I’m doing, and just focus on a couple different areas.”

Today on the show I’m joined by Dalton Mabery (@daltonmabery). Dalton Mabery is digital creator with a podcast, blog, and newsletter in which he regularly shares tips on digital productivity, good books, faith, and time management. Recording this conversation was like attending a personal masterclass in auditing my time. Dalton is one of the hardest working creators I know. He’s got drive, ambition, and endless creativity. Fans of my episodes with Chris Jordan and Nate Kadlac will appreciate this one.

This episode pairs well with a light roasted coffee and a notebook.
Seriously, grab a notebook. You will need it.

Timestamps

  • 8:00 Dalton’s upbringing
  • 11:00 How has faith influenced the way Dalton lives and works?
  • 14:30 Why is it so hard to kick back and relax?
  • 18:00 How did Dalton begin his creative career?
  • 24:00 Picking the right projects, removing dead ends
  • 26:10 What is the most difficult problem Dalton has solved?
  • 28:30 What does Dalton’s morning routine look like?
  • 32:00 How does Dalton get unstuck?
  • 33:45 What’s for breakfast?
  • 34:30 How does Dalton stay focused throughout the day?
  • 36:00 Boundaries and constraints
  • 37:00 What advice would Dalton give to new creators? + book recommendations
  • 42:00 Who or what inspires Dalton to keep creating?
  • 46:00 On The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry
  • 52:00 What habits are the most important for Dalton?
  • 54:00 More book recommendations
  • 56:00 What are the most profound epiphanies or realizations Dalton has encountered?
  • 1:00:00 What keeps Dalton up at night?
  • 1:03:00 What makes something urgent?
  • 1:06:00 How starting creative projects shows headhunters that you’re accountable.
  • 1:11:00 When was Dalton last in Flow, and what was he doing?
  • 1:13:00 Dalton’s last message to the world
  • 1:16:00 Why do introverts start YouTube channels and podcasts?
  • 1:23:00 The sendoff

Mentions

Notion — The app I use to organize my life

Evernote — The app I used to use to organize my life

Roam Research — A notetaking tool for networked thought

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

The Problem of God by Mark Clark

Atomic Habits by James Clear

Entreleadership Podcast

Essentialism by Greg McKeown

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer

Matt Ragland — 70/20/10 rule, videos on bullet journaling and productivity

Peter McKinnon

Jesse Driftwood

The Biography of Johnny Cash by Steve Turner

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Mastery by Robert Greene

Dead Poet’s Society

The Call of The Wild

Into The Wild

Fleet Foxes

Carl Jung (Introverts and extroverts)

Haus Alcohol

Verve Coffee

Copa Vida Coffee

Braim.fm focus playlist

Please enjoy!

Cheers, and here’s to your good health.

Listen on Spotify | Listen on Apple | Watch on YouTube

Does The Penguin Latte Podcast remind you of fresh presents on Christmas morning? If so, please consider leaving a review on Apple Podcasts/iTunes. It takes all of 60 seconds (61 if you’re feeling extra spicy). Reviews make the podcast 1% better. If 500 of you leave reviews, the podcast gets 500% better. Plus, I love reading all of your juicy comments. Thanks!

This episode is brought to you (and powered) by Flow State Coffee!

My buddy Greg Frontiero started a company that sells products designed to put you in that groovy sensation called Flow. His first product, Flow State Coffee, is some of the best coffee I’ve tasted. Plus, it doesn’t make you feel like you’re about to have a heart attack after drinking 6 cups of it (I’ve tried).

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Use this link to buy a bag with code PAUL automatically applied for a discount.