Zach's PEN #23: 2021, A New Hope

I've got momentum on all fronts heading into this New Year.

Hello PENpals,

Wow, the strategy is working. For 12 days in a row, I have written a Twitter thread on a different subject. Each one was more concise (and usually better) than what I've been writing in the PEN. Here are the coolest things about about this development:

  1. It's taking me very little time, and basically no effort, because these are all things I want to write about, and the constraints of 12ish tweets of 280 characters gives me a really simple "form" to fill out.

  2. These threads are, each of them, between 250-550 words... Looked at another way, that's a whole blog post! Doing one daily is, dare I say, prolific, even by my stupid standards. And yet... effortless. This is what I'm after.

  3. This is clearing a lot of cobwebs out of my head, clarifying my thinking, reducing anxiety, and opening up further possibilities.

In short, this feels 100% sustainable, and there's a lot more to come.

There's a way to look at Twitter as this playground/workshop for sharing anything.

My first impression of Twitter 10 years ago was that the enforced brevity (then 140 characters) made it possible for anyone to communicate with anyone, because there's so little overhead to glancing at or responding to a single tweet. This meant that I could get into a friendly argument with Glenn Greenwald or Matt Taibbi (a couple of my all-time favorite journalists) and discuss product design with John August (the screenwriter of Big Fish and creator of the Fountain screenplay syntax). This was and remains true, but I'm now convinced that an even more important feature of this constraint is that it encourages sharing as much as you want.

Basically, you can't tweet too much (if you have thoughts or ideas that might be worth tweeting). This is a friendly, low bar, complete with feedback from the real world (or "marketplace of ideas" for those who like to orient everything around capitalism). Any idea, thought, question, or experiment you want to run in the wild with real people, you can. Just throw it out there. None of your tweets will take up too much space on anyone's timeline. They can just scroll past if it's not resonating.

And when you write a whole thread (a totally clunky accident of the medium), only a single entrypoint into that thread will appear on anyone's feed. They can choose to expand it to read more, share just one link in the chain or some or all of them. It's basically the perfect place for prototyping thoughts/ideas/pictures/almost anything at all.

My Year Theme Update

Last week, I talked about The Year of PRESS PUBLISH, but then I realized that that was a little too specific to be my year's theme, as it's very career/work-centric, so I've amended it to be The Year of Just Ring The Bell Again. Here's my thread on this theme.

And here are the other 6 (!) threads that I've written since the last PEN. I'm going to now add a nerdy <β€”> accessible rating to these, since I got a lot of feedback that no one knew what the hell I was talking about in all those threads last week. 1 is very narrowly accessible, probably only interesting to a single subculture, while 5 I think is broadly accessible for general audiences:

99 Cents πŸ€”πŸ€”πŸ€”πŸ€”πŸ€”

24 Frames Per Second πŸ€”πŸ€”πŸ€”πŸ€”

β€œContent” πŸ€”πŸ€”πŸ€”

(this one was adapted from a recent PEN, which I’m also trying)

Volunteer Creative Work πŸ€”πŸ€”πŸ€”

What I Learned at My First 3 Silent Retreats πŸ€”πŸ€”

A Complete Photography Course in 5 Tweets πŸ€”πŸ€”πŸ€”

At some point, I will probably choose some of these threads to post to my blog (I think of them as a sort of prototype-but-published stage on Twitter) and so they'll be a bit friendlier to read there, maybe with some accompanying artwork, but for now, I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing.

Very cool and exciting things coming up next week (I think). I have a lot of hope that my own personal dam is breaking. Hope it doesn't read as insufferable self-indulgence. I promise it comes from a good place. I just want to contribute.

Thanks for being my PENpal. I can't tell you how much this helps.

Much love,



P. S. 2020 can go straight to helllllllllllllllllllllllllll, but I’ve loved all the memories with these babies.