Hemingway’s Pencils

Pencil-Work

I’ve said this a lot lately, so I wanted to blog it: No one ever asked Hemingway which pencils he used to write his books.

The tools aren’t the thing. The effort and the content and the promotion and the connection and the networking and the building value are the thing.

Then and Now

You know what’s really changed? Platform. That’s one huge thing that’s changed. You can build a platform by yourself. You don’t need the mainstream (though they can certainly help). You can build and build and build and grow something of value as far as personal networks go.

You know what else has changed? Value extraction. In the old days, you could make a living selling books or whatever. You can’t do that now. (Most people can’t.) I don’t make very much money off sales of Trust Agents or Social Media 101. I make money off speeches that those books help me secure. I make money off clients who know me from those books. I make money off the social proof that comes from writing a New York Times Bestseller. But I don’t make money off the books. I work for every dime.

Forget about the Pencil

Work with what you have at hand. If you can’t afford a premium theme, don’t buy one. If you can, buy the one you want. Buy the one you’ve seen built into something useful. Buy the tools you can afford at any given moment, and plan to upgrade them, if an upgraded tool is helpful.

But never ever confuse the quality of the content with the tools that put it there. And don’t confuse content with value extraction. And know that YOU can do it. You just have to actually do it. Build it. Make it so.

ChrisBrogan.com runs on the Genesis Framework

Genesis Theme Framework

The Genesis Framework empowers you to quickly and easily build incredible websites with WordPress. Whether you're a novice or advanced developer, Genesis provides you with the secure and search-engine-optimized foundation that takes WordPress to places you never thought it could go.

With automatic theme updates and world-class support included, Genesis is the smart choice for your WordPress website or blog.

Become a StudioPress Affiliate

  • Bob

    Appreciate this post. “The effort and the content and the promotion and the connection and the networking and the building value are the thing.” Very Hemingwayesque.

  • http://bettercloser.com Bill Rice

    Amen on this one.

    I am big-time guilty of this one. I get caught in the perfection of the tools, design, and process instead of just doing.

    Doing builds the experience and the relationships that make you valuable. You are right, of course.

    Chris, you are a great read for personal focus!

  • http://www.danieldecker.net Daniel Decker

    Great point. Easy to get fixated on the wrong part of the equation. Tools help us build but the vision and skill of the builder are what matter most. Lots of people can have the same tools but end up with totally different creations.

  • http://www.danieldecker.net Daniel Decker

    Great point. Easy to get fixated on the wrong part of the equation. Tools help us build but the vision and skill of the builder are what matter most. Lots of people can have the same tools but end up with totally different creations.

  • http://noahfleming.com/ Noah Fleming

    As Seth would say, “lizard brain tactics”

    The lizard brain loves spending time worrying about the tools. Anything to stall from actually doing the work.

    Need to just grab those pencils and start writing,

  • http://linkedin.com/in/joesorge Joe Sorge

    Sometimes I think it’s okay to just flat out agree, and that’s where I am with this today Chris. Yes! Totally picking up what you’re laying down. Most important to just “ship it”. Seems like Noah and I both picked up the Seth vibe today.

  • http://twitter.com/MomMostTraveled CanCan

    I thought this was going to be one of those rants about how hipsters love Moleskin notebooks.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      Oh, I can do that, too, if you want. Only, um… I have a lot of Moleskine notebooks.

  • http://www.stevepitt.com Stevepitt

    The “Hemingway pencils” rule to lots of things! I can relate it to the world of graphic design. A lot of graphic designers worry about the latest tools, tricks, fashions but at the end of the day it is the thought process that goes into the design that is the important thing not the “tools” used to produce it

  • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

    Tools are at their best when they are transparent. When they let the creator create. Unfortunately we have all had tools that don’t work well. A computer that crashes, a speel checker that doesn’t catch errors, or a video camera that has the wrong output for Youtube. We have all been there. In the old days I can remember having cheap pencils that didn’t write well. They slow you down.
    Advice: Buy good tools… don’t scrimp. One good tool is worth more than a dozen that don’t work well. Your output and your sanity will thank you.

    • http://twitter.com/BLichtenwalner Ben Lichtenwalner

      Well put, John. I think the “Hemingway’s Pencils” analogy is fantastic and accurate. Yet, without a printing press, how many of us would still be learning religion second-hand? Brogan was, of course, accurate in that content is far more important, but there is a value to the best tools as well.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      Well sure. You need good tools. But if you blame tools for your success, then you’re not really in the game. I see little Brazilian kids kick rocks around playing soccer. They don’t let the fact they don’t have a FIFA ball get in the way.

  • http://itchynotscratchy.wordpress.com Moptopp

    Perfect quotation for the conversation I was just having about trying to sell social media to non-profit trustees who don’t quite get it. Try to not confuse them and put them off by talking about the tools you’ll use – just tell them about the relationships you can build with supporters and the benefits you’ll reap, and I’m not necessarily thinking about money as the main benefit.
    Thanks and well-timed with the tweet.

  • http://itchynotscratchy.wordpress.com Moptopp

    Perfect quotation for the conversation I was just having about trying to sell social media to non-profit trustees who don’t quite get it. Try to not confuse them and put them off by talking about the tools you’ll use – just tell them about the relationships you can build with supporters and the benefits you’ll reap, and I’m not necessarily thinking about money as the main benefit.
    Thanks and well-timed with the tweet.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      To me, it’s hard to sell if you don’t know the other person’s language. I never talk about the tools. I talk about outcomes.

  • http://reallifemadman.wordpress.com Marjorie Clayman

    Phew. I thought you were going to say that all of your posts were going to be monosyllabic now. And then I was thinking, “What’s he gonna do about the last name?”

    It’s an interesting point. People do ask about Hemmingway’s state of mind when he wrote those books though…I wonder if people still consider how bloggers feel as they type. Hmm.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      I feel a bit frantic as I type. I’m usually writing in between other assignments. : )

      • http://reallifemadman.wordpress.com Marjorie Clayman

        See, if you don’t reveal that no one would know!

        Now I’ll just feel bad every time you post :)

        Now me, every time I blog, why, I’m in a tropical villa of zen and puppies and candy dreams. :)

  • http://bmarketeer.blogspot.com Hans De Keulenaer

    As with most things, tools aren’t everything. Content is the true bottleneck. Still, I would say that the effort of managing a server-backup-LAMP-CMS stack, protecting it from abuse while ensuring a smooth user experience is far from trivial.

    And content is such difficult delivery that we too often stop there, with a sigh of relief, whereas that’s just where communication starts.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      Yep, it’s tricky to make good software. If that’s what holds back someone’s success, however, then they don’t have the right priorities. Agree?

  • http://twitter.com/ThrowingaBrick Roy Scribner

    Chris, I think a lot of people get wrapped-up over tweaking designs and layouts, and pursuing the next-great-SEO-trick and get distracted from their primary value-generation tool, which is great content. I can surely admit that I have fallen into this trap, in the past :)

  • http://twitter.com/ThrowingaBrick Roy Scribner

    Chris, I think a lot of people get wrapped-up over tweaking designs and layouts, and pursuing the next-great-SEO-trick and get distracted from their primary value-generation tool, which is great content. I can surely admit that I have fallen into this trap, in the past :)

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      The best part is that it’s in the past, Roy. : )

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      The best part is that it’s in the past, Roy. : )

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      The best part is that it’s in the past, Roy. : )

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      The best part is that it’s in the past, Roy. : )

  • http://twitter.com/ThrowingaBrick Roy Scribner

    Chris, I think a lot of people get wrapped-up over tweaking designs and layouts, and pursuing the next-great-SEO-trick and get distracted from their primary value-generation tool, which is great content. I can surely admit that I have fallen into this trap, in the past :)

  • http://twitter.com/LDpodcast Whitney Hoffman

    As someone fishing up a book draft, I say amen. We spoke alot about this at Podcamp Philly this past weekend- how building a platform and sharing useful content all along enables other projects and offers to come your way, in part by demonstrating your competence, but by also letting people get to know you slowly over time.
    (It may be the longest “sales cycle” in the world, however, its also the most durable one as well.)
    I think we learned this at the very first pod camp- the friends you make over time are the ones who become your most vocal advocates and are more than willing to lend a hand, connect you to others, and do whatever is necessary to help everyone succeed. It doesn’t have to be fancy, technically perfect or any of that, but you do have to offer consistent value over time to gain and retain an audience that is really a community of people who will continually engage and put their shoulder to the wheel when necessary.

    • http://twitter.com/BLichtenwalner Ben Lichtenwalner

      I really like how you framed that, Whitney. I agree – it is possibly the longest sales cycle, but that effort and wait is balanced with incredible durability. Thanks for sharing – may I quote you on it?

      • http://twitter.com/LDpodcast Whitney Hoffman

        You bet. Thanks for the compliment!

      • http://twitter.com/LDpodcast Whitney Hoffman

        You bet. Thanks for the compliment!

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      Can’t wait to read said book, Whit. : )

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      Can’t wait to read said book, Whit. : )

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      Can’t wait to read said book, Whit. : )

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      Can’t wait to read said book, Whit. : )

  • Anonymous

    Great point–get it? point/pencil… oh well, it’s Monday.

    Seriously, when you care about your blog/business–you want everything today. And, it’s not like a Christmas Catalogue wish list of things that might be nice or fun or …

    With your blog/business some of the technology and tools are necessary NOW. It is hard to keep doing the doggy paddle until you can reach the shore and get what you need. (not sure that analogy worked–again Monday AM)

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      I’m in the throes of that right now, Mary. Writing books takes FOREVER. I want the checks and the appearance on Regis now. : )

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      I’m in the throes of that right now, Mary. Writing books takes FOREVER. I want the checks and the appearance on Regis now. : )

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      I’m in the throes of that right now, Mary. Writing books takes FOREVER. I want the checks and the appearance on Regis now. : )

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      I’m in the throes of that right now, Mary. Writing books takes FOREVER. I want the checks and the appearance on Regis now. : )

    • http://www.dogwalkblog.com/ Rufus Dogg

      We do the doggy paddle every day around here ;)

  • Anonymous

    Great point–get it? point/pencil… oh well, it’s Monday.

    Seriously, when you care about your blog/business–you want everything today. And, it’s not like a Christmas Catalogue wish list of things that might be nice or fun or …

    With your blog/business some of the technology and tools are necessary NOW. It is hard to keep doing the doggy paddle until you can reach the shore and get what you need. (not sure that analogy worked–again Monday AM)

  • http://twitter.com/ian_goodall Ian

    And in one you have dashed my dreams of writing a bestselling novel then retiring to the countryside by 30. Thanks, Chris, for destroying a young person’s dream! On the plus side, you have given me more reasons to pursue all the realistic ideas I currently have so thanks for that too! :-)

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      I’m here to crush you, Ian. It’s what I do.

  • http://vernacularninjitsu.com Vernacular Ninja

    “The tools aren’t the thing. The effort and the content and the promotion and the connection and the networking and the building value are the thing. ”

    Not sure it can be summarized any better. Focus on the people and the approach, not the platforms.

    You’ve just described exactly my greatest apprehension re: social media and the need to find a place a value vs. contributing to the static.

    Thanks Chris.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      If we all focused on the platforms, I’d be asking you for your AOL screenname. : )

  • http://twitter.com/BLichtenwalner Ben Lichtenwalner

    This is a great analogy, reminder and motivator for any author procrastinating the actual writing (as well as clarifying for anyone still planning to make a fortune on publishing alone!). That said, for me, the tools are a great place to focus my energy at less creative times. Those of us that like to tinker with the code may find it a great balance to writing at certain times.

    But yes, I too must spend less time worrying about which pencils I use… Thanks for sharing.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      Here to help, Ben. : )

  • http://noteasytoforget.com James Ball

    “The tools aren’t the thing. The effort and the content and the promotion and the connection and the networking and the building value are the thing.” – Priceless and Timeless. So glad you keep finding new ways to say this and drive it home. I love that you used Hemingway today!

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      I do what I can, James. Thanks. : )

  • http://noteasytoforget.com James Ball

    “The tools aren’t the thing. The effort and the content and the promotion and the connection and the networking and the building value are the thing.” – Priceless and Timeless. So glad you keep finding new ways to say this and drive it home. I love that you used Hemingway today!

  • http://www.mpoweringu.com Brian Hamlett

    See, now this is good and needs to be said more often. We need to all learn the tools, but not focus on the tools. It is sad to hear that about the perceived financial “success” from writing books. My eyes were open by my great friend Peg Robarcheck, who has written 25 novels under a pseudonym, and would not tell you she’s any kind of bajillionaire! BUT, she does echo what you say Chris in that the “success” of her novels did give her increased credibility in part of what she does now… a writing coach who helps others learn how to become better writers… and write that dang book already!

    Thanks for reaffirming what she’s told me!

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      Exactly so, Brian. It’s just another opportunity to point out that we have to use tools for what they’re meant for, and not to obsess over them. Even a book is a tool.

      • http://www.mpoweringu.com Brian Hamlett

        Good point Chris… hmm…. a post idea on “stepping stones” comes to mind. You look at the stones, but only to see which one you need to step on next. And, the true focus isn’t on the stones (the tools) but what division (now and where you want to be) they help you cross and what destination (goal) they help you get to.

        Wow… did I just sound a bit too intellectual? ;)

  • http://www.mpoweringu.com Brian Hamlett

    See, now this is good and needs to be said more often. We need to all learn the tools, but not focus on the tools. It is sad to hear that about the perceived financial “success” from writing books. My eyes were open by my great friend Peg Robarcheck, who has written 25 novels under a pseudonym, and would not tell you she’s any kind of bajillionaire! BUT, she does echo what you say Chris in that the “success” of her novels did give her increased credibility in part of what she does now… a writing coach who helps others learn how to become better writers… and write that dang book already!

    Thanks for reaffirming what she’s told me!

  • http://www.localmusicjourney.com Nick Venturella

    Chris, great post. As I write my own thoughts and experiences to an audience of indie musicians through my book, The Local Music Journey, I tell them to be as professional as their means allow–good now, is better than perfect later. The idea being that upgrades can come as one’s success grows and there are more means to afford such upgrades, but don’t wait for it. Be proactive and get started. Each iteration of your efforts will improve over time. You have to be a dreamer and a doer.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      I quite agree with your point about good now. Really excellent way to say it.

      • http://www.echristopherclark.com E. Christopher Clark

        I agree. I wouldn’t have just a little while back, as I’ve always been something of a perfectionist, but I’m totally coming around to this way of thinking now.

      • http://www.echristopherclark.com E. Christopher Clark

        I agree. I wouldn’t have just a little while back, as I’ve always been something of a perfectionist, but I’m totally coming around to this way of thinking now.

  • commoncents

    “I make money off speeches that those books helped me secure.” That is understandable. You lost me on ‘value extraction’.

    You’re lucky Chris that you are a speaker as well as a writer. I think that’s why some people do become writers…. because they don’t speak well. With writing they can edit their words, and take their time thinking about the words. Tools have certainly helped them, whether they work with a pencil or a computer, but tools do change and not always for the better. The focus needs to be where you said, on the content. Clear concise content.

  • commoncents

    “I make money off speeches that those books helped me secure.” That is understandable. You lost me on ‘value extraction’.

    You’re lucky Chris that you are a speaker as well as a writer. I think that’s why some people do become writers…. because they don’t speak well. With writing they can edit their words, and take their time thinking about the words. Tools have certainly helped them, whether they work with a pencil or a computer, but tools do change and not always for the better. The focus needs to be where you said, on the content. Clear concise content.

  • Chris Ruys

    I smiled when I read this. As a “Sunday painter,” I know that the type of pencil and in fact all the tools used by an artist DO matter. But you’re right when it comes to creating content. It’s all about quality and providing value.

    Chris, you say you can’t make money selling books, but some experts swear there’s a way to sell books by the truckload. What comments do you have about their approach?

  • Chris Ruys

    I smiled when I read this. As a “Sunday painter,” I know that the type of pencil and in fact all the tools used by an artist DO matter. But you’re right when it comes to creating content. It’s all about quality and providing value.

    Chris, you say you can’t make money selling books, but some experts swear there’s a way to sell books by the truckload. What comments do you have about their approach?

  • http://rickcaffeinated.com Rick Stilwell

    This piece is gold: “And know that YOU can do it. You just have to actually do it. Build it. Make it so.” Preach it. No, really – keep preaching it, so I don’t forget and I can have more to share with folks around me just not getting it.

  • http://www.echristopherclark.com E. Christopher Clark

    I may have said this before somewhere, but I worry about a world in which books are nothing but souvenirs. That said, I agree with your main point that the tools don’t really matter. This is what I tell my English Comp students at the beginning of the semester: every writer needs to find the tool and the method that works for them. What works for one writer doesn’t work for all.

  • http://www.softepic.com softepic

    Free Software – Over 100000 Softwares Free Downloads

  • http://twitter.com/kyleplacy Kyle Lacy

    Sometimes all it is…is just doing it!

  • http://www.theemotionmachine.com Steven

    It’s about the pattern and the relationships, not about the medium. Good advice! Is it really that hard for you to make money selling books though? I’m worried because I want to write an e-book for my blog as a way of making a steady stream of income. Maybe I should just write it as a form of “social proof,” and then sell other services alongside it – e-courses, counseling sessions, etc.?

  • http://twitter.com/sethharwood Seth Harwood

    Hemingway used a typewriter. He’d wake up every morning and type standing up until he couldn’t type anymore. Then he’d drink until dinner so his mind wasn’t processing anything.

  • http://twitter.com/sethharwood Seth Harwood

    Hemingway used a typewriter. He’d wake up every morning and type standing up until he couldn’t type anymore. Then he’d drink until dinner so his mind wasn’t processing anything.

  • http://twitter.com/sethharwood Seth Harwood

    Hemingway used a typewriter. He’d wake up every morning and type standing up until he couldn’t type anymore. Then he’d drink until dinner so his mind wasn’t processing anything.

  • http://twitter.com/sethharwood Seth Harwood

    Hemingway used a typewriter. He’d wake up every morning and type standing up until he couldn’t type anymore. Then he’d drink until dinner so his mind wasn’t processing anything.

  • http://www.webbedinkinc.com Tia Peterson

    Wow. Very inspiring! I think we all can get caught up in “success paralysis” when we feel that we aren’t equipped with the right things. Endless stories have been told about moving forward in spite of that (David and Goliath, anyone?). Thanks for the push.

  • Anonymous

    You make a great point… up to a point. While the focus shouldn’t be about the tools, certain aspects of the tools help (or hurt) your cause. Using two of your examples: Your Book and Premium Themes, let me illustrate.Trust Agents lends credibility to get you speaking engagements and consulting gigs. Would it have worked as well without the major publisher behind it? The information between the covers is the same.Premium themes are a bit like dressing well for an interview. Sure, the theme won’t keep you looking like an idiot, but it may get someone to stick around long enough to pay attention to what you have to say.

  • http://twitter.com/ClarabelaMedia Clara Mathews

    When people are not sure which steps to take next or if what they are doing is valid, they will often focus on the tools or the process. They will spend weeks/months on a business plan instead of actually starting the business. It’s just busy work.

    (What that a Star Trek reference at the end?)

  • http://twitter.com/ramseym Ramsey Mohsen

    This is my favorite post you’ve written in the past 2 months. Well said Chris.

  • http://citysylvester.com Karl “City” Sylvester

    You’ll never close the gap between where you are and success with inadequate motivators. Drive is crucial, but you also need gas.

  • TD

    I am interested in your thoughts on technology as a tool. I like your overall point, and I understand your call to action (like Nike’s “Just Do It”); however, I think the right tools are essential. You say, “You can build and build and build and grow something of value as far as personal networks go”, what happens when your website has technical difficulties? I know when my computer acts up, I go into crisis mode. I call my IT guy immediately, miss work, whatever it takes to get it back online. What would happen if your tool, technology, did not function properly?

    Being in management, I consistently send messages to my team; such as, be the brand, under promise & overachieve, and follow up and follow through. These messages usually pop into my head when someone is explaining why they won’t be able to accomplish an assigned task. My messages aim to put them on the correct path for success. One message I find extremely valuable is use the tools. So many times the answers lie in the information we have at our fingertips through technology. Usually taking the time to dig deeply into the numbers and assess trends results in a simple solution. For example, take your authorship, without recorded data, how much longer would it have taken you to understand that the money is not there. Furthermore, how much harder would it be for you to book speaking engagements without the technology of today.

    Now, I must make clear that I am not siding with those often sitting across the desk blaming the tools for the failure. I agree that the point is not what pencils Hemingway used to write his books, but the content inside. Too often we get caught in the trap of excuses and tools are an easy target. I also agree that you can build a platform by yourself, I would just interject that without technology it would be pretty tough.

    Bill Gates said, “I think it’s fair to say that personal computers have become the most empowering tool we’ve ever created. They’re tools of communication, they’re tools of creativity, and they can be shaped by their user”. I would have to agree with Gates, personal computers are empowering. With newspapers on the decline, information is being accessed through the internet more and more. With this access we have participation. Today, more than ever, we have a voice. The mere fact that we are having this discussion is proof of the power of personal computers. We both have the ability to present our opinion based on our observations of the world. While we are live completely separate lives, we can connect on ideas in which we consider important.

    My message would be, don’t ever confuse the quality of the tools with the content put there. When facing a roadblock, use the tools, dig deep to find solutions. Know that you have more to work with than ever before, and it will happen because you make it happen.

  • http://twitter.com/TomDelRosario Thomas DelRosario

    Maybe no one asked what kind of pencils Hemingway used. But that’s an exception. There are plenty of people who know exactly what kind of guitar and equipment Hendrix and Clapton used. Ansel Adams equipment is noted on most of his famous photos. The type of pencil, ink, materials used by an artist are well-worn topics.

    • Rachel J

      Moleskin claims that Hemingway used their notebooks too! In many cases for artists, the materials are important. But just because you use the best materials doesn’t mean people are going to like your work. I fell asleep trying to read Old Man and the Sea.

  • http://twitter.com/TomDelRosario Thomas DelRosario

    Maybe no one asked what kind of pencils Hemingway used. But that’s an exception. There are plenty of people who know exactly what kind of guitar and equipment Hendrix and Clapton used. Ansel Adams equipment is noted on most of his famous photos. The type of pencil, ink, materials used by an artist are well-worn topics.

  • http://twitter.com/TomDelRosario Thomas DelRosario

    Maybe no one asked what kind of pencils Hemingway used. But that’s an exception. There are plenty of people who know exactly what kind of guitar and equipment Hendrix and Clapton used. Ansel Adams equipment is noted on most of his famous photos. The type of pencil, ink, materials used by an artist are well-worn topics.

  • http://twitter.com/Larryphoto Larry Lourcey

    Great post. As a professional photographer, I know so many people get worried about having the best, newest gear – when they should be spending money on getting better at their craft.

    @larryphoto