Active Recall: In-M-Out #1

The newsletter formally known as The Listener. I haven't listened to podcasts quite as much. This = similar topics (learning to learn + making things online) x podcasts/books/video links

This is the In-M-Out newsletter

Another year, another attempt at this newsletter. I'm going to try to make this easier with more structure.

The gimmick: the In-M-Out newsletter

  • In(put) — This could also be In(fo diet) but it'll be three recommendations: 1 book I'm currently reading (and a blog post from the author if it exists), 1 podcast episode from the week, and 1 video

  • M(ental model) — I considered calling this MMMM for multimedia mental models or movie models or mixed martial models. But I'll try to explain something with examples from movies, games, sports, other online creators, etc.

  • Out(put) — Strictly a blurb about the things I hit publish on this week.

The goal: Make it easy and fun to make

In whatever way I can, I want this to be something I look forward to writing. Naval's whole "Looks like work but is fun for you" thing. For me, that means

  • Collect already-read things (not the time for brand new research)

  • Use existing quotes (not the time to transcribe podcast quotes)

  • Sketched visuals (not the time for brand new vector illustration)

Here's an outline of the structure with the items for this week. This didn't take too long to put together (but let's see if I can actually put this post together in an hour.

Okay on to the actual thing.


  • Book: The Art and Business of Online Writing by Nicolas Cole (@nicolascole77) — The main thing it's changed my mind about: you shouldn't choose a blog as your main place to publish writing. Specifically if your goal is to have an audience for your writing. (So that you can get feedback, improve, etc.) With the rise of newslette—nope, wrong too. Cut your teeth by writing on social platforms where an audience exists.

  • Video: Terminator 2 behind-the-scenes of a deleted scene — My wife (as of earlier this month!) and I are watching all the Terminator movies. Which now also means that I just watch a bunch of peripheral theory and other types of videos. Came across this and it talks about all the work that went into a practical effect that didn't even make the theatrical release of Terminator 2. If you want to re-create it, first create a twin of your lead actresses.

Model: Show your work (sometimes)

Sketching out an illustration idea: hard work is obvious, hard work is hidden

"I make them show all their work in math

and hide it on their final drafts in English."

— Taylor Mali in "What Teacher's Make" (text)

Sometimes it's valuable to show your work, sometimes only the end result matters.

  • Sometimes hard work is obvious… — Nobody thinks Alex Honnold is an overnight success. It's obvious that free climbing El Capitan requires physical and mental training. 

  • ...sometimes the hard work is not obvious: NFTs — All that's captured in headlines is the insane price and that the art is digital. Jack Butcher sold "NFTs, explained" for $172k, at the time, 74 ETH forever. Some people pointed out that it probably took a few minutes. (Yes, pretty much.) So what was hard? Building two Twitter accounts to 100k+ followers, including people willing to spend $100k on digital art.

  • Grade school: showing your work matters in math — If you turn a long division assignment in without showing the work then you don't get credit, even if all the answers are right. What's the appropriate angle for some part of a bridge? Only the correct answer matters.

  • Grade school: the final draft is all that matters for a literature essay — At least in terms of the final grade. You might need drafts done for various reviews but it's the final draft that matters for the important grade.

  • Game of Thrones: the last season vs. The Last Watch — The last season didn't stick the landing. (Some of the episodes were great, though!) "The Last Watch" is a documentary about making the last season. It was incredibly, incredibly, incredibly difficult. Fewer episodes but harder than the other seasons to make. But the effort doesn't directly lead to results.

  • Sports: we're fascinated when it looks like hard work… — Kobe trained like a maniac. You know who else exerts themselves that much? Probably any D1 wrestler. If you're strictly measuring by something general like audience size, it's not just hard work that matters. If you're measuring by success within that sport, the hard work starts mattering. But it isn't the only thing—plenty of people probably trained just as hard at different levels without moving on to the next stage.

  • Sports: we're fascinated when it looks easy (as long as you win) — The Dream Team rolled through the Olympics and made it look like it wasn't work at all. On the other hand, we love to hate on teams who lose who seemingly didn't put the work in. Wasted talent, etc.

  • On the internet: your audience might enjoy seeing the drafts — If you're making things, you can share things as you go. Austin Kleon's "Show Your Work" goes into how simple and valuable this can be.

  • The internet flips things: your process can be the main thing — Ali Abdaal shared the process in vlogs as he went through medical school. The traditional end result of medical school is a degree and a job. The other end result: a library of videos and a huge audience to build a business and career.

There's no shortcut to building an archive of work going back 3, 5, 12 years.


Some things I made this week.

  • The Notepod Podcast: MMA lessons (but for making things online)My Desk Setup — Inspired by the bonus podcast course in Steph Smith's "Doing Content Right" bonus podcast course, I started recording daily. Some aren't good, so I don't post those. For the others, I'll schedule them out as weekly episodes. I'm tempted to post these more frequently but I know the daily recording will be too hard to keep up. If I bank 20 episodes, then I'll start thinking about increasing frequency.

See you next week!