Are You Analog or Digital?


"The computer is really good for editing your ideas, but it's not really good for generating ideas.  There are too many opportunities to hit the delete key.  We start editing ideas before we even have them...

... It wasn't until I started bringing analog tools back into my process that making things became fun again and my work started to improve." - Austin Kleon

Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like an Artist, advocates using two desks for your creative work; one "analog" and one "digital."  Nothing electronic is allowed on the analog desk, only tools and materials that can be physically manipulated; pens, paper, tape, guitar, piano, etc.  The digital desk houses your computer. 

The idea is to switch between the two stations.  Use your hands and "play" at the analog desk.  When you arrive at an idea that needs further development, move to the digital desk.  Once your digital efforts begin to siphon your will to live, switch back to the analog station and play.  

Can you see yourself working this way?

The power of our digital tools enable us to do just about everything with greater efficiency and independence.  Today, you know that musicians are able to produce and distribute professional sounding music with nothing more than a laptop and a microphone.  Unfortunately, this can also drain much of the fun from the creative process. 

Ten years ago, when the technology wasn't as developed, I knew that almost no one would hear my music and if they did, expectations for home recordings were low.  For that reason, recording was "playing."  I would just screw around; add a ton of harmony vocals, mess with trippy backwards effects, run keyboards through guitar pedals, and most notably; not care if a vocal performance was perfect.  

The takeaway from this "analog" and "digital" desk idea is to get back to playing and not worry so much about being perfect.  

How about you?

Are you playing enough?

Would you benefit from having an analog desk?

Let me know by replying in the comments below.

Have a great week!
John Anealio

20 comments:

  1. I don't know if I would benefit from an analog desk, but anecdotes might help work out my thoughts.

    On Friday my boss was out from work (sick son). During a down point in my work cycle, I just started doodling something for Patrick. I kept the doodle on a spot on my desk and every so often I unplugged from my work and worked on the doodle.

    More generally, at work, there is work I need to do on the computer, and work I have to do with paper claims. I usually segregate when I have to do one or the other rather than hopping back and forth. I find I work better that way.

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    1. Thanks for chiming in Paul.

      One thing I didn't even mention in this essay is that when we're on our computers, there is the constant temptation of checking e-mail, social media, blogs, etc. I know that I often get distracted by that stuff while I'm in the middle of work.

      For me, unplugging not only helps me to remain focused, it actually reduces anxiety as well. I think hopping between the analog and digital is a good way to work.

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  2. Interesting! I've always made music acoustically (early music kind of requires it) and I've only tried to record music once at home. It was really just for fun, but Tony ran it on a Christmas StarShipSofa. And I prefer to write on paper first and then transfer and edit to a computer document later, when I'm almost done. That works well for my short blog pieces about poetry.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your experience Diane!

      I actually wrote this essay on little scraps of paper first. I enjoyed working this way. I felt more focused. I don't know if I'd want to work this way all of the time, but it's nice to try a different way of working on things.

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  3. Nice post. When I write songs/compose, I find that my most creative and satisfying ideas come from working with pen and paper or on guitar or piano. A lot of crap gets filtered out there. Once things are working for me on that level, I'll bring it into Reaper to develop it further, tweak arrangements, add parts, etc.
    I recently watched the documentary "Sound City", a cool tribute to the studio. If you have not seen it, I recommend it. The history around that studio is fantastic. They emphasize the famous Neve all analog board that they use and how it influenced generations of musicians, engineers and producers. Nothing digital. A different time and a different set of rules that forced musicians to be good at what they do. The whole thing has me rethinking my process a bit. Still, for a guy working on his own, DAWs are the way to go, imho.
    I guess there are a lot of ways to work and each one has benefits. But I agree that splitting digital and analog work spaces kinda forces you to grapple with your ideas a little more and may just give you that extra bit of insight your idea needs.

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    1. Thanks James. That sounds like a great way to work, something I'm moving towards myself.

      I did watch Sound City! I wrote a blog post about it here: http://scifisongs.blogspot.com/2013/08/should-you-do-it-yourself.html

      Yeah, DAWs are the way to go for me too, but I think stepping away from them is a good idea too.

      Thanks for the thoughtful response James!

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  4. All things considered, even if I had the space I don't think an analog desk would help me at this point. I'm not sure what I would do with it. My penmanship is terrible and I can't draw so how would it help me in my writing?

    (Disclaimer) Just because it's not for me, I'm not going to dis on the idea of having an analog desk. If someone else finds it useful, that's awesome! I am not one of those people who downplays another fandom because I'm not into it.

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  5. I don't think I will do this, because I find I'm just more productive overall using the computer. I'm able to research things quickly, and hopping back and forth -not all the time but occasionally- actually gives me ideas. I'll need a break, hop over to twitter, read a post and think hey, what if...?

    That said, I take most of my notes throughout the day by writing them down or by making a quick audio-recording of my idea and writing it down later. I also almost exclusively write in cursive when I'm writing a poem. There's something about the act of slowing down to make each word perfect that works so much better that way for me.

    This was an interesting post. Thanks for sharing, John!

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    1. No problem Cathy. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

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  6. Oh man, my problem with digital is not editing... NaNoWriMo got me out of that habit.

    No, my problem with digital is the distractions.

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    1. That's another post entirely! :-)

      But it is another advantage of using analog tools.

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  7. I don't do separate desks, but most of my brainstorming is done using pen and paper. When I'm working on a longer project, such as outlining a novel, I may go back and forth -- jot the initial notes on paper, pop them into Scrivener, see where I still need something, add some notes on the computer, jot other notes on paper as I think of them . . .

    The one thing I've found that really bumps my creative output is doing free-writing by hand before I start. I combined ideas from Rachel Aaron's 2,000 to 10,000, David Farland's Daily Kick on How to Reach Your Writing Zone, part 2, and morning pages from The Artist's Way. The idea is that before I sit down to write on any given day, I take the time to think about what I'm going to write, anywhere I'm stuck, where I left off the next day, snippets of dialogue I'd like to use, and so forth. Then, when I sit down at the computer, I know where I'm going and the words flow for me, so this is how I've been combining analog and digital lately.

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    1. That's a great way to incorporate both analog and digital!

      Thank you for sharing those resources Erin. I'm going to check them out right now!

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  8. I write on either paper or keyboard, as the mood strikes me. I try to make sure I have either at hand to suit that mood.

    One thing I found, for me, writing episodic stories (like serials) works pretty well on paper, because I'm focusing on one particular thing at the moment instead of trying to fit it in the general narrative. Occasionally, something won't fit, but that's fairly rare. When I really get going on an episodic story, sometimes it's like the characters are going "this happened, write this down... oh yeah, but before this happened, that happened, and there was another part in between." I just get at it and hope I don't run out of ink/paper or have a battery go flat. :-P

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    1. Very cool Larry! Thanks for sharing your experience.

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  9. That's what I am trying to set up in my office and how I tend to work when out. Despite being a huge fan of tech and gadgets I still tend to write in gorgeous notebooks to get my ideas out of my head & begin to develop them. Once they're on their way I turn to my electronics to get them finished.

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  10. I effectively work this way, as out of the house I have pen and paper, and at home I have an air. (its rare that I'd take the computer out with me, although I do have my phone and various bits of software on that.)

    I'm productive in different ways in different mediums - for sheer useable stuff its got to be analogue, but then the digital helps me to hone that and see much more quickly (be it words or sound) what is actually going to turn into something scaleable and/or saleable. I do actively miss editing with tape and a razor blade though.

    Of course, performance has ultimately got to be analogue - its a bit difficult to stand in front of an audience and react to them, via the computer screen....

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    1. Wow! I never edited with tape and razor blade. I go back as far as cassette tapes on a Tascam Four Track. :-)

      Yeah, agreed on the analog of performance.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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