Welcome to The (Improved! Expanded!) Art of Noticing

So much exciting news: Here's what's changing, what's being added, what's getting better — and what's staying just as you like it.

Welcome (Back) to the Art of Noticing

I’m excited to announce some big changes — some big improvements — here at TAoN. Starting this week I’m upping the frequency, expanding the newsletter’s scope, adding some new recurring features and launching a few experiments.

TAoN will stick to its core mission of offering inspiration and useful prompts to help you spark creativity and engage the world. But I believe there’s more potential to connect around these subjects — especially right now — so I’m doubling down on this project to find out if I’m right. And I’m asking for your support.

Here are some details about what I’m doing, and why.

I started this newsletter as an every-other-week addendum to my book The Art of Noticing, conceiving of it as a way to continue the book’s mission of exploring what we can actually do to build attention muscles, spot what others overlooked, and experience the joy of noticing. I also saw it as a way to build and maintain a connection with readers.

Over time the newsletter took on a life of its own, to my complete delight. There were nice notices and mentions from Austin Kleon, Mark Frauenfelder, Paola Antonelli, Jason Kottke, and others. But even better was the reader response — not just the nice notes, which I obviously appreciate, but the enthusiasm for participant-driven features like Icebreaker of the Week, and the thoughtful feedback on other prompts and explorations. Gradually, this hobby of putting out a newsletter every couple of weeks became one of my most satisfying pastimes, professional or otherwise.

As the audience grew, the project took up more time and energy. I intended to take it weekly some time ago, but I knew that with my other professional commitments I couldn’t possibly swing it. So when the stars aligned in a way that allowed me to take a shot at building something bigger and more lasting around TAoN, I could not resist. 

Part of making this new adventure sustainable will be the introduction of a paid tier. Don’t worry, as I explain below, everything I’ve been providing for free will remain so. But I’ll also be adding even more fun and useful and inspirational material, and at least one virtual workshop/event later this summer for paid subscribers only.

I know a paid tier is not in everyone’s budget; I’ll try to work with you to find ways to make as much available to as many as I can. I’m particularly mindful of making this the best resource it can be for educators. (More on that to come).

For the next couple of weeks, all posts, including all the new stuff, will remain free; plus I’ve set the subscription prices at lower introductory rates. For those who can afford more, there’s a “founding member” option that will help me subsidize others. Ultimately, the hope is that enough people will become paid subscribers to make this work out for everyone (including me).

I recognize there is some hubris in all this, and I spent a lot of time reflecting on whether it is a gamble worth taking. Why, after all, does The Art of Noticing matter so much to me? As I was ruminating over that question, I happened to read somewhere the assertion that, “The most important factor in general well-being is being ‘interested in life.’” And that’s as good a summary of the TAoN mission as I could imagine. At its core, this project is about staying creative and making the most of work and connecting with others and keeping true to our selves. And every one of those ideas comes down to focusing on how to stay interested in life.

So that’s the mission. I think it’s a good one — especially now, as we emerge from a period that caused a lot of reflection about what really matters and why. The Art of Noticing is about a way of being in the world. I hope you’ll stick with me as I keep pursuing that mission.

WHAT’S NOT CHANGING

The Art of Noticing (the newsletter as well as the book) is built around sharing prompts, ideas, and inspiration you can use in your creative practice, in your job, in your daily life. That’s not changing. 

  • Every Monday, I’ll send out at least one new prompt, sometimes from me, sometimes from an artist or writer or educator or other source. Plus a batch of links I think you’ll find entertaining or useful.

  • On Wednesday I’ll send the latest installment of a recurring reader-driven feature such as Icebreaker of the Week or the Dictionary of Missing Words.  

This core material will remain free. So if you’re happy with the newsletter as it is and don’t want to hear any more from me than that, then do nothing! But it is my hope, of course, that you will want to hear more. So let’s move on to ….

WHAT’S NEW

Starting this week, I will be adding an additional post on Thursdays. This will be free to all for a couple of weeks, then will be for paid subscribers only. This post will alternate between two themes: 

  • The Art of Noticing ... at work. For a while now I have been looking for a way to bring together my interest in improving work life with the themes of TAoN. As an example you can check out my recent piece for The Times’ DealBook on why taking breaks and goofing off isn’t an impediment to doing good work — to the contrary, it’s vital. Expect posts in this vein, but with even more of a TAoN-ish emphasis on actions you can take. 

  • “Summer School.” Over the next few months I’ll be sharing a considered series of prompts designed to encourage you (and me) to get back to thoughtfully exploring the world again, post-quarantine. 

  • Related to those Summer School posts, and also in the works: an Art of Noticing online workshop, free to subscribers. I hope this event will serve as a template for future workshops and visits, both in person and virtual, in education settings and work settings. Details to come.

On Saturdays, I’ll be adding another short, lighter subscriber-only post with an emphasis on discussion and feedback. 

  • I often hear from readers about how they’ve put insights and inspiration from the newsletter to use. I’ll now be sharing more of those stories.

WHAT’S IMPROVED

I’m excited to have a vote of confidence from Substack on all of this. Notably, as a recently minted member of its Substack Pro program, TAoN got an awesome design upgrade courtesy of Tara Slade. Thank you, Tara! And in the interest of disclosure: I’m also grateful to Substack for giving me a bit of runway to figure out if I can really make a go of this in the months ahead. (And to be clear, “making a go of this” means attracting enough subscribers to be self-sufficient in a fairly timely fashion.) I appreciate this chance, and intend to make the most of it.

WHAT’S MORE

I’ve earned a living as a journalist and columnist for a long time, and it would be disingenuous of me not to acknowledge that there’s a big journalistic story in the background — the story of the so-called “creator economy.” For a while, we’ve been moving toward a world where creative expression depends on building more direct relationships with supporters, and that’s a story I’ve spent time covering. 

Now I’m going to experience it firsthand. And I’m excited! After all, it’s not easy to imagine a company hiring me to tackle the TAoN mission, no matter how much I believe the audience for that mission is out there. One of the reasons I’m looking forward to this is that the real story of the creator economy is not the high-profile one-offs — it’s individuals like me, working to build and bond with an audience, one person at a time.

So expect experiments, false starts, revised plans, new schemes. Above all, I want to make every addition to TAoN as useful as possible: Useful for creativity, useful for peace of mind, useful for work, useful for for staying interested in life. 

I want this to be an adventure. Let’s see what happens!