43 Folders

Back to Work

Merlin’s weekly podcast with Dan Benjamin. We talk about creativity, independence, and making things you love.

Join us via RSS, iTunes, or at 5by5.tv.

”What’s 43 Folders?”
43Folders.com is Merlin Mann’s website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.


Photography, and the Tolerance for Courageous Sucking

As I've started shooting photos more often, I've picked up on some interesting patterns: habits, if you like. And, as I struggle to absorb the insane physics of capturing light with some glass and a black box, I accept upfront that the improvements to my actual photos will be slow, incremental, and, largely undetectable to anybody but me -- a fact that's never more painfully clear than when I swoon over the work of the more talented friends who inspire me (Heather, Ryan and Chris each come to mind here).

But, being instantly great at this couldn't be further from the point. Although I started taking photos to become a better photographer, I keep taking them because I've learned to love the process. And, luckily, at least as far as I can tell, dedication to the process can't help but make you a better photographer -- or a better whatever, for that matter.

read more »

Sample Chapter from "The Creative Habit"

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life (Free 1st Chapter)

As long as I've outed myself as an obsessive fan of Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit, it seems sensible to point you to this free excerpt of the book, which includes the full text of the book's first chapter.

While it doesn't capture the clear-eyed usefulness of the book nearly as satisfyingly as each subsequent chapter does, it will give you a feel for why this book's different from your garden-variety aspirational artist porn -- this woman does not believe in "natural genius," and she damned well expects you to work your ass off, every day:

read more »

Louis C.K. on Starting Over; Carlin's Artful Process

ILIS Interviews Louis C.K. - AST Forums

Louis C.K.In 2006, Louis C.K. didn't know whether his HBO show would be renewed, but he didn't want to sit on his hands for months waiting to find out.

Instead of going conservative by gluing new treads onto old tires, he did something tantamount to suicide for a working comic; he threw out his whole set and started over.

read more »

Twyla Tharp, on Failing Well

YouTube - Twyla Tharp on the Subject of Motivation and Creativity

As I get older, I've learned to really appreciate people who are smart, opinionated, and ornery — yet still have the plasticity of mind to synthesize new ideas and be okay with sometimes failing.

Feels like a big pattern for making this stuff work over time.

Driving Around the Buffalo

It's purely coincidental that today is my 42nd birthday, right? Eh. Maybe.

Still, seems like as good a day as any to tell you what I've been thinking about, so, here's a little present to myself.

read more »

The Wire: Writing Into Your Arc


While this article about The Wire deliberately contains as few actual spoilers about the show as possible, it does contain numerous links to pages with information that will tell you critical spoiler information about the stories and fates of the show's characters. The article also contains language and links that are very much not safe for work. Please proceed with caution on all fronts.

In the time since I gallantly announced what makes a good blog, I’ve had time to think more about the qualities of work that endures.

Not thinking just of personal blogs here, or solely in terms of the ways that we can improve online publishing and social media —although clearly these are areas that could stand some improvement. I’m talking about the extent to which some of those qualities that I mentioned in that article relate to broader ideas around all creative work and the process behind how it gets made well and consistently by an auteur who’s only incidentally a merchant.

And it’s especially got me thinking about how any thing we choose to make today can contribute to, for lack of a better phrase, an arc.

So, naturally, I’ve been thinking a lot about The Wire.

read more »

43 Folders: Time, Attention, and Creative Work

["what is this?"]

Here's something I wrote last week for this site's new "About" page:

43 Folders is Merlin Mann’s website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.

Call it a motto, or a charter, or -- if you have to -- a "mission statement." But, for both of us, it's a stake in the ground that keeps me focused on what I feel best suited to do for you with this site right now.

I want to help you identify and remove any obstacle that keeps you from making things that you love. And then I want to help you figure out how to make those things even better. That's pretty much it.

read more »

Attention & Ambiguity: The Non-Paradox of Creative Work

Psychology Today: The Creative Personality

[via delicious.com/huxant, w/a reminder by Jack Shedd]

Some days, I can't decide how I feel about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (say: "chick SENT me high"). He's written some great stuff, but, sometimes, he mixes Big-Word academicspeak with anecdotal observation in a way that smells a little hokey to me.

So, although I'm trying not to audibly roll my eyes at a pop-psychology Top 10 list about creativity's "dialectical tension," I definitely am interested in one of his observations about the "paradox" of creative people.

Creative people combine playfulness and discipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility

read more »

What Makes for a Good Blog?

My friends at Six Apart recently asked me to make a list of blogs that I enjoy. I think they're planning to use it for their new Blogs.com project. Unfortunately, I'm late getting it to them (typical), but if it's still useful, I'll post it here in a day or four.

As I think about the blogs I've returned to over the years -- and the increasingly few new ones that really grab my attention -- I want to start with, ironically enough, a list. Here's what I think helps make for a good blog.

read more »

Cooking for the Creative Beast

Guest post

Guest blogger, Matt Wood, learns how to feed his creative side (without giving it a big gut). —mdm

Earlier this summer, I was in the kitchen, trying to cook dinner. I had a pot on the stove and a fire going on the grill outside. I was fumbling with a bag of frozen peas when my three-year-old started shouting at me to fix one of his toys. “Hold on a second, son,” I said. “I can’t do two things at once.” He looked me, dead serious, and said, “But you have two hands, Daddy.”

Too Many Pots on the Stove

My life usually feels like this. I set out to do make something nice, and I end up with a scorched side dish, charred burgers, and crunchy peas. The output barely resembles that delicious-looking picture in Cooking Light, but hey, the toy trains are running on time!

My immediate solution has been to limit the inputs and not try to do so much at once. If I can’t cook a nice meal with a preschooler underfoot, then I won’t even try. Chicken nuggets and grilled cheese for everyone, and you’ll like it, thank you very much. While this approach to dinner fulfills various statutes regarding child neglect, it’s also not very satisfying. Apply this approach to work and it certainly creates more time to do Important Things, but it makes for soggy, microwaved output as well.

read more »



An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


Subscribe with Google Reader

Subscribe on Netvibes

Add to Technorati Favorites

Subscribe on Pageflakes

Add RSS feed

The Podcast Feed


Merlin used to crank. He’s not cranking any more.

This is an essay about family, priorities, and Shakey’s Pizza, and it’s probably the best thing he’s written. »

Scared Shitless

Merlin’s scared. You’re scared. Everybody is scared.

This is the video of Merlin’s keynote at Webstock 2011. The one where he cried. You should watch it. »