At the start of 2016, my fiancée and I started Whole30. It’s a diet that focuses on eating only natural things, such as meat and vegetables, and cuts out grains and added sugar. As a bachelor I had eaten the same thing for… gosh, who knows how many years? It consisted mostly of chicken, rice, bread, apples, cheese, and cookies. But food is fuel for your body, right? While tasty, those six things may not have been the best for me, so I was excited to switch things up.
I had a similar realization last year with the websites I visit. In a post titled “A Change of Intake”, I listed the handful of sites I routinely read and asked the question, “What if I spent my time reading websites that wrote about the things I’m directly involved in?” I am a filmmaker and a writer, and I like to process life through reading and writing, and I wanted to read things that encouraged and fed those areas of my life.
Thus, 2015 went from four tech sites to this list:
- Fifty Foot Shadows, thoughts on life and photography
- Analog Senses, thoughts on life and photography
- Prolost, thoughts on and products for film
- The Dissolve, film editorials and reviews—great content here!
- Jamie Todd Rubin, the writing life
- Janice Hardy’s Fiction University, consistently insightful writing advice
- Backchannel, a new addition with well-written, in-depth tech articles
- Suggestion of Motion, in-depth articles about film, specifically the Panasonic GH4, which I own
- Garrett Koepke’s blog—my brother is writing some great stuff about travel, with beautiful photographs
- The Music Bed Community—at first just a stock music site, TMB have become so much more
Now that it’s a year later, I wanted to (you guessed it) process through writing how that list has changed and if I’ve noticed anything different in my life.
The first thing I’ve noticed is that the list gathered into three categories: processing life, film, and writing. Sites that fit the first category were Backchannel (edited by Steven Levy and hosting several writers), Analog Senses (written by Alvaro Serrano), Fifty Foot Shadows (written by John Carey), and Garrett Koepke’s blog (written by my youngest brother!).
The first two fell off over time: Steven’s articles for Backchannel are incredibly personal and insightful about technology today, but I don’t connect as much with the other writers and I can find out about Steven’s articles by following him on Twitter. Alvaro’s writing and curation for Analog Senses attracted me because of his love for analog film cameras, but it has become more Apple/tech-centered, which is the content I was trying to leave.
That leaves Fifty Foot Shadows and Garrett’s blog. I love their thoughtful way of approaching life and pointing out things that are important to enjoy or cherish in life. Combined with wonderful photography, each post is a pleasure to read visually and intellectually.
I kept my eye out over the year for other sites to read, and the two that caught my attention were Lindsay Crandall and articles by Craig Mod.
Lindsay is a photographer and mom who gives snapshots of how she handles the pressures of being a parent and an artist, and I really appreciated her honesty and insight into her process. Unfortunately she doesn’t write too often (probably that whole parent thing), but I still check her site now and then with the hopes of seeing something. One website she does frequently update is a shared blog with a fellow parent called Hello there, Friend. They write short, daily letters to each other about life and when I have time to read them they are really enjoyable, if not helpful.
Craig is photographer and writer who lives in Japan. I found him on Twitter over the last year and his articles about technology and life are so good. One of my favorites from him this last year was Future Reading, an article about the important place of printed books in our lives. His thoughtful approach is really inspiring to me, not to mention his photographs. Unfortunately he is published more through other sites than his own, so I usually find out about his new writings through Twitter.
This category ranged from reviews and editorials to technique and gear talk. Prolost (written by Stu Maschwitz), Suggestion of Motion (written by Sol March), The Dissolve (reviews and editorials), and The Music Bed Community (written by various authors and staff at the fantastic stock music site).
For technique sites, Prolost and Suggestion of Motion have been invaluable. Stu at Prolost is a leading filmmaker and not only talks about gear and software but also his approach to creativity and filmmaking. He doesn’t post as often as I would like, but it’s always worth reading when he does. Suggestion of Motion was also a fantastic site about cameras, particular the Pansonic GH4. I was the owner of one when I found Sol’s site and tried to read as much as I could in order to learn how to work with the GH4. Late last fall, though, I purchased a Sony A7s II and haven’t had as much need for Sol’s writing. He did just say he bought the same camera as me, so I’m hoping he’ll start posting articles about that camera as well.
The Music Bed community has shifted over the past year, but it still remains a great place for thoughtful articles about the filmmaking process. They have transitioned a lot of the content into the Film + Music magazine, which has been a fantastic resource.
The only new gear site to make it onto my list was Noam Kroll. Like Stu, he’s a great filmmaker and posts frequently about his gear tests and projects he’s working on. Mixed in with it all is his approach to storytelling, the gear market, and the future of filmmaking.
In the realm of film literature, this year sadly saw the death of two of the best websites I had found about film and pop culture: Grantland and The Dissolve. The reviews and particular the editorials by The Dissolve were a step above anything I had seen online and I was really sad to discover one day that it was ending. I had hoped Grantland, with its witty commentary and exhaustive pop cultural essays, could take it place—only to find shortly after that it was closing too.
Thankfully, over the course of the year I found Decent Films, the website of Steven Greydanus, who is the film critic for the National Catholic Register. Secular film reviews often focus on the story and technique in judging a film but don’t take into account the spiritual or moral aspect, whereas Christian film reviews usually only focus on the spiritual. As a filmmaker who is a Christian I wanted both, and Steven does that splendidly. Not only is he steeped in film history and what makes a great film, but he has a great theological perspective as a Catholic. He has helped me be more of a thoughtful film-goer, and shown me some of the good and helpful perspectives of Catholicism. The only downside is he is just one man, so it takes a while for new reviews to come out. But when they do, you better believe I’m going to read it.
The writing category of my list is an interesting beast. On one hand, I want to grow as a writer. But on the other hand, I only have so much time to read online. Consequently, when I do have time I have to decide if I want a thought-provoking article or a technique exercise.
When I felt like the latter, I turned to Jamie Todd Rubin and Janice Hardy’s Fiction University. Jamie inspired and encouraged me to write every day through his blog, and it has been helpful to see his process of writing, revision, and publication of his stories. And I can’t say enough about Janice’s website. If you want to learn anything about writing, read her stuff. Nearly every article is so helpful and about every part of writing.
The new writing websites to make it on the list were from Christopher Paolini, author of the Inheritance trilogy, and David Farland, author of Runelords. I’ve followed Christopher’s career since I first read his self-published book just out of high school, and it’s been fun to get an inside-look at his process and stories. As for David Farland, I actually just realized he was on the list; guess I forgot about his site! But I do know he is a fantastic writing teacher and I need to check his site more often.
The New List
That was probably all more information than anyone needed to know, but as I said at the beginning I like to process life through reading and writing, so there you go. The big question now is, what have I learned from all of this? Did changing my intake help in any way?
The first thing I noticed is that I like writers who are also photographers. I think that’s because there is something slower and more thoughtful about photography; you have to think about what image you are going to take, which image to use, and how it illustrates your writing. I haven’t been good at doing it, but I would love for the creative exercise of photography to be a bigger part of my life. I’m about to move into a new house when I get married, and I just had the thought that the basement could work for a dark room—hmm….
The second thing that comes to mind is, I feel like I become a more thoughtful person when I take time to read things like this on a regular basis. Doing that helps me formulate what I think about situations or topics or processes, and helps me be a better storyteller and artist.
For me, I really think it’s all about a blank piece of paper and a pen, an empty document and the keyboard before me. Life can be so hectic sometimes, so unorganized, so disorienting. The words I eat are fuel for my own words, and the act of recording them—even just the act of it—helps bring clarity and order to what I’m experiencing.
It’s funny, really. I’m almost 31 and still discovering how I approach life. There are a lot of people and influences that are helping that journey (my aforementioned fiancée above all), and what I realized over last year is that the websites I read can also help.
So the list for 2016 stands as such:
- Fifty Foot Shadows
- Lindsay Crandall/Hello there, Friend
- Garrett Koepke
- The Music Bed blog/Film + Music magazine
- Decent Films
- Noam Kroll
- Jamie Todd Rubin
- Janice Hardy’s Fiction University
- David Farland
- Christopher Paolini
Before I end, let’s go back to Whole30. It’s halfway through the month and while I haven’t noticed a huge shift in energy I have noticed two big things: I’m always hungry and I’ve lost weight. While that might not be a glowing review for Whole30, I think it still works as an example for the things I read. I shed the weight of putting things in my brain that don’t apply to my life, and it makes me hungry for more good content.
So if you’ll excuse me, I need to go make a salad. Or eat a steak. With eggs on it. Lots and lots of eggs.
What kind of sites do you read? If you have any suggestions, leave a comment below!