Closeup of Lego Duplo blocks in a dish drainer

Making web things is like writing term papers

Published 2012-05-25

Did you go to college? Did you write term papers? Did you like it? When was the last time you wrote a term paper?

I liked writing term papers. I was pretty good at it. I actually published some of them. A hardworking person can kind of have fun writing a term paper. But I wouldn’t exactly call it easy.

And term-paper-writing juice is a finite resource. My senior year of college I tried to write six term papers in one week. That was a disaster. I used up all my term-paper-writing juice on the first one or two, and the rest were execrable.

As a grownup person, I spend six to fourteen hours a day, five to seven days a week, making web things. Making a web thing feels a lot like writing a term paper.

Some web things (example: fundraising email) I can kind of toss off, like a three page lab report about an experiment with yogurt yeast. Easy peasy. On the other hand, something like a full-site redesign requires almost exactly the same mental effort as writing my Master’s Thesis. Including the defense.

I work with a lot of people who spend most of their days dealing with processes or with people: fundraisers, program managers, regular old managers. They don’t have to spend a lot of time making things. (Not things I see, anyway. Maybe they make a lot of PowerPoints?) So we have a kind of cultural divide. We don’t always get each other.

Why do they send emails at midnight? What do they talk about in all those meetings? And do they not realize that making things isn’t like mowing lawns? Just figuring out what to do, that’s like a quarter of the effort. This is why a good professor made you turn in an outline before the midterms. And this is why I hate “kicking off” a project we all know I won’t start on until two weeks from Tuesday. Because that unstarted project is just hanging about two and half feet over my head, drawing little sips of web-thing-making juice, for the next seventeen days. And if I’m making something at midnight — I know from experience — that probably won’t be the best-ever term paper. So to speak. My making-things juice reservoir is usually pretty dry at midnight.

Anyway, beloved colleagues, past, present and future: I’m grumpy because it’s Friday and I have to write six term papers before next Tuesday.

(Some smart aleck’s gonna say: why aren’t you writing term papers instead of blog posts? The maker/builder/creator people won’t ask that question. This is like asking a composer: “why are you practicing scales instead of making squiggly dots on big sheets of paper?”)