Required Reading: Merlin & Gruber at SxSW

Required Reading is a series of articles, videos, podcasts, etc. that I consider to be unmissable. These are the things that have inspired me the most, and they’re the things I keep coming back to for repeated readings, viewings, and listens.

In 2009, John Gruber and Merlin Mann, two of my foremost internet heroes, gave a talk at South by Southwest. It’s mostly about blogging, but their advice is applicable to virtually any creative endeavor, whether you’re a photographer, chef, inventor, or anything in between.

There are so many great quotes to choose from: John’s story about meeting Phil Schiller. Merlin’s Ira Glass impression. Why you should give stuff away for free. How to not mess up the reasons people like you.

But, if I had to pick one, I’d go with Merlin’s advice of obsession times voice:

Topic times Voice. Or, if you’re a little bit more of a maverick, Obsession times Voice. So what does that mean? I think almost all of the best nonfiction that has ever been made comes from the result of somebody who can’t stop thinking about a certain topic — a very specific aspect, in some cases, of a certain topic. And second, they got really good at figuring out what they had to say about it.

I haven’t found anything that inspires me to get better more than this talk. I probably listen to it once a month.

My recommendation:

  1. Read John Gruber’s introduction on Daring Fireball.
  2. Listen to the talk.
  3. Watch Yuvi Zalkow’s video tribute, which has some great animations and quotes from the talk.
  4. Read Marco Arment’s article, “Celebrity”, in which he talks about being in the audience and meeting Merlin, Gruber, and his other internet heroes for the first time.

Two of my favorite writers telling the rest of us how to do it right. It’s unmissable.