Last night, I sent myself three emails while watching a movie. My mind was wandering and I needed to get them out of my mind and into a place where I could review them later. These days my mind only wanders in one direction and I’m mostly happy about that. It’s always focused on Build Livable and all that’s left to do.
Over the weekend, we had our GC, Drew, and his partner and wife, Michelle, over for a casual dinner, and afterward, I interviewed them both for a couple of hours and we recorded it all. Their advice and stories were really insightful and now, we’ll summarize it and highlight some of the great quotes.
Drew and Michelle’s interview was the most recent of those I’ve conducted so far, along with architects, designers and homeowners. The interviews help me to continue learning and to gather useful quotes and advice from experts and people with experience. I often say that I’m writing the play-by-play and the experts are confirming and adding color commentary. This is an important part of the bigger project, which is, indeed, big for the two of us. It feels all-consuming at times.
Right now, I’m taking a deep breath. Yesterday, another draft of the Complete Guide was completed. This is the version that includes most of the media, like hundreds of photos and dozens of original diagrams.
Change in Perspective
This latest version of the guide is one that changed our perception of how to teach the construction process. Originally, I organized it chronologically, by phase. It made sense at the time, but Sachi pointed out a flaw in my thinking: We’re trying to help people save time and money largely through planning. We can’t talk about countertops, for example, when they’re being installed. By then, it’s too late. We needed to frontload the guide to cover most of the process before the first wall is built.
So that’s what we did. The Complete Guide is about preparation, understanding what to expect, and how to approach each phase. That’s the foundation for helping a construction project stay on time and on budget.
This is where the curriculum stands today (subject to change).
Over the holidays, my goal is to build awareness for Build Livable. That means contacting my network, posting daily on the Build.Livable Instagram account and creating a lot of fun videos and media. I continue to believe homeowners are going to love this!
Education is the key to saving time and money on construction projects. When homeowners understand the process, they can plan effectively and optimize. Build Livable develops that understanding in the form of an always-on online course.
My friend Tony asked, when we had just purchased property on Orcas, “What’s next? You’ll build a house and move in… then what?” Sometimes Tony’s questions seem like challenges, but I think he’s mostly looking for ideas. He was asking about something years into the future and I didn’t have an answer. I suppose I’m in the “then what?” phase now.
There is a common perception that completing a project like a house leads to a period of doldrums. The excitement of the project wanes and leaves a hole in the day-to-day that feels like something is missing. I expected to feel it by now, but it hasn’t arrived. If anything, I’m feeling better than I have in a long time. The excitement of the house project came with a healthy dose of stress and anxiety for us both. The space it left in our lives is one we’re not eager to fill. Plus, there are years of house projects ahead of us, mostly in landscaping.
This all begs the answer to Tony’s question: what’s next?
A few months ago, we had a call with our friend, Dave, who now lives in rural New Hampshire. He’s a regular RFR reader who is planning a significant home remodel. He said something that had been in the back of my mind for a while, but I hadn’t fully considered it. In preparing for his house project, he looked for books and resources for people like him. He wanted to understand the construction process, what to expect, how to overcome the challenges, make decisions, etc. In his experience, there was a dearth of materials along these lines.
Dave encouraged me to take what we had learned in building Flattop and transform it into a book or something similar for people like him. That chat with Dave lit a fire under me. I’ve always been passionate about home design and the construction process. I have years of real-world experience across multiple projects. I have connections with builders, architects, and multiple homeowners who are in-process now.
So, I started writing. Through 2021, I’ve written about 70,000 words, all focused on explaining the process of building a custom home, phase by phase. Sachi has been my editor and brainstormer. Through it all, I was never sure where it would lead.
My initial thought was to make it a book and it’s currently written in that form. But that didn’t feel like the right medium. It’s not a story as much as a reference work or guide. It’s the resource you turn to when a new phase of construction is on the horizon.
I asked a couple of friends who are currently building homes about the potential they see. Our friend, James, was enthusiastic about the idea and had a suggestion. He said, “This feels more digital than a book. You’d want downloadable documents, videos, and visuals.” Yes. Yes. Yes.
Once again, a friend suggested a direction that helped us see the opportunity more clearly. All the writing could be turned into multimedia content that lives on a website instead of in a book. It could be easily updated and priced like an online course. People could access it on any device at any time.
For the last couple of months, this has been the dominant idea in my day-to-day life. When the workday is done and I’m ready to relax, this is where my mind wanders. I have to resist not working on it and I take that as a good sign. Passion, is a necessary ingredient, along with time. Best of all, in true Big Enough fashion, we can make this idea happen ourselves.
So, dear reader, this is the next thing. Many of you have been with me through the entire house project and your ideas and input have been invaluable. For this next project, I hope we can continue what we’ve started. More soon!
The lastest Ready for Rain newsletter was meant to fill in essential gaps regarding what events led us to today. Up to now, the readers have seen my life in real-time, with only brief references to the past. I wrote:
Over the past year, you’ve had a front-row seat to my life. You’ve seen Sachi and I start and complete projects. You’ve read about my motivations and decisions and, by now, have a pretty good sense of who I am. As our story has developed in real-time, you’ve been there.
Now that I’m shifting the newsletter to talk about the Big Enough book project, I’m feeling the need to build context and give readers a sense of what events shaped my career. There is probably no more consequential event than publishing the first Common Craft video. Our careers relate directly back to that event in 2007.
I had no idea at the time, but the moment I clicked “Publish” was the moment our lives changed in fundamental ways. From that point on, we started operating in uncharted territory.
Within minutes of RSS in Plain English hitting the web, it started to receive views and comments that flowed faster than we could read them. Bloggers around the world embedded the video on their blogs. Emails poured in. The video went viral and it felt like striking gold. We both lived in a state of shock for a few days. Despite it being poorly produced, the video was popular because it explained RSS in a way that everyone could understand.
Since 2007, work on Common Craft videos has been a constant. We publish about 10 original videos a year, which means that video production is an enduring part of our work. Like any job, it can get less exciting after so much time, but I’m always thankful that it’s my job. Instead of saying, “I have to do it.” I prefer to say, “I get to do it.” It’s a good job to have.
One of my favorite parts of the process is drawing the artwork that appears in the videos; what we call cut-outs. Now that we have a library of over 3,000 cut-outs, I don’t have to draw every image from scratch. But there are certain illustrations that can make a video more original and creative and taking the time to get them right is my happy place.
A forthcoming video tells the story of two towns. The concept of a town (or two in this case) is one that could be drawn in a number of ways. I could draw an old west style storefront or neighborhood with driveways and sidewalks. How does one draw multiple towns?
I like to think about Common Craft cut-outs as symbols rather than realistic interpretations. Symbols are more timeless and flexible. They have personality and style. Below is a town symbol that’s currently in our library:
The same style, but a city instead:
For the forthcoming video, the new town images are still in production. Below is a draft that hasn’t yet been colored. If you look closely, you can see color swatches on the buildings. These indicate how the illustration will be colored when it’s finalized and turned into vector art. You’ll also see I’m leaving an open area in front of the buildings so the space can be used to add houses or whatever is needed. I’ll share the finished version once production is complete.
I write books and run a company called Common Craft. I recently moved from Seattle to a rural island. Here, I write about online business, book publishing, modern home construction, and occasionally, dumb jokes.