BOOK 161: Why it’s possible

I need to preface this by saying this post is a direct result of being asked 546,867,847,746,635 times “How do you make all those books?”

Some people think I’m possessed, and perhaps I am. Since 2006 I’ve made over 160 unique titles with Blurb alone. This doesn’t include all the “other” things I’ve made in that time, and believe me, there is an oddly sinister assortment. I’ll admit, that’s a lot of publications. Often times I’m confronted by people wondering how I do this. I’ve even been accused by a few of trivializing the process of bookmaking itself, as if books have to be incubated like embryos or a chicken pot pie.
The reality is I know what I want, am driven and also possess the ability to focus pretty darn well for as long as I need to without losing my mind. I learned this from a very young age, from my father, and from a few others I needed to work for at that time in my life. “You never sit down on a job, ever.” I still try to live by this today. I also don’t have any children. Nothing against kids. In fact, I really enjoy being an uncle and I spent the better part of seven years photographing kids, but not having any of my own has allowed me to do many of the things I do.
But there’s more. I also don’t surf the Internet, spend time on social media or watch TV. Let me state this again for those of you not paying attention. I don’t surf the Internet, spend time on social media or watch TV. And no I’m not a communist. I have a TV, and believe me it’s a stunner. I think it’s about 12-15 years old and looks like a Russian satellite sitting in my living room. Most people think it’s some sort of art installation. It gets approximately 17 channels, many of which are in other languages and provide programming that is a cross between a game show, dance contest, strip club and mental health service. I also have several computers, all of which are tied to our beloved Internet, which we all know is endless. I don’t surf it. I use it when I need it and then turn it off. Lastly, we have social media. I’m on a social media fast. It’s true, I have Facebook, Google + and Twitter accounts, probably more if I could remember what they are. In short, I’m a jerk. I turn them on, post what I think is relevant, then turn them off. I WILL respond to certain things if the chatter created by what I posted is enough where I can’t stand myself for NOT responding. These times are rare. I believe social media, and the technology required to deliver it, namely mobile phones, are a physical addiction for many people, the EXACT same as alcohol, drugs or gambling. I’m telling you this now because I know a lot of people who appear to be addicted to their phones and social media, and over the past year and a half I’ve been studying, informally of course, what people do on their phones when I’m out and about in the great public world. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. In that order. When the plane lands the odd man, or woman, out will call a loved one, send an email or make a dinner reservation. The VAST majority of people go straight to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The addiction part comes when the pilot comes on and says, “We are eight minutes early for our gate, sorry about the inconvenience but we’ve got eight minutes to sit.” and the woman next to me turns on her phone, punches in the code, then checks her Facebook account 24 TIMES in eight minutes. Yes, I counted. Before you go thinking this is rare, don’t. It’s not. The average person looks at their phone 150 times per day. It’s commonplace, even in adults and people you would LEAST think capable of this. I believe these social media outlets do very little to actually connect us, but do much when it comes to fracturing our thought process, fracturing our ability to focus and they also consume VAST amounts of our time that we have somehow convinced ourselves is being spent in this critical pursuit of “being connected.” Most of the time what this translates to is being at home, alone, in the dark on our computer. I know what you are thinking. “Milnor, you have a phone.” Yes, it’s true, and I like my phone, it’s a fancy Samsung model and it works like a dream, but I have learned to use it with control. I was not always capable of this but I am now. My phone is in my hand when I need it, ONLY when I need it. I realized if I eliminated Facebook, Instagram and Twitter I suddenly had a lot more time to do things like…..actually make photographs which I could then turn into books and magazines, or rich-media or whatever else I could dream of. In other words, I had time to create tangible things and then turn them into more tangible things.
And before I go any further, don’t go thinking I’m a zen-Jedi of some sort. I’m not, not by a longshot. I feel the same crazy urges to waste my time as you do. Want to see a definition of sloth? Put me in a hotel room with a hundred channels and access to food and a bathroom. I KNOW how Rome fell. We are hanging by a thread. So, in short, I don’t put myself in those positions. ANYTIME I feel the urge to waste time with the forementioned pursuits I instead write something, read something or make something. It’s really that simple. I’m surely not saying I’m better than anyone else, but what I am is conscious of what these pursuits will do to me if I venture forth.

This takes training. I’m not joking. Breaking these habits is not an easy thing, but you will be AMAZED at what you can get done when you cast them aside and focusing on making real world things. This week alone I’ve been asked multiple times about things like if I noticed what so and so posted on Facebook, what happened at the Grammy Awards or if I was watching the hostage standoff in Los Angeles. Short answer….no. I simply don’t have time for any of it.

Now, it helps to be really busy. Blurb makes sure of that, so what time I have left over is even more cherished. The fact of the matter is if I don’t behave this way I will not get ANYTHING done. I’ll give you an example. Last night at 5:45 PM I had been working since 7:45 AM, a good day. My wife wasn’t home yet, and I knew she would be stuck in traffic until about 7:30PM. It would have been SO nice to amble in to my “living room” and turn on the old boob tube(All 17 channels), crack open a nice 40oz brain grenade and begin to forget my day, but I didn’t. I knew I had a little less than two hours to make something. I could have done a blog post, written in my journal, written letters (Yes, I still write letters) or even made some scans, but I quickly opened my list of “To-Do” books, a list that currently has nineteen titles, and I went to the first one on the list and dove in. The basic concept of this book had been in my mind for a long while, so I had a vague plan in place as to design, typography and book size, paper type, etc. At 7:30 I had a sixty-page book mostly complete. There are many tweaks remaining, a few fixes, a few small copy blocks to draft, but essentially I have book 161 on the launch pad. Wife comes home, I turn off my “work” mind, make dinner and the rest is history.

Maybe this is about discipline. Maybe this is about desperation. Maybe this is about frustration. Maybe this is about drive, motivation or passion. I don’t really care. All I know is I have a limited time on this rock and I’m not going waste one second in pursuit of empty calories. This is how I made all these publications. This is how I am able to work fulltime and still pursue long-term projects, foreign workshops, etc. This isn’t the right method for everyone, and look, sitting still and reading, or meditating for ten days straight is, at least in my mind, MAKING something if it leaves you with something tangible in the REAL world, NOT the cyber world.

There are no tricks and there is no luck. I felt the need, made a plan and am doing whatever I can to stick with it. If you choose to follow me then I wish you good luck. There will be pitfalls. It might be a gallon of Rocky Road and a rerun of Fast Times at Ridgemont High. I get it. We all slip and fall, but it’s what you do when you get back on your feet that’s important.

33 responses to “BOOK 161: Why it’s possible”

  1. Aaron says:

    Can I have an amen?!

  2. LionelB says:

    One thing I absolutely love is a good Rant.

    • Smogranch says:

      That was tame. My rants are written but not yet posted. I was just laying out the actual reality of how I do what I do. Photographers routinely say to me things like “You are so lucky, you get to make all those books.” I’ve always found this puzzling. Lucky? How you figure? It’s not luck. I have to shoot, edit, sequence then sit and focus to actually layout the book. It takes time and attention, which as we all know is so difficult these days. Recently someone told me they were so busy they just couldn’t get to making their book. I smelled something fishy, searched for them on Facebook and noticed they had post on the hour for about eighteen straight hours. When this stuff came out I was all over it, but I know now I can’t do two things at once and I found that making books was far more important to me than the rest.

    • LionelB says:

      I am at the moment experimenting with still life compositions using only candle as illumination but I keep getting distracted by the letters of Horace Walpole. What is consoling is that the one helps to understand the other.

    • Smogranch says:

      Drugs? Just a thought.

    • LionelB says:

      Then it would only be imagined progress. Better the frustration of getting it wrong most of the time, in order to sometimes get it right.

  3. Jlil says:

    I could really use a brain grenade right about now!

  4. Sean says:

    Currently sat in Shanghai airport after two weeks in India.

    In India I spent a whole 6 days away from the Internet and all its vices. It was bliss.

    But 20 minutes ago I was sat here cursing the WiFi at the airport because FB wouldn’t load fast enough. Absolutely ridiculous.

    Luckily I came to my senses, cranked on a bit of Rodrigruez (Coming From Reality) and started catching up on the few blogs I have an interest in.

    This post, once again, was perfect timing. Think I might have to pull the M6 out the bag now.

  5. Simone says:

    I’m not on FB (I do have it but never use it). I do read tweets (mostly looking at those sparse offers, like BLURB book promo codes, just to find out I never ever meet the deadline). What I really need to reduce (and do it on a regular basis) is the number of interconnected Podcasts, video channels, blogs. But as a matter of fact also the basic work (job) implies a lot more time dispersion now. There was a trend over the past 20 year. What used to be concentrated in few lines, is now dispersed in lots of emails, presentations, twiki pages. That’s the price to pay for having larger dislocated collaborations. And maybe because of how easily e-documents can be prepared and inflated almost without content, with respect to old style hand-written slides. Any resemblance here with the digital vs film photography discussion ?

    • Smogranch says:

      Not sure. Yes, our communication, and brains, have changed dramatically, probably for the better in most ways, but how far we take it is another matter entirely.

    • Harold says:

      Making something instead of dinking around online makes perfect sense to me. If that’s off kilter then so be it. 🙂 For me… No FB, No IG only a little twitter, some flickr cause I’ve been there forever and a few blogs which are always shifting around. My goal for 2013 —ESPERANZA

    • Smogranch says:



  6. Harold says:

    … and why I read this blog. It’s rare to find people who are thinking and then writing about it. Before the days of computers I worked with a “scale” (see Architectural)…. a three sided affair about a foot long which was used to measure distances where say a quarter inch equals a foot. The above description helps me put a scale on my own progress. Thanks once again.

  7. Tom says:

    Good post. It’s always great to actually make things or plan projects out with a sketch book. I also have a few book plans in the making that will get out of the gate soon. I have a long way to go before I hit 161 though.

  8. Very inspiring and spot-on, as usual, but oh the irony… sitting in front of my computer reading about how I shouldn’t be sitting in front of my computer reading…

    • Smogranch says:

      And I’m sitting in front of a computer writing about non sitting in front of a computer so you can read about it, on a computer. My eyes just went cross.

  9. Mei-Chun J says:

    Good post, Daniel. Thanks for sharing! Those “addictions” to tv and social networking, etc. doesn’t add real value to one’s life. Life is too short. We have to really consider how we really spend our time.

    I follow this blog called Zen Habits blog. It has a great post about simplifying the internet

  10. greg g says:

    So 161 is a piece of cake. How was number 1?

    Lack of time falls in the “any excuse will do” category. The real issue (for me anyway) in the struggle to do has always been fear of one sort or another. It’s always easier to be busy than to confront those fears and act through uncertainty.

    • Smogranch says:

      First book was like 1995 and it wasn’t easy at all. 161 was a better book, “Easier” in some ways but only because I know so much more.

  11. Christopher Fuller says:

    My cell phone makes phone calls. That’s it. I am on Facebook and I check it a couple of times a day, mostly for work purposes (a center that I direct has a Facebook page). I rarely post (maybe once a month) unless I come across a stray episode of “Finding Bigfoot.” Any show that uses the word “Squatch” with serious intention deserves some type of commentary in an equally meaningless forum. My birthday is not listed on Facebook because I do not want the obligatory birthday greetings from people who never knew when my birthday was in the first place.

    Having written all of this, I admit that TV is a weakness. I don’t watch it much, but I like what I like and it sucks time away (gloriously in the case of “Downton Abbey”). One thing that I do like about technology is the ability to listen to podcasts. Radio is so bad now, so pre-programmed, that I cannot stand it, but for “All Things Considered” in the Morning. And living in Montana the radio choices are extremely limited.

    • Smogranch says:


      I’ve been trying to turn off Facebook notifications for MONTHS now. They keep coming, and from groups I’ve never been a part of. I’m finding FB does NOT like it when you decide to turn of the volume of noise generated by their vortex.

  12. Reiner says:

    Children don’t hurt my focussing on nice things anymore(17&20 now).
    1.My dayjob does. It’s about the dayjob (and the household…) Dan.
    Sucks a zillion hours each year to get the bread and beans on the table!
    I would love to make pictures all day long, develop all my films in my darkroom, scan all the keepers and make a book/week. Oh I would love that.
    2. Cyling Dan. Nothing defeats cycling! It wipes my overfull hard disk clean this every week long ride.

    So we have to choose and that’s easy. Just fill in now …………………………….

    Thanks, this post showed I’m not considered a complete alien when I’m watching my 11yr old tube tv 🙂


  13. rachel rausch johnson says:

    i liked your post. i am re-creating myself these past few months. changing habits are part of my plan. i, too, hardly spend time in front of the tv, never really have, even as a kid ( a few odd tv shows for fun once in while). i was outside, or reading, or drawing. anyhow, thanks for the inspiration to light a fire in me to work my book list to get them DONE.

  14. Required reading for all the students in my program! Thanks again man, see you at SPE if you can get in with the snow!


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