Matt Gemmell

Raw Materials book cover image

My book Raw Materials is out now!

A collection of personal essays, with exclusive content and author's notes.

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I’ve been writing here at for more than eleven years.

My publishing frequency varies (though I’m getting back into a more regimented schedule now), but I periodically have high-traffic weeks with popular pieces. I’ve had a couple of those in the past month or so, each one getting a decent amount of linkage, sitting on the front page of Hacker News, and racking up a few dozen thousand reads on the day of publication. That’s great, and I’m absolutely delighted and grateful.

Whenever a piece “hits” like that, I start getting emails - and this has happened for years. The messages from readers are fantastic, no matter whether they’re positive or negative, but it’s the other kind of emails I want to talk about here: the requests for republication.

The gift of writing

Dear reader,

I’m a writer. I’ve spent half my life getting to this point, if I’m only granted the traditional seventy years on this Earth. Today is my thirty-fifth birthday.

You’re one of over half a million readers to visit this blog in 2014, so far. Thank you so much.

I’m often asked by my many friends (and former colleagues) in the software development community if I’m tempted to return to that career. It’s a wonderful line of work, and filled with fascinating challenges, and intellectual achievement. It was a wonderful job for me.

But I have a new job now, and my answer to those who ask is that I’ve never been happier in my work than I am now. A writer is nothing without readers, and again, I’m deeply grateful to you for reading these words.

Letting go

I’ve been trying to let go. It’s a work in progress, and it probably always will be, but I’m trying.

I’m looking for focus, and freedom from noise. More than that, I’m looking for stability; a metaphorical place where I have a chance of doing my best work.

I’m distracted by my interests, but that’s fine. What’s not fine is that I’m also distracted by things I might think are interesting at the time, but are really just opportunities to procrastinate.

I’ve learned that letting go is an active, continuous process. The default assumption is that we want to be interrupted: notifications are enabled, ringers aren’t silenced, and reminders are set. To get rid of that stuff, you have to take a stand.

Macworld MacMania 2015

Update: This cruise has unfortunately been cancelled.

Fellow Mac enthusiasts, were you aware that there’s a conference for you on a cruise ship every year? Well, there is: Macworld’s MacMania. I’m delighted to confirm that I’ll be speaking on the 2015 cruise, which takes place from December 3rd - 15th next year (note: that’s 2015, not 2014).

My wife Lauren will be coming along too. The cruise begins (and ends) in Southampton in the UK, and we’ll be visiting the Madeira archipelago, Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, Lisbon, and Vigo. You can see the itinerary here.

Staying creative

I recently read Shawn Blanc’s Fighting to Stay Creative, which is about the challenges of maintaining creativity over long periods. I’d like to add a few of my own thoughts on that topic.

I write every day: seven days a week. I’m working on a novel, and I also write for this blog and various magazines. It’s my full-time job now, and I don’t have another one. Staying creative is thus absolutely critical for me.

I’ve learned a lot about the obstacles to continued creative output, and I’ve found a few techniques that can help. Many of these are just common sense, but it’s useful to have them all in one place.


I recently wrote an article about my seven and a half years of experience in working from home full-time, which seemed to strike a chord - it’s been read by more than 80,000 people so far, and extensively linked to.

The one aspect of my situation that I didn’t specifically talk about was the nature of my work. I’ve made a change of career this year, but for the seven years ending last December, I was a consultant software engineer and user experience designer.

I learned many lessons (some of them the hard way) about what goes into being a consultant, and I’d like to share my thoughts on that topic.

Thinking slowly

As I write this, my wife is sewing a skirt. Everything is laid out: the skirt itself, the fabric she cut the material from, the thread, the scissors, a measuring tape, some pins, the sewing machine and the pattern. It’s the first piece of clothing she’s made from scratch, and she’s thoroughly enjoying the process. I find the chatter of the sewing machine very comforting.

I’m a fan of analogue tools. I depend on them. I incorporate them into my creative process no matter what I’m doing. When I’m thinking about the architecture of a piece of software, I use a whiteboard (and index cards attached to the board with magnets) long before I launch Xcode. When I’m designing a user interface, Photoshop isn’t touched until I’ve filled several pages of a paper notebook, and I have multiple uncapped pens rolling around on the desk.

And then there’s writing, of course. I mostly do that on an assortment of electronic devices - some new, like my 2013 MacBook Air, and some old, like my gorgeous PowerBook 150 from 1994 - but right now I’m using something a bit more vintage: a typewriter.

Burying the URL

Last week, one of the nightly builds of the Google Chrome web browser experimented with hiding the URL in the address bar, instead showing what Google calls an “origin chip” - essentially a button for the domain you’re currently on.

It is just an experiment, and it has some potential usability problems, but it got me thinking about our old friend the URL.

Trabalhando em Casa

This is a Brazilian Portuguese version of my article about working from home. I’m very grateful to Halex Pereira for the translation.

Eu trabalho na minha casa em tempo integral há mais de sete anos, e sou dono do meu próprio negócio há igual tempo. Muitos de nós temos pelo menos uma oportunidade eventual de trabalhar em casa, e ouso dizer que muita gente gostaria de fazer disso algo permanente.

Só que não é algo tão simples quanto colocar um laptop na sala de estar. Trabalhar em casa traz uma série de dificuldades e desafios. De muitas maneiras é uma batalha de autocontrole. Queria falar sobre alguns dos problemas que encontrei e como lido com eles.