Read Write Play: 2020

In a normal year I would have posted my RWP summaries every quarter, as I’ve done since launching this blog in its current form in 2018. However, this is no ordinary year and my reading, writing, and playing schedule got tossed about as one might expect amidst a global pandemic and prolonged school shutdowns.

Thus, I didn’t keep up with this blog nearly as much as I did in past years. However, there was plenty of writing. A ton of it, in fact. A healthy amount of reading, and yes, some playing too. This post, in annual form this time, recaps my 2020 “me-time” — the hours of the day that don’t revolve around family and work.


I didn’t hit my reading groove until later in the year. I read all of these since August. Before that… I don’t know! I guess I wasn’t feeling it. I did (and still do) read the newspaper every day and some of The Economist on my Kindle most weeks. Since my wife subscribed us to the New Yorker (paper edition) that has become a welcome addition to my weekly routine. I try to read the whole thing on my Saturday shabbats.

Here’s a quick rundown on each of these books, why I read them, and what I thought.

Russell Rules: 11 Lessons on Leadership From the Twentieth Century’s Greatest Winner

  • A great book about leadership and business. I read it because it’s on the reading list suggested in The Art of Profitability. I learned that focus is important. Bill Russell was one of the greatest basketball players of all time because he worked harder and played smarter than everyone else. However, he also recognized that he doesn’t play every position. He needs to have a great team, one that adapts to the competition. He needs them all to play at his level and he was able to do that, winning the NBA Finals a record-breaking 11 seasons.

The Art of Profitability

  • This book came by recommendation from Jonathan Siegel, the brains and brawn behind Xenon Partners, where I currently work. This book summarizes several profit models presented by a fictional mentor coaching a business executive. It’s clever, poignant, and was helpful to me in thinking about other profitable business models. For example, MightySignal relies on Specialist Profit: paying a premium for specific knowledge. In my side-hustle life, I use the Profit-Multiplier Model: running multiple small SaaS businesses in parallel using the same tech stack (make money off the same good or skill in different markets).

On Writing

  • My neighbor gave me this book (my first non-Kindle book of the year!) when she heard I was writing a novel. She said it was good; she was right. I thought Lisa Cron’s Story Genius was the formula for writing a good novel. In fact, Steven King gave it away 16 years earlier, in 2000. A few things resonated with me. First, he describes writing as “dreaming while awake,” a state of mind I can relate to. It’s why I need writing retreats to make giant leaps in my books. He also confessed to not having a complete outline for his books when he writes them. Instead, he find some inspiration for a situation. That spark comes a bit randomly, and then he noodles on it, maybe writes down the scenario, and comes back to it when he’s ready. At that point, he sets the characters up “in medias res” (in the midst of the thing) and lets them tell him what happens. The story is already there; like an archaeologist, he just has to uncover it.

The Shining

  • Since I loved his memoir so much, I decided to take up a Stephen King book. I’m not sure I’ve ever read one cover to cover. I’m sure I tried to tackle It at some point and didn’t make it through. I know my mom used to read his books. I picked the one he felt most proud of at the time of his memoir and verified that it was on the top of some his fan clubs’ lists. My impression, ultimately, was meh. I didn’t love it. I noticed that he didn’t stick to some of own rules (“never put an adjective after ‘said’ — e.g. ‘he said slyly’ — King did this a few times in The Shining). I also didn’t fall for the ghosts (or were they hallucinations? I wasn’t sure, since I don’t think his wife and boy could see them.) And the coming-to-life of the hedges was odd to me. Why were they the only inanimate objects to come alive? The setup, though, was great. Man goes crazy with his wife and boy in a huge, empty, isolated mountain hotel. Who wouldn’t want to read that story?

Becoming A Digital Marketer: Gaining the Hard & Soft Skills for a Tech-Driven Marketing Career

  • Since I’m teaching a search marketing course at DVC this spring, I figured I should start reading some search marketing books. If I liked one well enough, I might assign it. This one didn’t fit the bill. It was mostly trite, and the good parts they offered were few and far between. If they’d peppered in more case studies and anecdotes I would have enjoyed it. Instead, I made it about halfway through. It just wasn’t that good.

Everything We Keep (Everything #1)

  • This was the last Kindle Unlimited book I read. I canceled my membership soon afterwards. Since I’ve been working on a novel (see the Writing section below), I figured I should read more novels. I picked this one because the plot, like mine, involves cancer. I didn’t care about the main character enough. I made it all the way through, because I wanted to understand what exactly it was that I didn’t like. I determined that the main character (and narrator) were trying to be too cute. There was a triteness to the descriptions and dialogue that felt juvenile. It lacked depth. I related to the author in that I felt her struggle to bring about the full spectrum of emotion in her characters but in the end it was still shallow. I just didn’t like it.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

  • I also didn’t like this book. I picked it because I saw it at a Barnes & Nobles and it involves a secret society, like my novel. This one was better than Everything We Keep. I liked that it takes place in San Francisco and New York and incorporated some tech startup references and characters. That part felt real, but the plot itself didn’t capture me. I didn’t care about Mr. Penumbra or his bookstore. I could tell the main character cared, and his love interest also eventually cared, but the whole plot was just a bit too geeky. I didn’t believe that the main character would get so wrapped up in it. He had his own life too, and I suppose that’s where it lost me. I took mental notes about what not to do with my own plot.


If you were keeping score on my Rbucks blog, you’d be correct to say I fell off on blog writing this year. It is true. The numbers don’t lie.

  • 2019: 35 posts for 44,188 words (1,263 words per post)
  • 2020: 12 posts for 15,784 words (1,315 words per post)

I wrote 1/3 the blog posts in 2020 that I did in 2019. This wasn’t intentional. It’s just what happened as my routine got chewed up and spit out. Where I used to enjoy writing at night and doing other “me time” activities, I had to spend that time working. I used to eschew computering after the kids go to sleep. Now I embrace it. But this is what happens with no childcare, no school, two kids and a wife at home ALL. THE. TIME.

So I adapted. And sacrificed. Apparently writing blog posts fell to the wayside.

However, I did make huge progress on my book. I’m up to over 70,000 words now. About half was written in 2019 (the latter half) and the rest was written in spring and summer 2020. I’m stuck on the ending but I have an idea and I’m one writing retreat away from capping this sucker off. It’ll feel really good when it’s done. I already have a book cover.

Just looking at this cover makes me want to finish writing the damn book.

My top post of 2020 wasn’t even written in 2020. I published How chess and entrepreneurship are the same about a year ago and for some reason it started to pop in traffic this past summer. Nothing else I wrote this year even comes close. So it goes.

I also blogged on MightySignal. My top post on my company blog was Data Products vs Data Solutions. I do feel good about this one. It was a labor love and I felt like I had something important to say. For the next person redoing their B2B website, I think this will be a useful post and I’m glad it’s on the Internet for anyone to see.

As I wrote previously, content marketing and social media marketing are about giving. The best posts I’ve written are also the best gifts. This year I’ve come to appreciate other writers, particularly Alex Danco and Jamie Catherwood. These two guys produce tremendous value every week and they give it away for free. I’m sure they feel good about it. I’m sure there’s value in the followerships they’re gathering and the personal brands they’re builidng, but when they click “Publish,” there’s no immediate “ca-ching” sound. It’s a long game they’re playing. My game is likely much longer.


In May of this year I did something unusual. I tweeted a video of myself playing piano and singing.

Don’t let the sun go down on me

It’s not the first time I’ve sung in public. It is the first time I’ve done it while playing piano, though, and that’s a milestone for me. Although the pandemic canceled my singing lessons, I continued to play, working on Christmas carols throughout the summer and getting decent at “Jingle Bells”, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.”

The last one, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” is my favorite. The voicings and flourishes that Dan Coates, the arranger, added are exactly what I need to take my playing to the next level. Where my Elton John playing has me doing octaves on my left hand, this Christmas Carol book has introduced me to the magic of the dominant seventh on my left hand, giving everything a more complex, jazzy feel. I love it. I’m not singing as much but I play piano just about every day.

On the guitar front, I’ve been dabbling in Grateful Dead. I can’t get over Row Jimmy and Morning Dew. I put them both in the top 10 songs I’ve ever heard. I play half-assed versions on my Taylor 214 while hanging out with my kids and neighbors in the front yard. When our house is remodeled and I’m under the same roof as my Telecaster I will begin to really tackle these songs, giving them the focus and dedication they require.

Until then, I make slow but steady progress on piano, and I fully expect to be able to throw down some Christmas carols next year, full voice, for all to hear.

Here’s to you, 2021.

Leave a Reply