Dougald Hine

Guides to doing it yourself
(or with others)

This is the beginning of something I want to come back to - a collection of DIY guides to living well and making things happen.

The idea goes back to an email magazine called Pick Me Up. The traces of it have almost disappeared from the web, but between 2004 and 2006 it ran for a hundred issues full of stories about people getting together and doing stuff.

I was one of the Pick Me Up editors. We did it in our spare time, because it was more fun than our day jobs. Our motto was "Think what you would do if only you had the money, then work out how you can do it anyway."

A Pick Me Up story had to be about making something happen. You told the story in a way that meant someone else could use and adapt what you had learned.

Many of the classic Pick Me Up stories were "How To" guides - how to organise your own festival, how to become a pickpocket, how to write a love letter.

Pick Me Up made me realise the value of a good set of DIY instructions. I'd like to unearth those original stories - and I'm also going to start collecting other examples.

These aren't formulae to be applied meticulously. They're more like dance notation, a translation into language and order of the experience of what works in a disorderly world.

Treat them as a basis for improvisation.

How to...

Other things that belong on this page

Some more thoughts about this page

This page was a bit of an afterthought when I was putting the site together. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to matter.

I guess there are a couple of reasons for this.

First, it balances the epic Reading list, in the same way that practical projects balance writing and talking about ideas.

Secondly, I think a personal collection of techniques is a good thing to build up. It is somewhere between a tool kit and a book of spells.

Once out of formal education, you rarely meet a situation in which there is a single right answer. As you work in a particular craft, though, you begin to assemble a grimoire, a grammar of the kinds of reality with which you work. (This is as true for a novelist as for a boat builder.)

Whatever shorthand you use to record or talk about this cannot capture all the wordless knowledge involved in your practice. (This is why the sorceror's apprentice ends up in such a mess, trying to work magic by the book alone.)

With care, though, it should be possible to record enough to be useful to others, if they use it with care.

There are sites like eHow which are overflowing with "How to" guides, but I have a feeling this may be missing the point - at least with the subtler, larger or more foolish kinds of technique I'm interested in. (In its defence, eHow did come in dead handy when I had to fix a sash window.)

But where skill and discernment are needed, the value of this kind of technical information is closely linked to its provenance. It's the difference between looking at a vast and unsorted array of tools, or the toolkit of a craftsman whose work you respect.