I like writing

I write every day. I type a lot, of course – sometimes up to 5000 words a day, even not counting emails. But I write too. Longhand. In a journal. Three pages every day, first thing in the morning.

It usually takes me about 20 minutes. Writing whatever comes into my head in all its jumbled, nonsensical and disordered glory clears away all of the crap that’s accumulated in my brain overnight, gets it out of my system and lets me start fresh.

My friend Trevor used to call it my morning ‘mental poo’. Which is kind of horrible – but entirely accurate. I prefer that metaphor about the guy who cuts down trees for a living, figuring out that he needs to take a little time each day to sharpen his saw. That’s what my morning pages routine is all about.


Breathing in

IMG 1941

It’s been a strange and busy year… and we’re only in week two.

Of course, I’m determined not to be one of those “I’m so busy!” people, but I do rather a lot of things. Fortunately, most of them are very interesting things. Stuff I get to do, rather than stuff I have to do. And… not to put too fine a point on it, sometimes, my life is just plain weird.

But this is the blogger’s dilemma. The more things you do that are interesting or unusual, quite often the less opportunity and inclination you have to blog about them. I like this blog to be interesting, of course – but while it’s necessarily about me (it is, after all, a personal blog), I’d like it to be more about stuff that comes from me – out of my head – and not just a catalogue of stuff that happens to me.

There are some very good stories to tell, of course. There was that time I was sitting by an open fireplace in a farmhouse in Istria learning about photography from the editor of a food magazine. Or the time I was reluctant to go into a record shop, only to end up buying £1000 worth of vinyl for £5. Or that time Gerard Depardieu’s next door neighbour made me an eight course meal. Or when I stole a bottle of wine from the House of Commons while wearing Google Glass. All in the last few weeks…

But to be honest, I haven’t been in a storytelling frame of mind – and none of these stories have a particular point other than ‘hey, look how cool’ – which is not what I really want to be writing about. It might even be worth reading, but it doesn’t feel like it’s worth writing. They’re not necessarily the same thing. I mostly write because I enjoy it and I want to be better at the craft of it.


Finishing touches on the radio book

DUBBER 1For the past few weeks, I’ve been working with a copy editor by the name of Manuela on preparing my Radio in the Digital Age book for print.

She’s been brilliant – making suggestions, corrections and alterations – and even adding additional knowledge and nuance in some areas that allowed me to expand some sections and go a little deeper.

I like to think I’m reasonably competent when it comes to spelling, grammar and punctuation. In fact, I’m a complete amateur. Manuela’s an artist when it comes to sentence structure and a scientist when it comes to understanding how the language really works.

I had no idea how deep that sort of expertise can go.

All in all, it’s been a really positive experience, conducted entirely via email and in comments on Word documents. We’ve never actually met.

Today I sent off the last bit of information she needed: the page numbers of a published book chapter in Spanish for which I only had a draft pre-translation English copy. Now that we have that, the book is complete and it’s off to press.

It’s great to be able to cross such a major project off my list. There is now nothing more I can do to change or improve it. I’ll simply have to wait and see it when it’s ready.

I’ve put out ebooks before, of course, and I’ve co-authored texts and contributed chapters to books that have been published by Sage, Longman and Routledge – but this is my first sole-authored, traditionally published book – so I’m quite excited about that aspect of it.

All going according to plan, Radio in the Digital Age will be published by Polity in November.

I have several other book projects in the pipeline. It’s been an interesting process going through this one from start to finish, and there are certainly some things I’ll do differently next time. But now that it’s done – it definitely feels like something I can do again.

So that’s encouraging.

Here’s some more about my books, if you’re interested.

The paperless dream

Ft evernote

I’ve been using Evernote, on and off, for over three years now. And while it seems like a terribly clever thing, it just wasn’t that useful in my life. I take lots of notes, and I write a lot of things, but I have a number of different systems for sorting and filing those and it just didn’t make sense to add another one.

After all, which bit of my system would Evernote fit into or replace?

Turns out the answer was ALL OF IT.

I’ve been reading a few things about Evernote over the past few days, and I thought I’d try and make the most of what is actually a very simple and powerful tool.

The best thing is that Evernote will pretty much take whatever you throw at it – from voice memos to photos, PDFs to single lines of text. I’ve even been forwarding certain project-related information emails there, so that I can find them later. I trust Evernote’s search far more than I do Mail app’s.

You can tag, file and sort everything later, and it’s all incredibly searchable (and therefore findable). For someone who does a lot of writing, being able to locate all of the information you’ve ever bookmarked or saved on a particular subject (and likewise being able to clip it from your browser) is utterly invaluable.

I’ve created Notebooks for all of my different projects and have started organising on that basis. It’s a great way to have all of my research, all of my important documents – all of the papers I need for everything all in one cross-platform, OCR-scanning tool.

My ambition for the next month or so is to slowly go through all of the papers that I keep for one reason or another and scan as many of them as seems reasonable into Evernote and then throw them away. Some documents, of course, need to be kept for various reasons – but not nearly as many as I have in the house or at work.

So – the trick is not to dabble in Evernote – but to use it for EVERYTHING.

This Lifehacker article is worth a read if you’re inclined to give it a go.

The pieces fall together

I’ve been doing a lot of writing recently. A few different projects – some work related, others not. And when I say I’ve been doing a lot of writing, what I mean is that I’ve been doing fairly small amounts of writing quite often.

I hop between projects and even between writing locations so that each small piece of writing feels like a fresh thing, and something that only takes a little of my time.

‘A little and often’ has sort of become my catchphrase.

But what I’ve found along the way is not only that fairly obvious thing about how it all quickly adds up (more than you’d even think), but also, more interestingly, that the pieces fall together.

By that, I mean that the writing takes on an unexpected shape, and the fragments of writing, when you come back to them, all seem to slot together well in a way that you might not have been anticipating, but which gives the finished product a far more interesting and complex tone.

More than that, it reveals hidden patterns. Recurring themes. There are a couple of things that I’ve written recently – including today – where I have discovered that the thing I was writing was not about the thing I thought I was writing about – but rather, something far more satisfying. Less obvious. More useful.

I think what happens is between bursts of writing, your brain processes stuff in the background. Finds threads. Makes connections. And then, perhaps while you sleep, it joins the dots.

It’s always quite pleasing to read back over your work and find out what it’s for and what it seems to be saying. And then, with a little rewriting and polish, you can make it look like that’s what you meant to do all along.

Captured by words

I’m one for rituals and processes. It helps me get things done and while I like change and spontaneity as much as the next person, repetitive behaviours (especially fun ones) are particularly useful for making progress on things.

I have a writing project I’m particularly enjoying at the moment, partly because my ritual is to go to a local cafe/bar near here when they open at 5pm, grab a table near the window at the back which lets in the afternoon sun, buy a medium glass of Malbec (175ml), and type until my wine is finished, usually about an hour and a half later.

I’ve been doing it for a couple of weeks now, and although I’m a reasonably recent addition to the bar staff’s own experience of regularity, I was asked today how the writing was going, and did I want my usual?

And in fact, the writing’s going rather well. Had something of a breakthrough today, actually. I continued tapping away at it when I got home and have carried on doing so long into the evening. What had been intended to be between 60 and 90 minutes of progress has now been five and a half hours of chipping away, getting it just right. Reordering, adding paragraphs, deleting sentences, reading back and moving forward.

I’m sure there was a whole bunch of other stuff I was going to do this evening – but given how sticky this new writing project seems to be, I’m making the most of this early bout of enthusiasm and indulging it to whatever extent it will tolerate. As a result, ten thousand words that didn’t exist last week exist this week. All of them are subject to change – but they’re a start.

Though my evening has completely vanished.