2020 is the year of... attention

A yearly theme for the ages

Every year, my old internet pal Myke Hurley and the really rather popular YouTuber, CGP Grey choose their annual themes on the Cortex podcast. It’s a way for them to set the tone for the coming 12 months without making specific resolutions.

I quite like the notion. 

I’m tired of giving myself reading, writing and other such goals only to fail and feel bad about it. With a newborn in the house and a freelance business to run, I don’t really know what I can achieve in 2020. I’m not sure tangible targets will be helpful. 

So instead, I am going to set an annual theme. I’m going to use it to guide what I do and which projects I work on. It will be there to remind me when my current good intentions inevitably become difficult to put into practice. 

So here it is. 

For me, this will be the year of… attention

Sounds vague, doesn’t it? 

As I wrote in my review of the last decade, Brexit in particular has absorbed a lot of my attention in the last three years. If I’ve not been reading about it, exchanging WhatsApp messages about it, or watching the latest codswallop on my phone, it’s been on my mind.

In 2020, I would like to stay informed about Brexit and the world imploding, but without letting it take all of my attention. 

It’s not just Brexit and world annihilation though.

Like many people, I find my attention pulled this way and that almost permanently. I’m a natural daydreamer. I like being a daydreamer! It’s where my stories come from. But being a daydreamer means sometimes I find it hard to focus on one thing at time. I like to keep moving. Try new stuff.  

Truth is, the things I want to achieve this year – write the second novel, read more books, develop this newsletter, run 300km – they all require focus. They all need my full attention. I really want to get to 2021 having give them my best shot.

Of course, I’m not going to pretend that I can suddenly turn into some kind of productivity prince. I mean, that sounds awful anyway. But if I am supposed to be writing, I am going to try and write. If I want to read a book, I am going to read a book. And when I am running, I am running. Obviously. 

Too often, even when I am doing something I enjoy, my attention is caught by something non-urgent and typically trivial.

My aim this year is to be aware of that happening and nip it in the bud. Not by quitting Twitter. Not by saying no to things I actually enjoy. But by taking notice of my behaviour and trying to form better habits. 

I want to reclaim my attention by paying attention. 

How to be helpful

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Links of the week

Every issue I collect and share the best advice, apps and other shenanigans that I find on my internet travels. Find something useful? Subscribe for free.

‎Habit — Daily Tracker

It’s a new year, so naturally we’ve all made a number of resolutions that we may or may not keep. Last year, I had a go at using a habit tracker, which lasted about a month. I’m going to give it another go this time round with the colourful and so far perfectly practical, Habit – Daily Tracker. (Found via Luke Leighfield’s great newsletter.)

Writers and Their Favourite Tools

Like a very modern daft lad, I assumed that this would be a list of apps and other such computer nonsense. But no! If you’ve ever wondered what type of pencil or pen various published authors use, this is for you. Personally, there are three types of pen I like to use, depending what I’m up to. If you are lucky – and I mean very lucky – I might write about them one day. 

Fantastic list of writerly Twitter Lists created by @samatlounge

Are you on Twitter? Want to know who all the right writers, publishers and other bookish sorts are? Then you need to get your gloves on and start mining the Twitter Lists created and kindly made public by Sam Missingham, who founded The Empowered Author. Absolutely brilliant resource. Go get stuck in. 

Writer Lingo & Slang

If you are new to the world of publishing, some of the terminology can be confusing. In fact, even if you’ve been in the thick of it, there’s a chance some new jargon will come along to make you feel like a right nit or – possibly – some upstart from the North of England who doesn’t quite belong (sorry what?). 

Anyway, this is a really useful piece written by science fiction and fantasy author SL Huang for her excellent newsletter, Ask An Author. It’s basically a list of some publishing phrases and acronyms alongside a sensible explanation of what they mean. Very useful indeed. 

Now if someone can explain to me how many kisses and on how many cheeks you’re supposed to go for on greeting someone that works in publishing, that would be very helpful. 

Lydia Davis interviewed in latest Five Dials

Remember when I told you about the new book of essays by one of my favourite writers, Lydia Davis? It’s called Essays. Which is helpful when you want to remember the title for your newsletter.

Well there’s a great interview with Davis in the latest edition of Five Dials. What the heck is Five Dials? It’s a long-running, free literary magazine published by Hamish Hamilton. I don’t read every edition, but I love that it exists and was very pleased when this one popped into my inbox. 

How You Spend Your Days

This is the idea that the things you do on a regular basis are the things that – you know – you actually do. They make up who you are. 

Kate McKean in her also excellent newsletter sums it up really well:

I just want the time I’m actually working to be work, and the time I’m not to be NOT.

That’s definitely my approach to this new year. See above.

Bullet - Bullet Journal App

I know some of you are into bullet journalling. I tried it for about six months when I first went freelance and actually found it pretty useful. Of course, part of the attraction is that it’s a paper-based note taking system that gets you away from the screen. But maybe you want the best of both worlds? If so, take a look at this new app, which I have neither tried nor tested. You can find screenshots to see what the app looks like on Product Hunt.

How to read more

This is an old graphic and blog post from my personal fave, Austin Kleon. But it’s worth posting again now because no doubt you’ve decided, just like I have, that 2020 will be the year you read like the wind. And you will! For sure!

Tweets of the week

Tweets are but filthy nuts in a well-worn hubcap. But some of them are quite good. You can follow @iainbroome and @unslush on Twitter.

First time reader?

If you are new to me and this newsletter, please feel free to join almost 600 other fine folk and subscribe to get future emails right in your inbox. You can read a short bio on my website, where you can also find out more about my debut novel.

10 events that shaped my decade

How we got to now

It’s officially 2020. You’ve probably noticed people taking to social media to share their last decade. There’s been a notable focus on achievements. And that makes sense. It’s important to take stock of all the good stuff you’ve done. 

But life is not one long list of achievements.

There are peaks and troughs. Good times and bad. For all that goes our way, there are challenges to face and stuff we don’t see coming. 

I sent a tweet to sum up my own decade. 

As I’m in the fog of having a newborn baby in the house again, it seemed about right to sum things up in such a silly way.

But it was also – if I’m honest – a response to seeing other authors list the many books they both wrote and published in the last 10 years. 

If you’d asked me in 2012, when my debut and currently only novel was published, how many books I would have written by now, I would probably have guessed at three or four. Something like that. And yet here I am.

I write this mainly to acknowledge and reassure you – my fellow writers – that decades are not solely shaped by your achievements, and your achievements are not solely related to how many books you did or did not publish. 

Life is life. Work hard and good stuff happens. Work hard and shit stuff happens too. Don’t worry about what other people are doing. Focus on your own thing. Give it time. Change will come. Etcetera, etcetera.

Anyway. I don’t really feel like I can or want to try and summarise the last decade in a tweet. I definitely don’t want to list my achievements.

So instead, I’ve chosen to reflect on the last 10 years by sharing – accepting – the 10 events that got me to where I am now. 

2010: My Auntie’s brain tumour

Things did not start well. I called my much-loved and only auntie (no uncles either) to ask her to read at our wedding. Astonishingly, she said no. It was a weird conversation. I knew that something was wrong, so I called my dad immediately. He said he’d noticed some odd behaviour recently too. 

Turned out she had a brain tumour. Her health deteriorated very quickly. Me and my fiancée travelled to first the hospital and later the hospice to see her two or three times a week. It was horrendous. Horrific. Like watching a rose lose its petals one by one. She was dead within three months. Our children would have adored her.

2011: Got married 

The following year, I married my best friend and had a big party in an equally big tent at her parents’ farm on the top of a hill in Somerset. It was everything we wanted and more. Together, we’ve navigated the rest of the decade and all its thrown at us with love, respect and teamwork. Proper teamwork.

September 2012: A is for Angelica published

I became a published author. Lived the dream. Achievement unlocked. I’ve spent many sorry evenings staring at an empty screen since, but now more than ever I look back (and occasionally read parts of) A is for Angelica with huge amounts of pride. It’s not perfect – but it’s a bloody good debut novel. 4.3 out of 5 stars. Would recommend.

September 2012: Had identical twins

In the month I became a published author, I also became a parent to identical twins. Which was not especially compatible with marketing a book. But who gives a shit. My boys are the loveliest, warmest, most incredible kids I could ever have hoped for. 

They have absolutely no idea, but they’ve been there to lift us on countless occasions when things have got tough. Not many people get to be parents to identical twins. We consider it an absolute privilege. Those gorgeous boys. They are the decade.

October 2012: Made redundant

Five days after my twins were born, while we were all still living in a hospital room together, I was made redundant. It was quite the week. And frankly, it transformed my decade.

Looking back, I think we dealt with everything extremely well. We went from having no children and two jobs to effectively the exact opposite in the space of a few days. I was instantly unemployed and my wife began maternity leave. 

I took the first job I could get. It was fine. But it sparked a number of years where – again, with hindsight – I found myself lost professionally. It was difficult to write fiction too, just at the point where I needed to capitalise on getting published.

2015: Miscarriage

Early 2015, we moved to a new house that we are still in and love very much. But in the summer, my wife had a miscarriage and it was the saddest, most difficult thing we have ever been through. I have lots to say about the process and how it felt, but I’ve never quite found the words or place in which to do so. This list isn’t it, but it shaped my decade, no doubt.  

2016: Baby number three

One year later our daughter arrived. She’s bright, brave, funny and will go on to run the world if she wants to. Oh! And I can confirm that having one baby is easier than having two at the same time. Just in case you wondered. Logistics. It’s all logistics.

2016: Brexit

Don’t get me started. The absolute state of it. We’re four years on and my blood still boils at the sheer small-mindedness and stupidity of it all. 

On a personal level, I feel like for three years and counting, Brexit has stolen my attention. It’s politicised me. I’m far better informed than before. But that information has come at a cost. Like many people in the UK, I’ve been absorbed by the utter lunacy playing out on our various screens. I hate it. I wish I had that time back. 

Of course, with the recent election, things have changed. It feels like an act of deference, but for my own health and the ability to get anything done, I intend to inhale a lot less Brexit in the coming months.

2017: Started a business 

Arguably, my best non-family-related achievement of the decade. I spent a fantastic year at digital agency Yoomee before facing another, albeit slightly different redundancy. This time round I didn’t try and get another job. Instead, I emailed everyone I knew and told them I was available for freelance work.  

This February will be my three-year anniversary of running Very Meta – my freelance content business. I’ve met so many different people, learnt loads about my home city, and worked on a much wider variety of projects than I could have imagined. I’ve also been able to pay the mortgage. Which is very important. 

2019: Baby number four

What’s the point of ending a 10-year cycle if you can’t do it in style?

As regular readers will know, last month we said hello to our fourth (and final, seriously) child. She was born on my birthday, which is both rather wonderful and completely bonkers. It’s been that kind of decade.

That’s it from me. I found that quite cathartic. 

I hope you’ve had a great holiday period and are busy making plans for the new year. I’ll be back next week with the usual links to the very best bookish internet nonsense I can find. If you’re new to the newsletter, there’s an about page you can read.

Keep it real. Stay cool. Hang tough like the New Kids

First time reader?

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There's a new kid in town

And I need cuddles

Iain Broome

I am still up to my eyes in new parenthood (again), so forgive the short email and small selection of links. If you missed my last update, Peggy Jean Broome was born on 28 November, which also happens to me my own birthday. Absolutely crackers. 

Today is the morning after the general election here in the UK. It’s fair to say that once again the baddies won. Despite seeing it coming this time, I am absolutely crestfallen and feel sick to my stomach for all of those people this vote will affect the most. 

I’m going to give myself the holiday period to reflect on what I personally ought to do about the situation. For my own sanity, I need to step away from reading the news and keeping up to date with all things Brexit. I’ve no idea how to do that though. Being informed is somewhat addictive. 

There is, of course, one thing I must do. I need to find a way to finish writing this second novel. It’s hugely influenced by the events of the last three years and making art of any kind is a good way to both have a voice and give a voice to others. 

Everything is temporary. Nothing last forever. The good will out. I’m going to spend some time cuddling my gorgeous Peggy while having a very big think about what’s to come in the new year. 

What’s your book of the year?

In last week’s newsletter, I asked you to share your favourite book of 2019. Thank you and a virtual high-five if you are one of those who contributed to the discussion. If you’d like to add your own literary recommendation to what is already an excellent list, please feel free to share your own book of 2019.

Join the discussion

How to be helpful

If like most right-thinking folk you enjoy this newsletter, there are three specific things you can do to help.  Subscribe now if you haven’t already . Share it with someone else. Or click/tap the little heart icon right there at the bottom.

Links of the week

Every issue I collect and share the best advice, apps and other shenanigans that I find on my internet travels. If you like these, you’ll like The Daily Unslush too.

Is it okay to deface books for art?

This short piece by Austin Kleon is about defacing, chopping up and turning books into something new. But it’s also about how we often hold books up as some sort of magical object when really they’re just very thinly sliced trees. I’m very much a spine cracker. Can you tell?

How to organise your writing

Well now this is a really useful article with some great ideas for keeping your writing organised. I wrote A is for Angelica in Word and by the end had – I think – around 50 billion documents in only slightly fewer folders. It was an absolute mess until I resorted to a made-up Post It note system that got me through to the end. I’m definitely going to put some of the stuff here into practice. 

The New Yorker’s Best Books of 2019

Just one in what will no doubt be a cavalcade of lists announcing the best of everything. Have to say, I have not read a single book on this particular list so I’ll be adding some of them to the ever-lengthening to-read pile. 

Walling - A Better Way to Organise Ideas

There seem to be a few of these tools around at the moment. Walling almost look like a private Pinterest for your digital notes and I rather like the sound of that. It’s also got the same look about it as Notion, which I have used a little but not quite stuck to. 

How to read more effectively

I’ve said it a 100 times in this newsletter, reading for me since having children has become something of a problem. I’m always tired and struggle to get into any sort of reading rhythm (see also writing). This article on Quartz includes some interesting techniques and I give it an extra 10 points for looking very pretty. 

Tweets of the week

Tweets are but waxy nuggets in a world of dirty lugholes. But some of them are quite good. You can follow @iainbroome and @unslush on Twitter if you want.

First time reader?

If you are new to me and this newsletter, please feel free to join us and subscribe to get future correspondence right in your inbox. You can read a short bio on my website, where you can also find out more about my debut novel.

Open thread: What's the best book you've read in 2019?

So we had our baby on my birthday and my wife is a hero. Instead of the usual Unslush newsletter this week, I want to know what you’ve been reading this year. Some brilliant fiction? A fantastic biography? Maybe even a book about writing? I’ll give you my book of 2019 first and I’d love you to share yours too. Join the discussion and I’ll compile them for an exciting future email.

View 53 comments →

Get ready for an exciting question

We are literally this close to welcoming baby Broome number four into our house, so forgive the short introduction to this week’s newsletter. 

In fact, the only thing I want to tell you is that next week I’m going to try something a little different. Aforementioned baby will be here by then, so instead of the usual list of links, I’m going to ask a question and invite you to answer. 

How the hell will that work?

Well – I’m going to use the exciting discussion thread feature that comes with Substack. You’ll receive an email as usual and inside will be my question and a link for you to follow and leave a reply. 

Worst case scenario: you ignore it and we never speak of this again. Best case scenario: you all reply and we end up having a lovely discussion about books while getting to know each another a little better.

This is the question. 

What’s the best book you’ve read in 2019?

I know my answer, so I’ll be adding my two-penneth to the discussion next week. Ideally, we’ll end up with lots of fantastic book recommendations that will make excellent holiday gifts (or even better, gift requests). I’ll collect them up and send them as a complete list in a future newsletter. 

Okay. That’s it for now. Baby time for me. 

Enjoy the list of literary lushness below. 

Links of the week

Every issue I collect and share the best advice, apps and other shenanigans that I find on my internet travels. If you like these, you’ll like The Daily Unslush too.

Carrd - Simple, free, fully responsive one-page websites

Honestly, if you want to put together a quick website, I’m yet to find a better tool than Carrd. Whether you want to promote an event, create a book landing page or set up a coming soon thingy, it’s the absolute business. The Pro version starts at just $9 a month too. Total bargain.

Two example sites of my own on Carrd:

Oh! Just noticed they have a Black Friday deal going on too, Just enter this code at checkout and apparently you get 50% off: BF2019FTW

Screenpeek – Paste URL, Create Mockup

While I’m at it, Screenpeek is what I used to make the mockup image for the Carrd link above. I also use Shotsnapp to make similar images too. 

Struggling with Reading While Writing

When I was in the thick of writing A is for Angelica, I decided to stop reading. It felt necessary to make sure I maintained the voice of the novel without accidentally wandering off into the voice of whatever book I might have been reading at the time. This is a great piece on reading while writing in the ace Ask an Author newsletter – it contains some good practical suggestions if this is something you struggle with too.

How to write a scene

I think I link to this article from 2007 at least once every year. It’s by screenwriter John August and packed full of good advice for writers of all kinds. This is my favourite bit:

The question is not, “What could happen?” or “What should happen?” It is only, “What needs to happen?” If you wrote an outline, this is the time to look at it. If you didn’t, just come up one or two sentences that explain what absolutely must happen in the scene.

I like this so much I have the words ‘What needs to happen?’ written on a Post it note above my desk. It reminds me (and you, perhaps) to focus on the essential part of what you’re writing and then build around it. Before anything make sure what needs to happen actually does happen. 

How to…start a writing group

This is a short and sweet blog post about starting a writing group. There’s some useful practical ideas in there that might help you if it’s something you’re thinking about doing. You might want to check out the other writing resources on the New Writing North website while you’re there. 

6 Membership Based Business Models You Can Use On Patreon Today

Obviously, this is published on the Patreon blog and so it’s heavy on the – well – Patreon references. However, in terms ideas for building a business around your art or creative pursuit, you can’t go wrong. You just need to build yourself an audience. That’s the tricky bit. Seriously.

The Handy List of Human Words

You may or may not know that in my actual job as a copywriter and content designer sort, I’m a big fan of writing in plain English. This list of alternative words is indeed very handy if you want to cut out all the jargon and speak to people directly. 

Book haul!

A couple of weeks ago, I shared some writing advice taken from Lydia Davis’ new collection of essays. I then saw the book itself in Waterstones and decided to bag myself a copy, along with The Heartland by my writer pal, Nathan Filer. I’m looking forward to getting stuck in once I finally finish The Testaments.

How to be helpful

If like most right-thinking folk you enjoy this newsletter, there are three specific things you can do to help. Subscribe now if you haven’t already. Share it with someone else. Or click/tap the little ❤️ icon right there at the bottom.


Tweets of the week

Tweets are but waxy nuggets in a world of dirty lugholes. But some of them are quite good. You can follow @iainbroome and @unslush on Twitter if you want.

First time reader?

If you are new to me and this newsletter, please feel free to join us and subscribe to get future correspondence right in your inbox. You can  read a short bio  on my website, where you can also find out more about my debut novel.

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