14 alternatives to writing

For when 'just write' is just wrong

I recently did absolutely no research and came to the conclusion that 95% of all writing advice is people telling you to just write

This is something I wrote about in 2009 which was – you’re not going to believe this – 10 years ago. People got a bit cross in the comments, but I was mainly frustrated at this idea that unless you are writing every single day, somehow you are not as much of a writer as someone who is writing daily. Even if they’re shit at it.  

Anyway, as someone who is about to have their fourth child in seven years while running a freelance business and screaming hopelessly into the void at the state of absolutely everything in the world, I’ve been thinking about this just write thing again.  

Because essentially it’s true. You should just write. On the whole, writing something is better than writing nothing. I argued against that in 2009, but I agree with it now. 

However, it’s far easier said than done and there are many other elements to the writing process that don’t involve actual typing. Planning is helpful. Thinking is good. Looking after yourself is very important.

So with that in mind, if you’re not currently in a position to sit behind a desk for hours every day, here is a list of alternatives to writing. 

  • Read through whatever you’re working on

  • Edit whatever you’re working on

  • Grab your phone and research whatever you’re working on

  • Find a pen and spend 10 minutes on a plan for when you can write

  • Speak to a friend or family member about your writing

  • Share some of your writing with a real-life writing pal

  • Share some of your writing on social media or your website or your newsletter

  • Read a book about writing, such as Release The Bats by DBC Pierre

  • Read a book about absolutely anything at all

  • Reflect fondly on a wonderful sentence you once wrote

  • Have a bath, see which toe fits best in the tap-holes, and ponder on your writing

  • Go for a run or cycle and come up with a brilliant new idea

  • Draw a map of your main setting in whatever you’re working on

  • Draw and annotate your characters

I know that none of this is going to help you meet the daily word count that you arbitrarily imposed upon yourself. And I appreciate that – at some point – we all have to buckle down and just write if we’re to make any progress. 

But please don’t do yourself in. Life happens. Forgive yourself.

Be my best friend

Sure, the internet is full of awfulness, nonsense and bad writing advice. But among the Earth-ending clustercack there are golden nuggets of bookish brilliance and productivity apps that promise the world. You could go looking for those yourself. No judgement here. But why not save yourself the time and effort? Subscribe to Unslush, let the good stuff come to you directly and become my best friend in the process.

I got carried away

So just when I relaunched the newsletter a couple of weeks ago, I happened to get one of the occasional offers from Sticker Mule via email.

People were subscribing left, right and centre. It was all very exciting.

So I bought a load of Unslush stickers that – I have to say – look an absolute treat on a laptop. I’m not entirely sure what to do with them yet. I’ll let you know when I figure something out.

In the meantime, remember last week when I asked you to hit the little heart shape at the bottom of the email to see if we could break the top five on Substack’s leaderboard. Well guess what? We did it!

It’s neither big nor clever of me to ask you to like me (please like me) every week, so let’s go for top three this time around and then call the whole thing off. Just assume that when you receive an email from me in future the next thing I want you to do is hit the little heart thingy. Now on to the content.

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.

A book chronicling tiny, bizarre treasures from Wes Anderson and Juman Malouf

This seems very much a case of doing something because why the hell not if you’re Wes Anderson and Juman Malouf. But there is something about it that I really like. Stories in objects and how they fit together. Colours. Shapes. Materials. Makes for pretty photos too. See also: Wes Anderson’s colour palettes

Lydia Davis: Ten of My Recommendations for Good Writing Habits

One of my problems with the just write mantra is its lack of usefulness. On the other hand, this copy and paste job that Lit Hub has done on an essay in Lydia Davis’ upcoming Essays One is full of practical, actual things that you can do. 

She talks a lot about taking notes:

Important: Take notes at the time, because you will forget so much, if not everything, later—you will inevitably either forget the moment entirely, or forget a part of it, so that won’t be as complete or interesting when you do note it down.

I am terrible at taking notes. It feels pointless until the very moment I want to remember some brilliant idea I had while running and then… it’s gone. And so now I just have to decide which beautiful notebook I want to use if I am to take on Davis’ advice. Notebooks are very important

The 20 Best Works of Nonfiction of the Decade

This is a list and we know that people like lists, so I’m sharing it with you now. The books are a bit US-focused for a Brit like me, but there is still plenty of reading here that takes my fancy. Do they take your fancy too?

Trace | Remove background from images fast

Are you, like me, utterly rubbish at cropping the background out of images? Well now you need never waste your life doing that again, because Trace from the aforementioned Sticker Mule does it all for you. Hat tip also to the less flashy but also great remove.bg.  

A Precious Hour

Much of this piece is standard productivity fare, but I do think there is something in the idea of putting an hour to one side each day for… whatever. My problem is that I run my own business, so there is always a to do list with items that need ticking off. It’s hard to ignore it. But this does sound tempting:

All I know is that I get rid of my to-do list, I tuck the iPhone safely away, and if there is a door, I close it. Whether it’s an hour of Choose_your_own_adventure Wikipedia research, an intense writing session, or endlessly tinkering with the typography on the site, it’s an hour well spent. […] There is a time and place for the purposeful noisiness of busy.

Scrivener vs. Ulysses: Which One Should You Use for NaNoWriMo?

I’m a Ulysses fan, personally. I really like its clean interface and it has just enough features for it to be far better than Word, particularly as it allows you to organise all your documents within the app. Scrivener lets you do that too, but I’ve always found it overwhelming and, I’m slightly ashamed to say, quite a lot less pretty. Read this article though. If you’re looking to move away from Word or Google Docs, Scrivener and Ulysses are ace options. 

How to Build an Audience of 1000 True Fans in a Noisy World

You’ve probably heard about this idea that all you need is 1000 people to really love your work and you’ve got a chance of building a sustainable income. What I quite like about this article is it provides at least some guidance on how you might actually get 1000 people to love your work. 

A Wild and Precious Life: A Recovery Anthology by Lily Dunn and Zoe Gilbert

This is an important book edited by people who know their onions and I really hope it gets funded. It’s a collection of stories and poetry written by people who are in recovery from either physical or mental illness. Take a look, see what you think and consider pledging.

Twitter thread of publishers who run a subscription service

The folks behind @IndieBookshopUK on Twitter asked the following question in the following tweet. 

It leads to an interesting though not exhaustive list of publishers who are trying out or successfully running a subscription service.

As I’m curious about these matters, I’m going to spend some time looking at how each publisher is doing it. What platform are they using? How much do they charge? What do readers get out of it? That sort of thing.

Tweets of the week

Tweets are but fatty deposits in a world of long-off gravy. 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.

Are you a planner or a pantser?

How I changed my approach to novel planning

One of the things I’d like to do in this newsletter is answer some of your writing and publishing questions. Here’s one I got from Lorna who kindly asked the following.

Do you make a rough plan of your fiction or do you just get writing and see where it takes you?

Before I answer that, someone coined a phrase for these things. If you make a plan then you’re a planner. Makes sense. If you just get stuck into it without a plan, then you are, it seems, a pantser. As in, you prefer to fly by the seat of your pants. 

My short answer is this: I used to be a pantser, now I need to plan. But let’s go back a bit and explain why that changed.  

I wrote A is for Angelica as part of my MA Writing course, which meant that I was somewhat obliged to write 10,000 words if I was to achieve the the initial Certificate part of the course. The Diploma required  40,000 words and then to achieve the actual MA qualification, it had to be a full-on finished novel. 

I can tell you that having this structure is very helpful. For all the criticism MA programmes get, you really can’t beat a good deadline tied to a word count to get you in the mood for writing. 

So yes, that rather helped with motivation. And I basically just started writing the characters and finding the voice. The only thing I knew I wanted to end of those first 10,000 words with a good cliffhanger – a surprise that showed I could do surprises. 

And it worked! That submission got positive feedback and the writing world lay at my feet – just write what comes into your brain box – it’s easy!

Reality hit soon after. I quickly realised that I had no idea what the novel was truly about. What was I trying to say? Where was it all going? And quite literally – what should happen next?

Effectively, flying by the seat of my pants worked until I had to turn the blasted thing into an actual novel. The timeline needed to be plausible. The characters had the cheek to need placing in specific places at specific times. The whole timeline had become a mess and it was only then that I began to make a plan.

But I didn’t go wild with it. I wanted to retain that sense of freedom that saw me get off to a flying start and so I only really planned three of four chapters ahead. It was enough to feel like I had a hold on things while still writing freely. Oh – and I developed my own Post it note system to do so (see picture above).

So what about now? Well, different times, different problems. I have tried pantsing on this second novel but the wider issue is one of momentum. You need to write every day to make it up as you go along and still have a sense of where you are with things. I’m not in a position to do that.

With kids and work I have struggled to wing it. And so I am currently in the process of taking all the odds and ends I’ve written over the last few years and putting them into a spreadsheet. I’m going all-out planner to help me understand what’s going on, even if it’s been a week or more since I last worked on the book. 

There are so many factors that affect your ability to write fluently and structure a novel at the same time. As with all writing advice, I say try a bit of everything and see what works for you. And accept that whatever works now can one day change. 

Got a question for me? Email hello@iainbroome.com and I shall happily do my best to provide some sort of sensible answer.

So last week went well

A huge thank you to everyone who emailed with kind words or shared last week’s Unslush launch post on Twitter. Substack tells me more than 1000 people have viewed the issue so far and this week’s issue is going out to more than 50 new subscribers.

Hello new people (👋)!

I also said last week that it would be great if enough people clicked or tapped the little heart icon (❤️) at the bottom of the email to get Unslush on the Substack top posts leaderboard. And you did it! For a moment there, we were quite literally in the top 10 emails in the entire world, which is definitely how it works.

Can we go top five this week? I mean, can we? Shall we try? Yes. Yes. Please. 

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.

Forest - Stay focused, be present

A past recommendation, but it’s just about the only productivity app like this that I ever use, though not on a regular basis. It’s basically a pomodoro timer that you can set to chunk up your working time.

There are lots of those around but this one looks pretty and allows you to plant virtual trees that, should you stick at it, turn into a fine horticultural collection. And the app maker’s plant trees in real life when you plant yours. Pretty cool!

How to approach an edit

Here’s another fine edition of author Nikesh Shukla’s writing tips newsletter. This one is all about the editing process and provides a step-by-step approach that I rather agree with. I especially like step two:

Read it. Take a week to experience your book as a reader. Read it through. In its entirety. Don’t make any notes. Do not mark the page. DO NOT edit as you go. Just read it and experience it as a reader might for the first time.

Personally, I prefer the editing process to writing. I like to have something there to work with. If that’s not you though, I recommend you try Shukla’s advice. It makes a lot of sense.   

The Key Book Publishing Paths: 2019–2020

Apparently, Jane Friedman has been keeping this incredibly handy document up to date since 2013. I only saw it recently and it’s a fantastic illustration of all the options open to you as a writer if you want to get your book to market, whatever that entails. There is a PDF you can download or if you just want to read good old-fashioned words, the entire text is published on Jane’s site.

Book Amp – a newsletter for literary festival organisers

Pretty niche as newsletters go, but I rather enjoyed the first couple of issues. So far I’ve learned about a new podcast, small publisher and read the curtest yet most informative interview I’ve ever read about putting on a literary festival programme.

Explore the list of 100 Novels That Shaped Our World

The BBC has commissioned a pretty stellar lineup of book folk to share this list, which comes with 10 categories. It’s an interesting list because lists do indeed tend to be interesting. But isn’t there more to it? I’d love to be able to click on the books to find out more about them, or hear the panel talk through their decision-making process.

Whimsical Mind Maps

This is a tool I have linked to before, but I’m about to get stuck into it myself so thought I’d remind you too. It’s great for making mind maps to visualise your thinking and make plans. You might also like to give Whimsical sticky notes a try or make yourself some flow charts.

How to make a zine – The Creative Independent

I’ve been reading up on how to make a zine, which is typically a small-run physical booklet of some kind. I’d love to edit or even write my own little publication, but I am doing my best to file this under lovely idea in practice but come on man this is ridiculous you don’t have the time for this. You might have the time though. This is how you do it.  

How 11 writers organise their personal libraries

In some ways this article on Lit Hub is 100% an excuse to publish some pictures of authors standing next to their bookshelves. The thing is – I am fine with that. There are some interesting words in this piece too, I’m led to believe. 

6 Tips For Talking To Kids About Climate Change

My seven-year-old twin boys love nature and animals and dinosaurs and space and all that jazz. They also really enjoy watching the various BBC wildlife documentaries written and narrated by David Attenborough. There is a new one on TV at the moment that is excellent, but comes with a much stronger message about climate change. 

My boys know about climate change. They watch the shows, touch on it at school and we’ve spoken to them about it . But I’m never entirely sure if the way I’m speaking to them is the right approach (hello all parents everywhere). I found this article really useful and have taken a lot of it on board. 

Tweets of the week

Tweets are but small specks of stupidity in a world full of tripe. 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.

Say hello to Unslush on Substack

Exciting changes to my humble newsletter

Oh hello there and a very warm welcome to Unslush, which is the exciting new name for my newsletter, which happens to be published on a new platform called Substack

I first mentioned and linked to Substack in April and have kept my eye on it since. Those of you who have been reading this newsletter for a while will know that I have a keen interest in subscriptions as a way for authors and publishers to build a sustainable career and business.  

Substack makes it really easy to add paid subscriptions to your newsletter. Even better, those emails get turned into a very lovely blog and searchable archive. And perhaps even better than that, you can start your own podcast on Substack too. 

I suspect you have questions. As such, I shall now adopt an FAQ-style technique used the world over by people who are unable to adequately explain themselves succinctly. 

Remember, you’re the one asking the questions.

Are you starting paid subscriptions? 

Nope – I am not adding paid subscriptions to the newsletter. 

After some spring cleaning and as of this moment, there are exactly 465 of you who read these emails with a healthy open rate of 50–60%. I love you all terribly, but that’s not enough people for me to start paid subscriptions.

It may be something I try in the future if more people sign up to and enjoy the newsletter. I really do think that subscriptions and memberships are one of few viable ways for midlist authors to make a living. But not for me right now.

What the heck is changing then?

What I like most about Substack is that it effectively adds a blog and podcast to an email newsletter. I can also create ‘threads’, where I pose a question and invite you all to have a very important and intelligent conversation with each other in response.

All this used to happen on my website. I spent a few years building up a modest audience for my blog, which got obliterated when a) Google Reader got pulled, and b) I accidentally pressed the wrong button in Feedburner. Because I am an idiot. 

Similarly, the Write for Your Life podcast used to get a respectable 4000+ downloads per episode. We stopped recording the show, but I always assumed it would be there if we wanted to go back to it or make some sort of special announcement.

And then the network it was hosted on removed it from existence with no warning. I’ve got the files and the original feed, but those subscribers are completely lost to the podcasting wind. Pretty annoying.  

So what is Unslush?

For the most part, it’s the same newsletter some of you have been getting for years. Every week – and I will try to keep to that schedule – I put together a collection of links to writing and publishing-related articles, apps and other handy things I find on the internet. 

Earlier this year, I asked you what you wanted from the newsletter. Those curated links got the most votes, but many of you said you’d like me to talk about my writing process more, as well as publish the occasional piece of short fiction. I’d like to share those things with you. 

And so, because Substack turns my emails into blog posts on a very simple but attractive website, Unslush will also be my blog. When I write longer pieces, I will publish them as part of this newsletter, and they will appear on the website version too. Same goes for any future podcast. 

It feels a little silly writing this next bit, but another piece of feedback I get a lot is that people are interested in – ahem – me. Before the internet gained a slightly stinky whiff of unkindness, I used to be much more open, especially about my approach to writing.

Truth is it’s been a long time since I’ve really felt like an author. I’m a dad mostly and a freelance writer who has clients and invoices and too many Slack groups. It is ridiculous, but I think to feel like an author again, I have to make myself accountable to someone. I need to let people in. 

And so while Unslush is still the same old newsletter at heart, it’s also a bit of a rebrand from me. I am going to try and share more of my process and journey. 

Seriously – what are you actually sending?

Okay! So this is my current roadmap for turning my humble newsletter into something a little more substantial. 

(It’s important to remember that we are having baby number four in just a few short weeks, so you won’t see anything especially new and exciting until the new year.)

  • From now: Weekly emails packed with links to and commentary on the best writing articles, apps and nonsense I can find. 

  • From February: Longer non-fiction pieces about the writing process, books, publishing and things I recommend.   

  • From March: An Unslush podcast recorded solo from my writing shed – short episodes, sometimes helpful, much silliness.

  • From Spring: An Unslush book club – we choose a book, read a book, then discuss it using one of the threads described above.

Of course, all of this is subject to change and I welcome your thoughts and feedback.

At some point, emails from me may become more frequent. If that’s annoying, you can always find the unsubscribe link at the end of each newsletter.

Shouldn’t you be writing your second novel?

Yep. Yes. Almost definitely. But I can tell you that I’ve tried not doing other projects like this before and it hasn’t helped me write any faster or better. In fact it’s seemed to make things worse. 

Having children. Running a freelance business. Living life. As described above, this has all made me feel disconnected from the world of fiction and publishing – painfully so. Writing this newsletter helps me feel connected. To it. To you.  

What about The Daily Unslush?

How did you even know about that?

Basically, I have found a way to easily add the links I share in this newsletter, plus a load of other stuff that is useful but not shared in the newsletter, to a very attractive Airtable database. 

That means I am effectively creating a directory of fantastic resources for writers, all tagged and easy to search. As I pretty much add new stuff to the directory every day, I’m calling it The Daily Unslush.

But where can you find it? Another good question.

Substack provides a very direct and simple homepage for the newsletter, which is at unslush.substack.com. But because I think people will also naturally head to unslush.com, that’s where you will find The Daily Unslush

What does Unslush even mean?

You’ve heard of the ‘slush pile’ right? The stack of manuscripts that literary agents have to wade through to find the gems that may or may not go on to get published. My work has been in many slush piles. 

Unslush is about escaping the slush pile. It’s about searching for and finding the good stuff. It’s also about understanding your writing, learning about the publishing industry and being honest about what it takes to get lucky.

And perhaps most importantly, it is one word, seven letters, and had an available domain name and Twitter account. Hey. I don’t make the rules. 

What can we do to help?

Glad you asked – finally. The answer is share the newsletter

Tell your writer pals in person. Mention it on Facebook, Twitter or wherever the hell you like to spend your time. If you like it, share it. 

Also – get in touch! If you have a writing or publishing question you’d like my thoughts on, let me know and I’ll respond either by email or even publicly in the newsletter, with your permission. Honestly, there’s nothing warms my cockles more than when people who read the newsletter contact me to say hello or share good news. So please do that. 

Finally, and especially for this first newsletter on Substack, see that little heart icon at the bottom thereq (you might have to scroll)? Please illustrate any appreciation you have by giving that heart a click or a tap. 

Substack has a newsletter leaderboard. I’ve no idea how many hearts we need to get on there, but wouldn’t that artificial token of excellence be just a delight to achieve? Don’t laugh. It would make me happy. And that’s what’s important. 

Can we just get on to the links now?

Of course. Thanks for reading my claptrap. There is loads of good stuff this week in the links below. Go make a sandwich, put the kettle on and enjoy the next 20 minutes of your one wild and precious life. 

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.

From Ideas To Action: How To Turn Post-it Notes Into Trello Cards

Though I didn’t have much of a plan when I began writing A is for Angelica, after a while it became clear I needed to keep track of the plot. So I turned to my trusty Post It notes to log word counts, chapters and the overall timeline of the novel. Trello is a fantastic service that I use every day and is often described as being based around digital Post It notes. Exciting news time: there is now an app that makes it easy to digitise those actual real-life Post Its and get them into Trello. Hooray!

Podcasts About Podcasting

Do you like listening to podcasts? Do you have a podcast? Do you want to start a podcast in the future? This is a handy list of podcasts that are about podcasts, which you might find useful if you answered yes to any of the podcast-related questions above. Here’s that list of podcasts about writing I sent you previously.

Don’t play the creative lottery

There is lots to like about Leila Johnston’s recent post as part of the Hack Circus Masterclass series. This bit in particular resonated. 

Sharing also helps you to work out who you are. Consciously or otherwise, you’ll collect a fresh perspective on your work, and therefore yourself, every time you put it in front of someone. We make, we share, we work out what we like, which bit of us work best with others, and eventually what we’d like to do more of.

If you’ve read Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work then the idea of constantly making and sharing to figure things out will ring familiar. I know that I have failed miserably to do that over the last few years and it’s something I hope to change in the coming months. 

The Study newsletter

Talking of writing-related newsletters on Substack. Here’s a newish publication from Harry Marks, who remains the one and only person to ever edit an edition of the very newsletter you’re reading. It’s really good. This latest issue includes some excellent tools for tackling Nanowrimo.

Top 5 Goodreads Secrets for Authors

Now owned by Amazon, Goodreads has long been a pretty big deal and another social network for authors to traverse. I had a pretty rubbish experience on there when someone wrote a bizarrely personal not-really-a-review review of my book. But I know when book two finally appears, I’ll need to refer back to these handy tips from the #AmWriting podcast duo.

Read-o-Meter | Estimate the reading time.

I hosted the annual Novel Slam as part of Sheffield’s ace Off The Shelf literary festival last week. It’s always a fun evening. The contestants have just 60 seconds to pitch their novel. If they go through, they get to read three minutes from their manuscript. Ever needed to work out how long your writing will take to read? This tool does that. 

Booker Prize 2019 – What the hell happened?

Have you been keeping track of this year’s Booker Prize announcement? The judges broke the rules and gave it to two books: Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments and Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo, who became the first black woman to win the award. At first I thought it was all a bit weird but, you know… whatever. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like such a silly thing to do. All the attention on the process and the judges themselves and away from the books. 

And then I read this piece by Sam Jordison, founder of Galley Beggar Press, which published Lucy Ellman’s Ducks, Newburyport, one of the four books on the shortlist of six that did not win the Booker Prize. Did you know publishers that have a novel on the Booker shortlist have to pay £5000 for the privilege? Me neither! Grab a coffee and have a read. It sums up why the whole two-winner thing just feels a bit off. 

The Stories We Tell by Bernadine Evaristo

If reading about the Booker Prize controversy makes you feel mad, sad or bemused, you should follow it with this gorgeous piece on creativity by Evaristo herself.

So much I could quote, but I went for this:

Most of my undergraduates don’t have printers and many of them refuse to use the available ones in the university library. I implore them to do otherwise. Sometimes they write on their phones and email it to me as homework without revision. I can tell. Seriously. Computer screens of all sizes are very deceptive. The font on the screen looks glossy, professional, finished. However, once it’s printed up, its failings become evident.

I’ve tried writing fiction by hand and honestly, my handwriting is terrible and it just doesn’t work for me. However, I always edit away from the screen. Write with a computer. Edit on paper. And kids – never do your homework on a phone.

Intellectual Property: The Big Picture for Authors

There is some really good advice in this blog post by Ethan Ellenberg writing on Jane Friedman’s website. While a good literary agent will help you navigate the rocky waters of book contracts and rights issues, it’s good to at least the know the basics yourself. And if you self-publish – well, you ought to become an expert pretty sharpish.

Tweets of the week

I know that tweets are but tiny drops of nonsense in a world full of codswallop. But some of them are quite good. You can follow both @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.

Not this week but next

This is the last email sent pre-Substack

Last week, I said that this week you may see changes to the newsletter, but I also said that those changes might actually arrive next week instead. The second of those things is correct.

I can share two important pieces of information though. I’m changing the name of the newsletter (again – I know, I know) and moving everything over to Substack. When you get an email from Unslush, do not worry. For that shall be me.

I linked to Substack earlier this year and I’ve had my eye on it ever since. It’s sold as being the best way for a writer to start a paid newsletter. And I reckon that’s probably true.

But I am not asking you to pay for this newsletter. At least not yet. I’m moving to Substack so I can make the newsletter better, add a podcast and find new readers – hopefully lots more readers.

I do think that for authors like me – published, mostly unknown, bit of an audience, plenty of tech chops – asking people to support your work with actual money is a sensible way forward.

Earning even a part-time salary by writing fiction is next to impossible. There is a reason I have spent the last few years building a separate career and not publishing novels.

So patronage and the ‘membership model’ is something I find really interesting. I think it’s the future. But not for the moment.

What I want to do with the newsletter now is write (and talk) more about the writing process itself, publishing and what it’s like to be an author with a full-time job (and family).

Don’t panic! I will still be sharing the usual links to all the marvellous literary goodness that I find on my internet travels. It’s all rather positive and exciting really. I think you’ll like it.


PS Quite a few people contacted me to say that last week’s email ended up in their spam folder. If you didn’t get it, please do have a look in your own dirty filth-drawer to see if it’s in there.

Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo share Booker prize 2019

Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo share Booker prize 2019

I don’t typically link to news stuff, but Bernadine Evaristo just became the first black woman to win the Booker Prize. And the judges changed the rules to award two authors, so my long-time fave Margaret Atwood got in on the action too. Pretty good stuff all round, I reckon.

Kit Caless on subscriptions, Patreon and publishing

I’m basically working my way through all episodes of What Editors Want at this point. I really enjoyed this conversation with Kit Caless from Influx Press who talked about why they chose to use Patreon, how their subscription model worked and why it was necessary.

Newspaper Club

I was just looking for an online service that would help me format and publish a zine. Because that’s the kind of thing I like to do. And by far the most promising and loveliest looking of the services I found was Newspaper Club. Want to make your own newspaper thing? Take a look.

How to Self-Publish a Coloring Book

Pretty niche, but also a really interesting look at how to self-publish something like this. The article includes links to some specific services and apps that I didn’t know about before.

11 Authors on Their One-Word Book Titles

Purely for your interest:

Here are the stories behind some of our favorite one-word book titles, from writers such as Stephen King, Jeffrey Eugenides, AS Byatt, Candice Carty-Williams, VE Schwab, Chuck Wendig, and more.

Self-Publishing: Five Things to Know

There are at least four squillion articles about self-publishing on the internet. What I like about this one is that it is based in reality and includes the very important information to know: you could lose money on it.

Erasable Podcast

Do you like podcasts? Do you also like pencils? Then I suspect you might like to listen to Erasable, which has a whopping great 125 episodes for you to get your teeth into already.

Noto | A modern writing app

I’m not in the market for a new writing app, but Noto does look like an interesting note-taking gizmo for iOS. I really rather like the look of the inline table feature, which could be super handy.

FlowReads | Find books that help you grow

Someone has used Google Books to put together a simple but pretty useful web app for finding new books and tracking your reading. I’m more of a simple list kind of a guy, but if you like to manage your books, this could be right up your aisle.

What Maps Get Wrong

What Maps Get Wrong

I find maps sort of fascinating. This series of images shows how the maps we are so used to seeing might not be exactly accurate. Which demonstrates how much of what we understand is based on storytelling.

How to start a book group

Ever been in a public house and watched a table full of seriously cool people talking about books and thought, “Man, they look seriously cool. I would like to be one those people.”? Well, I did. And now I am.

My long-time pal and former co-English degree taker Hannah asked me to be part of a new book group in late 2017. I was keen on the idea, though nearly turned the offer down because I have three small children, a freelance business to run and no ability to read anything beyond 9pm without instantly falling asleep.

But the lure of looking seriously cool proved too much and I said yes. This month, we celebrated roughly 14 months of book group, which is no particular anniversary at all. I’ve met several new people, read books I would not have considered otherwise, and very much enjoyed the whole shebang.

With this vast experience in mind, I thought I’d share some of the things we’ve done and decisions we made to start the book group. And so, in no particular order, here they are.

Find some strangers

The only person I knew before starting book group was Hannah. And though some people in the group knew a couple of other members, no one knew everybody in book group. If that makes any sense at all.

While it’s great to talk books with your best buds, this is also an opportunity to meet new people. We don’t see each other regularly outside of book group, so we’ve got to know each other book by book. I kind of like that.

Be democratic

As with all group situations, there is always one person who tends to take control and make things happen. But no one likes a bossy boots and so instilling a little democracy into proceedings is a good idea.

Take it in turns to choose what book to read. Listen to each other’s opinions when it comes to picking a venue. Don’t kick up an unnecessary stink if someone decides it’s a good idea to read all 1,000,000 pages of Anna Karenina (just buy the audiobook and go double-speed).

Choose a wide range of books

Our choices so far have been a real mix and I think it’s helped make sure each discussion feels different and interesting. It’s been mostly novels so far, but we don’t have any rules about that – a book is a book.

I reckon if you pick a load of similar books from the same genre, things will get boring pretty quickly. You’ll make the same points and come to a familiar consensus every time. Like I said above, I’ve read stuff I know I wouldn’t have read without the group. That’s a good thing.

Opening statement

We’ve developed a few conventions that I think have helped us get to a format for the discussions that seems to work. One of those is the opening statement. Starting with the person who chose the book, we each spend a minute or so summing up our overall thoughts.

To be clear, this is in no way a formal or written-down statement. It’s just a chance for us all to set our stall out at the beginning of proceedings. It’s actually quite useful to get a flavour of where the conversation might go and then we take things from there.

Questions in a hat

So far, we’ve had little trouble making conversation, but our discussions are led by questions that we write down (and place in a seriously cool container) before we begin. Someone pulls out and shares the first question once the opening statements are done.

These questions can be about anything. Sometimes they relate to specific parts of the book and other times they are more broad and thematic. In our last book group, my question was simply: “Why did this win the Booker Prize?” It’s not about coming up with something clever – it’s provoking conversation.

Give the book a score

Oh, come on. What’s the point in having a book group if you’re not going to hand out arbitrary scores based on how you feel at a very specific moment in your life? How will you possibly know which book is best?

Once we’re done talking, we each write a score on a piece of paper and take turns to share our judgement. And of course, once we see what others have scored, we immediately want to make adjustments. But there can be no going back. First score is final score.

Don’t take it too seriously

This is very important. If you start a book group, please make sure that both you and your fellow groupees are having fun. Don’t get cross at someone for disagreeing with you or having terrible opinions. Just treat it as a seriously cool way to meet up with likeminded folk and talk books.

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