Month: March 2019

Reflections on a month of blogging

It has almost been a month since I took up blogging every weekday.

I will be the first to admit that not every post has been great, but some of them have been pretty good. And, more importantly, I have enjoyed the process.

So as of today the blog page public. Anyone who stumbles upon my website will now see it. I will continue to write here every weekday.

What I won’t be doing is posting to social media as I was considering. During March I deleted both my Facebook and Twitter accounts and have no intention of creating new ones. The only exception is which I still like for all the ways that it is different to Facebook and Twitter.

Which begs the question: how are people ever going to find this place?

Hopefully many will come from the links in my books. Others will find there way here thanks to good SEO. The only links I am planning to put out are in the comments sections of other websites, if something I’ve written happens to be relevant to something that someone else has written.

Maybe it’s naive to think that I can reach anyone without using social media. Only time will tell.


I have been keeping track of the amount of time I spend writing for more than a year now. Before that I was tracking the number of words I wrote each day. I switched because it’s relatively easy to type 2,000 words of crap (I’m a fast typist) and I was more interested in producing quality than quantity. Switching to time also means I can more easily track pre-production and editing.

I also track:

  • The number of books read: I keep a list in my logbook of which books I have finished and the date I finished them.
  • The amount of time I spend on various copywriting projects. Some of them are charged by the hour, but even when they aren’t I like to know how long I’m spending on them.
  • The amount of time I meditate is tracked in the app Oak. I don’t really use this for anything but it’s nice to have I suppose.

Over the years I have tried tracking other things as well. At one point I attempted to do full tracking. That lasted for a few weeks but I’m not sure what, if anything, I gained out of doing it. I have considered trying again, but that would mean I was tethered to my phone and I’m not happy with that.

The thing with tracking is that it can be very useful. Not necessarily for the data that you get out of it (it doesn’t mean anything to me whether I spent 20 hours writing last month or 25) but the very act of tracking itself. It elevates the importance of what you are doing and makes it easier to focus on. If I know that at the end of the day I am going to see how much time I spent writing then it gives me a little extra motivation to work harder at it.

Tracking, I think, is a valuable way to force focus. It gives us accountability to ourselves. And in this sense, perhaps it is better not to track everything. Once everything is being measured then everything is of equal importance. I want to save the power of tracking for the things that are most important to me.

Although I have only given a few examples of things I track above, I also use a form of tracking to build good habits. In my notebook I have a page for the month with the days going down the left side and a number of habits going across the top. When I complete the habit for the day I put a cross in the box. This works well for simple done/not done things.


In particular British Politics.

Last night Tamzin and I sat down to watch parliament vote on a few Brexit (I really hate that term) proposals and amendments. Even a day later I’m not sure what they were actually voting on, nor whether it is likely to make any difference in the days ahead. That’s not what I want to talk about though.

British politics is an embarassment. I’m not talking about the mess we’ve got ourselves into reguarding leaving Europe (whichever way you lean, I don’t think there’s anyone who thinks May and the rest are handling it well) but the way the whole system works.

It’s a bunch of grown men and women shouting at each other, as if they were school children.

Actually no, that’s not fair. School children wouldn’t be able to act like that. When school children debate they are taught to give each other a chance to speak and be heard. They don’t shout over each other and they don’t have petty squabbles. I’d say that our parliamentary debates are more like a bunch of animals tearing into the weakest member of the pack.

It wouldn’t be such a big deal if they were actually able to achieve anything, but the process doesn’t even serve a purpose. They shout at each other and nothing gets done. I’m not sure what the point of it all is.

Even the person who was supposed to be in charge of keeping order (John Bercow) couldn’t keep control of them and, more frequently, joined in with the banter and squabble. It looked a lot like what (I suspect) it was; a bunch of private school toffs arguing over an issue that isn’t likely to affect them much either way. There was little sense of the seriousness of what was being dealt with, little obvious sign that they were aware how many jobs and lives are hanging in the balance.

It seems about time that we had a modern parliament with a modern way of doing things. I don’t know what that would look like, but it couldn’t fail to be better than what we have now. This is the 21st century and the people in charge of the country should start behaving like it. Before it’s too late for all of us.

Pre-Writing is Writing

For a long time I didn’t count the pre-production work I do as writing. But late last year I realised I was wrong and that has made the whole process a lot more fun for me.

When I’m thinking about an idea I make a lot of notes. I’m onto my third (I think) notebook since starting to think about this fantasy story. The notes that I started out writing likely look very different to the ones that I’m currently working on. They could be different stories. And that’s fine.

This process is more than planning. It’s the development of an idea. It’s going down rabbit holes that might not come to anything and building a larger world that just the narrow focus of the plot. It’s building the forest that surrounds the path of the plot (as Phillip Pullman might say) and sometimes it’s fun to get lost in that forest for a little while.

I enjoy this playing stage and I think that it makes for a better final piece. Especially when I’m venturing into a new genre.

And I do count it as time spent writing. Even when I’m drawing maps. Even when I’m listing out names for potential characters or working out what they call the seasons or the days of the week. It’s fun, but it’s okay for writing to be fun. I don’t think I could bring myself to do it every day if it wasn’t.

Naming Characters

When I’m writing I like to have a list of names that I can pick and choose from as I’m going. It saves me having to stop and think of them while I’m in the flow. It also means that I don’t have to type “XX” or whatever to remind myself to add it in later.

I already have the names of the main characters in my upcoming story, but I needed some extras to choose from for characters that I don’t know about yet. This morning I put together a couple of lists, one for surnames, the other for first names.

A couple of invaluable resources for this process are:

Behind the Name

Fantasy Name Generators

I am planning to add more “quick tips” like this. There are a lot of good resources out there and I am always interested to find out what other people use.

Not Quite Dumb Phone

I have been interested in the “dumb phone revolution” for a while now but I don’t quite have the conviction to go through with switching to one. It’s not, I think, because I would struggle. It’s because it would inconvenience other people in my life too much.

I like the idea of my phone returning to the same priority in my life as it was ten years ago. A time when I would have left the house without it and not given it a thought. Now, although I do frequently leave the house without my phone, it feels like a rebellious act.

As a compromise in the past I have switched my phone to grayscale and and made my smartphone “dumb” I even switched to a budget Android phone for a while.

There were advantages to all those things, but there was still something compelling about the phone. I wouldn’t say I was addicted (it has been years since I’ve used social media or played games on it) but phones hold a level of importance in my life that I’m not happy with.

I have been using a work phone for the last six months but as I start to take on more freelance work, I have been looking at getting a personal one again. I didn’t want to spend much money. So I ordered a second hand iPhone SE and received it yesterday.

I noticed the difference immediately. Not in the sense that the phone was slower or worse in any way (it will be years before the minimal number of things that I use a phone for are too much for the device). It is a well made phone and, considering it’s second hand, remarkably well maintained. No, the big difference I noticed was the size of the screen.

The iPhone 8 has a 4.7 inch screen and the iPhone SE has a 4 inch screen. It is amazing how much difference 0.7 inches makes.

The screen is more than big enough for me to do everything I need to use it for. Which is mainly sending iMessages and making phone calls, but also includes listening to audiobooks and sometimes music. But it’s just a little bit too small to browse the web. Or most of the other things that would have caused me a problem in the past. At a stretch I could use it to watch videos, but I almost never do that.

The SE is smaller than my work issued iPhone 8 so I barely notice when I’ve got it in my pocket. It is robust enough that I don’t feel the need to use a case and it has a headphone socket, which I was surprised to find I missed on the iPhone 8. Although I don’t expect to use it as often as I was using the 8, for many reasons, I prefer the SE.

Before I wrote this I did a quick Google search to see if there is any documented relationship between phone screen size and phone use, but nothing came up. I suspect it would be difficult to prove any causation because the size of phones increased alongside other things. Speaking from personal experience, however, it looks like there must be a connection.

I still have all the same restrictions on the SE: no web browser and no app store, no social media or news sites. It’s already a cut down experience, but it is the perfect balance for me between smartphone and dumbphone. I have access to the apps that I want and none of the distractions. My only niggling concern is that there might not be another phone this size produced and that one day my phone will break. If / when that day comes I guess I’ll have to look at dumbphones again.

Back and forth

I have spent the better part of two months now working on plans for a fantasy series. So far that has all been done longhand, in notebooks.

Today I have begun the transition into digital. A simple .txt file that I am using the type up my current story.

There is no real reason why this has to be on a computer, except that it will be a change.

Sometimes that is an important reason.

This doesn’t mean I will be working on the story on computer from this point on. It means that now I am entering a back and forth process where I will use both.

After I have finished typing up these notes, I will more than likely return to longhand for the next phase.

Digital Health

A new poster has appeared in the kitchen area at work.

According to this poster, people under 16 are spending 4 hours a day on their phones, people over 16 are spending 3 hours and 45 minutes. These figures seem low to me, but that’s beside the point. The point of the poster is that this is causing problems with people’s necks, backs, eyes and other things. It then goes on to give some simple stretching exercises and tips that can help alleviate these problems. Which seems like a very good thing.

But it seems disingenuous when you consider that I work for a telecoms company. A company that has a vested interest in people using their phones a lot.

There seems to be a trend for companies doing this sort of thing at the moment; Facebook launching studies about the risks of social media use, Apple and Google creating tools to help you track and manage the time you spend using their devices. It all seems… well, I’m not sure what word describes it best, but it reminds me that for years it was scientists funded by big tobacco who were saying there were no dangers to smoking, that it is the dairy industry that says adult humans should be drinking milk.

Although I do appreciate that technology companies are making this effort to help people manage their device use, part of me thinks that it would be better for everyone if Facebook (or whoever) just came right out and said, “We don’t care what this is doing to you, we just want you to spend more time on our service”. That would at least feel genuine.

The company I work for has put up a poster to help people deal with the problems that they have helped to create. An honest poster would probably say something more like “Stop spending 4 hours a day staring at your phone!” Then, if they genuinely cared, they would do something that might actually help people achieve that. As it currently stands they are doing the technological equivalent of getting people hooked on smoking and then telling them to open a window when they do it so their house doesn’t smell.

Encoding for Loss

When you encode an analogue music file to MP3, some loss of quality is unavoidable.* I believe that the same is true when you pick digital tools over analogue ones.

You may have picked up on my preference for notebooks and pens over computers and phones. In my mind this is more than a choice over which is more fun to use. I believe that using analogue tools leads to a better output.

There is plenty of research to back this up:

Pen and paper ‘beats computers for retaining knowledge’

9 Incredible Ways Writing By Hand Benefits Our Bodies And Brains

The Benefits of Writing by Hand Versus Typing

Clive Thompson “How The Way You Write Changes the Way You Think”

A good place to have bad ideas

There are, of course, benefits to using digital notebooks, but as I considered this over the weekend (writing into my pocket notebook) just because there are some benefits, doesn’t mean they make up for the disadvantages.

I want to be able to leave my phone behind for days at a time and that won’t feel possible if I’m using it for notes. So, despite the many advantages of using my phone as a notebooks, that one disadvantage is enough to make it a no go.

There are other disadvantages, but that was the big one at the weekend. And it’s an important one. Being able to leave my phone behind makes up for the occasional inconvenience of taking out a paper notebook, for those times when it’s not possible so I miss something. It makes up for a hell of a lot and when you add it to the other advantages (quality, peace of mind, memory improvements) then it just doesn’t make sense for me to switch.

The problem with a lot of digital technologies is that by using them I would be encoding for loss. I know from the start that they aren’t as good as analogue equivalents, so by using them I am saying that quality is less important that convenience. As I mention in Compromises that is occasionally a compromise that I am willing to make, but not always, in fact, not even often.

*Yes, I understand that there are “lossless” formats such as FLAAC, but I would argue that even when using those formats a certain amount of loss happens by not having a physical representation on the music such as a CD or record. In my experience, listening to music goes beyond the sounds that you hear when you press play. At its best it is a tactile experience.


We don’t live in an ideal world.

In an ideal world I would only read beautifully bound hardback books. I would sit in a comfortable chair with a foot stool and a reading lamp. During the day I would drink fresh coffee and in the evening a glass of whiskey. I would listen to music on vinyl and do all my writing with a fountain pen at a large wooden desk.

In reality I read in whatever format I can, be that audio books, ebooks or paperbacks. I grab a few minutes whenever I can.

Until yesterday I was reading three fiction books; one audio book, one ebook and one paperback. I didn’t have any issue keeping the stories straight, but it was frustrating for other reasons. Leaving the audio aside, which was working well as I have a long commute so can count on a couple of hours each day listening to that book. The problem was that I didn’t get much time to read and I was splitting my time between two books because I felt like I needed to have a paperback on the go.

Ideally I would have kept the paperback and given up reading ebooks, but like I’ve already said, this isn’t an ideal world. I have many more opportunities to read an ebook because I can have it on my Kobo reader, on my phone and even on my computer. I can read in bed without needing a light on and disturbing Tamzin. In reality, it was the only option that made sense.

So I have re-bought the paperback I was reading as an ebook and I’ve already had more opportunities to read it. I have to admit that this is the best option, even if it isn’t the ideal one. And it makes me wonder if there are other places in my life where I am stubbornly holding on to (already compromised) versions of the ideal. Music, for example. I like CDs (already compromised from my ideal of vinyl) but it’s more convenient to subscribe to Apple Music. I think this is something that I’m going to explore more over the coming weeks.