Walk it off, walk it off

One day, when Marc Andreessen, the money man behind such tech giants as Facebook, Twitter, and Zynga, was out driving around his home in Palo Alto, California, he nearly hit a crazy old man crossing the street.

Looking back at the fool he had nearly run over he noticed the trademark blue jeans and black turtle neck. “Oh my god! I almost hit Steve Jobs!” he thought to himself.

Why Everyone From Beethoven, Goethe, Dickens, Darwin To Steve Jobs Took Long Walks and Why You Should Too – Andrew Tate, Canva (6 March 2015)

In comparison, my Apple Watch just told me it was time I really stood up for a minute and I ignored it. I am evil.

It really was Jobs, by the way, not just any old nutter in a turtleneck, and writer Andrew Tate says: “through history the best minds have found that walking, whether a quick five minute jaunt, or a long four hour trek, has helped them compose, write, paint, and create.”

I’ll think about the quick jaunt, okay? Read the full piece for five persuasive reasons why walking is good for you and your productivity.

Where is all of your time going?

In a study of 1,000 U.S. professionals, 94% said they work 50 or more hours a week, with nearly half that group putting in more than 65 hours a week. And that doesn’t include the 20-25 hours/week most of them spend monitoring their phones while outside the office. If aren’t auditing how we spend our most valuable resource, our time, who else will? Nobody ever dies saying “I wish I’d spent more time at the office.”

Where Is All of Your Time Going? – Hamza Khan, 99U (11 May 2015)

Well, true, but a lot of us have wished we’d spent more time at our keyboards writing. This article is about understanding what you spend your hours on so that you can be more in control of your time. There’s that great Douglas Adams line he gives to a security guard on low pay: “The hours are good. The actual minutes are pretty lousy”. I’m paraphrasing because I’ve decided to spend this time talking to you instead of looking up the accurate quote.

I think the 99U piece is a bit academic at times and it really is canted toward getting you out of the office – so it even recommends exercise, shudder – but there’s a lot of good advice in it. Do read the full piece.

Fitness and Productivity. Oh Dear God.

We all know that sluggish feeling in the morning. Your body is moving but your mind hasn’t switched on yet. Imagine the impact on your day if you had a dose of endorphins before your morning meetings?

Exercising first thing is daunting, it’s tough, but it truly sets you up for a wonderfully effective day. It gives you a positive, fresh outlook and a real head start. Adding exercise to your day means your productivity will increase because you arrive to work energised, focused and more organised than before. You will be able to think more clearly, your energy levels will be higher throughout the day, you will be less stressed, more creative and better prepared.

Just think about it – you’ve done a workout, had breakfast and are up and at ‘em, feeling amazing – and all before 9am!

Positive Fitness and Productivity – Liz Costigan, ClaireBurge.com (undated

She’s not wrong. I know. I know. Read the full piece for a lot more. Then break it all to me softly.

Do these three things every day

Drink tea. Eat chocolate and – sorry? No? There are things you can do that will help as well as be deeply satisfying and rewarding?

They’re what are called foundational habits. Each one is doable, demonstrably beneficial and best of all, allows you to build other positive habits around them. If you can check these three boxes off each and every day, you’ll not only be more successful, but you’ll be healthy, happy and wise too. It’s not everything you ought to do, but it’s a good place to start.

Three Positive Habits To Practice Every Single Day – Ryan Holiday, Thought Catalog (2 March 2015)

I’d like you to read the full piece because it’s good and it’s interesting and its convincing. But I do also think it’s two things, not three.

For the three stated habits are: read a book, exercise and take a walk. Aren’t those last two at least related?

Small moves to make big(ish) gains

I liked this from Fast Company about making little changes that can help greatly, though I also enjoy that my iPad just autocorrected “liked” to “lied”.

When we think about New Year’s resolutions, we often think about huge life changes: losing 50 lbs, being happier.

There’s nothing wrong with these goals, except that they’re so big they’re intimidating. A better approach? Look at tiny tweaks that take a few minutes, but have big payoffs. Choose and stick with anything on this list, and 2015 could end with a much happier, healthier you.

According to Cornell professor Brian Wansink’s research, people who have fruit bowls on their kitchen counters weigh eight pounds less than those who don’t. It’s an easy way to turn mindless grazing into increased produce consumption. Try putting a fruit bowl on your desk, too, and an apple might just become your go-to afternoon snack.

Various studies find that breakfast eaters weigh less than those who don’t, and that the vast majority of people who have successfully lost weight eat breakfast. Don’t overthink this meal. Hard boil five eggs on Sunday and voila! That’s a week. Grab some string cheese and eat that. Keep yogurt in an office fridge. Buy a piece of fruit wherever you buy your coffee in the morning. That alone may ward off cravings for mid-morning donuts.

Gyms are great, if you go. Most people don’t (or else they join January 1st and quit by February). But anyone can squeeze in extra movement here and there. If, on each workday, you take 200 steps during a phone call, another 100 steps while waiting for food to heat up in the microwave, and 100 steps while brushing your teeth in the morning, you’ll walk an extra mile each week. That’s 50 more miles per year than you would have been walking.

17 Small (And Totally Doable) Tweaks That Will Change Your Year – Laura Vanderkam, Fast Company

Read the full piece.

Oh, no. Exercise is good for your brain. Bugger.

We know exercise is good for cardiovascular health, but new research has also shown that a healthy heart has effects on your brain functioning as well—and exercise plays an important role in that connection. The aorta, the main artery in the body that distributes oxygenated blood to our entire system, including the brain, is where the body’s arteries begin to stiffen as we get older, according to researcher Claudine Gauthier.

How Exercise Changes Your Brain To Be Better At Basically Everything – Jane Porter, Fast Company (5 November 2014)

Read the full piece. Just don’t talk to me about it.

Inkspill Writing Retreat: Making Time to Write

Previously… last weekend I contributed to the Inkspill online writing retreat run by poet Nina Lewis. All this week I’m running the sessions I wrote for them. Here’s today’s.

Making Time to Write

I could talk all day about this. And I do. I run full-day workshops on how to make more time for your writing and it comes down to many, many things you can do to shove other work out of your way. I wrote the book on it too. (I have always wanted to say that, thank you for the chance. The book is The Blank Screen: productivity for creative writers.)

I’d like to show you one thing that I think will help you the most, the quickest. It’s just how to handle your email.

Now, that sounds a bit flat: handling email doesn’t seem like a big deal. But you already know that it is and you know it is for two reasons. One is the overwhelming pressure of that gigantic inbox of yours and one is how email interruptions smash your concentration.

Fix the second one first. Switch the bloody bleep off. Turn off the notifications. Yes, there are going to be people whose emails you must see immediately and want to respond to right away. Many email systems let you nominate people as being VIPs and bleeps and notifications from them get through. Fine. But even if you can do that, resist.

Switch email off and make a vow. Some people vow to only check emails in the morning or only in the afternoon, but I suggest you just check it hourly. There’s no need to go cold turkey. But do it religiously hourly. If an email comes in at 9:01am, and I notice it, I still will not actually read it until 10:00am.

Because it makes exactly zero difference to the sender whether you reply in 59 minutes or 59 seconds yet it makes a massive difference to you. Read and reply only at the top of the hour and you’ve just got yourself a clear hour’s writing.

The overwhelming pressure problem is related. But cope by when you do read your emails, dealing with them. There and then. Don’t leave them sitting in your inbox throbbing at you until they scroll off the bottom of the screen.

Actually, do specifically this. Create a new archive mailbox. (How you do this varies a lot but Google the name of your email software and the words “create mailbox” and you’ll see instructions.) Now select every email in your inbox and drag the lot into that archive. Promise yourself you will read them all some day and accept that no, you won’t.

And accept that if it’s that important, you’ll remember to go looking or they’ll email you again anyway. Notice that I say archive, not delete. Don’t delete this stuff, I’ll go pale if you do that and I get you into trouble.


Having now got a nice, gorgeous, empty inbox, wait one second and you’ll have new email in there.

Do this. Read that email. At the top of the hour. If it’s something you can reply to immediately, reply to it immediately.

If it’s something that will take you a bit longer – say because you need to ask someone about it – then create another mailbox called Follow Up or Action or Get On With This, something like that. Drag that email to that Follow Up and swear for real this time that you will look at it and act on it.

If it’s anything else, think about deleting it. I do keep emails when they’re just nice or part of a conversation or really anything other than obviously deletable stuff. You are probably keeping emails around that you think you might like to read some day, like my own email newsletter. Even with mine, delete it if you’re not going to read it now. Okay? Though, you know, have a glance at it first. (You can sign up here for my free weekly The Blank Screen newsletter full of productivity news and advice.)

Think of it this way. When an email comes in, ignore it to the top of the hour. And then when you do read it, decide right away: reply, postpone or trash it.

Do, defer or delete.

Just don’t leave it in your mailbox throbbing. Never read an email twice. I promise both that it will make you feel massively productive but it will also lift that burden of the giant inbox from your shoulders.


See William Gallagher’s scribbles – books, Doctor Who radio dramas and the rest – on Amazon.

Inkspill Writing Retreat: What We Get from Writing

Previously… last weekend I contributed to the Inkspill online writing retreat run by poet Nina Lewis. All this week I’m running the sessions I wrote for them. Here’s today’s.

What We Get From Writing

Hand on heart, this is a tough one. I was very flattered that Nina Lewis asked me to talk to you for this Inkspill Writing Retreat but I was aware that my first thoughts to talk to you about were all about things that I do constantly. Things I know and care about and practice. I think the point of a writing retreat is to stretch you and I feel I ought to be stretched too.

This is me stretching. I’m not sure how much value that has for you, it feels like I’m doing calisthenics and you’re waiting there in your smart leotard waiting for me to get off the mat. You’ll be waiting a while. I’m very unfit.

And I don’t know what I get from writing.

I know that if you or I had any sense at all, we would have normal jobs and proper careers and we might even find a way to make that not feel ditchwater-dull and boring. I know that when we do have to juggle those normal jobs with a writing life, we are split between having to deep-mine our selves and our very souls on our own – and then bound off into social occasions with colleagues. Colleagues who we work with but who probably don’t get writing.

I was at a thing recently where some smart and charming writers were talking about why they write and a fella in the audience told them that it was because they wanted to make a bestseller. They wanted to make money. It took the speakers a beat to find a way to politely say no, that’s not it at all.

Bestsellers are great and the idea that I can reach out not only to you but to oodles of people is simultaneously exciting and terrifying. I prefer it when it’s just us, but if oodles of others come, well, you put the kettle on. I’ll get the extra biscuits.

It is possible to make a living from writing and I do, but the aim and what I think I actually get from this life is the opportunity to write better. Paying the mortgage and feeding myself is important, but the longer I can do that, the more I can do that, the greater my chance of becoming the writer I long to be.

So what I get from writing is writing. I feel I’m short-changing you there. I live for the moments – and it is only moments – when the world is forgotten and I am in my writing, I am working at my best and hopefully making that best become better.

There are only two things that improve my writing and the biggest one is time. Making more time to write and then spending that time writing, it’s crucial.

But the other is using writing to head out into unsafe waters. I interviewed a poet the other day and as delightful as she was, she also goaded and challenged me into writing a poem. It was dreadful. But the experience of writing in a new area, reaching for something new in me, that was electrifying.

So there’s the exercise. I am okay with writing you this personal blog chiefly because it’s you and you’ve got that kind of face, I feel I can tell you anything. But let me turn it into a writing exercise: I need to feel I’m giving you something practical that you can actually use. And I know this is practical, I know you can use this: write something new.

Really new. If you’re a poet, write a short story. If you’re a novelist, write a radio play. Go somewhere new in topic and in form.

There is nothing else that can stretch you like writing in new directions and that stretching, that’s it, that’s what I get from writing.


See William Gallagher’s scribbles – books, Doctor Who radio dramas and the rest – on Amazon.

Inkspill Writing Retreat: Writing Doctor Who

Previously… last weekend I contributed to the Inkspill online writing retreat run by poet Nina Lewis. All this week I’m running the sessions I wrote for them. Here’s today’s.

Writing Doctor Who

Do be careful what you wish for: it can be bloody hard work. I write Doctor Who radio dramas for Big Finish and you can’t just swan in and cook this stuff up. Doctor Who has to be inside you: I don’t believe you can write for a show or a book range or a magazine if you don’t already read it and love it. Plus, the producers at Big Finish do know and love Doctor Who, you have to step up to their level in the quality of your writing and it’s not easy.

Still, I hope that I will continue to write them forever. That is partly because I was a Doctor Who fan growing up – and it never leaves you, especially not when the TV show is back and is capable of such great drama – but also because it is radio drama and also because it stretches me tremendously.

Whatever type of writing you do, have a think about radio drama. I don’t mean that you should definitely take it up, I’ve got enough competition without you coming along and blowing me out of the water, but think about the form. I love radio drama because I feel it’s very intimate and personal, plus it is life-support dependent upon dialogue.

I am a dialogue man. I’ve a friend who insists dialogue is the nice tasty little extra that you add at the end of a story and I’m surprised we’re still friends. If I don’t believe what your characters are saying, I don’t believe them and I don’t care about them. Let them be exterminated, so what?

Radio focuses you on dialogue like nothing else. It’s exciting creating an entire new world, both metaphorically in your writing and pretty literally in that this is Doctor Who and you’re making up a planet. But you have to convey that it’s, I don’t know, a desert planet with oases of Apple Stores and a great big, green, smelly monster. You could have the Doctor step out of the TARDIS and say “Oh, it’s Theta Beta Five, the famous desert planet – oh, no! A Smellosaurus! Quick, let’s buy an iPad”.

But nobody would be listening any more.

I’ve tried recently to explain why I love scriptwriting above all things and at first I thought it came down to this. You have to conjure characters, a story, a world and all the drama using only what people say. (Plus a few sound effects. Do listen to a Big Finish Doctor Who some time: the sound design is simply a marvel.)

But actually, I’ve come to realise that it’s much harder than that. And much more satisfying.

You can’t say it’s a desert planet. You can’t have villains saying what their dastardly plan is.

Russell T Davies, who with Julie Gardner brought Doctor Who back to TV in 2005, wrote once about a huge problem he had when moving on from writing soaps to writing drama. I’m paraphrasing but broadly what he said was: “In soaps, everybody says what they mean. In drama, they don’t even know what they mean.”

That’s a Damascus-level thought for me. I love and adore scriptwriting not because you’re telling stories using only what people say, you’re telling them only using what people do not.

Try it. Write me a scene with two characters and only dialogue, no settings, no description. One character wants something from the other – and for some reason, that you have to think of – he or she cannot tell that other person.


See William Gallagher’s scribbles – books, Doctor Who radio dramas and the rest – on Amazon.

Inkspill Writing Retreat: How to Get Rejected

Previously… last weekend I contributed to the Inkspill online writing retreat run by poet Nina Lewis. All this week I’m running the sessions I wrote for them. Here’s today’s.

How to Get Rejected

Write badly. That’ll do it. But of all the reasons you will get rejected – and you will, you know you will – writing badly is the best of them. It’s the most embarrassing, perhaps, and it may well shut more doors than anything else ever will, but it’s also the best for one key reason.

You can do something about it.

You can write better.

Now, it would be good if that were as easy as it sounds but your writing is under your control, or at least it is more than anything else. Focus on your writing and don’t be thrown by things you cannot know. That sounds a bit Hallmark Card-like and we are all cut and bloodied by rejection but do this: control what you can control and bollocks to everything you can’t.

Let me give you a fast example. I spent a couple of years as features editor on a computer magazine and I needed writers. I really needed them, I had money to pay them, I would search for them. And at the same time, I must’ve got around 200 completely unsolicited submissions. Writers writing to me out of the blue pitching me articles. They should have been a godsend to me but they weren’t.

Of the 200, I commissioned 1. He was fine, I’d have used him again if I’d ever needed to go back to the same topic. That’s not the key fact here. The key is that of the 200, I read 7.

And not only would I do the same today, so would you.

Of the other 193, a surprising number were about fashion. I was on a computer magazine. Many were handwritten and, again, hello, computer magazine. Plus you can tell me you’ve got years of experience but if you’re not typing your articles, no, you haven’t.

Equally, you can tell me that you studied my magazine but if you spell the title wrong or if you send me a 300-word article when we only ever ran 5,000-word pieces, I don’t need to read your piece to know you can’t do the job.

Writing is not a competition. Also, writing is not for you: it is for the reader. My job was not to read every piece and pat heads, it was to fill blank pages each month. Realise that, keep that in mind, and you’ll avoid rejections.

And when you are rejected, take it. You can grind your teeth all you like at home, just don’t ever show it. Let it go because it’s already gone. Nobody ever convinced an editor that they have made a wrong choice by arguing about it. If that sounds unfair, compare it to this: nobody ever successfully used wailing to convince a lover not to dump them.

This ridiculous writing life we have chosen might be art, I hope it is, but it is also a job and it is also real. You’re not playing. And the sometimes great, sometimes deeply depressing fact is that most people are. So small things like being a pro when you’re rejected really help you stand out.


See William Gallagher’s scribbles – books, Doctor Who radio dramas and the rest – on Amazon.