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.

Inkspill Writing Retreat – intro video and exercise

Listen, we talk all the time about productivity but we are writers, we need to write. Last weekend I contributed a series of writing blogs and suchforth to Inkspill, an online writing retreat run by poet Nina Lewis. You can still see and even take part in the entire weekend just by going to her official site. And I’d recommend that for seeing the work of my colleagues on the retreat, Charlie Jordan and Heather Wastie.

But let me bring you what I bought to the table. Today, a video introduction that I grant you makes little sense out of context and within which I do look half-dead with sleep. But it also includes a writing exercise that I especially like doing with people. Plus, it’ll tell you what’s coming up over the rest of this week: each day I’ll post one of the writing exercise blogs I did for Inkspill.

I hope you like them and that when you’ve seen this video, you rush me caffeine.

Exhausted. My Inkspill writing retreat contribution now available online

All afternoon I’ve been involved in Inkspill and I can relax now. But if you missed my sessions, if you’ve missed the whole Inkspill phenomenon, you can now get the lot online in one go. Hey, if you caught it and liked it all, you can go get it again. It’s just as good the second time.

Here’s what my afternoon looked like on Inkspill:

An Afternoon with William Gallagher – Guest Writer

15: 00 A Video From our Guest Writer William Gallagher

How to Get Rejected

Making Time to Write

Writing Doctor Who

What You get from Writing

Tomorrow is being run by writers Charlie Jordan and Heather Wastie and the whole Inkspill shebang is by poet Nina Lewis. Read about it all on the official Inkspill Writing Retreat site.

Did I mention that it’s free?

Starting now – Inkspill online writing retreat

Welcome to INKSPILL 2014, here is the programme of what’s coming up over the weekend. Remember you can follow in real time (GMT) or just dip in at your leisure.

If you are currently working on a writing project or preparing for NaNoWriMo, then gather your notes and start by giving yourself some time to write.

INKSPILL 2014 – Programme of Events | awritersfountain

I’m one of the contributors to this and my bits are on this afternoon. But read the whole programme and get writing, okay?