That was 2014… all of it

And it’s already weird typing ‘2014’, it feels so long ago. Not that it feels like 2015 to me yet. Not sure when it is, then. Not sure when I am. But as part of an annual tradition that I’ve just revived, this week’s Self Distract personal blog is an expanded version of my That Was… entries that I do here.

Each month I write out for you what I’ve done. As I keep saying, you don’t need to read it but I clearly and visibly need to write it because it is one huge element of making me do things. If I don’t do anything, I’ve got nothing to tell you and how dare I tell you to be more productive.

The full year’s review is over on Self Distract in quite arse-tinglingly long detail but because I do the monthly version here, let me summarise my 2014 for you:

Writing: approximately 620,000 words
Books: 2 written, 1 editing
Speaking engagements: 88
Produced Events: 9
Scripts: 1 Doctor Who radio drama, 1 stage short, 1 education script
Fiction: 7 short stories, 2 poems, 2 revised novels and 10,000 words of 1 new novel
Blogs: 1, 294
Attended: 79 shows, launches, workshops or other events
Journalism: 45 written pieces and 3 magazine issues edited


That was December 2014

It still is, as I write this. But I’ve been doing this accountability/atonement thing monthly for the year – after having accidentally done it for someone else the year before, as you do – and there’s that word year. I’ve used it three times now. It’s on my mind. Every month I wince and tell you what I’ve managed to do (though you’ll notice I never tell you in advance what I’m planning)(I’m not that stupid). So it feels beholden to do the year’s one.

Fortunately, I can’t do that until I’ve worked out December’s doings.

Unfortunately, December’s doings were a bit light. But here goes:

Writing: approximately 31,100 words
21 articles for (circa 11,000 words)
4x Radio Times reviews (400 words)
1x editorial for Write On! magazine (500 words)
Soundscapes script (2,000 words)
1x poem ‘Heart’ (100 words)
3x Self Distract blogs (1,200 words)
55x The Blank Screen news articles (15,600 words)

Ran Burton Young Writers’ Session
Ran Birmingham Young Writers’ Session
Ran Reaside Clinic writing session
Edited Write On! magazine issue 5
Wrote Writers’ Guild press release re Library of Birmingham cuts
Interviewed on Russia Today
Guest at British Film Institute’s Blake’s 7 evening

That was October 2014…

Previously… I write this list of what I’ve done in the month. I do it because I used to write a monthly report and had to do things in order to have anything to say. This helped me greatly. So I report to you. Here’s last month’s but here’s the a-little-better October 2014. Not as much writing as I’d have liked but I’m surprised how many events I ran.

Well, I say I ran them. Really everybody else did the work and I just got the best seat in the house, so.

Writing: approximately 58,049 words
Four guest blogs for Inkspill plus scripting and shooting an intro video with writing exercise (2,700 words)
Approximately 10,000 words on new book
Radio Times radio preview of the Free Thinking Festival (100 words)
Wrote poem “My Curse” (100 words or so)
Wrote 128 posts on The Blank Screen (40,610 words)
Wrote 5 posts on Self Distract (4,539)

Produced and chaired Steven Knight event at the BBC Drama Village for the Writers’ Guild and the Royal Television Society
Produced and ran The Blank Screen all-day workshop in Birmingham for the Federation of Entertainment Unions
Attended the Royal Television Society Midlands Awards gala dinner as a drama judge
Ran Burton Young Writers’ group session
Ran a radio writing workshop for South & City College
Performed my short story, The Book Groups, to the Combrook Reading Group
Depped for Polly Wright leading a reader/writer group (second of two)
Met with BBC to discuss general projects plus liaising with RTS and Writers’ Guild
Attended countless events at Birmingham Literature Festival
Attended Ajax, directed by Polly Tisdall in Oxford
Appeared on Poetry Please by way of the Birmingham Literature Festival
Attended Write On Young Writers’ group meeting
Attended Solomon and Marion at the Birmingham Rep (for which I wrote programme notes)
Attended Of Mice and Men at the Birmingham Rep (for which I wrote programme notes)
Attended Cucumber Theater: Sorry to See You Go at the Birmingham Rep (for which I wrote a sentence of the notes)
Interviewed Jo Bell for book
Attended BBC launch of Children’s Chaplains

11 (3 successful)

Officially made Regional Representative of the Writers’ Guild in the West Midlands
Arts Council funding discussions and meetings
Submitted my first Arts Council England funding application
Created MailChimp account for Cucumber Theater Group and sent their first mailshot
Briefed Cucumber Theatre folk on using Mailchimp and handed over the keys
Was handed the keys to the Royal Television Society Midlands Centre’s social media: have tweeted news for them daily since
Was handed the keys to the Writers’ Guild West Midlands social media; have Facebooked news for them daily since
Devised a new business in a morning, publicised it in the afternoon and got first clients by the evening (The Blank Screen mentoring/coaching)
Worked with Room 204’s Rivka Fine
Graphics work for Cucumber Theatre
Moved The Blank Screen to using Drafts 4 for writing text and Pixelmator for image editing

That was September 2014…

Excuse me? That was September? Are we not halfway or more through October? We are and if you feel this is a bit late for my confession and atonement for what I did or didn’t do in September, you are right. If you are suspecting that this delay has been an avoiding tactic because I didn’t want to admit to you that September was poor, well, I don’t want to admit it to you.

I just looked up August’s entry and it warns that September is dire. Warnings are true.

Writing (total approximately 53,880)
Wrote 8,500 words in Droitwich. Blogging book.
500 words short story Time Gentlemen Please
Time and the Conway Twitty Appreciation Society pitch (400 words) Wrote, illustrated and delivered guest blog to Coffee Birmingham (500 words)
Theatre programme copywriting for the Birmingham Rep (2 pieces, total 2,000 words) 4 The Blank Screen newsletters (3,800 words)
132 The Blank Screen blog posts (35,580 words)
4 Self Distract blog posts (2,600 words)

Room 204 Buddying
Took over the running of this and doubled the number of writers in it Produced buddying list and teased it out releasing news in episodes Organised a social event for Room 204 Buddies (7 people)
Facebook chats, emails and meetings

Events and meetings
Write On! Young Writers session in Burton (10 kids
The Blank Screen day-long workshop in Newcastle (13 people)
Depped for Polly Wright leading a reader/writer group (first of two) (7 people)
Produced Erica Whyman event at the Courtyard Theatre for Writers’ Guild (16 people) Chaired my last Screenwriters’ Forum meeting
Chaired my first Writers’ Guild meeting
Royal Television Society committee meeting
Ran one official mental health writing session and one unofficial (7 people) Ava/Soundscapes day meeting
Discussing Arts Council Funding application process with James Urquhart Discussing Arts Council Funding application with Jonathan Davidson Jeff Phelps River Passage and Room 204 Buddying system planning meeting Author visit to Bewdley school: (100 kids)
Met with Nick Fogg of Room 204

Kate Bush concert (called it a delicate shotgun)
Na Kingsley’s e x p a n d i n g
Birmingham Literature Festival Creative Launch preview
Peaky Blinders launch

2 (2 successful)

Took over Mailchimp duties for Writers’ Guild
Set up Mailchimp and sent promos for Screenwriters’ Forum
Wrote Young Writers’ exercises for other groups
Paperback edition of Filling the Blank Screen published
One copy of The Blank Screen book on sale secondhand for over £4,000

You join me live…

It’s 00:14 on Saturday night, leaning over into Sunday. I had a terrific evening seeing My Big Fat Cowpat Wedding in the very darkest corner of Kidderminster – Kidderminster isn’t dark but we got there and the venue was another hour further on into the countryside.

But now I’m home and on the good side, the smell of roasting chicken coming from the kitchen is rather grand. I’m roasting one ready to make up into lunches and suchforth tomorrow. Wish I’d remembered earlier or really just been around my home long enough to do it earlier. Still, it’s a nice smell and it’s nearly enough to keep me awake while I wait for the oven timer to go off.

There is a bad side.

I’m listening to the sound of seven leaks, seven rhythmic drop drops of water in our hallway. They’re close enough to one another that I suspect there’s just a single leak that is sending water running out all over the place. But the plumber I rang isn’t close enough to do anything about it tonight. The certainty that I woke him up coupled to the triple certainty that anything with the word emergency in it costs triple means I’m officially happy waiting for the morning. I’m not really.

You can tell from the way I’m writing to you. I’m using the fact that I’m too worried about the water to sleep yet too tired to stay awake. I’m using it to give me time to talk to you, time to roast a chicken.

If nothing else, I’m using my time.

That was August 2014…

Previously… each month I account for what I’ve done in order to make me think of how you’ll look if I haven’t done anything. Especially, especially, as I keep telling you to do things.

It spurs me on and thank you for that but it does sometimes backfire a little. I went into August expecting that I wouldn’t get much done at all: I lost a good ten days, maybe two weeks to a holiday. It was a special one: my 20th wedding anniversary.

I know you look at this list and think that there is something here, I did something. It is solely because I do a little every day. So losing all that time was going to make a big dent in the month. Yet I think I may have over-compensated because I ended up doing about 20,000 more words than in July.

So August wasn’t as rubbish I feared, I’ll give myself that. September’s dire, though.

Writing: approximately 86,440 words
Book: “Filling the Blank Screen” (70,000 words with 50,000 taken from The Blank Screen website)
Book: “The Blank Screen Writers’ Guide: Blogging” wrote approximately 13,600 words
The Flare, a GISHWHES short story (140 words)
Guest blog for Marianne Cantwell’s Free Range Humans (approximately 500 words)
124 The Blank Screen news site entries totalling approximately 42,300 words
6 Self Distract news site entries totalling approximately 9,900 words

Press and publicity:
Bio to Roz Goddard for West Midlands Readers’ Network book

4 (1 successful)

Approaches to me, like reverse-pitching:
3 (3 successful)

Events and copywriting:
Producing Steven Knight event for BBC, Writers’ Guild and RTS
Producing Erica Whyman event for Writers’ Guild
Asked by Birmingham Rep to contribute to programmes

Delivered drama, acting and diversity votes for Royal Television Society Awards
Joined Reddit productivity subsite and began posting
Meeting re ongoing audio project

Chateau Impney tour
Doctor Who: Deep Breath in cinema
Shed Heaven II
Polly Tisdall’s leaving do


Day One journal app goes free (briefly)

Even if you can’t get around to looking at using it yet, grab this now: the acclaimed Day One diary app has just been made free for iOS.

I bought it a couple of years ago and it changed things. I recorded more diary details than I ever normally do and I enjoyed it.

I made a calculated decision to move away from it, though, because I use Evernote so much. I thought it would be the same, that I would journal just as much. Technically speaking, I was right. There’s no real difference between tapping out a diary entry in Day One than there is a note in my Journal notebook in Evernote.

Except that there is a massive difference. For the months I used Day One, I bet I wrote an entry every day. In the year since I stopped, maybe I’ve made two notes.

I should go back to Day One and if you haven’t already, you should go get into it now.

That was June 2014

Last month – see That was May 2014 – I had entirely forgotten to make any notes about what I’d been doing as I was doing it. That was a big jolt for me because I’d been reasonably diligent about it during the whole year before. And it helps. It helps me feel I’m not standing still. Plus, as I near the end of the month and see there’s bugger-all in the list, it helps me go do something.

So the first thing I did in June after realising this was that I wrote a wee thing for Drafts and Evernote that means I can quickly make a note and know that it will automatically be appended to a list. Then today I spent about twenty times longer writing you a note about how I did this.

That is great for letting me extremely rapidly jot down something I’ve done or am doing, but it’s less brilliant at the end of the month. I’ve got this pleasingly long list of things but it needs some sorting for me to get an idea of the type of work I’ve done. To understand the quality rather than the quantity.

But having sorted through it and obscured the usual confidential details and totted up the various word counts, I can tell you and myself that June 2014 for me meant:

Writing totalling approximately 77,485 words
2 ecourses on productivity issues (9129 words)
2 presentations (971 words)
1 Radio Times reviews (100 words)
1 Lifehacker UK article (500 words)
Edited novel opening and pre-circulated to new group
156 news stories for The Blank Screen (approximately 43,000 words)
4 Self Distract entries (5,211 words)
4 The Blank Screen email newsletters (5,195 words)
Four iPad software tutorials (11,029 words)
Outlined Resistance stage play
Wrote first five pages of Resistance – but all five rubbish and thrown away
850 words of new non-fiction book but also rubbish, also thrown away
1,500 words of new short story, fate to be determined

Talks, appearances and performances
Page Talk panel discussion at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre
Directed “Murder at Burton Library” for the Burton Young Writers’ group
Represented the Writers’ Guild and the Screenwriters’ Forum in the House of Commons for Parliament’s Birmingham Day
Visited two schools as guest of Royal Television Society
Promoted the Writers’ Guild at two RTS Mini-Summits including one at BBC Nottingham
Guest at Winterbourne Young Writers’ Group
Spoke at Combrook Readers’ Group for short story I’m writing for them

Pitches &c:
22 phone calls
7 specific pitches with 1 rejection but an open door and only 1 non-response

Writing Begets Writing – three two-hour briefing/training on mental health work
1x wedding
Curzon Street Station exhibition
Women in Mind at the Birmingham Rep
Frequently Asked Questions at the Birmingham Rep
Writers’ Networking drink (if only for 17 seconds, very rude of me)
Bold Text at the Birmingham Rep

Produced video for Parliament Day and the Writers’ Guild
Promoted the move to get Alan Plater a blue plaque
Formally invited to join the Royal Television Society’s committee; going through nomination process now
Phone meeting with author re book I’m publishing
Reading/editing her latest two chapters

A bit specific: using Drafts to log what I’ve done

I do a monthly report about what I’ve done – last year for a project called Room 204, this year for you, both years really for me – and it’s always been a bit easy because I make proper notes as I go. Except I forgot to do that in May. For the entire month, I forgot. Not once did it enter my head. Must’ve been a quiet month.

But these things really do help me so I didn’t want to forget again. If that sounds obvious, this will sound more obvious: I decided to use my iPhone to help me.

This is going to be really specific but please treat it as an idea of the type of things you can do rather than a recipe for exactly how I think you should do it. Also, please treat it as being infinitely faster to do than it is to describe.

This is what I do when I’ve done something I want to note:


Tap on Drafts on my iPhone

There’s rarely a minute my iPhone isn’t with me so whatever I’m doing, whatever I’ve just finished, I can easily tap on the Drafts app I keep on the home screen.

The thing with Drafts is that when it pops open, you start writing. (See second shot down there on the right.) Think later about where that text will go – is it an email, an iMessage, an Evernote entry? – just type for now. Plus I use TextExpander which is yet another app but it works with and within Drafts so I just type the letters XTD (TD for Today, X for just in case I ever need to write a real word beginning with TD) and the date appears.


Note written and Drafts has sent it

It’s the date plus a dash and a space. After that, I type as quickly as I can and then tap the Share button. What you’re seeing here is the end result: I’ve written my note about a thing I’ve done today (or am about to do, actually), then I’ve tapped on Share. Tapped on “Save for That Was Month” and Drafts has done it. It has sent that text to Evernote. It’s left up here so that I can choose to send it somewhere else but instead I just put it away. Next time I open Drafts, I’ve got a blank screen ready for anything else.

That’s it.

Except look at the shot below: that’s a grab from Evernote on my iPhone and you can see it shows that same text I just wrote in Drafts.

Drafts has sent that text to the end of a note. So I have a That Was Month note in Evernote and Drafts just keeps adding to the end of it. In some ways it’s even more satisfying than my old manual notes because you don’t think about it, you don’t see any of it but the latest, until you go in to check and there are all these things entered.

I should explain that you have to set up Drafts to do this. I don’t find that as easy as some people do but you can see I’ve done it a few times: as well as this That Was Month business, I have a Story Ideas option that does much the same thing. I think of something I can use in a script or a book, write it down, tap Story Ideas and it’s off into an Evernote note.

And I have a general Save to Evernote which, actually, I’ve never used. There are other options below it such as Send to OmniFocus or Email or whatever. A lot of those come with Drafts, the others I’ve gone through setting up what I want. Telling Drafts I want to send text to this particular app or service, to add it as a new note or append to a particular old one, that kind of thing.

How long did that take you to read? Divide it by oodles and that’s how quick it is to use this thing. Which, frankly, means I use it. Did I mention that I have Drafts on my iPad too? So if I’m working on that, wallop, same thing. I don’t believe there’s a Drafts for Mac and maybe I wouldn’t buy it if there were: it would seem daft using it on a Mac when I have Word and Pages already.

So you know, this is what all this costs and where to get it. Everything but the iPhone, that’s up to you:

Drafts for iPhone: £2.49 UK, $3.99 US

Drafts for iPad: £2.99 UK, $4.99 US

Evernote for iPhone: free

Evernote for iPad: free

TextExpander for iOS: £2.99 UK, $4.99 US