Writers’ Notes: when you can and when you can’t link to someone

Easy. You always can. The end.

By chance, I’ve had several conversations this week with people who either wanted to link to my blog or were asking what I thought of them linking to others. Link away, I said. Always. There’s no permission needed and no endorsement implied.

At least, there isn’t from the site or person you’re linking to. If I were to tell you that Brain Pickings is the most amazingly absorbing site I read – which it is, by the way – then I believe I am actually beholden to give you a link. I don’t have to ask the site’s owner Maria Popova and my linking to her site doesn’t mean she’s happy for me to. It doesn’t mean she even knows about me.

It just means that I am sending you on your way. I have a thing: I can’t write anything online without including a link to take you somewhere else more interesting afterwards. I feel that is my duty and also that if I do it, I’ve earned a bit of your time to do some things with and for you.

The site owner you’re linking to do does find out, by the way. They have to look at their traffic but they can and so if a tonne of people click through you to them, they’ll know about it.

And what are they going to do? Multiple choice answer: a) be pleased, 2) be very pleased or iii) one of the above. I suppose if the Ferguson police force linked to me I might be a bit irked but they never will and nobody would click through there to me if they did.

So link away. You’re doing a service and I think this is actually part of the bedrock of the web, that we share sites amongst ourselves.

Emailing links and attachments to editors and producers

I talk about this quite a bit in The Blank Screen book because it’s a thing. If you’ve never had people sending you massive attachments you may not appreciate quite why it’s a problem. (For one thing, company mailboxes have to have a limited size because there are so many people on staff that it’s expensive to have a lot of space. One multi-megabyte attachment could make the difference and an editor will come in on Monday morning to an inbox that has stopped receiving any new emails after yours.)

Unfortunately it’s a thing that doesn’t have very clear answers. You should definitely wait until an editor or producer has asked you to send material before you do, but does that mean you can’t send anything at all?


Today you might reckon you can send a link to something, though. A copy of your script on Dropbox. A showreel of yours on YouTube.

Unfortunately, that’s a thing too. This is why I’m mentioning it today: I just got a reply to an email of mine and the recipient’s network had edited my message. I’d crafted this perfect opening paragraph and instead the first thing she read was this:

Warning: This message contains unverified links which may not be safe. You should only click links if you are sure they are from a trusted source.

I hadn’t intentionally sent her anything; I even had to scroll down to see what links I’d sent.

But there it was. I’d used a signature that included a little cartouche of links about me:

Writer: The Blank Screen, The Beiderbecke Affair, Doctor Who

I shouldn’t have done that. There was no reason she needed to know or that I wanted to tell her, I just used the signature because it also includes my contact details and we were arranging a meeting.

I don’t think you can avoid links today. But you can make them ones that work without having to work, so to speak. That recipient’s network prefixed my message with an ugly warning and others will actually block the message entirely. So only use links when you need to but then also make them immediately useful. For instance, I will sometimes include a link to the page about me on Wikipedia – isn’t that great? that there’s a Wikipedia page about me? – but I’ll do it in a particular way. I’ll say that there is this page and yes, I’ll include the link, but I don’t need the reader to click on it. I don’t even care whether they do: the function of that link is not to send someone to my Wikipedia entry, it is purely to advertise that I have a Wikipedia page about me.

So if you must have a link, find other ways to use it in case they never see it or never click on it. If you must send an attachment, make it one they’ve asked for. And not, please, a fancy graphic logo in your signature.

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From this coming Friday, April 18, The Blank Screen will also be available as a weekly email newsletter. Each Friday it will bring you the best posts from the last seven days of productivity news, features and reviews.

Plus it will also include Self Distract: not only an antidote to being productive but a money-where-my-mouth is demonstration of my writing. The Blank Screen is about getting you more time to write and I use this stuff every day so it's time I showed you. Self Distract is also about writing but the strapline for it is:

What we write and what we write with, when we get around to writing

You'll see what I mean. But I'm hoping you'll also see a lot of use for the email newsletter. During a typical week here on The Blank Screen, I publish very many pieces that are technical or particularly topical like news of 24-hour sales on particular apps. They're popular and they're useful, but sometimes they mean the longer, more distinctively Blank Screen productivity features get a bit lost.

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A four-day week with pay

If you’re British and are old enough, the phrases three- or four-day week are not happy ones. They were borne of bad times when the economy was rough and companies were in trouble. That never happens now.

But it’s a term with bad connotations because it was a time when firms couldn’t afford to pay people for a whole week so they had to work three or four days instead. And there’s another way.

Hopefully there’s another way. Ryan Carson of the technology firm Treehouse proposes that maybe we can work four days a week and do more with it. He’s not trying to save money: you get paid your full, normal salary, you just don’t work five days a week. It sounds like he’s a productivity guru looking for a startling yet appealing angle, but the fella has his reasons and he’s put them to work: this is genuinely how his company is run.

What’s more, he wrote about it in his company blog, The Naive Optimist, more than a year ago and they sky hasn’t fallen under the weight of all that pie. I learnt of this through 99U which singles out his particular post about why he does this and specifically what has happened because of it.

There is a part of me that shudders at the notion. I love working, I don’t understand how to relax. But I am also very much an advocate of spending the right time on something: working for the sake of it is a waste of time, time that you could be spending working on other things. So I’m drawn to this and I admit you that I am persuaded by his reasoning and his results.

Complaining does not work as a strategy

Via the always excellent Swiss Miss design blog:

“If you took one-tenth the energy you put into complaining and applied it to solving the problem, you’d be surprised by how well things can work out… Complaining does not work as a strategy. We all have finite time and energy. Any time we spend whining is unlikely to help us achieve our goals. And it won’t make us happier.”


― Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture