Clickhole: “We Asked 8 Famous Authors For The Most Important Advice They’d Give To Young Writers”

Donna Tartt: “When you first start writing, it’s tempting to make every character Tom Hanks. I know I wrote at least a hundred stories where all the characters were Tom Hanks, because I thought that was ‘real’ or ‘authentic’ or something. But it wasn’t. In real life, most people aren’t Tom Hanks. They’re other people, except for the one guy who is Tom Hanks. Be honest in your writing, and limit yourself to one Tom Hanks character.”

We Asked 8 Famous Authors For The Most Important Advice They’d Give to Young Writers – no author listed, ClickHole (3 June 2015)

If you don’t already know or can’t already guess, Clickhole is a parody of sites like Buzzfeed.Read the full piece.

Feeding your specialism: finding enough to write

The problem: you’re writing about a particular topic so much that you become known as an expert. Perhaps you’re not, but you’re more expert than most people so you get asked more, so you get the chance to write more. Since this is hopefully a topic you’re interested in and especially if you are also being paid, this is all very good news.

Except it means you have to keep coming up with the goods. Finding new material, finding new things to write about. I was trained as a journalist when the job required you go out and find things and I lament that now it’s more a job of finding other people’s articles online.

But here’s someone else’s article online. It’s about how to find other people’s articles online. Before this gets too meta, it’s also about feeding your interest so that you can find these and your favourite subject doesn’t become a chore to you.

[Once] your career is up and running, suddenly you face a new challenge: finding the enough stories for your specific beat. Becoming a science writer seems like a great idea until you realize you have to come up with, say, 52 unique science-related stories a year. How do you keep it up?

…How do I find the best stories for these beats? In my case, it comes down to a three-pronged strategy: reading news, following my interests, and asking questions.

Every weekday, Monday through Friday, I publish two stories on The Billfold. How do I come up with 10 new personal finance stories every week? I read a lot of news. Every morning, I get up and start reading sites like Slate, The Atlantic, and The New York Times to look for topics I can turn into stories.

Ask a Freelancer: How Do I Find Enough Stories for My Particular Beat? – Nicole Dieker, Contently (24 February 2015)

Do read the full piece.

China’s Chongqing city gives texters their own lane

Not on the roads, not for driving, but for pavement walkers. Take a look at this picture from you get the idea immediately yet I’m not convinced it’s been entirely thought through. That’s the main smartphone user’s lane with a No Phones lane to the left. But don’t those arrows make you suspect you’re going to walk into people coming the other way?


Advance word: productivity mentoring coming soon

Partly for your information and partly for mine: let me tell you that The Blank Screen productivity workshops are shortly to become very personal. As in one to one. As in dealing specifically with what is holding you back in your writing.

All I can specifically reveal now is that the mentoring will be based around Skype calls and where possible also face to face meetings.

I’ll tell you much more, including pricing, when it’s finalised but I wanted to tell you now because I also want to ask you: would you find it useful to have one to one mentoring with me?

I really fancy it because I’m dying to know what you’re doing. If you think you might be interested, let me know in an email to You’re not signing up to anything, you’re not committing, it’d just help me to have an idea of your interest and perhaps ask you about the kinds of things I can help you with.

I’m also telling you this now because I’m just so excited about it. Workshops are fantastic, but the individual sessions I’ve done so far have been deeply interesting.

Update: the 1,179 news stories I won’t read

Five days ago I wrote about The 319 News Stories I Won’t Read. If you’ve heard me wibble on above ten minutes then you might figure that these 319 are sports stories. No. I ignore sports but just as one amorphous blob of nothingness, I don’t understand it enough to determine individual news stories.

The 319 were the Apple news stories in my RSS newsreader. And right now there are 1,179 articles about Apple. That’s quite a lot of stories and I would like to tell you about them, except I still won’t read them.

I may never read them. You can be sure that a gigantic majority are to do with the launch of the iPhone 6 and whatever else Apple may or may not release tomorrow. I’ve been staying away from the firehose of news because most of it is wrong, much of it is clickbait emptiness as well as wrong, and you end up being convinced that Apple will announce the discovery of alien life.

After tomorrow’s event, there will be many more stories and I might read some of those. But these 1,179 are dead to me.

All of which is a long way of saying that a lot gets written about Apple, that a lot gets read about Apple by me and that is KILLINGLY DIFFICULT to ignore 1,179 articles.

Apple is streaming its event live on from 6pm UK time tomorrow, Tuesday. I’ve skipped the articles but I’ll be watching the event. If you enjoy these as much as I do, please write in and explain what I get out of them.

The 319 news stories I won’t read

It’s 319 now, it’ll be 320 any second and by next Tuesday evening I reckon it’ll be over a thousand.

All about Apple.

And I won’t read any of them.

I like Apple, my work has been transformed by some of their products and I am very aware that next Tuesday’s company event looks pretty big. I’m aware of the rumours that it will feature a watch too.


Apple has a lot of events and while I enjoy them, I’ve grown very weary and also wary of the news coverage beforehand. Afterwards, fine: there can be some useful and interesting details. But beforehand, there isn’t news, there is a smash and grab attempt to get hits on news sites. One site has been posting stories most every day for months now with headlines, written in all caps, that begin with words like “BIGGEST APPLE LEAK EVER”. Sometimes the leak is around the level of an exclusive revelation that there are two Ps in Apple.

You can argue that I’m doing something similar here: I wanted you to click on this piece and it is ostensibly about Apple yet I’m not giving you any news. But it’s really about you and it’s really about news in general. I’m finding it surprisingly hard to ignore those Apple news stories in my RSS feed and I suppose that must mean I usually enjoy reading them.


I’m sick of the cycle. After an event, you get news stories saying how wonderful Apple is and you get news stories saying how crap Apple is. You get companies that make iPhone cases going giddy, you get Apple’s rivals rubbishing everything. No way anyone will ever buy an iPhone. I rather enjoyed last year’s outcry of mockery over how Apple’s iPhones have now got 64-bit processors instead of 32-bits. Now, one reason I like Apple is that they usually say nuts to specifications, they concentrate on what you can actually do with the stuff. Whereas PC manufacturers are all about who has one more Ghz or one more pixel. I’ve been in a store with a sales woman telling me that it didn’t matter what I wanted to use the computer for, this one was using an Intel Pentium 99 XX YY ZZ Top processor. QED.

Consequently this 64-bit processor bit was unusual and it was on turf that Apple’s competitors usually scrap on. Which meant kneejerk reactions, instant kneejerk reactions. This is purely and simply a marketing stunt, you see, nobody would ever need that extra performance. So said every company who has since announced they’ve got a 64-bit model come out soon anyway, so there. And so said the one company that has actually done it, a year after Apple. I can’t remember what company that is, I just remember that they’ve released a 64-bit Android phone before Android can handle 64-bits.

Fine, that was fun.

What wasn’t was the few times that journalists have slammed Apple for not doing something. That would be fine, that would be fair comment, except that Apple does not ever say in advance what it’s going to do. So this criticism was really a condemnation of Apple for not doing something it didn’t say it would. That irritates me as a reader, that obfuscates the times when Apple actually makes bad moves or poor products, and it cuts me as a journalist because it’s speculation built atop bollocks.

I thought I was immune to this but that’s like saying adverts don’t work. There was one Apple event where I was disappointed because it didn’t include a particular thing. Now, I would say that this particular thing was something I wanted and knew I would use – as opposed to the smartwatch which I’m just curious about – but I can’t.

I’m sure it’s true, I’m sure that’s why I was disappointed, but I can’t tell you because it was many Apple events ago. Each one supersedes the last so they don’t so much blur together as fade away. I have re-watched Steve Jobs introduce the iPhone for the first time back in 2007 because that is a rather finely done presentation. (Though Microsoft does tend to go for a quieter, more subtle approach to its presentations.)

So there is a lot of kerfuffle before an Apple event, there is a lot more after it, and in the middle there is this event which gets erased by the next one.

It’s still an event.

And I enjoy them. So I intend to watch next Tuesday (6pm UK, 10am California) and hopefully have a good time. But without any rumour-fuelled bollocks in my head. Also without any genuine facts, but.

By the way, it’s now 332 stories I’m ignoring.


Dear Diary moment: a man admits he doesn’t know something

I’m a man and I regularly say “I don’t know”. Maybe too often, maybe I should know some more things. But I promise that I don’t fit the stereotype of a guy who blusters through saying yeah, yeah, ‘course, everybody knows that, easy, done it twice this morning myself.

It’d be good to think that I was just a superb human being but the truth is that I get a little kick out of seeing people’s faces. Especially in teams, especially with editors, most especially – to be fully honest about it – with women. People tend to blink a lot at me. You can see the cogs processing. Occasionally, yes, the cog is saying “So why are we paying this guy?” but most of the time it’s a much more positive surprise.

There was one editor I had who blinked at me quite a bit at first. Later she told me that I’d done what she’d asked me to do and that when it wasn’t right but she’d explained again, I’d changed it until she was happy. “Yes,” I said. “And?”

“Just not used to it,” she said.

I’ve always recognised that the real benefit of admitting you don’t know something is that it is ferociously easier than pretending you do and then having to answer detailed questions. I’m slightly schizophrenic about this because I’ve often said yes, I can do something, when I’ve not done it before but am confident. Still, when it comes to a fact or to my opinion about something, if I don’t know it, I tell you.

What I’ve been told today is that it has one more benefit. The blog 42 Floors – continuing the honesty theme, I’ve never heard of it before thirty seconds ago – includes a piece recounting the story of an interviewer named Kiran asking a difficult question and being told “I don’t know”:

[H]e smiled and responded back, “I was waiting for that. I like it when people say I don’t know.” Kiran explained that he likes it when people say I don’t know because it lends credibility to everything else that they’ve said.

I don’t know – Jason Freedman, 42 Floors (2 March 2014)

Tip of the head to 99U for the link.

Book recommendation: The Blank Screen

Earlier this week I sort-of recommended David Allen’s book (and accompanying cult) Getting Things Done. But amongst all the praise I had and have for it, I said this:

Getting Things Done (UK edition, US edition) is a self-help book by David Allen. The strange things first: it was written in 2001 and you will be amazed how long ago that seems. (Example: Allen talks a lot about how, for instance, you obviously can’t access the internet unless you’re in your office. It’s practically Victorian.) Also, it feels as if Allen is focusing on office workers and people who may do fantastic things but aren’t the kind of messy-minded creatives that writers are.

Getting Things Done – book (half) recommendation – William Gallagher, The Blank Screen (24 June 2014)

No question: my own productivity techniques owe a huge amount to Getting Things Done and in fact I credit David Allen extensively in my book. But The Blank Screen is written for us writers. I know normal people will get a lot from it too, but it’s written for us. So it’s about coping with the kinds of things we have to cope with – how to be productive when no editor ever bleedin’ phones us back productively – and it’s very much about making more of your computer. Jonathan Davidson of Writing West Midlands (a truly fine charity without whom The Blank Screen wouldn’t exist and which you should definitely be supporting, please) said this to me once:

Writers were the first to go digital.

He means it and he is damn right. We went digital back in the 1980s when we saw, we understood and by hell we coveted word processors. The rest of the world that is now so mad keen on digital, they’re just catching us up as best they can.

I’m just not sure they all come with our writer neuroses. That’s another big issue with us: we have to battle the curse of ourselves as well as the curse of other people when we’re trying to make our way as working writers. That’s something The Blank Screen is riddled with.

And the book also has one especially popular chapter on specifically how to cope when you either have too much work or you don’t have any at all. Those are both crippling for writers and we get them all the time. I suppose I should try to flog you that chapter, but I’ve seen how it helps people: I want it to help you too. So go on, since it’s you: download the free chapter, Bad Days, from The Blank Screen. If there’s someone you know it will help too, give them the link.

There comes a point when my free Bad Days chapter has solved that time when you are so fraught you have to hold your chest and breathe slowly, when you’ve passed it to other people and been thanked for how it’s done the same for them, and when you should really be buying the book.

The Blank Screen is on Kindle and iBooks plus – my favourite – it’s in paperback. Seriously, check out the free and complete Bad Days chapter but then:

The Blank Screen is on Amazon UK (Kindle and Paperback)
The Blank Screen is on Amazon USA (Kindle and Paperback)

And it’s a rather gorgeous iBook too.

One thing. I’m saying this to you today because I do want to celebrate a little milestone. You’re reading the 600th article on The Blank Screen website and I’m rather proud of how this spin-off from the book has become a productivity resource of its own. I do hope you keep reading and I hope that you enjoy it.

Now iTunes Radio is rubbish

I like it. I was listening to iTunes Radio for some hours this morning. Did get sick of the ads again, but I like the music and I’m not sure I’m alone in this. But allegedly, reportedly, I am because rivals Pandora and Spotify are far better – and because Apple was too arrogant to see this.

“Pandora is an awesome radio that blows iTunes Radio out of the water. Seriously, iTunes Radio sucks and it sucks because of Apple’s arrogance,” one former, mid-level [Apple] employee said. “I was floored by the decision-making skills by management over and over again.”

Apple employees confirmed that management actively ignored iTunes’ streaming competitors, with some managers refusing to open or use Spotify. One source said that as recently “as last year,” some members of management didn’t even know that Spotify was an on-demand streaming service, assuming it was just a radio service.

“The management in particular were pretty much tone-deaf in what Spotify was and that’s why they’re panicking now,” the source said. “They didn’t understand how Spotify worked, which is why they thought iTunes Radio would be a Spotify killer.”

“Arrogant” Apple Managers are the Reason Apple Needs Beats – Aylin Zafar, Buzzfeed (5 June 2014)

I don’t know. It has the ring of truth yet the piece as a whole is so down on iTunes Radio that I doubt the details. Still, it’s an interesting read and if right, may mean that Apple’s new purchase of Beats will lead to something better.

It’s an ugly headline that has Apple in it twice but otherwise you believe those quotes, don’t you?

Reeder for Mac now available

This week’s updates to the iOS versions of Reeder have been followed by the first full release of Reeder 2 for Mac. It’s now out of beta and available to buy from the Mac App Store for £2.99 UK, $4.99 US.

It’s an RSS reader: it brings you all the news from any number of websites who have these RSS feeds and that you chuck into Reeder. There are many such services and if they’ve stuck around for any length of time at all, they each have their fans. I’m sufficiently a fan of Reeder, though, that when it was pulled from the App Store last year because Google changes stopped it working, I stopped reading RSS.

Only on my Mac. I couldn’t stop reading it on iOS and I’m not sure now what the chain of events was. I think Reeder lasted longer on iOS but anyway, the iPhone one was updated last September and I so very clearly remember the delight at that coming out while I was on holiday. Learnt about it, bought it, had a really good time getting reacquainted with an old friend in a new design.

Similarly, the iPad version is a pretty constant friend.

But I did miss reading news on my Mac, most especially on those days when I’m here for twelve or fifteen hours. Maybe I should go take screen breaks, but I just used to really enjoy spending a few moments downtime catching up with news. Today, after so very many months without Reeder being available on the Mac, it is again and I’m enjoying it again.

Here’s me enjoying it.

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 21.06.48

I’m not going to claim that Reeder is the very best RSS software, I am just going to say that it is the very best for me. And along with OmniFocus, Evernote and Mail, it’s got to be on my machine for it to feel like my machine.