You have to love ideas enough to be willing to hate them

The best work you ever do will be so much trouble, so much effort, that by the end you will hate the sight of it all. But they are important enough to you throughout and you love them so much at the start, that you must be willing to hate them if that’s what it takes to get them on.

I’m not clear. I can feel it. Let me try an example, see if this is any more comprehensible. I once pitched to write a book about The Beiderbecke Affair in part because I love that show. (UK edition, US edition)

I also felt that Alan Plater’s drama series warranted the attention plus I knew there was enough material to do, I had all the professional reasons you can think of covered. But also I loved it and Alan was important to me, that’s why I picked up the phone to the British Film Institute.

Nonetheless, I knew that by the time I’d finished the book, I would’ve seen the show so often and I would’ve said the word Beiderbecke so much and I would’ve thought about it so incessantly that I would be weeping to get away from it.

Still, I knew the book was worth that. And if I came out the other end hating The Beiderbecke Affair, that was a small price to pay for hopefully getting the work to other people, introducing other people to the Beiderbecke world.

As it happens, it didn’t happen, I didn’t hate it once. I got a bit panicky, I got a bit worried about the deadline, but I never hated it.

Actually, there was one night right in the middle of it all when I was away researching Beiderbecke scripts at the Hull History Archive and I needed something to watch. I had a pizza, I had a tiny hotel room, it was so hot and I was so tired that I was nude, actually, nude and freshly showered, stretched out on a towel on my bed and deeply needing something to watch. I had certainly read several hundred pages of Beiderbecke scripts that day and I know I had photographed a thousand. (I had no scanner but I made an arrangement with the archivists that I could photograph the pages to effectively make copies of the script to study later.)

I was cross-eyed and knackered. Too hungry and too hot to just sleep, too weary to read, too bone-tired to think. There was no TV and all I had on my iPad was The Beiderbecke Affair episode 5.

And I loved it. Was disappointed that I hadn’t got episode 6 on there.

But I was willing to hate The Beiderbecke Affair if necessary. And if your work, if your project, doesn’t come with that risk, find a better project, okay?


Start it now. Just start it.

I’m all for choosing a time to do a certain job: I live by deadlines anyway but it’s sensible and productive to pick a time that you will begin. Take a moment to judge how long something will take and assess when you’ll have all you need to complete it, then set that as a start date.

That means you can ignore it until that date and I am really all for getting stuff out of your head until you need to do it.


It’s that word ‘assess’.

I offer that the best way to assess a job is to start it. I’ve had times when I’ve had a last email with details of a job and as I’ve already known and confirmed the dates, I’ve only skimmed that message. Invariably, that’s been a mistake. Sometimes reading it over isn’t enough either.

Once or twice now I’ve done all the practical things yet as I came to start the work, realised I needed something more. Something that wasn’t apparent until I’d begun.

So I suggest you begin a job even if you’re going to then slot it into a date or a time later on. This lets you really understand what you need. It’s like checking you’ve got all the parts when you’re assembling furniture. You don’t do that and so far it’s worked out okay but you know some day it’s going to bite you.

Start the work, assemble some of the bits.

And then email the person who’s commissioned you. Having made that tiny start, you’ll be able to find some detail you need to check. Or at least that it sounds reasonable and believable that you want to check it. So you email them about that and they get the message: you’re on the case already. That goes down very well.

And then they email you back with the answer and thanking them, taking that detail and adding it to the work plan, it means one of two things.

First, you’ve started now and sometimes the ending is so clearly in sight that you might as well just go ahead and finish. When you can do a task, do a task.

But second and more commonly, when you come to do the task later, you feel like you’re already well underway – because you are.

When is it over?

There’s not going to be some great life-changing Hallmark-Card-like slice of advice here, I’m just wondering about something I have wondered about a lot.

I wonder when things are over.

There must be a day when something is done. This first popped into my noggin some years ago when I read a line somewhere about how Dar Williams‘s new album was coming out soon. (I think it was Many Great Companions, which is so good that when a friend asked what I liked about Dar Williams, I just bought her the album. It’s cheaper to write reviews, but I wanted her to have it. I want you to have it too, but I’m a little short today.)

I can’t remember when this was but I was surprised because up to then, her previous CD had been the new one. My own Doctor Who releases go through a similar thing.

Actually, Doctor Who, there’s a thing. I go through various processes writing those, there are the same types of deadlines to the same types of timescales and in theory I could say my involvement ends when I deliver the last draft. Well, you don’t know there won’t be more to do then. So call it when the scripts are in studio, that’s definitely the end for me. Well, sometimes I’m in studio and working on scenes. Okay, post production. Definitely no involvement there, so that Doctor Who is over and I’m looking for the next one.

Except there are liner notes to write for the CD. Quite often there are interviews to do.

So okay, when it goes on sale. But that’s when I start talking about it all, I suppose officially because that’s marketing and promotion, but really it’s because now I can FINALLY talk to you about it.

I don’t put “Tweet about Doctor Who” in my OmniFocus To Do list. It isn’t a task, it’s what I do for fun. So by the time we reach the tweeting stage, you can bet that my OmniFocus Doctor Who project is long completed. So that’s definitely it, that’s definitely over. I have ticked off everything I have to do, everything I have to deliver, I can mark the entire project as done.

That seems very satisfying.

And that’s why this is on my mind today. I did an event yesterday that has been some preposterous number of months in the making and this morning I’m doing my OmniFocus review, I’m getting to that project and I am about to grandly click on Done, when I don’t.

Because I’ve thought of some more tasks. Well, call them tasks because it would be bad if I didn’t do them. Just wrapping up stuff, there are so many people I want to thank for getting this done for me, for instance. That could go in the fun pile, that needn’t be a task To Do per se, except I’ll feel very bad if I forget someone in the rush. So I jotted down who it is. And okay, I know it’d be handiest for this person if I phoned and for that person if I texted, and so on.

Then there’s the money to do with the event. That truly is a task. That is several tasks in a row.

When that’s all done, then, that’s when this event is over.



I just need to keep the event details around because I’ve had a lot of praise for it that might help in the pitching for the new one.