The year in biscuits and blogs

Seriously, this is just you and me. So I can tell you that this is the first Self Distract blog that you’ll see here. (Wait. What about the eleventy-billion previous Self Distract entries you can see? They were all first written and published on my old Blogger site.) From this week on, Self Distract is here on

You will not see a single difference. Well, not unless you look up at the website address. Or if you look across at all the other lovely things on this new site. There’s a lot to see and that’s really why I’m doing this. After eight years on, I’m moving Self Distract to join in with all the other stuff I do online and make one single, big, new,

I’ll talk to you about this. Probably at length. But since it is you, let me just say that the impetus was that my productivity for creative writers book, The Blank Screen, has been such a success for me that it has spawned a workshop that is touring various literary festivals, universities and possibly even prisons. That’s definitely a topic for another time. The Blank Screen has had such a response that it feels it’s tapped in to something good, something that I can usefully do. So as of today, there is now a Blank Screen blog that has news on productivity software deals, lots of stolen advice from clever people, and a lot of my own experience polished up and made to sound smart.

And also since it’s you, I’m going to tell you that I’ve been secretly running that Blank Screen blog for about a month. You can now see everything: some eighty-odd posts if you really had the time and a lot of tea. The Blank Screen is a news blog with a lot of entries; Self Distract is where we can chat.

It feels very strange moving Self Distract. It’s like we have to find a new coffee shop. In some ways it’s also very strange officially launching the new Exciting but strange. And a bit scary, if I’m honest. And when am I not honest with you? You’ve got that I-can-tell-you-anything face.

At one point during the testing of the new site, I had to put it live. Had to. Couldn’t complete the testing without it. I put it live in a secret place, didn’t tell you, didn’t tell anyone, and within a few days I’d somehow gained followers to it. That was immensely, just immensely invigorating and validating. So much so that I have this terrible feeling that the new site is a huge success so long as it stays secret.

It’s a shame I’m such a blabber. Now I’ve taken a deep breath and told you, I’m heading out into the big, wide world to tell everyone.

But while I would love for you get something from the new site, I need our little spot for chatting. And while I suppose I should shut up and let you explore the new place if you will, what I want to chat to you about is the whole of last year. When I’m asked how many people read this blog, it’s easy. One. But when I lift up the lid and see what Google tells me, well, okay, you’ve been telling a lot of people about us. Again.

You’ve told enough people that I can see an actual top ten list of the most popular things we spoke about in 2013.

And it goes thisaway:

This one got picked up by the Writers’ Guild. It’s a piece about how scriptwriters sometimes think they’re really writing novels so instead of saying “Brad Chap (30, witty, criminal)” they write a hundred words about his tortured backstory that we will never see and producers will never finish reading. It was also particularly personal to me because it includes a lesson I was taught by the late Alan Plater.

9. How to start writing on bad days (27 June 2013)
This became a really key section in my book The Blank Screen: Productivity for Creative Writers. Even in this slightly shorter, earlier version, it was all about those times when either you are overwhelmed with how much you have to do or, frankly, you’re having such a crappy day that writing anything is an impossible mountain. If you ask me, on days like that, you’re never going to read a piece about coping with days like that so it begins with a very quick, even brutal, do this and do that section. And then suggests that you read on when you’re having a better day.

8. The most successful thing I’ve ever written (8 March 2013)
It isn’t The Blank Screen, though that is heading up the charts gorgeously quickly. It isn’t my Beiderbecke book, it isn’t Doctor Who. It isn’t actually fiction. Nor is it non-fiction. It’s not even journalism. Instead, it is a Microsoft Word macro that I wrote for myself to solve a problem and it went viral across BBC Worldwide and out in to other companies. No one needs it any more so I really wrote this entry to remind myself what it was and what I did but I’m surprised how many people enjoyed it – and how many had written similar macros themselves.

7. Star Trek: Don’t Give Away the Goods Too Soon (6 June 2013)
I did some work in prisons in 2013 and during the various steps of the process to get the work and get clearance to do it, I got to meet Patrice Lawrence of She’s very nice but freaked me out a bit when the first thing she said was “Hello, you’re right about Star Trek Into Darkness”. You mean people can see us?

I adored the 2009 movie: it was such an exciting ride that when Into Darkness came out, I actually took the afternoon off to go see it in a Giant Screen in 3D. Big mistake. But a fascinating one because aside from the film’s biggest problem – it is a remake of an old movie and rather relies on you knowing the original for it to have any emotional punch – there were some interesting writing decisions. You completely understand why they made them, yet you also see how chopping off this multi-million-dollar scene or the other would have improved the movie.

6. Self Distract book – get off your backside and write (3 October 2013)
I regret the title now because I use Self Distract here with you and I also later made it the title of another book: “Self Distract – from Doctor Who fan to Radio Times and Big Finish“. I need a new title.

But this one was possibly the biggest news of 2013 for me: it was about how my The Blank Screen book was officially on sale. It really went on sale at the Birmingham Literature Festival a few days later but I’d got my author copies then. This post was also about how I’d been particularly productive writing a book about productive writers: how an idle idea on a bus trip had become a whole book fewer than a hundred days later.

You wrecked my productivity that day: I posted this entry to you and intended to head off on a job but instead spent the entire Friday talking on twitter and Facebook about the blog and the book. I had a blast.

5. Dear diary… (11 October 2013)
I really see this as a couple of entries in one. The main point of it was that the night before I’d run my first Blank Screen workshop so naturally I was buzzing but also one of the attendees told me a great idea that I am stealing and having for my very own. You’ll need to read the post to see what it is but I promise it’s a good idea.

But I was also in a bit of a general buzzing tizzy because I’d also just begun leading a Writing Squad in Burton on Trent. I still do that and it’s now got about a dozen school-age kids and write together once a month. Love it. I especially love it because when I was in school, I was positively discouraged from writing as a career. To see talent being encouraged and to get to contribute, it’s a privilege and a joy and a so-there-see to my old school. Writing West Midlands organises many such squads: read more about them all here.

And if that But wasn’t enough, I had another one. But I was also in a bit of a tizzy because around this time I’d written I’m calling from the Trib… which was one of those blog entries where something just burst out of me and I had to tell you even though I reckoned you had better things to do. It was about how I had become a writer because of a TV show called Lou Grant and I actually named the people who had created that, who had therefore made me the man I am. Before the month was out, two of those people had got in touch with me. April Smith and Seth Freeman, two names so much a part of my growing up that I can close my eyes and see their names written in the font they were on the show’s credits. Do have a peek at that one: it meant a lot to me, it apparently meant quite a bit to them, and that fact meant a lot to me too. (And check out April’s own website: she’s now a prolific novelist and has a new book out now.)

4. Pencils vs keyboards – 2B or not 2B (4 April 2013)
This was half a muse about handwriting and notebooks but really half a piece about a little thing I did, a little piece of handwriting I did. Take a look at that post for the secret thing that I did and which I only told you about. And then let me tell you that the fella has yet to notice. (If you don’t happen to nip off to read what that is all about, let me reassure you now that what I did was a nice thing. And that it was designed so that if he finds it at all, it won’t be for some time.)

3. Dollars to doughnuts: the end of BBC Television Centre (22 March 2013)
I’m still too upset to talk about that closure. But I had to tell you, I had to open up to you, and I did there. Can’t read it now. Too upsetting.

2. I wish I’d written Veronica Mars (15 March 2013)
I do. I always have done, right from when I first got hooked on that show and right from when it seemed I spent each year’s holiday with my fingers crossed that this TV show would get renewed for another season. And certainly right from when I was crushed because it didn’t. Three seasons and out, that was what we had. But I wrote about this then because, miraculously, the show is coming back. Veronica Mars is now famously a movie that was funded by Kickstarter and one reason to boom at you about it then was that I wanted you to contribute to the movie just as I did. That reminds me: I swear I didn’t ask for any Kickstarter reward. Initially I specified that I didn’t want anything at all, I only wanted my money to go toward getting the film made. Then I thought about it and realised that the movie might not get a big release here in the UK, so I upped my original contribution and asked for a digital download.

But I still didn’t ask for anything else. So it was a surprise when a teeny-tiny Veronica Mars teeshirt arrived in the post. You will never see me wear it. My teeshirt days are gone. But if I had a meeting with you in the last two months and it was an especially cold day, you may have been in the same room as the garment and a couple of others on top of it.

Incidentally, I wrote that about Veronica Mars in March 2013 and it turns out that the film will be released in March 2014.

1. Lie to me (15 November 2013)
Head and shoulders over anything else I wrote in Self Distract in 2013, this was about lying. Specifically: if you are running a drama and you tell me spoilers about it, I want you to be lying to me. Lie to me a lot, lie to me good. The alternative is that I know everything in advance – like you do with soaps – and there are no gasps. It was a general point about how much is revealed in advance and how much that hurts dramas, but it was prompted by a particular Doctor Who issue: a story point that was quite small but if you didn’t know it in advance, was rather delightfully huge and happy.

Also, by the way, I’m lying.

That blog entry wasn’t the most popular of the year.

Not by a long way.

The actual, real, honest-to-goodness top one was actually Have you been telling people about us? from 3 January 2013. It was the one where I told you about the most popular blog posts of 2012. I can’t decide if that’s a good or a bad thing, but I know it’s remarkable to see the figures.

I hope all of those lovely people join you and me in Self Distract’s new 2014 home of

Thanks for reading. Also, happy new year.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Blue Captcha Image