Get up

The following takes place between smugness and embarrassment. Paragraphs happen in real time.

Listen, I have a thing. I have this accidental new gig talking about productivity – it’s a dull word but getting yourself more time to write or compose, it’s worth the odd dull word – and one crucially important aspect is to do with finding your best times to work. In an ideal world, with no day job or kids, there will be a time of day that just suits you the best. Maybe you’re a late night writer, for instance. You just are or you just aren’t.

My point is to look for that time, experiment around until you know when it is and then always do your best to keep that period clear. It’s simple and obvious enough, you get it.

Only, as an example, I generally tell people that I found my best time for writing is when I get up at 5am. The sole thing I stress and underline more than the fact that this is just an example, I am not recommending you do 5am too, is that I stress and underline and weep about how I loathe it. Getting up to write at 5am is all kinds of stupid and it is a damned curse that it’s when I happen to function the best. I would like put this functioning best capability to functioningly sleeping. And similarly, if you write best at midnight, I envy and applaud you. That’s when this should be done. That’s when real writing happens. Going to bed before midnight should be illegal.

But.

I’ve changed my mind.

Not about how stupid it is to get up at 5am and not one pixel about how stupid I am for doing it.

But it’s no longer just an example.

I’m afraid it’s a recommendation.

I fell off the productivity wagon a little while ago, coming off the back of a big book project. Plus I had a lot of evening speaking engagements and it was both crucial that I didn’t fall asleep in them and also knackering that I was doing them at all. Also, plus, and, lots of excuses. It has always been that the weekday 5am is inviolate except for when travel makes it impossible or other things in my schedule make it unwise.

Whatever the excuses and the number of excuses, the result was that I had a couple of weeks where it wasn’t practical to get up at 5am.

Yet I didn’t feel all that more rested and refreshed.

I felt rather bad, actually, and things were just not working out. A few rejections, a lot of very poor writing from me. I do a weekly email newsletter for my productivity site, The Blank Screen, and in it there is always a brief section that tells you what I’ve been writing lately. It is there to hopefully keep prodding you into doing your own writing, it is there to certainly prod me. And the last few have been feeble. Practically nothing going on. And so the newsletter that used to be a nice prod for me started to become a bit of a cattle prod in my side. Just for that section, I enjoy the newsletter. But lately not that section. (I’d like you to see the newsletter, it’s good. Do sign yourself up here.)

I don’t think I consciously connected the problems to the lack of 5am starts but about a week ago, I felt so overwhelmed with what was going on and what wasn’t being done, that I made myself get up at this stupid o’clock again. Not because it’s my best time but just that I needed the number of hours it gives you when you start that early and you don’t finish until late.

And since then I’ve pitched more successfully than I have in months. My new book is about 10,000 words further on. I thought of a new business, started it, announced it, got my first paying clients. We are now fully in the smugness section and I do apologise but there is embarrassment coming, honest. So yes, I can see I got up early and I can point to specific things that have gone well because of it. But I think the truth is that it’s me who has made them go well, not the clock. But the clock has got me some extra hours in the morning, it’s got them before the phones start ringing, it’s given me a head start every day and by 9am I feel I’ve done loads – because I’ve done loads.

So that’s it. It is 5am, Monday to Friday for me now, forever. Always.

Cue embarrassment.

Except today.

Last night I was at the Royal Television Society’s awards gala dinner in the Midlands and I think I must’ve passive drunk because my head is a jackhammer on a spin cycle. Also, I got to bed around 1am. And it’s going to be a late night with a lot of driving tonight. So yes, the excuses are back and I’m embarrassed. But I’ve got the buzz of the week’s work behind me, I’ve got a buzz from last night, actually, and I know that next week is going to be full of 5am starts so I am hoping that sheer momentum will carry me over today’s jackhammer lie-in.

I’d suggest we chat at 5am some time soon but we should be working, shouldn’t we?

New book out today: Filling the Blank Screen

Filling-the-Blank-Screen_600x900Last year, The Blank Screen book captured every single thing I knew about being a productive yet still creative writer. How to beat distractions. Get started. Cope with the day job, cope with deadlines, cope with other people – and cope with yourself too. There’s also an astonishingly popular bit in it about kettles. Tea-making aside, I am deeply proud of how useful the book has proved to people. Actually, hang on, how about this quote?

“Love this book, it is clever and witty and genuinely grapples with making an extra hour (or two) in the day. Inspiring and liberating. A real Can-Do manual. No creative should be without it.”

That was an out-of-the-blue email from Barbara Machin, creator of BBC’s Waking the Dead. Made my day, didn’t it? So did getting tweets at 5am from people saying they had finally finished their novels because of what I’d told them. Okay, being up and working and able to tweet right back at them that second was part of the fun.

But that’s the thing. People. The Blank Screen book became a workshop that I have now done all over the country. I’ve done versions for individuals – that’s intense but fantastic: ask me about that – and I’ve spoken at literary festivals, in universities, I’ve worked with new and amateur writers, I’ve worked with long-time professionals. Next week I’m in Newcastle and it is to spend a day with writers but also with journalists, musicians and actors. People who have to create, whose passion is in creating new work but who are having to do more of that and do it alongside so many other jobs that their creativity is under pressure. The work they live to do is being squeezed to one side like the credits on a TV show while they are having to run businesses or get day jobs.

I know that what I’ve got for them will help with everything they’re doing. That’s a great feeling, to actually know that this works. But what’s greater, for me personally, is that I do not know what they’ve got for me. I just know that they will have something.

It’s more or less exactly a year since The Blank Screen first came out and now I’ve learnt so much from so many people that I’m ecstatic to tell you today sees the official publication of a new book: Filling the Blank Screen. One hundred chapters of advice, tips, recommendations and daft anecdotes from a year of making more people more productive.

This new book is actually a distillation of more than a thousand articles on The Blank Screen news site and of more than a quarter of a million words written on there since November 2013. One hundred of the best, the most-talked about and the most-read pieces have been continued, developed, updated and given a nice scrub to make this new ebook. If you and I have talked at a workshop, I have stolen your brilliant idea and it’s in chapter 3.

Filling the Blank Screen is due to be released in paperback on 12 September and the ebook is out today.

The aim of this new book is not to replace The Blank Screen, I still know that will be useful to you and I hope also entertain. But Filling the Blank Screen is a burst of bite-sized pieces you can grab on the run and which tell you what to do to get things done. Read one piece a day and in a hundred days you’ll have had a good time and I’ll have the reputation for writing long books.

Everybody wins and it costs you only £2.99.

Quick aside? Since it’s you? Filling the Blank Screen is not the book I was planning to write this year. It really did come out of the unexpected success of the workshops and the news site. It felt like it was the book itself that wanted to be written. Which is startling and great, obviously, and I’m dancing here, but still it is not the book I was planning to write. Which means I am deep into the planned book and that’s what I should be working on right now. If only there were a couple of books out with great and tested advice about getting writing finished and beating distractions and putting the kettle on this minute.

It is a treat that I get to tell you these things. Thanks.