Crunch

I wrote last week about pace. Well, strictly speaking, I wrote it the week before last. Days later, I boarded a plane and flew to the UK for a long weekend. Back in Cyprus, I attended a Symposium on financial crime.

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Pace

My writing is supported by people like you. The remainder of this post is reserved for Members. Membership costs £12 per year. For this princely sum, you will get access to subscriber only posts, direct access to a members chatroom , and a digital copy of any and all work that I publish in the year. Become a member.

Working tools 7 – Notebooks

Mike Hurley and Federico Viticci, two of my favourite podcasters, are fans of the “multi-pad lifestyle”. I believe the phrase may have been coined on Cortex, a show that Mike does with CGP Grey, but don’t quote me on that.

I live the multi-pad lifestyle too. They, of course, are talking about iPads. I’m talking about pads. Paper ones. You know, like notebooks. I use a lot of notebooks.

Notebooks
A small selection

Current Setup

Let me give you an insight.

1. I carry a pocket notebook and a writing instrument everywhere. When I wake, it is beside my bed. Then, it lives in my pocket or by my side all day. I use it to record anything and everything. An observation, a thought, an aide-memoire.

2. Bullet Journal is my daily driver. A free-format planner if you like. I track things in here and it serves as my task list and time-blocker.

3. Scratch pad or book. Sitting at my desk, I often think things out on paper. Or doodle. If I do this in the Bullet Journal, I would burn through them.

4. Novel Kit. I use medium/A5 size cahiers. These often come in three packs and I use a pack per novel. One is for plot, one is for characters and one is for research.

5. Learning. A medium or large book that lives in my office. I passionately believe in the importance of learning. Whether that be how to use an app, edit a photo or edit a website, I love to learn. I have one book for media skills, one for corporate compliance stuff and one for Greek language.

6. Procedures. Not the most exciting, but I have discovered that I have an enormous capacity to forget things. This leads to a loop of discovery, implementation, amnesia, which whilst fun, is not terribly efficient. I have started writing these up, and they exist in notebooks and digitally. I imagine that the more team-oriented ones will live in the digital world, whereas my own, – say, photography workflow, will live in a book.

7. Standard Memorandum. Here I record a single thought every day.

You can see why I bought a notebook company.

Benefits

Part of this extensive use is, I concede, a vehicle to allow me to use lovely stationery, but it does serve other purposes too.

I need to make space in my head. Getting things down on paper, allows me to forget them. Once one trusts the system, then having written something down, I can forget it and come back to it at a time that suits me. This is a key element of the Get Things Done methodology and many other productivity frameworks.

I find that taking notes helps me maintain attention. If I don’t, I am more than capable of completely blanking a fifteen minute video.

Reference: Not only can I refer back to notebooks as reminders, I can get a glimpse of what I was doing and feeling at specific times.

Notebooks are important to my workflow. It helps that I love them too.

Thinking Cap

In itself, writing is a straightforward activity. Pick up a writing instrument and put words onto a page. Alternatively, open an app and start typing. That’s it.
Not exactly rocket surgery, as TJ might say. By definition, the process is creative. It’s rare to have a novel, a chapter, or even a blog post fully-formed in the mind. The act of writing is forming the words to communicate that meaning one wishes to convey.

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Characters – The Antagonist

Last week I introduced you to the Protagonist, Sean. Locking him up in a cardboard folder has done him the world of good. He has emerged more likeable, balanced and fun to be around. Time now to meet Jana.

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Working Tools – 6. Writing Setup

Writing Setup

The photo is not staged. I got up from my chair, picked up my iPhone and took a picture. It’s 09:27 on a Friday morning. Mrs L has gone out to do the weekly grocery shop. Spice is in her crate, just to the right of this picture. Once this draft is written, I’ll wake and take her out into the garden for some play and some training.

I would like to be in my office – but I’m not for a couple of reasons.

  1. The office is a converted car port. As such, it has no heating and it’s cold today.
  2. Spice needs attention. We are crate-training her, which requires some supervision and some energy. She is not at the stage where she can be left alone for long periods. It’s easier to bring some work kit to the the kitchen than it would be to take her and the crate to the office.

I could equally have brought my laptop upstairs and used that. I chose, in fact always choose, to bring the ipad instead.

Why the ipad?

I’m not asking you, I’m asking myself.

  • Footprint. I like just having the magic keyboard in front of me and the screen separate. It means I can put the screen off-centre, which I enjoy. Why? Search me.
  • Footprint II. As my workflow changes, this writing setup works with me. I push the keyboard to one side and pick up my notebook. Everything is much easier to move around.
  • The keyboard. I enjoy the magic keyboard, and it is seldom taken down by a speck of dust or a crumb. The MacBook Pro? Well…
  • Focus. I know there is a split-screen mode on the iPad Pro. Periodically, I learn it, then forget it again. The singular focus of one task / one app, is a huge plus for me. I have no notifications on the ipad, and I will remain on the Ulysses edit screen until I’m finished with the post.

Environmental

I listen to a lot of podcasts, but not when I’m writing. Writing, I need some music. Spice and I have settled on some chilled jazz. I asked Siri to play some mellow jazz on the homepod, and, brace yourself, she did. As you can see, it has had the desired effect on Spice, and I’m enjoying it too.

Dog in my writing setup
Spice enjoying the jazz

Conclusion

The iPad Pro is great. So is my laptop. Both run my favourite software for writing (Ulysses). Not surprisingly, I have a top quality range of notebooks to choose from.

For the first time in a long time, none of my Apple kit is the latest and greatest. There is a new generation of ipad pros out. A new Apple Watch. An improved MBP. iPhone X with letters appended. There is a reasonable chance that I will soon be in an Apple Store, unsupervised. Of all the goodies there, I will sneak a look at the new iPads, but I imagine will leave, empty-handed.

The writing setup doesn’t do the work. I use a mix of the analogue and the digital, and I am absolutely certain that my workflows will continue to evolve, but when push comes to shove, there is no substitute for sitting down and getting on with it.

Working Tools – 5. Ulysses

Ulysses

I wrote here about the software that I use most, and in this post, I explore writing options in more detail.

History

In the corporate world, all writing was in e-mail clients or Microsoft Word. I’m old enough to remember when Wordperfect was THE word processor. (To my great surprise, it’s still going strong, apparently.)

Scrivener

Once I declared myself “a writer”, I, like many, bought Scrivener. I suspect that buying Scrivener is a rite of passage, a declaration that one is serious about writing.

Scrivener is a powerful piece of software, developed by a writer for his own use. Over time, more and more options were added, and the result is an entire infrastructure on its own. Research, planning, outlining, editing and writing all have their place. One can write in any font and publish in another in any number of formats.

I imagine that I was not the first, nor the last, to take one look at the complexity of “Scriv.”, and immediately started using it as if it were Word. Don’t get me wrong, It is a superb piece of software, capable of doing whatever one might need done, to write a novel; but intuitive, it isn’t. Learning to harness the software is a project on its own.

Wilderness

In one of my frequent quests for simplicity, I abandoned the complexity of both hardware and software and bought a Chromebook.

“Privacy be damned, knickers to complexity! I’m going to type directly into a Google doc on Google drive.”

Ahead of my time, I did this before Google made a a good Chromebook. My aged-brain could not quite buy into only having documents in the ether, so I soon returned to the Cupertino fold.

I tried many apps for writing. Pages, Bear, Drafts, Ulysses, Apple Notes, WordPress App, and probably more. None really worked for me, for one reason or another.

Ulysses

Listening to tech podcasts, I was intrigued by people singing the praises of Markdown and of Ulysses for focused writing. I knew that Markdown was the creation of John Gruber, but assumed that it was some sort of coding language. My experience of Ulysses was that it was mostly a blank screen. Nice in as far as a blank page is nice, but not exactly revolutionary.

I determined to explore a little more. Turns out that Markdown is all about simplicity. I had missed much of what Ulysses could do. A particular appeal was that my Mac would sync with my iOS devices. Scriv. was threatening an iPad app, and had been for years (it now has one.)

On The Sweet Setup, I found a course called “Learn Ulysses”, (which is still around for $37), which I took.

Ah.

This is a clever piece of software. On the surface, an uncomplicated interface. A digital notebook in which to write. Yet, hit a few keyboard shortcuts, and you are into a world of organisation, customisations and tools. More than enough for me, without being overwhelming.

At the end of the course, there were case studies, by real people. One of these was by Matt Gemmell. Much of my workflow is an adaptation of his, which is outlined both on the Ulysses site and in the Sweet Setup course.

Recommendations

Full disclosure. I receive no payment or incentive from Matt Gemmell, The Sweet Setup or Ulysses. Nor would I wish to, I am simply sharing my opinion.

Ulysses is a powerful application that I now use for all of my writing. The novel, blog posts, corporate reports, everything. I do so, because it’s a joy to use, both on my Mac and my iPad. It’s £36 per year. Money well-spent.

The Sweet Setup Course held my hand and walked me through the functionality of the app that was not immediately obvious. Could I have discovered it myself? Yes. However, taking the course was a shortcut, and eliminated frustration. $37 seems reasonable.

Matt Gemmell’s novels, Changer and Toll are excellent. His website exemplary and I have shamelessly adopted much of his method. Go have a nose around his site. I think you’ll like it.

Draft Wrangling

Book 1, draft 1, is 85,000 words. Book 2, draft 1 is 50,400. Both were written quickly (I won Nanowrimo 2015 with book 2).

I blazed away, focused on hitting word counts. If I faltered, I hit the forums, or Twitter, where well-meaning cheerleaders enthused and urged us not to worry about structure or plot holes. All of that could be fixed later. After all, didn’t Hemingway write, “the first draft of anything is shit”? Or was it Stephen King?

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My writing is supported by readers like you. The remainder of this post is reserved for Members. Membership costs £12 per year. For this princely sum, you will get access to subscriber only posts, direct access to a members chatroom , and a digital copy of any and all work that I publish in the year. Join now.

Members

Members

4 minute read

I’m building a new lifestyle, here in the sun. Mags and I packed up and moved to Cyprus at the end of September 2018. If you are interested in our journey so far, click on the category “Living the Dream” which catalogues our progress.

I do a few things to keep me busy. Nero’s Notes is a company that sells notebooks and stationery online. Lime Training and Consultancy Ltd  offers anti money laundering expertise. I like to hang out with my family, which for me, means Margaret, and our canine sidekick, Spice. I play golf.

Each pastime rewards me. With revenue, satisfaction, joy or a combination of these. Thankfully, I do not try to earn money from my golf; I would be very hungry if I did rely on it to put food on the table.

My real passion is writing. I love to write, both on paper or on a keyboard. I love talking about writing. Agonising about writing. Complaining about writing. Writing about writing. In February 2015, I confidently posted here about writing my novel. April 2016, I was going to publish.

Ah.

In a matter of hours it will be 2019. I still haven’t published a novel. That’s despite taking time off other work to write the book.

Why not?

The answer to that will run long, and will certainly run the risk of being defensive, and self-serving. I shall try to be concise, and honest.

Imagine starting a new job. You arrive, eager and excited.

A desk? You need a desk? You’ll have to buy one. With your own money. A computer? Yes, you’ll need to buy that too. Pen? Paper? Yes, that too. You need to buy it all.

You realise that these things actually cost a bit. A lot actually, if you like the good stuff. Undeterred, you rationalise that these tools are important. You will use them every day to work; to work at being a writer. You’re investing in your future. The earnings will cover it.

Earnings, yes. Those. How much will you earn? Well, for the first eighteen months, nothing. Nada. Zip. After that, you can self-publish and you never know, you might get a thousand or two in sales. That might translate to a few hundred after costs.

Hmmm…hoping for more than a few hundred? Fame? Fortune? It takes years to be an overnight success, you know.

It takes hard work, talent, hard work, luck, hard work, timing and hard work. Did I mention hard work?

And with all that, the chances are that you will never earn back the money you invested in equipment, let alone the thousands of hours of your time.

That’s why not.

Why now?

Having spent a couple of years “being a writer”, which did involve some writing as well as quite a lot of buying writing ephemera, I ended up with not one, but two, first drafts. I had even done some work on combining those two drafts into one timeline. Then I stopped. Nero’s Notes took much of my time, Lime grew. I decided that these two things had better earning potential.

While that was undoubtedly true, it was not the whole answer.

I don’t like the idea of editing or of trying to find a publisher, or self-publishing. I don’t like the idea of putting hundreds more hours into marketing, with huge portions of any revenue going to third parties.

Those things too, are undoubtedly true. They are not the whole answer either. Yes, the work is daunting, Yes, the return per hour will be tiny.

The real obstacle is fear. Pride. Imposter syndrome. For many reasons, I measure success in pounds and pence. Publishing will crystallise the loss. Somewhere, I will have a spreadsheet that starkly demonstrates that writing is a waste of my time.

Now. I’ve told you. You know the truth. That’s a relief.

I’m going to edit the drafts. I’m going to publish – first to members, and then to the wider-world.

Membership – A new model

As I publish books, they will be for sale through all the usual channels, with all the usual cuts being taken by the middle-men. However – members of this site will already have copies as part of their membership.

Members will pay £12 a year. A pound a month.

Members will get access to subscriber only posts, on writing, publishing and productivity, direct access to a members chatroom, where I will hang out, and a digital copy of any and all work that I publish in the year, before it is available on general release.

Members act as both the carrot and the stick. Revenue (after payment fees) comes direct to me, not to Amazon or Apple. Having people willing to commit upfront creates a huge incentive to repay that faith, to overcome imposter syndrome and to publish.

This approach is not new. I subscribe to several websites with similar models. The Pen Addict for one. I was inspired to write this post by Matt Gemmell, who has an excellent membership scheme and website. He has also written two superb novels, Changer and Toll, which I heartily recommend. Buy them, or even better, become one of his members.

How to join

If you would like to help, then become a member of stuartlennon.com, or give a membership as a gift.

I will still be publishing many posts on the site for everyone, after all, I want people to find me. However, a proportion of posts will be exclusive to members. Non-members will see the following message.

“This post is reserved for Members. Membership costs £12 per year. For this princely sum, you will get access to subscriber only posts, direct access to a members chatroom , and a digital copy of any and all work that I publish in the year.”

Naturally, there will be a link to become a member.

I don’t anticipate a tidal wave of people signing up. There are already many, many demands on our wallets. However, if you do feel able to become a member, then I’ll do my very best to give you value for money, and you will be helping me to live the dream.

Working Tools – 4. Bullet Journal

You may know that I run Nero’s Notes, where I sell notebooks and the odd bit of stationery. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that I use quite a lot of notebooks myself.

I am resolved for 2019 to keep a bullet journal, or indeed, a series of them. If you are not familiar with #bulletjournal, where have you been? That aside, go check out this excellent overview from the man that created the system. You can read about my earlier experiences with the journal here.

Quarterly System

I have decided to use one book for a quarter, at which point, I will move on to a new one, regardless of how much space remains in the current book. This is a departure; typically I flog a notebook until every single page is covered.

Why the change?

It’s all related to goals and flexibility. I do like a bit of goal setting. Traditionally, I draw up a list of annual target and goals for each area of my life, the hope being, that these will guide my every action throughout the next twelve months. It may be my age, it may be the scale of my endeavours, or it may be the modern world – but I now find that twelve months is a very long time. Therefore, I’m splitting the year into quarters, and setting goals for thirteen weeks rather than fifty two.

I will still consider the outcomes that I’m hoping for at the end of 2019, but in terms of actionable items, I’m going to focus on just the first quarter. As that quarter comes to an end, I’ll conduct a review and set targets for the next three months. There is nothing original about this approach – I’m sure that I have read it in several different places and guises. However, I’m just co-opting the time frame, in an effort to keep my goals relevant to my reality.

My goals are more diverse now, than they have ever been. There’s Nero’s Notes, Lime Training and Consultancy, this website, 1857 and my novel – just in the ‘Work’ sphere. Breaking things down into quarters forces me to focus on small, “doable” actions. This, I hope, will help ensure that my goals do not overwhelm me and become irrelevant.

Migration

A part of the bullet journal method involves a process of migration. From day to day, month to month or even journal to journal. This is a kind of enforced review and will keep reminding me of the goals set. That is not to say that they cannot change, only that if they do it will be something that happens with intention, rather than by default.

Furthermore, having lots of pages available in each journal will encourage me to make more notes. This is in part inspired by the concept that when looking to have a good ideas, a great way to get going is to focus on having lots of ideas. Joey Cofone, CEO and co-founder of Baron Fig, reminded me of this on a productivity podcast that I listened to just the other day.

Conclusion

You can find my 2019 set up here – and I will continue to update here on the site (category Journal), for better or worse.