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Beyond Bullet Journal – this time it’s personal!

As I’ve been blogging about for the past few weeks, I’ve taken up bullet journaling as a way to get myself more organised and productive. My little Midori Passport now goes everywhere with me, as both to-do list and writer’s notebook, and I love it – but I wasn’t so happy with the rest of my setup. For my to-do lists, BuJo (as it’s apparently known in the community) is perfect, but for personal journals it’s just too, well, impersonal. I wanted something that captured my creative life in more detail than a dry list of activities.

Because, let’s face it, we’ve all seen awesome-looking journals in movies and TV shows, whether it’s Indiana Jones’ archaeological secrets, or the Hunters’ notebooks that feature in the TV show Supernatural – and whilst most people’s lives may be far less exciting (and admittedly lacking the deadly traps and soul-sucking demons), they’re still full of moments worth recording.

Journal scene from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”
Journal scene from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”

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Bullet Journal + Spiraldex

As mentioned in my earlier posts about Bullet Journal, I like to keep my personal and day-job notebooks completely separate, so that I’m not fretting about work issues when I’m at home and vice versa. However another reason is that the two areas need very different management styles.

Do Not Feed the Elephants
Do Not Feed the Elephants

My day job is funded by a number of different research grants, and each funding body wants to know how their money is being spent. I therefore need to log my activities on a pretty fine-grained level (15 minute increments is the recommendation), and each activity needs enough space to record what was done and for which grant.A summary of this information gets transferred to an electronic timesheet system at the end of each month, and my journal provides a more detailed paper trail should the auditors ever decide to pay us a visit…

For this type of log, a conventional “appointments calendar” layout is ideal. I use a Leuchtturm with dotted grid paper and write out each day’s calendar as I get to it – it only takes a few moments each morning, and allows me to intersperse my time log with pages of notes on specific topics, designs for web pages, and so on. I don’t really do much bullet-journalling in this notebook any more, since I manage my ToDos electronically using Omnifocus.

For my personal timekeeping, on the other hand, the emphasis is on improving productivity – I’m much more interested in the type of activity than the details of which task was done. How much time am I spending consuming content (TV, films, games, internet) compared to producing it (fiction, blog posts, drawing)? This is where Spiraldex comes in.

Spiraldex is a modification by Kent of Oz of Chronodex, which was created by Patrick Ng as a way of graphically recording your day’s activity using the metaphor of an analogue clock. You decide what activity categories you want to log, assign each one a colour, then fill in the diagram as appropriate. I’m using a further-modified version (left) that starts at midnight instead of 6am – perfect for night owls, shift-workers or weird people like me who wake at the crack of dawn!

Just to be thorough, I log my creative activities in three separate categories: writing, including outlining and editing; author business, which is anything writing-related but not actual work on the prose, i.e. everything from blogging to doing my accounts; and “other”. This last is a catch-all category for my non-writing hobbies (journalling, drawing, knitting, spinning) and also reading, which is a more active pursuit than merely consuming media, as well as (in the case of reading fiction) tangentially related to my writing career.

I’ve created a PDF with a dozen copies of the diagram on it, so I just need to print out a sheet every couple of weeks and cut them out. Each day I pop a blank spiraldex into my Midori Passport and transfer it to my MTN when I complete my day’s journal entry.

Designing data visualisation is something I do regularly in my day-job, so I appreciate the elegance of this method – it gives you an instant visual summary of your day, which means there’s no getting away from the fact that you spent three hours watching Doctor Who when you should have been writing! I’ve only been using been using it a few weeks, and already it’s making me more productive.

CONvergence schedule

This year I’m an Invited Participant at CONvergence in Bloomington, Minnesota, and they’re certainly making me work for my free membership 🙂

My panels are:

Thursday, 2nd July

2:00pm : Can You Ever Leave a Universe Behind?

5:00pm : Avengers: Age of Ultron

Friday, July 3

2:00pm : Grimm Fan Panel

Sunday, July 5

9:30am : Reinventing Shakespeare

11:00am : Whedon and Dystopias

I’m possibly also doing a reading with some fellow Angry Robot authors – more details of that if and when it’s confirmed!

Coming out of hibernation

With spring finally sprung and that pesky eclipse passed, it’s time to poke my nose out of my writing cave and venture out into the world again. So, let the blogging recommence!


X-17 leather refillable journal and Parker fountain pen[/caption]

The most urgent business this spring is prepping for another attack on my work-so-not-in-progress. To get myself in the mood I’ve been clearing out my home office, buying some yummy stationery, charging up my iPad and of course catching up on back episodes of Writing Excuses, the best darned writers’ podcast on the planet.

That set me up for the main task, which is to go through my old notes, cherry-pick the ideas I still love and work those up into the basis of the new series. I like the world I’m working on too much to start from scratch, but I think a shift of emphasis in the world-building may be all I need to bring the project into focus.

I have a few more days to finish off these preparations, then it’s down to business – I have a week-and-a-bit off work, and I aim to dedicate a good chunk of time each day to plotting and outlining, so that I can start a fresh draft and get back to regular writing. One thing I know for sure – this novel ain’t gonna write itself!


Since I don’t have a new book out this year, I’m cutting back a little on convention attendance and focusing on the ones I enjoy the most. This year I’ll definitely be going to:

3rd-6th July: CONvergence in Bloomington, Minnesota

7th-9th August: Nine Worlds in London

23rd-25th October: FantasyCon in Nottingham

and probably BristolCon (in September) too. This means I’ll be missing EasterCon, and therefore won’t see most of my UK peeps until summer – boo! On the plus side, it gives me more time to get some writing under my belt before I have to go out in public, which is definitely A Good Thing!


This time last year I attempted NaNoWriMo despite being exhausted from attending two conventions in a row whilst suffering from a heavy cold. Needless to say I failed to finish – and I’ve been struggling to get my writing mojo back ever since.

With November looming once more I briefly considered giving NaNoWriMo a try, but I’ve done even less preparation than I did last year, which for me is a recipe for disaster. Also, given that I haven’t written a single sentence of fiction in months, attempting 1,667 words a day from a standing start is totally setting myself up for failure.

Thus, I have decided to use the NaNo vibe to set myself a target of planning a novel in November, which I will then write over the course of the winter. Here are my goals:

  1. To have a complete outline by November 30th
  2. To start writing the novel on December 1st, initially with a minimum target of 50 words per day.
  3. To increase the daily minimum until I’m writing at a productive rate

Now, 50 words might sound ridiculously low. Certainly it’s way too low to get a novel finished in a reasonable amount of time. The point is, it’s a minimum. If I feel like writing more, great! In fact I suspect that once I get going, my daily average is going to be way above that. I’ll probably not hit NaNoWriMo levels, except maybe on weekends, but that’s OK as long as I’m making solid progress.

I’m deliberately setting the bar really, really low to begin with so that I can’t wriggle out of writing every day. Fifty words is almost nothing. A simple three-sentence paragraph is almost enough to hit that target. (<- 38 words) No, the 50-word minimum is precisely calculated to be low enough not to seem an unassailable target even when I’m really tired, but long enough to add substance to the story.

Before I wind up, I’d like to thank Peter Newman for running a “Getting Unstuck” workshop at BristolCon, which helped shake some of these ideas loose. I only signed up at the last minute, since as a pro I don’t usually have much interest in writing workshops, but I find I’m really missing being in a regular writers’ group and being able to talk craft issues with my peers. Sure I chat with writer friends at conventions, but we usually only talk about our works-in-progress in vague terms – we’re socialising, not engaging in critique.

So, that’s my plan for Winter 2014/15. I aim to post about my progress periodically – probably at least weekly, to keep myself on track. If all goes to plan, I’ll have a first draft completed next spring!

Book Anniversary giveaway

Since it’s been a whole year since I had any new fiction out – yikes! – I thought I’d cheer everyone up with another giveaway 🙂

This time last year I had two pieces published: the final volume of the Night’s Masque trilogy, plus a short story in the BFS anthology Unexpected Journeys. I wasn’t able to give away any books until December, as it took a while to receive my author copies, but this year I can mark the occasion in style… Read more

My BristolCon schedule

It’s my last convention of 2014 soon, and it looks like I’ll be going out with a bang. I have two panels at BristolCon, one of them as moderator. Since I know most of my fellow panellists pretty well by now, this is going to be a lot of fun!

Common Writing Problems Q&A (11am, Room 2)

When the wheels come flying off your story and it dives over a cliff in flames, how do you get it back on the road again? Editors see the same problems in fiction over and over again – we talk about YOUR problems, and give you suggestions to help you overcome them.

Robert Harkess (Mod), Gareth L. Powell, Terry Jackman, Anne Lyle, Snorri Kristjansson

Rogues and Ruffians, Pirates and Thieves (7pm, Room 1)

From Han Solo to Loki to Locke Lamora, the scoundrel has enduring appeal in SF and fantasy. What is it we all like about a bad boy (or girl?) Who are the best SFF rogues, are pirates better than thieves, and how do you write a good bad good guy without getting completely confused?

Anne Lyle (Mod), Huw Powell, Ben Jeapes, Gaie Sebold, Lor/Rudie

Hope to see you there!

Guest post: Kameron Hurley on combat in fiction

This week I’m delighted to host an article by award-winning author Kameron Hurley, whose Bel Dame Apocrypha trilogy is at last being published in the UK. Kameron and I first met in 2012 at Chicon 7, where she was giving away books if you ate a bug (dried mealworms and crickets, designed for human consumption, I would add!); I ate several bugs but did not take a book, for the sake of my luggage allowance, but would heartily recommend her work if you’re into SF with tough female characters. Read more


I thought I’d better write about why I haven’t been posting much here or on social media of late. Don’t panic, nothing’s amiss – I’ve just been somewhat distracted by major goings-on at my day job. I don’t normally post about personal stuff on here, but as it’s been impacting my writing and internet presence, I wanted to reassure people I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth 🙂 Read more

NaNoWriMo 2013: Week 4

This week was the week I had to finally admit to myself that I wasn’t going to make it to 50k in November. No way. No how. And that’s OK, because

a) I have some solid reasons (mainly a nasty virus that’s been dogging me since late October), but more importantly

b) I haven’t stopped writing Read more