Write lists

Austin Kleon’s “HOW TO BE HAPPY” list from his book Keep Going

Does anyone else love making lists? Quite often I love making a list more than anything I’ve listed.

Lists bring order to the chaotic universe. I love making lists. Whenever I need to figure out my life, I make a list. A list gets all your ideas out of your head and clears the mental space so you’re actually able to do something about them.

Austin Kleon, Keep Going

Austin Kleon, in his book Keep Going, notes the benefits of writing and keeping lists. He mentions numerous creatives who make lists, from artists like David Shrigley and John Porcellino to writers like Steven Johnson and Mary Roach. List-making is a way to curate a collection of all our messy thoughts and put them into order.

In my last post, I talked about writing through the noise in my head. Sometimes writing a list helps cut through that noise.

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Five newsletters I like

I’ll be launching my own email newsletter very soon, and so I thought I’d take this opportunity to share five newsletters I regularly read and enjoy.

Assuming you’re like me and you check your email inbox at least once per day, newsletters can be a great way to follow the work of your favourite content creators. There’s no interference from an algorithm that causes you to miss the latest update. Instead, you’ve invited your favourite creator into your inbox.

Email newsletters come in many forms. Some are similar to blogs, focusing on a particular theme or subject matter and writing content centred around it. Whilst mine will be a curated newsletter. What this means is that it will feature a collection of links and general info all in one place with the aim of sending you to other pages on the web.

The following five fall into one of these two categories:

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Reading lists and red flag books

A red flag over the front covers of six books (from left to right): The Millionaire Next Door, Atlas Shrugged, Zero to One, Can't Hurt Me, Think and Grow Rich, and How to Win Friends and Influence People.

If you invite me round your house and you have a bookshelf, I’m going to have a nose. Wherever there’s books, I want to know what’s there—even if I know I’ll never read anything of what’s on the shelf.

Perhaps that’s why I also love a good online reading list. Whether it’s a blog post or a Twitter thread or even a video, I’ll stop and read/listen.

So when I stumbled upon Brian Feroldi’s thread of 20 books that should be read again and again (back in early July), I stopped my mindless Twitter-binge and had a scroll. My reaction was much the same as everyone else: a feeling of despair at the soullessness of such a list.

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The male gaze is inverted in Eliza Clark’s compelling book “Boy Parts”

I got handsy. It’s hard to just look, isn’t it? It’s hard to look, and not touch, not squeeze, or prod, or squash all that soft, private skin they show me.

It takes a compelling book to compel me to write about it. But that’s exactly what Eliza Clark’s Boy Parts is, a compulsive read that gripped my attention so successfully my eyes did not glaze over a single word. When I’d turned the last page, I craved more.

Boy Parts paperback cover, published by Influx Press (2020)

Through the eyes of the protagonist, Irina Sturges, we get a subversive take on the male gaze. A photographer who specialises in—shall we say revealing—photos of men, the male flesh is for Irina to scrutinise.

Whether we’re knowingly aware or not, we are well-acquainted with the male gaze in our media and literature. For those unclear as to what the male gaze refers to, Wikipedia defines the male gaze as:

[The] act of depicting women and the world, in the visual arts and in literature, from a masculine, heterosexual perspective that presents and represents women as sexual objects for the pleasure of the heterosexual male viewer.

The unique lens of Irina Sturges gives us a story where men are objects. It pushes us to think about the way women have been framed in our media for decades. But the narrative is more than just an inverted gaze, it’s a story where we can never be sure of reality. Victim blaming and gaslighting galore, Irina’s world is tinged by trauma and the lines between pain and pleasure are blurred. Told predominantly through her voice, whether we are meant to sympathise with Irina is a decision best left to the reader.

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Ten lessons I’ve learnt so far from starting to write a novel

A month ago, I would not have envisioned even attempting to write a novel at this stage in my career. But then a literary agent asked if I had 25 pages of a work-in-progress to share, and I realised I wanted to say, “Yes.” So I’ve started to write one.

It’s very early days, far too early to share any concrete details publicly, but I thought it was worth writing about ten lessons I’ve learnt (mostly about myself) since I started writing it.

1. I’m not much of a gardener

My project has grown in the telling. Initially, it was conceived as a single short story. Then I decided to make it a trilogy of short stories. But then I had more ideas, so it became a collection of interconnected stories. It has now settled into its final form (I hope): a novel.

Therefore, I had a lot of key plot points and characters worked out quite some time ago. So I wrote my opening line—also worked out months ago—and I was confident a second line would follow.

Not only did the second line not come easy, but the next several were a physical pain to type.

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On kindness vs. niceness

From Peter Capaldi’s final monologue as the Twelfth Doctor: “Always try to be nice, but never fail to be kind.”

I am a Whovian. Always have been, and I always will be. And the Doctor, in my eyes, perfectly embodies the difference between “niceness” and “kindness.”

In the Twelfth Doctor’s final speech, delivered with great emotion by one of the best actors to have played the role, he makes a distinction between being nice and being kind. The latter of which he places the emphasis on, and he’s right to do so. Nice is not the goal. Kindness is.

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Winner of the Green Shoots Writing Competition 2021

On Sunday, I received some unexpected but wonderful news. It was announced that I had won the Green Shoots Writing Competition, run by the Essex Book Festival. And I’ve spent the past couple of days trying to put into words how happy this has made me.

The public announcement of the Green Shoots Writing Competition winner posted to Instagram by @essexbookfest.

For context:

The competition was open to writers between the ages of 18 and 28, who were asked to submit an eco-themed short story of no more than 2,000 words. All pieces had to be prose and were to be submitted with no identifying information within the document. Each story was then assessed on its own merits, their authors completely anonymous.

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Always writing, never written

For several years now, I’ve defined myself as a writer. It’s the only label I’ve ever felt comfortable with or enjoyed. And it’s never felt like a lie. I always feel like I’m writing. Right up until someone wants to read something I’ve written. That’s when the conversation gets a little… awkward.

“Have you written anything I can read?” When I get asked this question, my first thought is to wonder if I’ve written anything even I’d want to read.

“Well what do you write about?” Good question! Unfortunately, the answer is that I try to write a bit of everything, which is really no different from saying I write nothing. They’re both equally so non-specific as to be useless answers.

“Are you working on anything right now?” Yes: a blog, an article, a poem and a short story that isn’t very short at all. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. Sometimes it’s even true.

I decided to total up my word counts from 2020. This includes the short fiction I drafted, blog posts I never published and the blog posts I did publish. Looking at the result, I might have felt better about myself if I had added all the words in my Notes app and all those job applications for companies that ghosted me.

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