Recent Reads, Smiling Friends, Pingu Random House and more

Collage of recent reads (from left to right): The Martian; The Word for World is Forest; Windhaven; Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness; What It Is; Art Matters; Sum; Forty tales from the afterlife; The Road; Open Water

Issue #19 of my fortnightly newsletter went out yesterday. It’s loaded with a wealth of great content, including what I’ve been reading, watching and some of my favourite things right now.

You can read it now on Substack and get future issues like it straight into your inbox by subscribing.


John’s Journal: One Year Later

Screenshot of the John's Journal newsletter archive on Substack, showing the titles of issues 16-18.

A little over a year ago, I started a newsletter. At first, I sent it out the end of every month from August to December in 2021. Then starting this year, I increased the frequency to fortnightly. (Let’s just ignore July and August, though.)

I’m quite proud of how the newsletter has evolved over the past twelve months. In the early days, I emulated Austin Kleon’s weekly list of 10 things to help me get started. But I’ve since moved on and have been experimenting with a format I can call my own. And whilst I suspect the changes have not yet come to an end, I feel closer to finding a structure that works well for me than ever before.

My small community of readers have offered consistent positive feedback, which I’m very grateful for. I’ve quite often been impressed by how well certain issues were received.

As it’s been a little over a year, I thought I’d look back and highlight some of the newsletter’s best moments. I figured it would be a little celebration for first-day readers and a good introduction for new subscribers.


Redirecting my creative energy

After much inactivity, I finally managed to send out a new issue of my newsletter.

Here’s a general update taken from the newsletter’s writing report:

On Tuesday 12th July, I tested positive for COVID. I would continue to test positive until Sunday 24th. The illness and isolation, matched with that disgusting heatwave that hit parts of Britain with 40-degree temperatures, completely derailed my July.

I lost work. I lost what passed for a routine. I lost motivation. And at times I thought I’d lose my will to live.

The COVID symptoms were not so terrible, they were mostly gone after a week. But I was not prepared for how torturous the isolation would be.

During that time, I could not bring myself to blog, write fiction or poetry, or send out a newsletter. All I could manage was to write in my journal. Even if it was just to complain about my isolation. But amidst the whining, I found some clarity through thinking on the page.

A lot of creative energy has been misdirected towards the wrong kind of writing for me. I spend too much time thinking about what I can turn into short-form content, drafting and scrapping so many blog posts, rather than searching for stories. And telling stories is what I really love.

So, I’m going to spend August focusing on writing stories. I’m going to write some fiction, but I want to have a go at writing more personal stories too.


Finding out what breaks and seeing if I can fix it

I began writing at 14. Back then I wrote embarrassingly bad rap songs, which were often repetitive and were imitations of far more competent lyricists.

What amazes me now, though, is how consistent I used to be. Back then I would come home from school, sit in front of Microsoft Word for an hour and mash out a few verses and a chorus — every single line ending in rhyme.

But whenever I tried to pen lyrics into a notebook, I could never finish a song. None of the words ever looked right on paper. Rhymes did not come so easily, and every line felt forced.

Flash forward 11 years to now, I most enjoy drafting poetry by hand. In fact, pen and paper has become my favourite method of drafting anything creative.

In all the years I’ve been writing, never have I worked out what process works best for me. Whenever I think I’ve found an answer my system breaks, and I lose the habit once again.

That’s where I’m currently at as a writer, trialling new ways of working and seeing if it sticks or breaks. And if it does break, rather than abandoning it altogether and stalling my writing habit, I’m going to see what I can fix.


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: