2014 – thoughts for the year ahead

Jan 07

I’ve got some work to do and some righteous playing too. Last year I stopped being just a writer, see this post, and this year I’ve got some interesting things planned. Some will pan out, some won’t and either result is good. Usually the things that do pan out don’t always look the same as how you imagined them anyway, and often for the better. So here we go.

1. Be lucky.
Seize opportunities, expect all conversations to go well, reframe ‘didn’t happens’ as lucky escapes.


An expedition like this perhaps? Or maybe something altogether different…

2. Plan an expedition for 2015.
Already planning one with an ex team-GB pal. Just in prelim talks and going to test out logistics and kit in Feb, April or both.

3. Pitch TED prize.
I found a useful piece of economic data that could change the lives of millions. I intend to research and confirm it and if successful pitch it to TED. Add in a social media and website home as well. Nominations for the 2015 TED Prize will close at 11:59pm ET on Monday, March 31, 2014. If anyone would like to nominate me ahead of time feel free: http://www.ted.com/pages/prize_nominate

4. Develop business
I’ve identified an education business that’s ripe to be explored. So first order is test the market to see how robust it is. Define what the product will eventually look like. Then if confirmed buy kit and test it in the field with a local, national and international trial.

5. Be away from the desk.
Simple really, crack on with logging the walks for my mountain leader qualification. Get on a couple of trips.

6. Talk more.
I love the presenting/acting side of my work and I love meeting people. Nurturing and taking opportunities to do both should be seized often.

7. Write up my PHD proposal.
I had to put this off last year due to family commitments. This year I just need to get it done. Actually there are two research areas, so write both and see which feels ‘right’.

If it isn’t working, it’s a sunk cost. Either fix it or walk away.
Go back to number 1.

That’s it. This time in 2015, I’ll do the same again and see how I’ve progressed.

Definitely less of this though:

What have you got planned?

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather
Read More

Wattpad’s most followed user…gosh that’s me apparently!

Nov 19

With over half a million reads and 2700 followers Wattpad just contacted me to tell me I’m their “most followed user”, which is rather nice. I don’t doubt that some newer member with a more frequent publishing schedule and more time to chat on their hands will soon zoom past me…hang on a moment though, I’m sabotaging praise. Yay me! And thank you readers!

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather
Read More

Love your writing, love life…

Oct 15

There’s a general strategy that indie authors are applying this year:

1. Write fiction.
2. Make it a series or serial.
3. Write more quickly than you are now.
4. Use bookbub.
5. Do a perma-free.

And that’s cool…if it works for you. But what if it doesn’t? I’ve recently relearned to touch type, planned a series, got my marketing plan, tested a formatting workflow, started writing it at a blistering pace and then found emotionally I’m not connecting with it. Yes, it could be the characters, or the setting, maybe I’ve over-planned this time, maybe it’s the ‘lergy the kids have given me, or maybe I really want to write non-fiction. That’s where I made my living as a writer for many years in TV, brands and journalism after all.

Maybe I’m reacting to the whole churnalism feel of the new publishing world. When I used to retrain TV production companies to stop thinking in terms of glorious one-offs and think in terms of 26-52 episodic runs TV lost it’s appeal, same with top-and-tailing press releases and calling it journalism.

So I’m putting a stop to it. I’m going back to writing what I love, going back to living a life of adventure (and balancing that with being a good dad and accidental scientist), life is for living damn it, not just treading water on auto-pilot.

If you need your social proof, JA Konrath’s rules for writing and making millions include this little nugget:

1. Love what you’re doing. This is a brutally tough business, and if you aren’t in love with writing save yourself a lot of heartache and go do something else. 

Nuff said, I love living and writing. See you on the flipside with some more real world goodness, bad assness and all-round authenticity.

No more hiding behind the keyboard, maybe it's the South Pole next time


facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather
Read More

Writing in Public – getting up to speed 3k, 5k, 10k words per day?

Oct 04

Want to know how to make writing fun and easy again? Here’s how. I’m back at my desk and working at a new, fictional, series project. So far it’s a blast, mainly because I’ve been mentored by some successful US indie authors. They have inspired me to do several things.


Write fast.

To do this I’ve learnt to touch type again. I learned in school and forgot how. It took me only a few days using Typing Tournament to learn again. Primarily a game for kids but it works just as well for adults. I hit about 41 words-per-minute now, which is still 9 WPM off my two-finger speed of 50 WPM. So while that might seem like a step back, it isn’t. I’m still getting 1000 words-per-hour down and whereas that was as fast as I can go with two fingers my ten finger typing will only pick up speed over time as my fingers get used to remapping the keys and they gain strength.

I’m tempted to get one of these classic typewriter docks configured for the iPad. It’d make a great typing workout.


Spend more time writing.

So it takes me roughly an hour to write 1000 words. The more time I spend at the machine the more words I will write. That’s simple math right? I’ve started easily, 3000 words per day. I use this as my bench mark and a warm up. Here’s what I’ve achieved this week:

Daily word target: 3000

Average words typed: 3139

Weekly total words typed: 12555

Bear in mind I can only work a four day week because of childcare commitments the rest of the week. If I was typing five days a week that would be 15694 words this week. But don’t worry I’ll achieve that next week. My goal for next week is a minimum of 4k words per day. I know that’s achievable as I’ve already hit 3500 today, easily. And I’ve done it before. Anyone practicing their writing regularly can achieve 5k per day or more.

But how many hours have I actually been writing for?

13:52:00 according to my word processor Atlantis. So if my working week (8am-5pm x 4) = 36 hours, there’s a lot of hours left to make good use of. If we took a conservative 25 hours a week writing time (you’ve gotta eat and check email after all) then we’re talking around 22500 words per week at a speed of approximately 900 wpm.

That’s a book to average-length first draft every 4-5 weeks.


Rewrite less.

I tend to edit the crap out of things. I have noticed over time that more editing ≠ better writing. Yes, you need to take the cliched dross and the typos out, but that’s as far as it goes. Dean Wesley Smith has written extensively on this over on his blog. These two posts are some of the most fun a writer can have:

Writing Fast is Bad

Writing is Hard

I sent DWS a quote from an interview with Lee Child on how he approaches things, here’s what Child said:

I have a kind of two-steps-forward, one-step-back process. At the start of every day I revise what I wrote the day before, and then press ahead. At the end of the book I’m always vaguely aware of one or maybe two sections that are a bit loose, so I duck back and tighten them up. But I don’t really do a second draft, as such. I just finished the book that will appear in 2004 — wrote the last line at midnight on a Thursday and had it in final shape by Sunday afternoon. Over the years I have realized that a book is a snapshot of where you were that particular six-month period, and you have to just let it go. Perpetual revising is a danger. Just type ‘The End’ and mail it in.

It’s taken me this long to shake a leg and get to it, and I’ll be following Child’s approach for this project. The proof of whether this works or not will be in the reading. But bear in mind that most of the news content that you see on TV or read in print is written fast and on the fly. Also in those WPM figures above I’m not including an exercise regimen that demands I move every 20 minutes – it usually incorporates weights, yoga and calisthenics – or the revisions I make at the start of every day as Child does.

For the first time in years I’m excited about writing again. This is productive and fun.

Stay tuned, it could get busy round here.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather
Read More

The Quick and Dirty Guide to formatting ebooks with Scrivener (epub, mobi and createspace)

Jul 24

Scrivener can format to epub, Kindle Mobi files and Word docs ready for print-on-demand. Albeit in plain format, and for the bulk of writers that’s probably more than enough. So, let’s get you where you want to be in double-quick time. Step 1: Open Scrivener, enter your title (in this case Dark Market test) and you will see this: Step 2: Select ‘Draft’ in the left hand file menu: Step 3: Right click the brown corkboard screen select Add→New Text. You can also use ctrl+n. These will be your chapters. Add a bunch of them, say 10 or 12 to test how this is going to work. It should look like this: Step 4: Now title each of the text boxes, either by selecting each box on the corkboard or right-clicking each file in the left hand menu. These names will populate the Table of Contents (automatic), once you add your text. Now add some text (I’ll do a full text-import tutorial later on). For now simply copy a chapter from your Word/Open Office application. Then select the relevant section in the left hand menu and paste it onto the blank page. Include a chapter heading as we’ll be maintaining those by hand. It should look like this: Step 5: If you want section breaks, say your story is broken down into the days of the week, or you want to indicate a change of location or time as I do here, then simply add a new text to the corkboard and drag it on top of the section before your break (see the left hand file menu above, look for Three Years Later). It will then appear as a secondary item to that text file. If you don’t need section breaks just skip this step. Step 6: Hit the compile button:   and select or deselect all the items you want to appear in your book’s Table of Contents. In the example below I’ve kept all the headings from the text boxes except Three Years Later because it’s simply a section break and not a chapter heading: Step 7: Now, staying in the Compile section select Formatting and you’ll see this: If you check each box exactly as you see above the ToC will source from the titles of your text areas that you labelled in Step 4. You can then either type in your titles by hand (add images) at the top of each text area, or copy and paste them from your original – and style them as you wish. Step 8: Still in Compile select Separators and make as follows. Step 9: Add your metadata. Name your document and add your metadata – book title, author name, publisher, etc. in the pop-up window pictured below: Step 10: Make sure you’ve selected your file format (bottom right of the Compile screen), that’s the “Kindle(Mobi) Book (.mobi)” selection above, for epubs you’ll need to add a cover in the Compile section as well. For Kindle you upload the cover with your book, make sure it’s 2500 pixels on it’s longest side. Hit compile. You’re done, proof your final document in the reader of your choice and it’s time to upload to your publishing platform in either epub, mobi or Word doc. If you want to format in more detail, or add CSS stylesheets to format your book in something other than Scrivener’s plain old vanilla, then save it as an epub and edit in the free Sigil program. That’s it, any questions add a comment below, or if this speeds up your workflow then show some love and buy a book! One of mine obviously.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather
Read More

Professional Writer 2.0

Jul 17

It used to be that when I wrote professionally as a copywriter, journalist, editor, script writer or development producer that when I wrote, I wrote well – and in a very short space of time more often and more quickly. After all, professional writers write more because it fires them up and makes them money. For example as a fledgling journalist you begin writing one feature article, carefully crafted, edited to perfection. It takes ages.

Once you’ve been at it a while, that one article becomes one and three spin-offs. It takes a day or two.

If you’re really serious you’ll also use a few pen names and syndicate your work around the world. Give it a couple of years and some indie journalists I know are knocking out 6-7 quality pieces a day.

You see, writing is like any skill, the more you do it, the better and faster you become. Racing drivers don’t become slower over time unless they’re doing something wrong, like not driving. Or, for me, not writing. Enter traditional publishing. I got a book deal a few years ago – the how to drive a tank one – here’s the difference between the two business models:

Pro-writer: write once, write more almost straight away, write much more, keep writing.

Trad-publisher writer: write once, stop. Wait months for edit. Correct edit. Wait months for the go-ahead for book two. Wait a bit more. Six months if you’re lucky. A year. Get the green light. Write again. But now you’ve done so little writing it’s like starting again.

Here’s how it looked for me between books:

Book 1 – 1k words per day to start with 5k per day by the end.
Book 2 – 1k to start, 5k by end.
Book 3 – 1k to start, 6k by end.
My average start time was 8am, average finish 2pm, latest 5pm.
You definitely warm up the more you write, but then with trad publishing you stop. And it’s so slow.

After my non-fiction book a magazine editor friend of mine sat me down and asked me all about it. When it came to how long it was (132k words edited down to 108k) he was shocked that it took them nearly 18 months to edit, design and publish. “But we do that every month (in magazines),” he said.

So here’s the deal my lovely readers, it’s time for me to stop mucking about with trad publishers and get writing and publishing like a pro again. I’ve got about eight books just begging to be written and my fans keep asking for more. Who am I to argue?

First thing’s first a little house-keeping, I need to take all the distractions off the table, internet and email once a day only and say no more to all the people who ask me to develop their media profiles and campaigns. Then, inspired by this thread, I’m going to double my productivity by learning to touch-type. In fact, I’ve already started. My normal two-finger speed is about 50wpm, after a week’s touch typing I’m hitting 26wpm as my baseline. When it hits 40wpm I’ll start writing again and it will only get quicker.

I’ll also publish my writing schedule here for the next year. Which may shock some of you. It shocked me. 5-8 full length books in a year anyone? Can it be done?


facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather
Read More

Promo codes for moo.com uk, 10% off no time limit

Jun 14

Hi all,

If you need some funky new business cards for your next pimped out shindig I can heartily recommend Moo. After my last order they gave me a 10% discount to offer my readers, so here you go, just click this link to their site and your 10% discount will be applied to your order (first order only). http://www.moo.com/share/8skg2f


facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather
Read More

Spies and hippies: secrets to lie detection, observation, mindfulness and attentiveness

Jun 04

There are a few techniques around for deception detection that require you, the observer, to be more aware of what is going on. They’ll also make you feel good. So wake up! You’ve got to be in the moment and paying attention. It’s no good having micro-expression skills like Cal Lightman or the trickster skills of a fictional mentalist like Patrick Jane if your mind’s not on the job. Paul Ekman does it, the CIA does it, and Yogis like to do it too. There are several methods but all of them do one thing: They switch your brain off auto-pilot.  


Mindfulness meditation (an off-putting phrase that simply means sitting still for a few moments!):
  • Set a timer for 1, 5 or 10 minutes.
  • Sit down.
  • Focus your gaze on a point ahead of you (but don’t stare).
  • Pay attention to your breathing. Breathe into your belly rather than your chest.
  • Now let your inner-watcher take over. Your thoughts will come thick and fast, your feet will itch, a breeze will ruffle your hair. All of them shout “Look at me!”. Just let them come. Ignore them, but casually. Whenever your inner-watcher notices you paying attention to your thoughts and not your breathing simply redirect your thoughts back to your breathing. That’s it. You’ll be amazed at how much information your brain and body throws at you all clamoring for immediate attention. The more you refocus on your breathing the less these unbidden impulses will drive you and distract you [For a video introduction go here].
That is mindfulness. Sort of. It’ll teach you about yourself and show you how easily you can be distracted by nothing at all. For deception detection the Ekman group like you to practice on objects as per Jon Kabat Zinn’s methods. To do this after you have been meditating a while turn your focus to an object. It could be a door-knob while you’re sitting on the train in everyday life but for our practice do this: have something to hand like a raisin, a blueberry, a pencil, an eraser, anything in fact that’s small and easy to handle.
Hold it in your hand and take a minute for each of the senses:
  • Touch it, how does it feel? 
  • Smell it. Distinguish between the inside and outside, the pith and the skin of the blueberry, the lead and the wood of the pencil.
  • Look at it – pick out the different shades, colors, patterns, reflections.
  • Listen to it. Yes, really, give it a listen. What can you hear? Does the object block sound, reflect sound. Does it make any noise?
  • Taste it.
This will teach you how to focus your attention minus the chatter of your brain and senses. A very useful skill for all walks of life but especially for detecting unusual behaviors in others. The Ekman group focus on multiple channels and often assign different channels for different observers to monitor. The CIA technique refers to “L-Squared mode” where you focus on the audio and visual channels at the same time:

You ask your question, and you go immediately into L-squared mode, looking and listening for a cluster of two or more deceptive behaviors. Remember, the first deceptive behavior has to appear within five seconds of the stimulus. The cluster is comprised of that first behavior, be it verbal or nonverbal, and all verbal and nonverbal behaviors that follow it until the stream is broken by another stimulus or identifiable interruption. How long can the stream continue?

Houston, Philip (2012-07-19). Spy the Lie: How to spot deception the CIA way (Kindle Locations 555-558). Icon Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

These guys have noticed that it is hard to maintain a constant state of vigilance and always be fully switched on. The mindfulness techniques above should help you do that. Although I have observed the mindfulness-only types can get stuck in the buzz of being ‘switched on’ rather than actually paying attention. 


The Spy Technique

If I had to send you into the next room with absolutely zero training at all I would use an observation technique I found in an old WWII spy manual. It’s for improving your observation skills in an instant. As with anything the more you practice the better you’ll become:

Acquired Powers of Observation

Powers of observation are lying dormant in everyone of us and can be revived by practice.

There are various methods of improving one’s power of observation according to the type of memory which one may possess.
E.g. some people have a photographic memory; other people can remember better by sound and others by numbers. The following method is recommended as being suited to all types of memories.


4. Our method.

a) Things.

  1. Take the things that please you – your eyes, touch, smell and hearing. Try and express in words why they please you. Such an effort will cause you to observe the object more closely.
  2. Take the things that you dislike and repeat the process.
  3. Take the things that are neutral to you and repeat the process asking yourself why you have no particular feeling towards them.

b) Human beings.

  1. Apply the same three processes to the general appearance and voice of the person observed.
  2. Study the person’s actions, asking yourself the reason for such actions.
  3. You will have observed by now a lot about a person. Try and judge his character.


5. Conclusion.

This method requires a conscious effort to begin with and systematic practice. It is, however, interesting and has the following results:

  • You will obtain a greater knowledge of the people in your area.
  • You will have obtained a greater knowledge of objects round about you.
  • You will be able to notice the presence of strangers, the absence of people you know, and anything unusual which might previously have escaped you.

I’m all about the science of shortcuts you see (more on this in the future) and for observation skills to be useful they have to be trained and accessible regardless of whether you take a counter-culture or Bourne Identity type approach. You could also try the positive observation technique.

The Gratitude Attitude

This comes from cognitive therapy and is designed to make you feel more positive about the world. Each day take five different things and say thank you for them. It really does work by making you look at under-appreciated things in new ways. For our observation practice you can apply it to people, things or verbalizations for example.

Here’s another technique from my acting classes.

The Improv Technique
  • First, spend three minutes going round the room pointing and listing items that you see. Simple right?
  • Now do the same but say out loud the previous item that you pointed at. So: item 1: visual = chair, verbal = “…”. Item 2: visual = door, verbal = “Chair!” and so on. This really makes your brain work and is very effective.
The Writer Technique

You can even invent your own techniques for switching your attention. As a writer I have to put myself in characters heads and imagine what they might be thinking and feeling. Sit down somewhere and imagine you are in fact an astronaut in deep sleep, you’ve just realized that the fantasy you’re living in is an entertainment construct. Try and see the reality behind and how that makes the astronaut feel.

Invent or re-use any scenario that works for you. Neo in the Matrix perhaps? Alice in Wonderland?


Remember all these techniques are about switching your attention off auto-pilot. Try all of them and see what works for you, then focus on one technique for three weeks for a few minutes each day. Share your results in the comments below.



facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather
Read More

Withholding tax for non-US authors – get your ITN/EIN today

May 02

Until recently getting hold of your ITIN or EIN number in order to receive more royalties from your books was a lengthy process. The US tax office has listened and you can now have your form filled out for you over the phone. I did it recently and it took no more than half an hour. They give me my ITIN there and then which you can then use to fill out the relevant forms and send them to Amazon, Createspace, Lulu, iBooks and so on. Just follow this information below from the Createspace website:

1. Obtain a U.S. Tax Identification Number (TIN)
For non-U.S. persons, a Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) may be an EIN (for individuals and businesses) or an ITIN (for individuals only). An EIN may be obtained by filing IRS Form SS-4, Application for Employer Identification Number. The application may be completed over the telephone in one session by calling +1 (267) 941-1099. The application may also be completed by fax in approximately 4 business days and by mail in approximately 4 weeks.

You will then need to provide hard-copy versions of the forms to your sales channels. You can download sample forms and everything else from this Createspace webpage (needs log-in), I recommend doing this before calling so that you have the relevant info in front of you.

Use Skype on your machine if you want cheap calls. Talk nicely and be professional to the representative on the phone and answer all relevant questions. They will give your ITIN/EIN number there and then and confirm it in writing in the following weeks. You can use this number to fill out the relevant forms straight away and send the hard-copies to the sales-platforms you are using.

You can also use Createspace’s excellent example form to fill learn how to fill yours out correctly with the minimum of fuss found on the same link.

Some addresses to send forms to are:

c/o Vendor Maintenance
PO Box 80683
Seattle, WA 98108-0683

Amazon Digital Services
Attn: Vendor Maintenance
PO Box 80683
Seattle, WA 98108-0683

If you have other addresses to hand, drop them in the comments below. And if anyone finds out how to claim their already withheld tax back please let us know.

#update on claiming withheld tax.

One comment on this Kindleboards thread said:

How long back does the withheld amount go back to? I just had some money withheld in my January payments and Amazon sent a cheque out incl. the withheld funds with my EIN acknowledgement letter.

Join in the discussion.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather
Read More

From little ideas to big ideas

Apr 30

If you’ve ever noticed that funny little © Riding High notice in my books and webTV content and wondered what the hell is that – A surf club? A pony trekking service? Male escorts? – well now’s the time to end the suspense: it’s the name of my company. Originally I established Riding High Ltd to run my writing work through when I returned to the UK in 2008. And now my baby has grown. From now on I’ll now be developing TV series and formats for network and international broadcasters along with book content for traditional and independent publishing. I’ll be doing this solo, with creative partners and for clients. It’s also the company I’ll run any science development work through (more on that in later posts for now it’s all a little hush-hush).

I’ve set up a new website to go with this new feel for the company (It’s needs a couple of design tweaks of course, don’t they all). We’re based in the north east of England and work locally, nationally and internationally with a track record across Europe, the Middle East and North America. You can find out more here: www.ridinghigh.co.uk. And if you have any media or deception ideas you’d like to discuss we’d love to hear from you.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather
Read More