Category Archives: One A Day

The Final ‘One A Day’

The moment is here at last.

On 18 January 2010, I read on my Twitter feed about a ragtag band of brothers (and sisters, though HBO hasn’t got around to them yet) who, in a ludicrously optimistic show of bravado, planned to write a blog entry every single day for a year. The project was called One A Day. My good friend Chris Schilling had decided to give it a go, and I thought it would be a bit of a laugh to join in. So I started, gradually figuring out over the first few weeks how to write a blog, then dreaming of some people actually reading it, then deciding not to advertise my posts on Twitter anymore (except on special occasions) as too many of them were horribly self-indulgent.

Now, 377 posts later (see: more than One A Day!), I’m on post 378. The end. The final one. The victory lap.

When this blog started, I worked for an accountancy practice and dreamt of selling a novel. As I sit here tonight, I work for the same accountancy practice and dream of selling a novel. Progress? What progress?

Quite a bit, actually. I’m now an honorary member of the South African author mafia (despite never having been to South Africa, and besides, I went to school with Shrien Dewani so I probably wouldn’t even be allowed into the country), and I’ve had some very awesome people say that I’m all talented and stuff, which is nice. My friend Rick has told me not to be so self-deprecating, and so I’m trying very hard to find the right balance with that. After some near-misses with literary agents back in August/September-time, I went back to the drawing board and emerged with renewed focus and a new draft which, basking in the glow of the novelty of fresh material, I currently proclaim to be pretty bloody great. We’ll see how it fares in the cut-throat world of agents very soon. I also started a new novel that’s going to knock everyone’s socks off when it’s done (they’ll just have to go without).

With the smooth came the rough. My aunt was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I lost two grandparents. Westlife are still going. And I’m still not making a living for the only thing in this world that I’m actually pretty good at (aside from drinking red wine, of course). But as I sit here on 17 January 2011 and think about the afternoon in which I sat down to write my hilariously short and shit first blog entry a year ago, I reckon that I’m a better person for the One A Day experience. I know more about myself and what I’m capable of. I also know what I need to work on, and have taken steps to do so. The one big thing I haven’t really tackled yet is my stammer, and maybe that’s another focus for this year – though fuck knows what I’m going to do about it.

So what of this blog? It will definitely continue. I’m not necessarily going to update it every day – it’s more likely that there will be bite-sized entries interspersed with longer pieces – but the blogging habit has become so much part of my routine that I can’t see myself stopping. Also, this place will likely have a spring clean when I work out who I can wangle into making it look nice – it’s something that I didn’t look into at all in the past year to my shame, and The Mirrorball looks pretty bland compared to some of the gorgeous blogs that other people have.

But One A Day-wise, that’s me done and dusted. The project is carrying on in a different format this year, and I wish all the new participants luck. They’ll need it.

See you on the flipside, ladies and gents. And thank you so much for reading – whether it was just a single post or all 378 of the damn things. There will be more. But for now, good night.

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Organisation

OK, so here we are in 2011 – AKA The Year of Glory – and you’ll notice that my enthusiastic enthusiasm (better work on those adjectives, Mike) has led me to write this piece in the early afternoon. Insane! It’s not even 11.57pm yet! For me, this year is going to be about organisation. I’m a pretty disorganised fellow as a rule – I iron my shirts on the morning I wear them, evenings with my friends tend to be planned while we’re in them, and writing-wise, I keep notes and things all around the place in a variety of Word documents and random bits of paper. I want this to change, most notably with the way in which I organise my writing. I can let the shirts thing slide.

So here’s the goal – if you like, it’s my equivalent of a One A Day challenge for 2011. I want to write at least 1,000 words per day. Every day. It sounds like a lot, but realistically when I’m in the flow of things, it doesn’t take very long at all. It would likely take longer to write a blog entry of similar size than its equivalent in prose. But getting to that ‘flow’ can be problematic, as novel-writing can’t be turned on and off like a tap. There are times when words come ridiculously easily, and others where my brain’s a mush and can’t form a coherent sentence (as many of these blog entries testify). When it comes to the latter, forcing myself to write something would be a waste of time and that’s why I’ve built in a safeguard. Once I’m ahead of my 1,000 words a day target (for example, if I’ve written 10,000 words after only 8 days), then if I need to pull a sickie I can do so, as long as I stay ahead of the amount I should already have written for the year. This does rely on me zooming ahead in the first couple of weeks, of course, but that shouldn’t be a problem, given that I still have three more days off and all that lovely New Year enthusiasm!

But what if I run out of story and get stuck? Well, then I think I’ll substitute new material with a couple of hours of editing what I already have or something (and I’ll likely do this by default, anyway… I’m always playing around with stuff), but there’s also more than one thing I could be writing, so if I lose the thread for the new novel for any reason, I’ll be able to pick it up with something else until I’ve solved the issues.

Having the time to do all this will rely on sorting out my organisational skills, so here’s what I plan to do. Firstly, I’m going to take my Macbook Pro into work every day and write for the whole of my lunch hour. Secondly, when I’m writing at home I’m going to treat the time with the respect I always should have done. At the moment, what happens is that I’m far too easily interruptible. My wife will come in after half an hour or so and ask me to look at something, or do the washing-up, or start the dinner, and I’ll do so. The point here is that if I was at work, doing a set of accounts, she’d never think about ringing me up and expecting me to down tools to do something else. So what needs to change is the perceived status of the time I spend writing. It isn’t a hobby where I can just put down the controller on a whim and it won’t mean anything, it’s a serious vocation that I plan to one day make a living from. And therefore I need to treat it like I’m already doing that – as if it’s a second job, basically.

From now on, then, writing time is writing time, rather than writing-but-can-be-taken-away-from-it-arbitrarily-at-any-moment-for-any-number-of-reasons time. This may take a couple of weeks for my wife and I to get our heads around, but it has to be done.

Organising my notes in one place is made far easier with Scrivener. If I write something down on a bit of paper, I’m going to get into the habit of immediately transcribing it into the program as soon as I get near my computer. And if I come up with an idea at work for any reason, I’ll email it to myself and then do the same. I’ve lost count of the number of plot points I once had for my novel Certainty. I find them lying around the house sometimes, and think, ‘Oh yeah, I did plan to do that once!’ It’s easy to forget this stuff, and writing it down is better than trying to remember it in my head.

On a point of order, One A Day is still going until just after the middle of this month, so my 1,000 words target will include these blog entries until that point. But the theory is that by default I’ll have the first draft of my new novel ready before Easter. It’s a good plan, and if I’m more disciplined than I was with One A Day (I see that as kind of the test run for this), then by the time the novel’s done I’ll be in full-on ‘how did I ever cope before?’ mode.

Of course I may encounter unforeseen story problems, writer’s block and the rest, and end up having to split my time between various things, but the first line in the sand is to try to have a complete draft ready in just over three months. And, hopefully, to make it not shit.

I may well come to rue these words, but having now written them down as a challenge to myself, they’re likely to spur me on still further. I’m not a fan of abject humiliation, you see.

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NYE

So, farewell then, 2010. And, frankly, good riddance. You started off as all years do, with the promise of great things. Given that you were the beginning of a new decade, expectations were even higher. I’m sorry to say that they weren’t met, and the general impression among my friends is the same. However, I suppose it’s all growing pains. You were the baby of the decade, after all. You’ve yet to grow into a… er… strapping 2019. So I won’t be too hard on you, shit though you most certainly have been. Instead I look forward to 2011 – the older, and hopefully wiser year ahead.

First off, congratulations to my One A Day compatriots, the awesome Mat Murray, the lovely Jennifer Allen, the indefatigable Ian Dransfield, and the rather cool Pete Davison. Some of you have already written the final entry of the 365 daily posts, and I think that a couple of you, like me, have a few days to go. All of you, however, are legends (as well as incredibly stubborn bar stewards), and one day we shall all meet up for a pint to celebrate a full year’s worth of pointless meanderings (in my case), and profound offerings (in yours). One day my blog will look as visually appealing as the others. Er… advice would be welcomed on that score.

New Year’s Resolutions, then. It is the 31st of December, after all. At this point I’d simply take a better year than this one, but since I’m all ambitious and stuff, I’ll say that I want an agent, a book deal, another novel in the can, and peace and goodwill for all men (and women, of course). Not a lot to ask for, then, eh?

As far as my own One A Day celebration in a couple of weeks is concerned, I think I’ll have a look back to see which few of my posts weren’t ball-breakingly average, and link you to them so that you can suffer them again, in some kind of Top 10 format. It would be Top 500, but (a) that would be impossible as there are only 365 days in a year, (b) I suspect I’ll barely spot 10 posts I’d subject you to for a second time, and (c) I don’t even know Jimmy Carr.

Happy New Year to all the readers of this blog and, to be inclusive, the many, many more who have never, ever seen it. I hope that you all have a great night, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing what 2011 will bring. See you on the other side.

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One A Day 2011

The future of One A Day was always going to be a topic that came up towards the end of this year, and sure enough, the plans for 2011 have been revealed. My reaction is: hmmm.

While I wholeheartedly support the fact that it’s now for charity, the relaxing of the ‘rules’ strikes me as a tepid watering down of the concept. In fact, in my opinion, it ruins the concept. The key to One A Day is in the name – that’s its function, its reason for existing. Its purpose is to encourage participants to develop a writing habit, to actively continue their blogs in the knowledge that others are going through the same blood, sweat and tears at 11.50pm when they’re really fucking knackered, to go through the pain barrier and get something down, no matter how shit it is. I’ve written many posts this year when I’ve been absolutely paralytic, and had to tippy-tap single letters while the room was spinning around me and my fingers point-blank refused to hit the right keys. I could have just gone to bed, but the need to challenge myself that One A Day gave me, and the sense of responsibility not to let down the other entrants, always forced me to man up and write. I’ve basically been a stubborn git. I went to Majorca and paid for internet access every day so that I could get entries down. I went to Grenada and wrote every post in my hotel room on my iPhone, using the wi-fi I had there. This isn’t self-congratulation, much as I’m pleased to be approaching the finish line intact, it’s an attempt to explain that the challenge of writing a blog entry every single day is what One A Day is all about. It makes you go the extra mile.

Diluting this concept is fine to encourage people not to give up after missing an entry, but it makes it something different. It won’t be One A Day anymore, not really. The new emperor has no clothes. The fact that sticking to it is really fucking difficult, is what makes it unique. I’m only still doing it because I made a commitment. I wanted to prove myself. I wanted to show that I could stick at something, that I had the discipline to force myself to write an entry every day. Much of what I’ve written is utter bollocks, and doubtless if I’d been able to take a week off without worrying about it, the general quality of the few posts I did write might have been better. But would I have even returned? I think that’s one of the problems with the new rules – without the enforced discipline, a whole load of people are going to get to the end without really committing to the process. They’ll type an entry every day for the first couple of weeks while it’s all shiny and new and cool, but soon it’ll be every two days, every three, every week, once a fortnight, and then it’ll be three months later and they’ll haphazardly crap something out just to stay in. And when they get to 31 December 2011 they’ll congratulate themselves for making it, but deep down they’ll know that they didn’t really do it properly. The rate of attrition is part of the fun. By making it easier to make it to the end by relaxing the requirements, it may be more inclusive but it makes it… well… not worth as much.

I always roll my eyes at hardcore videogamers who bleat on about how so-called casual games are ‘ruining’ the industry by doing terrible stuff, like not being horribly obscure and encouraging more people to play by streamlining interfaces and having decent help systems and tutorials, etc. In the case of One A Day, though, the hardcore aspect of the process – writing a post every single day, no matter what you’re doing, what your problems are, making no allowances for your location or internet status or how near a computer you are – is why it works. Watering down the concept takes away the very thing that makes it worth doing in the first place. How do you encourage a writing habit by making it fine for bloggers not to blog at the first sign of trouble?

The announcement of the new rules has come at a rather coincidental time for me. Last night I was at a party, and one of my friends asked me what my plans were for One A Day in 2011. Would I carry on doing it? At the time, I didn’t know. I was torn between keeping up the daily routine, at the expense of writing time that I could in theory use more productively, or dropping the requirement for daily posts here. While the latter would certainly free up more of my time, I could see the obvious problem: a serious danger that I’d quickly slip into a bad habit where I wouldn’t update for a few days, and soon this blog would become quieter than an Australian cricket fan. But then I got thinking: what is this blog supposed to achieve next year? Certainly the reason for its existence is going to be different. By the time my year of One A Day is up in mid-January 2011, I’ll have proven what I needed to prove, and so this blog can hopefully become more of a fun project for me, updated when I bloody well feel like it.

So I think that I’m going to pretty much adopt the rules of One A Day 2011, such as they are, but not actually be part of the process. I wish all the participants well and will read a lot of the blogs, but there’s no point in me being involved. Even leaving aside the watering down of the concept, I think it’s best for me to retire unbeaten.

I should have a lot to blog about, though. Agents and publishers and new projects and who knows what else? So maybe I won’t need ‘rules’ to carry on with The Mirrorball. Maybe the self-discipline I’ve gained, that I thank One A Day for, will be enough.

While I have absolutely no influence on the matter, I really hope that the organisers realise they’re making a mistake by diluting the One A Day concept to the point where it won’t mean as much as this year’s version. But still, I hope that they’re right and I’m wrong. The proof will be in the pudding, I guess.

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Surprise!

Halfway-through-2010 edition:

1. The Chemical Brothers – Further

Where on Earth did this come from? While I kinda liked the single Swoon when it was played on the radio, I certainly wasn’t expecting anything much from the full album, particularly as the Chems have been growing increasingly irrelevant since Surrender, their third full-length back in 1999. So it was most pleasing to discover that the record as a whole lifts its mojo from the classic Private Psychedelic Reel track at the end of Dig Your Own Hole, and ditches the gimmicky guest vocalists from the previous couple of albums. The result? Brilliance. The brothers back to their best.

2. Matt Smith


No, of course I didn’t know he’d be any good. Who did? How could anyone replace David Tennant? Well, now we know. By halfway through the first episode of Doctor Who season 31, or New Doctor Who season 5, or New New Who season 1 (your choice), it seemed like Smith had been playing the role forever. Old beyond his years, and with by far the most alien interpretation of the Doctor yet seen, Smith’s stock is now so high that he’s made the FTSE 100 index meaningless. Hell, he even appeared at Glastonbury:

3. The Complete And Utter Abject Failure Of The England Football Team

Let’s not go too far into this one, eh, for fear of reopening wounds that are still so tender and hurtful that they make me want to cry and weep and rain tears over the whole of our fair land. Joke. Still, we were pretty damn shit, weren’t we?

4. LibCon


Less than two weeks after bashing the shit out of each other in the final Prime Ministerial debate, David Cameron and Nick Clegg were bum chums. I don’t think Ladbrokes did odds on that before the election. The Tories have done pretty well out of the coalition agreement so far, as it gives them the latitude for savage cuts while also being able to push the message (or untruth, depending on your political viewpoint) of a progressive agenda. And it’s confused the hell out of BBC’s Question Time, which has been fumbling around trying to work out the balance of its weekly panel ever since election day. The Liberals, however, are plummeting in the polls at present, so it’ll be very interesting indeed to see whether the chalice of power turns out to be more poisonous than Asda own-brand Diamond White.

5. The Mirrorball and the rest of the One A Day network

Well, it would be remiss of me not to point out that nearly six months later I’m still here writing One A Day. Hell, if you’d told me back in January that I would actually stick with it and (most of the time) enjoy doing it, I wouldn’t have believed you. The One A Day network’s numbers may have dropped since the high point of thirty-odd people (or thirty odd people) writing daily blogs at one point, but there are still a few of us going, and I would be very surprised now if most of the remaining souls didn’t make it through to the end. Affectionate pats on the back to all. Anyone who started on 01 January, of course, is now very nearly on the downward stretch and will soon be able to see the finish line looking all inviting very far off. I look forward to joining you. And for me it’s the biggest surprise of the year so far that I’m 100% confident in saying that.

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A Confession of Rubbishness

My blogging habit’s a bit rubbish at the moment. I’m writing the entries late at night, when I’m pretty tired and have little of note to say. If you take a look back through my posts, you’ll see just how many are time-stamped very close to midnight, and it’s noticeable (to me, anyway) that the ones written earlier in the evening are much better.

A change of emphasis is needed, then. I’m going to try to make posting this blog the first thing I do when I come home from work, and I’m going to at least attempt to think about what I want to write beforehand. Too often recently I’ve sat down at the keyboard without the slightest inkling of what I want to say. Once again, the entries that I plan beforehand are much better. I know how to get the most out of this blog, it’s just a question of not being a lazy bastard and actually doing it. There seems little point in just going through the motions of One A Day, so I need to sort myself out. Pep talk over. I’m going to make every effort to get this blog back up to scratch, starting tomorrow.

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Hard (One A) Day

I’ve written a few One A Days that I look back at and think: “Hey, that was kinda alright.” There are many more that I read and wonder what the hell I was doing. Quite a few of them were written, shall we say, ‘under the influence’. This is one of them. Sorry.

Part of writing a daily blog is accepting that there will be some days when you will be inspired, and others where you’re struggling to come up with a concept even as you’re approaching midnight tap-tap-tapping away at the keyboard. The best entries tend to be when you (and by you, I mean me) have some proper time to think about it, time to write it, and time to massage the first draft into something approaching respectability. This entry is not one of them.

This contribution is one of the inevitable difficult ones, where you run out of time and are reduced to writing about the imaginary pain of delivering a daily blog. Yes, it’s not always easy; yes, sometimes you really have to strain it like Gordon Brown delivering a smile; but you can eventually squeeze it out, hoping that tomorrow will be one of those easy pleasures that makes One A Day worthwhile. So here’s to tomorrow. Sorry about today.

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