Every year, my old internet pal Myke Hurley and the really rather popular YouTuber, CGP Grey choose their annual themes on the Cortex podcast. It’s a way for them to set the tone for the coming 12 months without making specific resolutions.
I quite like the notion.
I’m tired of giving myself reading, writing and other such goals only to fail and feel bad about it. With a newborn in the house and a freelance business to run, I don’t really know what I can achieve in 2020. I’m not sure tangible targets will be helpful.
So instead, I am going to set an annual theme. I’m going to use it to guide what I do and which projects I work on. It will be there to remind me when my current good intentions inevitably become difficult to put into practice.
So here it is.
For me, this will be the year of… attention.
Sounds vague, doesn’t it?
As I wrote in my review of the last decade, Brexit in particular has absorbed a lot of my attention in the last three years. If I’ve not been reading about it, exchanging WhatsApp messages about it, or watching the latest codswallop on my phone, it’s been on my mind.
In 2020, I would like to stay informed about Brexit and the world imploding, but without letting it take all of my attention.
It’s not just Brexit and world annihilation though.
Like many people, I find my attention pulled this way and that almost permanently. I’m a natural daydreamer. I like being a daydreamer! It’s where my stories come from. But being a daydreamer means sometimes I find it hard to focus on one thing at time. I like to keep moving. Try new stuff.
Truth is, the things I want to achieve this year – write the second novel, read more books, develop this newsletter, run 300km – they all require focus. They all need my full attention. I really want to get to 2021 having give them my best shot.
Of course, I’m not going to pretend that I can suddenly turn into some kind of productivity prince. I mean, that sounds awful anyway. But if I am supposed to be writing, I am going to try and write. If I want to read a book, I am going to read a book. And when I am running, I am running. Obviously.
Too often, even when I am doing something I enjoy, my attention is caught by something non-urgent and typically trivial.
My aim this year is to be aware of that happening and nip it in the bud. Not by quitting Twitter. Not by saying no to things I actually enjoy. But by taking notice of my behaviour and trying to form better habits.
I want to reclaim my attention by paying attention.
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It’s a new year, so naturally we’ve all made a number of resolutions that we may or may not keep. Last year, I had a go at using a habit tracker, which lasted about a month. I’m going to give it another go this time round with the colourful and so far perfectly practical, Habit – Daily Tracker. (Found via Luke Leighfield’s great newsletter.)
Like a very modern daft lad, I assumed that this would be a list of apps and other such computer nonsense. But no! If you’ve ever wondered what type of pencil or pen various published authors use, this is for you. Personally, there are three types of pen I like to use, depending what I’m up to. If you are lucky – and I mean very lucky – I might write about them one day.
Are you on Twitter? Want to know who all the right writers, publishers and other bookish sorts are? Then you need to get your gloves on and start mining the Twitter Lists created and kindly made public by Sam Missingham, who founded The Empowered Author. Absolutely brilliant resource. Go get stuck in.
If you are new to the world of publishing, some of the terminology can be confusing. In fact, even if you’ve been in the thick of it, there’s a chance some new jargon will come along to make you feel like a right nit or – possibly – some upstart from the North of England who doesn’t quite belong (sorry what?).
Anyway, this is a really useful piece written by science fiction and fantasy author SL Huang for her excellent newsletter, Ask An Author. It’s basically a list of some publishing phrases and acronyms alongside a sensible explanation of what they mean. Very useful indeed.
Now if someone can explain to me how many kisses and on how many cheeks you’re supposed to go for on greeting someone that works in publishing, that would be very helpful.
Remember when I told you about the new book of essays by one of my favourite writers, Lydia Davis? It’s called Essays. Which is helpful when you want to remember the title for your newsletter.
Well there’s a great interview with Davis in the latest edition of Five Dials. What the heck is Five Dials? It’s a long-running, free literary magazine published by Hamish Hamilton. I don’t read every edition, but I love that it exists and was very pleased when this one popped into my inbox.
This is the idea that the things you do on a regular basis are the things that – you know – you actually do. They make up who you are.
Kate McKean in her also excellent newsletter sums it up really well:
I just want the time I’m actually working to be work, and the time I’m not to be NOT.
That’s definitely my approach to this new year. See above.
I know some of you are into bullet journalling. I tried it for about six months when I first went freelance and actually found it pretty useful. Of course, part of the attraction is that it’s a paper-based note taking system that gets you away from the screen. But maybe you want the best of both worlds? If so, take a look at this new app, which I have neither tried nor tested. You can find screenshots to see what the app looks like on Product Hunt.
This is an old graphic and blog post from my personal fave, Austin Kleon. But it’s worth posting again now because no doubt you’ve decided, just like I have, that 2020 will be the year you read like the wind. And you will! For sure!
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