New Year Plans

On the 30th December 2016 at 7:09pm I was in the passenger seat of a car travelling to the cinema. I had a notepad on my leg and a pen pressed against it, thinking. It was the start of my pre-2017 preparations.

The ‘plan’ for the year (here we go again).

What did I want to do in 2017?

The nib of the pen still locked to the pad, glancing up, I waited for the car to stop at traffic lights, so I could write.

The car stopped.

I wrote.

There was no long list of skills to learn.

I didn’t do a mind-map.

There was no elaborate supermaster plan built on a foundation of spreadsheets and pipe dreams.

I wrote one line. A simple line. A humble line…

“Write a novel.”

And this was my entire plan for 2017. That was the whole thing.

It felt like there was nothing else to write. It had to be simple, it had to be fool-proof, so I didn’t get distracted by a new idea.

I often make really detailed, overzealous plans. But, sat there in the gloomy car, the only thing I could think was just- ‘write a novel’.

What could go wrong? (Sigh)

But, why did I want to write a novel?


Writing and me: a short history

I tried to write my first novel at 13, and failed (shock).

At 17 I took writing a bit more seriously, and said, out-loud, I wanted to be a writer.

I got a degree in English Literature.

I wrote poetry collections, plays, and short stories.

I wrote a handful of attempted novels.

I finished my first novel at 24.

 My first novel

That novel was titled ‘Memoirs of a madman’, and it was more of an extended writing exercise than anything else. I knew it was just to prove to myself that I was able to write a complete novel of approximately 60,000 words. I had no intention of re-drafing it, or attempting to get it published.

Not enough output

Since finishing my first novel in 2014 I’ve embarked on a lot of failed non-writing projects. I have been writing too, but it’s been inconsistent, and I’ve not completed anything of note, other than a play which I submitted to the Bruntwood Prize in 2016.

So then, time to… ‘write a novel.’

Back to the story, it’s the end of 2016 again, and I’m keen to start a project, stick with it, see it through to completion, and get it shipped.

(My instant gratification monkey had other ideas)

Started to write a novel

On the 1st January 2017 I started to write a novel called:

Dark Circus

The idea for Dark Circus had been germinating for about three years.

Since it’s conception I’d wrote a few Dark Circus short stories to explore some characters.

Then I wrote Dark Circus, the play, which was awful.

I always knew, though, it was going to end up as a novel.

I set myself a deadline. I wanted to write the first draft in three months (yeah, good luck with that), and have it finished by the end of March.

I did a rough calculation:

My target was 70,000 words in 90 days.

That means I had to average 778 words per day to hit my target.

There have been plenty of times when I’d written between 1,000 – 2,000 words in a day, when I wrote my first novel, so I thought averaging 778 was plausible.

It went ok… at first.

I got as far as 12,163 words.

Then three things happened:

  1. I started to run out of steam
  2. The story started to get convoluted and unruly
  3. I got the idea for Notepad cabin


The birth of Notepad cabin was the death of writing a novel

Approaching mid-January, as the motivation and focus for the novel began to peter out, other ideas were able to sneak past past my ‘stick-to-one-thing-and-finish-it-fully’ security fence to fill the growing void caused by Dark Circus’ retreat into the land of failing projects.

This is when I came up with the idea for Notepad cabin.


About the blog thing

For some time, at least 2 years, I’d wanted to create a blog. In that time I’d come up with three or four half baked ideas. Some of the ideas for content would be similar, I wrote some draft posts, bought some domains, started building sites, but none of them encapsulated the essence of what I was after. Mainly because I didn’t really know what I was after.

Then the Notepad cabin idea came to me on the night of Friday 28th January 2017.

My main efforts were centred, usually, around creative writing. But I have a lot of interests. So I thought it would make perfect sense to have a platform where all of the things I might want to write about or explore could converge. And this was the idea for Notepad cabin, it would be a collection of posts about anything that I might jot down in my Notepad.

I got excited. Too excited. And instantly jumped into buying the domain, creating the website, and outlining all the things I could write about.

Have you ever SERIOUSLY underestimated how long a project will take?

I did this, massively, with Notepad cabin. I thought I could have it complete in a few weeks, and that I would get right back to working on that novel (sure you will *pats head*).

After some more scenic-route tours around web development and jumping through hoops with e-mail forms for the site (and reviewing 400 e-mail service providers), I finally got Notepad cabin how I wanted it and on the 21st July 2017 I published my first post.


Upon initial reflection it seemed just jotting down ‘write a novel’ was too far in the other opposite direction of over-planning. It was too simplistic, and there wasn’t enough preparation for the task ahead.

Two weeks after I started work on Notepad cabin I realised, at that time, I’d probably made a mistake and that I had done exactly what I said I wouldn’t do (what an idiot). I’d got side tracked and moved onto a new project without finishing the current one. I should have stuck with the novel, persisted, and finished it. But I didn’t.

What did I learn?

Because of my failure with the novel though, I knew I had to see Notepad cabin through and get it up and running come hell or high water, otherwise it would have all have been for nothing and I would have wasted half the year.

I’ve also learnt the power of community. Because of the blog I began to engage on social media through my Twitter account in search of like-minded individuals, people interested in writing and blogging. I managed to hit a wave of a new subreddit, the Reddit Writers. Something I’ve not done before is be involved with a network of people online. I found the hashtag #redditwriters and just dived right in. There’s a lot of engagement and it’s been fun to read work of other writers. Things can happen quickly when there’s a collective, already we’re creating an anthology for our short stories, and I’m sure there will be many exciting ideas to follow.

With hindsight, would I start the blog in place of writing again?


Now, I have this platform for my writing, which I didn’t have before. This has given me a lot of encouragement, because I know my work has a purpose, a destination, and it won’t necessarily waste away in the prison of my laptop’s memory.

There are 2.46bn social network users online (2017), so if you have hopes of building an online readership it’s probably a good idea to get involved with social media and a blog serves not just as an outlet, but also a hub for all of your social media accounts.

Sure, you can publish straight to Amazon or Wattpad without a blog.

But with a personal website you have this machine, this tool, to help deliver, support, and publicise your work.


The key benefits of a blog

It’s given me a renewed sense of commitment and purpose for my writing because there’s a real-world, tangible place that my writing will be homed.

It’s made me excited about future possibilities because my writing will be ‘out there’.

It’s provided me with control over the publishing and distribution of my work.

More than anything, mentally, it brings you much closer to where you want to be. It makes your goals and ambitions seem more ‘real’ and ‘likely’, and not so distant.

Maybe I should go write that novel now…


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