Mashed Potatoes

Money is only an issue inasmuch as the prospect of making it without effort or agency governs someoneโ€™s decision to stick their dick in my mashed potatoes and call it a birthday cake.

He has a great way with words, Merlin. Some single sentences can stick out as something nobody else could have written.

Seen first elsewhere, but found this time via Daring Fireball.

Improving your Writing

Latest Update: Added Sacha’s 5 Ways to Deal with Writer’s Block.

Lamy Safari - Close up of Nib

Getting Started

Want to write every day? Chris Brogan says “The secret to writing every day is to write every day” – so just Write Every Day. He offers some tips on how to find the time to do a bit of writing, and you’ll probably find that if you do it a bit more often, you’ll get better at it.

Getting Better

  • The Day You Became a Better Writer – Scott Adams says he went from being a bad writer to being a good writer in a one day course. Here he passes on the majority of what he learned. It’s surprisingly simple.
  • Writing Tips from Paul Graham – How to list great writing tips from writer and entrepreneur Paul Graham. A good list of tips to get started (or re-started) with any writing project.
  • Copyblogger’s Copywriting 101 – a short course in copywriting. Yeah, copywriting is for ads and things, but how much of what you’re writing is trying to sell something, even if it’s just an idea? Hey, I’m trying to sell you this free copywriting course right now. Full of the sort of advice that sounds really obvious once you’ve read it, which is usually the best sort. Starting with “Donรขโ‚ฌโ„ขt Read This Post (or the Kitty Gets It)!” – how can you resist reading that?
  • Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully – in Ten Minutes by Stepen King. He knows what he’s talking about. Ten minutes doesn’t sound like enough time, but he follows his own advice on getting to the point. If you only read one article linked here, this should be the one.
  • George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language – a fairly long essay. If you’re short of time, at least skip to the bullet points towards the end starting “Never use a metaphor…” The whole thing is good, but those rules are the highlight for me.
  • Angela Booth’s Ten Best Writing Tips – she’s been doing it for 25 years, and here she shares a few tricks and secrets. Tip Eight sounds especially good – keep writing and editing apart. When you’re writing, just write, and let it flow. Edit afterwards. “If you don’t have trouble talking, how can you have trouble writing?”
  • You Don’t Need Permission to Create from Ripples – some good, practical advice for getting started and getting better.
  • Writerisms and other Sins – a useful guide to overused and misused language.

Getting it Right

Grammar and spelling mistakes aren’t a problem in a quick email to a friend. In business emails, they can give a poor impression. If you’re trying to take writing more seriously, though, getting it right starts to become important.


Planning and Organising Stories and Plots

Writing for the Web

  • SEO – Search Engine Optimisation. My own take is that generally, you’re better off writing and designing your site with people in mind, and the better search engines get at their job, the better you’ll look. Leave it to Google to improve your results. That said, there are some great tips at SEO Copywriting Techniques that Readers Love – ways to optimize for search engines that make things better for people, too.
  • Writing Content for your Blog from ProBlogger’s Blogging for Beginners series – some good stuff for everyone, not just beginners. I’m sure we could benefit from mixing our sources more, rather than just posting ten things in a row from Make:, then doing the same thing the next day from Boing Boing.
  • Scannable Content – from ProBlogger – on making your writing easier to scan through without reading fully. People often won’t read a whole article on the web, so making your content scannable could at least mean they’ll get the idea of what you’re trying to tell them. Little things like using bits of bold can help ๐Ÿ˜‰
  • Writing Gooder at ProBlogger – some excellent advice for writing. Aimed at bloggers, but just as relevant if you’re writing articles or even a novel. “Once you have the mad writing skillz, nothing will stand in your way of taking over the blogosphere.”

Fighting Writer’s Block


  • Keeping a Journal can be a good way to get your writing flowing every day.
  • Innowen suggests you get a little help from your friends – “Friendstorming, or the art of generating ideas with a little help of your friends has helped me generate ideas in ways that I’m not sure I would’ve found otherwise.” Not just a great suggestion, but a great new word too – friendstorming.
  • Where do you get your ideas from? – the question all writers seem to dread. Neil Gaiman has a go at answering it. Turns out he makes them up. From his head. Good reading, actually, this.
  • Use Your Imagination – How to get the story rolling in your head before getting it down on paper.
  • Writing From Your Life – from Angela Booth. Some tips on how to get the best from your own experience and imagination.

It’s that time again – NaNoWriMo Awaits!

The leaves are turning brown, the nights are drawing in and writers across the globe are limbering up for another National Novel Writing Month. Fancy a go? Innowen at DIY Planner has some great advice to share, and over on the official site there are forums, radio, and there’ll be a daily comic throughout November from the wonderful Debbie Ohi.

Good luck to everyone taking part. I wonder if our pal Excalibor will be having another go this year? Excalibor, if you’re around, leave us a comment and let us know.

60 Ways to be More Creative

Latest Update: Removed final suggestion to follow PigPog – we don’t talk about creative stuff as often these days. Removed a few other things that aren’t relevant any more, so the total is a bit under 60 now.

Derwent Graphitint 24-pack Inside

Many of us want to be more creative in our day-to-day lives, so here are a few ideas to get you going – many of them very quick and easy…

Eleven Ways to be Creative with Art

  • Check our Recent Posts about art, and make sure you’ve seen our Main Articles – you might get some ideas there.
  • Find a way of sharing your drawings or sketches with other people – the feedback you get could really help. Try deviantART (see our review) – because it’s aimed at art more than photography, you’ll get more feedback than you would using a photo sharing site.
  • Have a go at Tea Sketches (halfway down that page). You have to prepare when you drink tea, or splash some coffee, but you can build up a little stash of prepared cards. Turning one into a sketch doesn’t take long.
  • Doodle more. All you need is a pen by the phone. Even at work you can doodle. Doesn’t matter if it’s any good or not, just doodle.
  • Try out ArtRage – a paint simulator for Windows or Mac. The basic version is free (and the full version is pretty cheap if you get hooked and want the extra features), but it’s still plenty of fun. It’s even better if you have a graphics tablet or a Tablet PC.
  • Try drawing something. Doesn’t matter what, or when. Just grab a sheet of A4 from your printer, and draw something nearby – maybe even the printer you just stole the paper from.
  • If you do a bit of drawing already, try drawing with something different – if you usually use a pencil, try switching to a pen. Some people have found it gives new life to their art when they know they can’t keep erasing and correcting – it makes it more alive. If you usually use a pen, try pencil. Try charcoal. Try whatever you can find.
  • Try this drawing upside down exercise – it tricks your brain and you’ll be amazed at the result!
  • Learn to Draw or to Draw People
  • Why not join The Drawing Club? You can join in with the Yahoo! Group and share your drawings with other people. (Update: the club is somewhat dormant these days.)
  • Draw on something unusual – doodle on your food packaging, or whatever else comes to hand. A Sharpie is ideal for this.

Seven Ways to be Creative with Craft

  • Try making a ‘sketch’ with Post-it notes and scissors. Cut the note into the shape of something, and stand it up by sticking it to your desk and folding just behind the glue.
  • Get yourself to your local craft supplies shop, and pick up some card making stuff. Especially if it’s not the sort of thing you’d usually do. Make cards for people this year, instead of giving all your money to Hallmark.
  • Explore craft supplies stores like Hobbycraft for all-in-one project sets. Gives you the chance to try out whatever you fancy without investing in large amounts of equipment.
  • Bored? We’ve got a few papercraft projects for you to try.
  • Keep an eye on Make: for plenty of unusual projects to inspire you.
  • Get a few basics in that you can make anything with – Duct tape, some different types of glue, a craft knife, a metal ruler, string, and maybe a Swiss army knife or Leatherman.

Seven Ways to be Creative with Music

  • Have a play with some of the toys listed in our Online Music page. Desktop Blues is great fun, and takes no musical skill whatsoever – even I can do it.
  • Don’t have an instrument? Get one. It doesn’t need to cost too much – a cheap electric guitar or keyboard can be had for surprisingly little. If you’re in the UK, eBuyer have electric guitars for under ยฃ50, and you can get electric and acoustic guitars from Amazon in the US.
  • Be brave. Go to a music shop and try out a few instruments. Most people who work there don’t bite, and if they do, it’s on their own time.
  • Get everyone else out of the house. Lock the door. Take the phone off the hook. Put on your favourite album and rock out. It’s good for you.
  • Sing along – the car is the best place. When you’re not stuck in traffic, it’s difficult for anyone else to see or hear your embarrassing wailing.
  • Have a bang at the Virtual Drum Kit.

Eight Ways to be Creative with Photography

  • Buy a photography magazine. In the UK, Practical Photography is my favourite. There are plenty of magazines out there full of ideas, though.
  • If you’re not already signed up, give Flickr a go. You can share your photos there with other people, and see what other people are doing. Add tags to your pictures, then click the little ‘world’ icons next to them to see what other people have taken with that tag.
  • Once you’ve tried Flickr out, try joining some Groups. There are groups for just about anything you can imagine, and if you can think of something that doesn’t exist, you can make a new group yourself. Groups can be really inspiring, as you start looking out for things that match the groups you have joined.
  • Drool over toys at DP Review – they do the best reviews out there, and they get all the best toys.
  • Think of a theme to take pictures of. Peter Bryenton has an ongoing theme of threes – anything that comes in threes. You’ll be surprised how much more you notice things, if you pick something good. I joined a group on Flickr for ‘Bright Colours on Gray’, and suddenly I was seeing bright things on gray backgrounds everywhere. Getting stuck in roadworks became a great photo opportunity.
  • Try doing more of something you don’t do. If you normally shy away from photographing people, try snapping your family and friends. If you usually only do people, try pointing your camera at inanimate objects more often. Think of something you don’t do, and do it.
  • Take 3 digital photos from your collection and turn them into a collage in Photoshop (or Paint Shop Pro, The GIMP, etc). Don’t try to join them invisibly, and feel free to use more than three. Have a look at my attempts.

Seven Ways to be Creative at Work

  • If your job is sapping your creativity, it might be worth thinking about a change.
  • Keep an eye on 43 Folders – Merlin is full of ideas for being more productive, and the people over at 43 Folders have a more creative take on the whole thing than most.
  • Try a change. I change my whole ‘productivity system’ around three or four times a week, and I don’t recommend it, but if you’ve been using the same system for a while and it’s not getting the results, a change might do you some good. If nothing else, it forces a full review of what you’re up to, which can make a big difference in itself. If you’re all paper-based at the moment, why not try doing everything on a computer? If you’re using a computer now, why not try setting up a DIY Planner for yourself, and see how you get on with paper and pen?
  • Suffer from the opposite problem? Like me, can’t you stop ‘playing’ with your system? Try forcing yourself to stick with something simple for a while. Just a few bits of paper, of a few text files, maybe. You might get some insights into more creative ways of using the simple tools, rather than just throwing more tools at the problem.
  • Try mind mapping, if you don’t already. Just write the heading in the middle of the page instead of at the top, and start scribbling outwards from there. You can find this really frees up your more creative side, and can give you new insights.
  • Keep something handy for making notes anywhere – never lose an idea. A folded index card in a pocket is enough.

Eight Ways to be Creative with Writing

  • Have a look through some of the articles linked from our Improving your Writing page – there are lots of great ideas in there.
  • Try switching methods. If you usually only write at your computer, try gabbing a pad and a pen, and sitting somewhere a bit more pleasant. If you normally use pen, try writing directly on your computer.
  • Read more. Sounds obvious, but if you’re going to output, you need input. To write, it can help if you read. Sign up at Bloglines if you don’t already use an RSS reader, and find a few interesting blogs to subscribe to. Stick a book in the bathroom, and you’ll get at least some reading each day ๐Ÿ˜‰
  • Why not start a blog of your own? It’s easy enough to get started somewhere like WordPress, Blogger or Vox, and it doesn’t have to cost anything. It can give you a bit of incentive to write regularly (though you’d be surprised how many blogs consist entirely of a post every three months saying “I should blog more”). If you hope to sell your writing, it can also serve as an easy way to keep contact with potential customers, and to make new contacts.
  • Get a copy of Writing Down The Bones (Search for "Writing Down The Bones" on: DuckDuckGo, Amazon UK, Amazon US) by Natalie Goldberg), and dip into it whenever you need a push.
  • Set up a system for storing the little nuggets of information you happen on, and store them somewhere you can find them again. See my post on Storing Nuggets of Information for some ideas, but you probably don’t want to get too hung up on how – just stick them all in a folder for now (computer folder or cardboard), and work that out later.
  • Keep a journal for the year. The only person you’re writing for is yourself, so you can just let go and get all your thoughts down on paper.

Twelve Ways to Mix ’em Up!

Where the categories above meet…

  • Write about your productivity system.
  • Take photos of a musical instrument.
  • Draw pictures on cards for people’s birthdays.
  • Write about the day you took your favourite photo.
  • Take a photo of a place you spent a happy day.
  • Write a tune inspired by one of your photos.
  • Make a musical instrument. Probably start with something percussive ๐Ÿ˜‰
  • Take photos of your favourite productivity tools.
  • Draw your camera.
  • Make a case for carrying index cards. Clue: duct tape ๐Ÿ˜‰
  • Draw something from your favourite fiction book.
  • Buy a guitar magazine and draw your favourites.