Find Time to Write in 2019

A writer takes earnest measures to secure his solitude and then finds endless ways to squander it. – Don DeLillo

For the first half of last year, I was failing to write. I had the time, but I wasn’t taking the time. My diary was a mess of commitments all over the days and evenings, with no regular space to write. So despite having hours between school runs, I wasn’t doing it.

What I was doing was soaking up every spare minute on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. And a bunch of other things. I felt I was being productive and staying on top of stuff. I was drinking from a fire hose of information.

In the end I had to carve out the time to write. I had to protect that time. And I had to get over the fear of failure that meant I was allowing myself to drift.

I haven’t entirely got this thing licked, but here’s a four part guide to what I’ve done so far:

1 – Identify the best time to write

Work out when you write best. Personally it’s mid morning. Your mileage may vary.

There’s a fair chance that this time won’t be available to you. You’ll be at work, studying or looking after your kids, parents, or dog.

So now you have two choices.

Work out the second best time to write, or move your life to create a chunk of time for yourself every day.

2 – Protect the time

Once you’ve found and cleared time to write, protect it fiercely. Don’t schedule things in or around it. You will fail, you will schedule a haircut over it by mistake, or be hungover and miss it, but don’t give up.

Keep making that commitment to protect the time, and eventually you’ll get there if you want it enough. Eventually it will seem insane to you to arrange something during this time, this is your writing time. Every day.

3 – Look after yourself

You’re not going to do your best writing if you’re tired or stressed. Make another commitment to yourself, to sleep properly. To drink water. To eat meals at the proper times. To exercise. To fill the creative well by reading and watching films and looking out of the window and being in the world so that when you come to write, you have ideas.

When you come to write, you’ll likely find your brain is full of nonsense. So your first task when you sit down to write is to empty your mind as much as possible.

Journal (write about how you feel and what you’re doing that day) for as long as it takes to get all this bilge out of your system. Interesting off shoots can be saved for the beginnings of creative ideas later.

Then finally, write. Not in a vaguely committed way, but in a 100% committed way. There will be days when this doesn’t work. But go back to it, day in, day out, and use these strategies to make it easier for yourself:

The red carpet

Anything that makes it easier to sit down and write is a red carpet. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Find a space that you’ll write in. Keep it clear and comfortable.
  2. Put your writing stuff out so that it’s easy to start.
  3. Use timers. Set an alarm to remind you that it’s writing time. Use a timer to keep focus. Either a pomodoro timer, or an app like Be Focused or Flora.
  4. Make a playlist that you’re only ‘allowed’ to listen to while you’re writing. No coffee until your writing time! Be strict with yourself.
  5. If you’re stuck for ideas, remember that writing is a 3 bucket problem.

The velvet rope

Anything that dissuades you from procrastinating is a velvet rope.

  1. The hours you’ve set aside for writing are sacred. No coffees with friends or phone calls or meetings during this time.
  2. If you’re at home, you’re not in ‘home’ mode. You’re in ‘work’ mode. No doing housework because you’ve got writing to do. (That’s my excuse for not doing the ironing and I’m sticking to it.)
  3. Log out of apps every time you use them. Remove any that aren’t essential. Turn notifications off. Recently I’ve used Apple’s ‘Screen Time’ feature to lock my apps down between 9 and 3. Airplane mode is your friend.
  4. Consider how many social networks you need. I deleted LinkedIn and Instagram last year, and I don’t miss them much. Consider also whether reading 100 tweets on 100 different subjects is good for your focus. I find it scattering. I’m trying to avoid reading my Twitter feed even outside of my writing time.
  5. Consider deleting good but addictive apps. If DuoLingo is what gets you back into a phone based spiral, it might need to go, no matter how good your Mandarin is getting.

4 – Publish/perform

There’s nothing like putting your work into the world to make you actually finish it. And what you have to do to achieve this, if you’ve not already, is embrace failure.

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better. – Samuel Beckett

Stop aiming for perfect and get your stuff out there. There is no other way to get proper feedback on what you’re doing. If it stinks, it stinks. You will know by the big, fat bundle of tumbleweed that rolls in gleeful donuts around your work. And then what do you do? You make a fresh cup of tea and write something new.

I’ve found it enormously helpful to book hard deadlines for myself in the form of comedy gigs. Nothing gets me writing more than the thought of standing on stage with nothing to say. There’s no need to choose something this terrifying, but whatever works for you.

My friend Lynda sent me another tip – “At the end of the day/writing slot finish halfway through a paragraph. Or even a sentence. That way you don’t have to come up with a fresh idea from the start. You just pick up the last one and then you’re off.  That’s the theory anyway.”

I like this ide…



Amélie for the British Film Institute!


On Wednesday 12th December I’ll be presenting Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s fabulous Amélie, the classic comic fantasy that launched Audrey Tautou to stardom.

Tautou stars as the lonely waitress who finds ways to bring others the happiness (or comeuppance) they deserve, and eventually finds her own happy ending. It’s an imaginative, sassy romp through a Parisian dreamworld, filmed and acted with joyous flair.

This screening is part of Comedy Genius, a nationwide celebration of comedy on screen led by BFI, the Independent Cinema Office and BFI Film Audience network, supported by funds from the National Lottery. For more screenings go to #bficomedy


January work in progress show

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I’m doing a work in progress with the brilliant Andrew O’Neill in January, come see!

In 2015, Rach asked Andrew to make a package about anarchy and economics for Radio 4. They concluded the best way to bring down the government was to vote Tory.

So it proved.

Now Andrew and Rach have bucketloads of new stuff to try. They’ll be aided in their quest by their loyal sound man and an Imperial F*cktonne of Thistly Cross Cider.

Join us to find out what we’ve been up to for the last few months, and whether any of it is funny.

Andrew O’Neill is an award-winning stand-up comedian, musician and writer. He’s been on Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Saxondale and 50 Years Of Rock Excess.

Andrew’s Radio 4 stand-up show, Pharmacist Baffler, won an award and bothered some women on Mumsnet.

Rach was once in a lift with David Hasselhof. He was wearing a T-shirt which said, “That’s right, I’m not dead!”

She’s never forgotten it.

Rach was shortlisted for the 2018 BBC New Comedy Award and used to work on the Today programme. She enjoyed mashing bits of it up for jokes and is now unemployed.

Join us for guaranteed January blues-busting comedy or we’ll buy you a pint after.


The Unfortunate Bisexual


Tonight Cerys Bradley and I are taking a brand new work in progress show to the Harrison in Kings Cross.

We’ll be trying out new ideas in what is hopefully going to be a barnstorming Edinburgh show once we’ve tried it out a few times and knocked all the edges off the thing.

What does it mean to be bisexual? No, actually, what does it mean? Are we doing it right? How can you tell?

Join comedians Rachel Wheeley and Cerys Bradley for a night of comedy as confusing as coming out and as ridiculous as trying to explain the in’s and out’s of attraction to everyone you meet. They will each tell you their remarkably different experiences of being bisexual in this work in progress show that definitely wasn’t conceived in a desperate bid to validate either of their sexualities. There will be jokes, there will be tangents, there will be graphs, and more, because why have one thing when you can have many?

If you wanted tickets to this but missed out, check out our second work in progress show at Angel comedy in January.

‘The Evolution of Truth’ at the Royal Institution


I chaired a couple of talks at the Royal Institution at the beginning of the month, with Evan Davis and Richard Byrne.

Here is a somewhat upside-down action shot taken from the balcony, of the three of us during the Q&A at the end of the session.

Both talks were a fascinating insight into deception. First of all Richard Byrne spoke about primates and whether they have any understanding of the deception they sometimes practice, and then Evan spoke about bullshit, what it is, and why it’s suddenly an important force in global politics.

There was a lively Q&A afterwards with lots of people interested to know what we can do about the post-truth reality we now seem to live in.

History Showoff at Fulham Palace


I hosted a couple of History Showoff gigs at Fulham Palace last week. This was a really lovely event in an historic palace which reminded me of the architecture of Eton, where I grew up.

We had a couple of speakers per show, talking about Tudor superstitions, a Victorian forgery of a Tudor merchant’s diary and an Anne Boleyn tattoo, amongst other things. And then we retired to the bar to get hammered on mead. It was fab.

Thanks to Peter Hose for the photo and Steve Cross for the gig.

Gigs in October/November

Hosting a couple of History Show-off shows on Friday 26th October:

History of science show, Dead Talks, will be in Brighton on the 27th.

November 1st I’ll be at the Freedom Fridge in Kentish Town

November 3rd at the glorious Angel Comedy in Islington

Chairing ‘The Evolution of Truth’ at the RI on Nov 8th with Evan Davis and Richard Byrne:

November 15th is the second show back with Nicola Houghton at the Wheatsheaf in Tooting Bec. Jason Patterson, Saskia Preston and William Stone. Tickets here.

November 28th I’m taking a work in progress version of my new show ‘The unfortunate bisexual*‘ to the Harrison in Kings Cross with the fantastically funny Cerys Bradley.

November 29th I’ll be doing a show called London vs Home where I’ll be explaining why and how Eton is different from South London.

Do come and say hi.