Hello again.

This week’s been interesting. Last week I spotted that our websites were regularly exceeding their server resources, so after several discussions with our hosts, over the weekend we migrated to a new server. Then, on Monday, my web host shut down my account because it was hosting malware. That led – via various complex live-chats – to the discovery of an annoying hack affecting a couple of my domains. Including this one.

It’s clean now. But there was a point this week where I was looking at the scale of the work necessary to clean it up, and genuinely asking: what’s the point? Do I actually want to keep this ancient site – with its intermittent posts, some of which hold up after many years and some of which look staggeringly naive? Is this of value to anyone, any more – is it of value to me? Is it worth the effort?

I came to the conclusion that yes, it is. Partly because it’s a record of my thinking and my participation in the broader internet, and partly because it contains within it a lot of the seeds that have developed me into the person I am. But partly also because of its potential.

Over the last few years I’ve fallen out of the habit of writing online. In New York, in 2015, mostly there wasn’t time; then as I moved into a very senior role at the Guardian, the risks of showing my working – of thinking in public – were consistently too great to really allow it. It wasn’t until I left that I really felt free to share some of what I’d learned. And that was at a time when I was deeply unsure how life might proceed from that point onward; I’d recently had a life-changing diagnosis that prompted – is still prompting – an enormous series of shifts in how I see myself and how I think about the world. I’ve been re-configuring my relationship with the internet and with social media since leaving the Guardian, too, and reading a lot more offline. And as my business has developed and grown, that’s taken a lot of spare time away from reflective pursuits – for better and for worse.

But I miss writing, and I miss having a space to think out loud – whether that’s consequential or incremental, personal or industrial, or simply just a place to jot down notes on what I’m thinking for a later date. I’m reminded that this website shouldn’t just be a museum – or if it is, it should be properly archived. I’m going to have to take that decision soon; perhaps this is an opportunity to come back to the internet and see what happens.

Why blog?

When I started this blog, blogs were dead exciting. They were the Future. They were New Media, and I was a new journalist, and I desperately loved working online. I wanted to throw myself into the exciting new future of online journalism as hard as I possibly could, so I did the best thing I could think of: I started writing about online journalism, as a sort of add-on to my day job, writing in the cracks. I read everything I could find. I used to get home after 10-hour days writing and demand my brain to produce something else, another few hundred words of analysis or a quick pointer to something else interesting on the internet that someone had said, because I thought it was hugely important.

It was. Honestly, it was. I treated it with such seriousness, and I’m pretty sure that without it I wouldn’t have moved on in the way that I have. Blogging made me, in some ways more than newsrooms did: blogging made me think about reaching specific audiences, it honed my research and collaboration skills, it made me capable of synthesising an argument in 500 words for humans (rather than 2,000 words for academics), it stopped me being scared of speaking my mind in public. What it did for me has been invaluable.

Then I moved on. I started work at the Guardian, and that has a certain chilling effect on writing: for one thing, I can’t use this blog to kvetch about minor work frustrations, because Private Eye exists. There’s a tendency for some people to think that if a journalist works for a national or international news organisation, their words in a personal space reflect back on that organisation. And there’s also the fact that a great many of the things I worked on at the Guardian have been the things I couldn’t work on back when I started out. There’s no need to come home and get fired up about online journalism when I can put that fire to action at work. That’s a very satisfying place to be.

But blogging matters. Late last year, inspired by Adam Tinworth, I tried to blow the dust off this place and pick up the pace a little: I forced myself to write about something every day for ten days. Sometimes games, sometimes journalism, sometimes politics, sometimes creative work, sometimes criticism, sometimes just notes – a broader palette than the one I started with, and perhaps a more mature one. (Perhaps a more confusing one; I’ve stopped trying to separate those parts of my life, because each of them informs all of the others, but if you’re looking for a single-subject blog I can imagine the combination can be strange.)

Since then I’ve slacked off somewhat, but since the new year started I’ve been trying to write posts with ideas in them, thoughts or analysis or at least contextualising a link to something else. One a week at least, on top of the weekly Pocket Lint email. In fact, that Pocket Lint links post every Saturday is a deliberate strategy to force myself to write more: I don’t want my blog to only consist of links posts, like the Delicious-powered graveyards that scattered the web a few years back, when everyone stopped writing and just auto-posted links instead.

Adam’s currently doing another challenge: one month of 500-word posts, substantive things, every day. He linked to this post on writing yourself into existence:

Once you have a blog you notice more, you start to think “I might write about this on my blog” “What do I want to say?” “What will people’s reaction be?”. Over time you get better at noticing and the better at noticing you get the more noticed you get! You end up in the wonderful collective web of “Oooh that’s interesting” which I now wouldn’t ever want to be without.

That’s right. When I wasn’t blogging, I wasn’t thinking about what I read in the same way. Now, finding myself falling out of the habit after a couple of months, that’s a useful reminder to keep writing, to keep sharing what I find interesting, as much for the process of finding, thinking, synthesising and creating as for publishing the end result. Blogging’s been very good for me. I should be doing it more.

The Guardian has a new URL

We’re now over at theguardian.com. There’s a handy explanatory blog post over here, which also contains a very happy-making phrase including the words ‘10% uplift’ about the work we’ve been doing over in Australia.

I’ve been involved in this project at various stages over the months – involved enough to be acutely aware of the complexity and scope of what’s happened today. Massive congratulations and kudos to all involved.

Hopefully now Australians will stop asking me why we have .co.uk in the link…

Back to blogging: 10 days on

back to blogging11 days ago I decided to blog every day for 10 days, in an attempt to kickstart myself into writing more online for lots of sensible reasons. It’s gone… OK, I think. The quality has been dramatically variable, which is to be expected: I said at the start I was rusty, and that’s still true. I can hear bits of me creaking when I write. And without the luxury of time to let my writing sit and then come back to edit it, a lot of what’s gone up here has been rough and ready.

Despite that, the world has not ended, and my crazy perfectionist brain hasn’t given me too much grief about what I’ve posted. I’ve put something vaguely readable out every day. Some of it’s obviously been interesting – I had more than a thousand views in a day for the IGN piece, which for this blog is a significant number. Some of it’s just me thinking out loud, which is also fine. One of the reasons for doing this was to get better at thinking, after all.

It hasn’t been particularly easy to fit around a standard day. That’s partly because right now there are no standard days – the one real constant is that I’m very busy with work – and partly because I’ve not set aside a set block of time to blog. Days when I spot something first thing in the morning, or when I’ve got something brewing in the back of my head, have been relatively easy – I can knock something into shape over lunch. Days when I’m struggling for a subject or when I can’t get words to flow quite right have been much harder. And if I hadn’t written almost all of this post yesterday, there’s no way I could have gotten it up today.

But that will change as I get back into the groove, and as my magpie habits return. I’m finding myself squirrelling away interesting links for analysis, not just tweeting them and leaving them. I’m reading more deeply, forcing myself to articulate what’s relevant in more depth than 140 characters minus a link. I’m also realising there are lots of things I want to write that need a bit more care and attention than the average day can provide. I’ve not talked about my work, or written that piece about movement in Morrowind and the problem of fast travel, or gotten really snarky about Snowfall-related news commentary. Yet.

So the experiment will continue for a while. I’m not going to commit 100% to posting every day, but when Grant recovers from PAX I am going to ask him to join me in doing this again. If it takes 60 days to build a habit, then perhaps that should be the goal: in 60 days time, I’d like to be blogging more days than not. I’d like to be posting better quality pieces, too, but it’s more important that something exists than that it’s perfect.

Procrastiworking and the joy of side projects

A team of explorers fighting a zombie
The sort of thing that happens when side projects get seriously out of hand.

Between Zombie, games like The Trial, random charity projects, writing and other miscellaneous activities, on average I get a great deal done, outside of work, despite having the sort of work life that normally means it consumes everything else you do.

Side projects are some of my favourite things. I like to have as many as possible on the go at once, ideally some complicated ones with multiple moving parts as well as a few really simple ones that I can get sorted quickly. Some of the latter expand into the former. Most of them never get finished at all. They’re great.

Part of the reason I do this, when I’m really honest, is about mental health. I’ve dealt with crippling depression for my whole life; sometimes successfully, sometimes not. It was worst when I was in my late teens, but it still fluctuates periodically, and in the late autumn and winter when the nights draw in so do my energy levels and capacity to do things. Any things. At all. In the summer, when energy is boundless and I have relatively few fears of over-stretching myself, I do as much as I can in the time available. Sometimes in overcompensating I push extremely hard. When I am well I want to do everything, as hard as I can, because I am terrified that next time the depression claims that part of me it will be permanent and I will not get it back. It lends great joy to simply doing.

But there are plenty of other factors too. Like everyone in the world, I am not just one set of interests or hobbies; I contain multitudes. I like to explore and to create. I am lucky that work gives me space and money to do so in some areas, but – again, like most of the world – there are plenty of impulses that work can’t satisfy. So I get stuff done around the edges, through the application of a slightly unusual technique.

The system here is to get so busy that literally everything you are doing is procrastinating from something else. I jokingly called it “procrastiworking” once, and the name has sort of stuck. It consists of having a list of tasks that are interesting and engaging on their own merits, but also sorta kinda count as work. Productive tasks, rather than consumptive ones. Things that are sort of working towards something else. Examples: write a short short story every day for two weeks. Organise a live game. Blog for ten days straight. Make a Twine game that teaches you how to use Twine. Learn HTML. Make a website. Clear your Steam unplayed list before the next sale.

Once you have slightly too many of these, many of them interlinked, most of them satisfying to complete even if they’re tricky or annoying to actually do (partnership tax return, I am looking at you here) you can successfully procrastiwork by doing one of them, in the knowledge you are not doing any of the others. This is a blatant psychological trick, but for me it works rather well. It’s amazing how much you can get done when you’re not doing something else even more pressing.

The down side – and there is definitely a down side – is that you start to feel guilty for doing things that aren’t productive. You have to be able to put everything aside and focus on your friends, on activities that relax you and do not carry expectations of a finished product. If you’re not careful you begin over-emphasising the results, rather than the process. But really, the vast majority of side projects aren’t about what you end up with. They’re about broadening you out, exploring things you can’t do at work, learning new skills, discovering things you’re good (and bad!) at, creating for the sake of the joy of being creative. They’re about failing, not finishing and being half-assed without fear. They let you play. And being able to play well, as an adult, is a skill no one should be without.

Back to blogging: 10 reasons for 10 days

Starting my first Livejournal was not the only questionable decision I made in 2004.
Starting my first Livejournal was not the only questionable decision I made in 2004.
  1. This is all @adders’s fault.
  2. I used to blog all the time. I used to have a serious writing work ethic. I’ve blogged in many formats under multiple names since 2004, or thereabouts, which makes me a bit of a youthful whippersnapper in terms of some of the internet. But it’s nearly a decade now, and that’s too much waffling on the internet to throw away just because I’m busy.
  3. I’m out of practise. I’m rusty. I used to write for a living; now I’m more on the production side, and my writing is suffering for lack of daily use. This is not a muscle I should allow to atrophy.
  4. Side projects are brilliant, and I like to have at least six on the go at the same time, because there is something wrong with me. My blog hasn’t been on that list for far too long.
  5. Writing things through is a superb way to refine an argument, distill an insight or open a debate. Writing makes me better at thinking.
  6. I used to yammer on about how important it was for a digitally-savvy journalist to have a blog and get themselves out there on the wide wide interwebs. Just because I’m happy with where I’m at, and pouring a great deal of energy and inspiration and activity into my day job, doesn’t mean that advice doesn’t still hold true.
  7. I know a whole bunch of stuff about some extremely esoteric internet subjects now. Maybe some people might find some of that useful. I should share.
  8. I have a whole bunch of opinions and knowledge about games and other culture, about storytelling more broadly, about politics and events. I have a lot of experience of making game things in liminal spaces. Maybe some people might find some of that interesting. It can all share space together with the media stuff here and cross-pollinate, the way it does in my brain.
  9. One of the things making Detritus has viscerally re-taught me (more on that in a coming blog post!) is that what actually matters in my personal work is making things. If they’re well received and widely read, that’s absolutely brilliant. But what matters more is that they exist at all.
  10. I didn’t want to do ten days of blogging every day on my own, so I sort of challenged Grant. He’s a far, far better and more entertaining writer than I am, and I really enjoy reading what he writes. I’m basically just doing this so that he writes more. It’s entirely selfish.

Smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back for breakfast

London’s doing its absolute best to make me happy to leave right now – it’s raining sideways. We’ve consolidated our lives into five suitcases (plus a lot of boxes in storage), and the taxi gets here in an hour and a half. This time tomorrow – well, for me it won’t be this time tomorrow, for one thing, and for another we’ll still be flying – but pretty soon after that we’ll be in Sydney.

There should be a new word – I bet there’s one in German – for this mixture of sadness, excitement, fear and joy that comes with this kind of move. I’m astonishingly lucky to be going to such an exciting job in such an exciting place. I’m astonishingly lucky to have so much to leave behind. I’m astonishingly lucky to be living in a time when I can still live in the internet, and keep track of where all my friends are and what’s happening in their worlds, while being as far away as it’s really possible to be without actually being in space.

We’ve come a long way. We’re off a bit further. We’ll be back soon.

Upping sticks: moving to Sydney with Guardian Australia

I’m moving: not away from the Guardian, but with it. I’m going to be moving to Sydney for a secondment with the Guardian’s new Australian team. My role is editorial audience development, and will encompass SEO, analytics, community coordination, social media, and probably a whole bunch of other stuff I don’t know about yet. It’s a small, brilliant team full of interesting folks, with lots of exciting opportunities ahead; I can’t wait to get started.

It’s also literally half a world away. I’m lucky – we’re lucky – to be in a position where Grant can come with me, and can hopefully work and live alongside me, rather than having to be apart for what’s likely to be at least 9 months. We’re at a time in both our lives where upping sticks to somewhere with wombats and wallabies is not just possible but sounds like it could be bloody good fun. It will be hugely sad to be so far away from friends and families, but it will also be a very big adventure.

It turns out I own an awful lot of things I don’t need. And an astounding number of Nerf guns, which I clearly need to keep somewhere till we get back, along with the fire axes and the smoke machine and all of the books. If I owe you a coffee, a beer, an email or a chat, now’s a very good time to cash it in, while I’m still hunting for paperwork and trying to get our lives stowed away before we leave. Also if you’ve seen my birth certificate, I need that back.

And, in unrelated news, I’m hosting The Story conference next Friday. Hopefully I’ll see some of you there.