Matt Gemmell

CHANGER is available now!

An action-thriller novel — book 1 in the KESTREL series.

★★★★★ — Amazon

Fifteen years

writing & blog 2 min read

Fifteen years ago today, it was a Friday, and I was in Glasgow. I don’t remember much about the weather or what I was doing generally (I do at least know that I was at university), but I did do one seemingly unimportant thing: I created a blog, and started writing on the web.

More than 1,200 articles and over 765,000 words later, I’m still doing it.

My desk

writing 3 min read

I’ve always been interested in how other people set up their working area. I used to run my own business as a software developer, and my desk was a complete mess for most of that time; it was piled high with stuff, and the desk itself was huge. It had a cramped, unsettling feeling, but I had a lot of things I needed to keep within reach (or thought I did). My office decor was neutral in tone, but very visually busy, with knick-knacks and posters and all sorts of other things dotted around.

I gave all that up more than three years ago to focus on writing, and I’ve never been happier. I recently got around to revamping my home office, and I took the opportunity to pare things down considerably. I’d like to share my current setup with you.

Learn Ulysses

writing & ipad-only 1 min read

Fellow writers (and users of Ulysses, perhaps), I’m excited to share the Learn Ulysses course with you, created by Shawn Blanc and The Sweet Setup. It’s a video screencast (with full text transcriptions) course that teaches you all about my favourite writing app for iOS and macOS. It’s only $29, which is a bargain.

I’ve watched the full course myself, and even as someone who spends hours each day in Ulysses on the iPad, I learned a few things. The production values are very high, as expected, and it’s broken into bite-sized chunks by topic. I really enjoyed it, and I think you will too.

You can learn about the course here.

Locations: The Cuypers Library

writing & kestrel 2 min read

I wonder how many readers recognise the location shown in the photo below (and yes, that’s me looking out from the balcony).

The Cuypers Library

It’s the Cuypers Library, in the beautiful Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. My wife and I love the museum, and have been there several times — Amsterdam is also one of our favourite cities.

Spoiler alert: the Cuypers Library is one of the (later) settings in CHANGER, and I thought it might be interesting to talk a little bit about how I chose where the book’s various scenes take place.

For Members: Alternate CHANGER covers

writing & kestrel 1 min read

For fans of CHANGER, just a heads-up: this week’s issue of The Writer’s Life, my members-only newsletter that hits inboxes every Monday, includes some never-before-seen early cover concepts!

Alternate CHANGER cover teaser

I talk about the genesis of CHANGER’s cover, from initial ideas to the finished artwork, and also detail a list of tips for preparing a cover-design brief and working with a designer.

You can become a member right now — the perks include The Writer’s Life (with all 130+ back issues), getting my new books for free in ebook format (and before the public release date), and a members-only chatroom to discuss writing, productivity, tools, and more.

You can find more information here. Thanks for reading.

No More Frisbee

tech 4 min read

There’s a guy called Alan Adler, who founded a company called Aerobie. They make various products, but you’ve probably heard of exactly two of them: their ring-shaped frisbee, also called Aerobie, and their coffee maker, called AeroPress.

Yes, the hipster caffeine-plunger thing is made by the same company as those neon rings you most likely see stuck in the high branches of trees in your local park. Strange world.

Project Structure for a Novel

writing 3 min read

Each writer approaches a project differently, and there’s no right or wrong way to handle the huge task of managing tens of thousands of words, research material, background, and everything else that goes into the finished book.

Regardless of what writing app you use, you probably have access to folders or groups within the project for a novel. Ulysses and Scrivener certainly both offer that functionality. I’m a previous user of Scrivener (still extremely fond of it), and a current user of Ulysses — but this brief article applies to either of them.

Here’s the system I used when writing CHANGER, and my other novels in progress. Perhaps it’ll be useful as a starting point for you, too.

Within each project, I have the following top-level groups:

  • Requires Attention. This is a special group, which is actually a kind of live search. It’d be a Saved Search Collection in Scrivener, or a Filter in Ulysses. It matches documents which satisfy any of the following criteria:
    • Has the todo keyword in the document’s metadata.
    • Contains the text “XXX”, which I use as a fill-me-in-later placeholder for things like dates that I need to look up later, or names I’ve yet to decide upon.
    • Contains any kind of annotation or comment within the text.

    This makes the editing process much easier, since I can see what’s still to be done, all in one place. I keep the matching documents sorted chronologically, which tends to match their order in the manuscript.

  • Journal. I keep diary entries about significant thoughts or realisations regarding the project. This isn’t my master list of ideas or plans, but rather an actual journal that accompanies the work, and gives behind-the-scenes insight into the creative process. It’s useful to me, and it’s also a future perk for members of my site.

  • Front Matter. The book’s front matter goes here, unsurprisingly. Author bio, dedication, title page, copyright, half-title, and the jacket blurb which I insert at the front of ebook versions, since it’s easier to access there for the reader. Since both Ulysses (any platform) and Scrivener (on desktop) can directly produce both ebooks and print-ready PDFs, I find it handy to have this stuff right there with the content.

  • Manuscript. This is where the action happens, and is the only group which will have a word target to track in Ulysses. It’ll be further subdivided into Chapter folders, but only once the first draft is complete. I write in scenes — one per document/sheet — and assemble chapters later, based on rhythm and feel. For my thriller novels, I’m fond of using Parts too, so that’ll sometimes be the top-level organisational structure within the Manuscript folder. In either case, there’ll potentially also be a Prologue and Epilogue there too.

  • Back Matter. The book’s back matter; usually an Afterword, and an Acknowledgements section.

  • Notes. Any and all work-in-progress notes I might need. A common type of note is a timeline of some kind, and I also keep my own question-and-answer documents about plot points, to refer back to. Another frequent entry is a list of time-zones, and travel times between them, so that I can keep track of plausible times of day and night as my characters travel all over the world.

  • Characters. I religiously keep my character sheets up to date. They include physical descriptions, backgrounds, mannerisms, and important points of relevant context for series books like the KESTREL novels.

  • Locations. A sheet for each significant location, if it requires detailed explanation of its own. These often include photos. I try to visit as many of my locations as possible before using them, or at least to visit places which inspired them.

  • Research. This covers anything that’s not in Locations. For thrillers, it’ll often be technical overviews for things like vehicles, weapons, and technologies — real or invented.

  • Cover Design. I keep my communications with my cover designers with the novel itself. I write the initial brief, and then add follow-up notes on changes I’d like made. It’s easier to do it where I can refer to the rest of the work for specifics on settings, moods, and so on.

  • Unused Scenes. This is a habit from my years of using the excellent Scrivener. Whenever I decide that a scene doesn’t make the cut, or needs to be rewritten entirely, I put the old one here instead of deleting it. It’s occasionally useful for resurrection later, but mostly it just makes for a fascinating archeological look at the differences between the initial draft or plan and the finished story.

You’ll want to make tweaks to this setup to suit your own working style, but I’ve found that it’s a good balance between project management, organising documents the way they’ll go into the final book, and keeping ancillary materials like research and reference resources close at hand.

If you’ve got your own long-form writing project structure to share, I’d love to hear about it via Twitter. Thanks for reading.

Site Membership for 2017

writing & blog 1 min read

My writing is made possible by readers like you. I’ve been writing here since 2002, and there are over 1,200 posts so far (more than 760,000 words!), on all sorts of topics. I’ve given up software development and I now write books, a journey I’m still (hopefully) at the start of.

You can help support my writing — novels, articles, and non-fiction books — by becoming a member of this site. I’ve revamped the membership options for 2017, and I’m excited about them. The benefits are:

  • You get new books first and free. Before public release, and in ebook format, automatically. This goes for anything released during your membership.

  • The Writer’s Life, a weekly exclusive newsletter and article via email. You also get access to all 130+ back-issues.

  • A members-only chatroom, via Slack. We talk about all kinds of things: writing, tech, workspaces, design, and more. Plus sneak peeks!

  • The satisfaction of supporting my work, and my dream.

There are both monthly and yearly membership plans, and you can modify or cancel your membership yourself at any time, no questions asked. Credit cards and Apple Pay (yay!) are both supported, and you’ll be billed in your own local currency.

Find out more about membership and join here.

(And if you’re not ready to commit to being a site member yet, perhaps you’d be interested in a once- or twice-monthly email newsletter about my new books, projects, extras, and giveaways? You can sign up here.)

I look forward to welcoming you as a member. Thanks for reading.