To the Stars and Back

Eric was a very good friend of mine. I’m proud to be part of this collection

Eric Brown was one of the UK’s finest SF authors. His work won him awards, his storytelling won him readers; more than that, though, he was a special person, and that won him many friends.

Containing all new stories from some of the UK’s finest genre writers, this volume, released to mark what would have been Eric’s 64th birthday, is dedicated to Eric and his family. It is our way of celebrating someone whose work inspired us and whose friendship made a difference.

Eric Brown: (24 May 1960 – 21 March 2023)

Follow this link to order the book

Capturing Emotion: Inspiration and Evernote

(This post originally appeared on the Evernote blog)

To slightly misquote Kate Sanborn, writing is 1% inspiration and 99% hard work.

When inspiration strikes, the world pauses, and the sky lights up. Everything about your story becomes clear, and you walk with a spring in your step for the rest of the day. You don’t need to capture inspiration; it fills your world.

This post isn’t about that 1%. It’s about other 99%, capturing all those little scraps that make up a novel. It’s about preparing the ground in which inspiration can take root.

Capture emotion, not just description 

Every writer carries a notebook with them for recording scraps. I still do, but most of my captures nowadays are via the Evernote app on my phone. Why my phone? Because I nearly always have it with me, and because it has a camera.

There’s something about capturing a scene live. Sol Stein said that writing is about communicating emotion. Good writers don’t just describe what scenes look like, they capture the emotions inherent in those scenes. That’s why when I see something interesting, I don’t just describe what it looks like, I describe how it makes me feel. 

This is a picture of a tree near my house. I didn’t take the picture because it looked nice, but rather because something about the light and dark made me think of how the seasons were changing and time was passing.

I used Evernote to capture the image. Why? Because pictures just get lost on my camera roll, while saving them as notes means I can write comments beneath the picture itself. 

Remember: When making notes, you’re adding emotion, not just description.

Take a walk 

For me, the best way to get ideas—the best way to cure writer’s block, for that matter—is to take a walk. I can’t stress enough the importance of taking walks. I’ve written about that hereAnd hereI’m not the only person to think so, by the way.

Go for a walk and look around. Don’t listen to music; let your mind wander. The ideas will come. Start capturing your ideas—and don’t forget to capture the emotions that come with them. 

Using the quick notes widget on Android, I can end up with 40 or 50 notes which I then merge when I get home. Of course, you could add all the ideas to the same note if you prefer.

Walking isn’t only about capturing ideas, it’s a distraction that allows your mind to stop consciously trying to put together the pieces of the puzzle. Instead, those pieces are left to float free, to be jiggled into place by the subconscious. Writing is about getting to a place where the subconscious can take over. Letting your mind wander free is essential, and walking helps you to do it.

A good walk can produce a lot of notes. Not all of them will relate to the current work in process—these need to be retained and revisited later. Systems such as Zettelkasten are a great way to do this, and you can replicate this to a certain extent by using tags in Evernote.

My writing process 

Tags are one of Evernote’s most powerful features. Using tags, I can find all my characters, for example, no matter which story they are a part of. You can read more about my tagging system here

Every so often, I go through my notes. I tag them by story (for example, #threebears) and by things such as character, beat, and worldbuilding. Once you have all your notes neatly tagged, it’s time to sit down and write that story. 

Here’s how Evernote will write your book for you.

It won’t.

Of course, it won’t. Evernote is a productivity app, not a literary bot. No system is going to write your book for you, and that’s a good thing because if there were such a system, then writing would be no fun.

Here’s my real writing process:

I sit down and start writing. I allow the words to flow onto the page while I wait for my subconscious to take over.

My process is all about getting myself to a place where my subconscious can do its own thing. I believe that you should trust in your characters and listen to what they have to say. If you’re following your characters and letting them be themselves, then the story will unfold—maybe not how you want it, but in the way that it wants to go. The trouble comes when you try and force your characters to be what they’re not, when you twist them and make them act in arbitrary fashions to satisfy your initial plot. That’s when the contradictions build up, and the story crashes. If you can see that happening, it’s time to go out for a walk…

Stuck for ideas with NaNoWriMo approaching? Then don’t just sit there. Get out and capture some emotions!

The Professional Side

I’ve written a lot about the tools I use to handle the creative side of writing. But what about the professional side?

It’s a principle of both GTD and Zettelkasten (the two productivity systems I follow) that you keep your reference materials separate from your work. I’ve learned by experience that this is excellent advice.

I’ve had 8 novels and around 70 short stories published. Here’s how I use Evernote to keep track of my writing career.


The basic unit of my writing is a story. I use Evernote to create two notes for every story I begin, one for recording ideas and one for the professional details.

Here’s what goes into a “professional” note.

  • The date I started and finished the story (this is for my own interest.)
  • Dates of revisions, submissions to beta readers
  • Beta readers comments
  • Submission details.

Evernote has recently introduced a tasks feature that is ideal for keeping track of submission deadlines.

Once a story has been placed I add the following to the note:

  • The contract (usually a pdf)
  • Galleys
  • Date of publication, magazine issue (if appropriate)
  • Cover image. This is handy for producing publicity materials.
  • Reviews, quotations
  • Reprint details.

If you’re just starting out as a writer, I’d advise you to begin doing the above with your first sale. If your work is resold, editors want to know these details. Having them to hand will save you a lot of time in the future.

One last thing.

Evernote now allows you to place filtered widgets on your home page. I’ve set up a widget with works in progress or stories currently on submission. I can now see at a glance just what I should be doing.


I keep several bios on Evernote. A very short one, (22 words), short (60 Words) and longer (over 200 words). They are then when needed, though I usually have to update them at the time. I also have several photos I can download as needed.


Evernote allows you to create a shareable page. This is ideal for creating a press release. Here’s an example for my recent novel, Midway.

Income and Expenses

I keep a separate record of sales, payments and residuals on a spreadsheet and I refer to this when doing my tax return. I use tables on Evernote for keeping track of day to day expenses. I keep a note bookmarked for the current tax year so it’s easily accessible.


I have a note with a list of markets. Evernote tasks are an easy way to keep track of submission windows and deadlines.

Interviews, Panels and Workshops

I may not do as many appearances as I used to, but all my past notes and presentations are stored on Evernote for reference.


I’ve had changing opinions of Evernote over the years (see this post). The new direction the company is taking, plus the addition of a Linux client (currently in Beta) mean I’m once more fully committed to the system, so much so that I’ve recently taken the exams to become an Evernote Expert. I receive a free professional subscription to Evernote. The opinions here are my own.

The Lobster Pot

The Lobster Pot appears in the January/February 2022 Issue of Analog

The story continues the Human Way series that has been appearing in Analog over the past few years. It takes place in the Recursion universe around 12 years after the events depicted in the novels.

Other stories in the series include The Region of Jennifer,  Threshold, The Human Way, Trapezium, Trespass and Tail Call Optimization

Guest Post: Stephen Palmer

I suppose Brian Eno is best known for his contribution to music; and a lot of it is great music. I always think of him though for a particular piece of advice: Use your accidents. As a producer, Eno encouraged bands to moderate or even ignore their instinct to produce polished music, in favour of that with the vitality of accidental input.

How does this fit with writing?

When I was putting together the scenario for my new Conjuror Girl trilogy – a steampunk work set in an alternate late Victorian version of my home town of Shrewsbury – I thought everything would be steam, carriages and horse power. Then, reading one day a book about carbon-based fuel, I was struck by a reference to the fractionating column, used by chemists to separate different compounds existing in the same solution. Such a contraption I’d not seen since my school days. I looked up from the book, wondering if I could use the thing for Conjuror Girl, but I thought… nah. Too modern.

Then I reconsidered. The mental image persisted. Chemists did all sorts of things in the late nineteenth century, so was there really a reason to ignore this accidental image? I jotted the idea down, then was suddenly struck with another idea. The dark side of these novels comes in the form of the Reifiers, men with the ability to make real – reify – the contents of their minds. As it is put early on, they can make real their whims and fancies. But to do this they have to impose their minds upon the world, an act of deep selfishness. The consequence of Reification is a black fluid which, lore has it, is composed of pure selfishness; and even Reifiers dare not come into contact with this stuff.

Now I was getting to the kernel of the idea. What if this oily black liquid was composed of different fractions which could be separated in a fractionating column? What if there was a character who did this – a madcap scientist, a petit-Reifier in fact. Suddenly I had a whole new part of the plot, previously blank.

It’s accidents like this which make sub-creation such fun. I usually leave many of a novel’s details vague so that, when I’m writing in the white heat of composition, I can use my imagination for fuel.

And there was another accident which I took advantage of. When I was at school I did history before taking other O-levels, and the first thing we studied was the Danelaw. While talking about school teachers to a friend one day I suddenly remembered history lessons, and the naïve, poorly drawn map I did in my history book of the border between England and the Danelaw, which my teacher wrote poor next to in red pen. Thinking on this, I wondered if I could perpetuate that border and have part of Britain inhabited by Danes…

A final accident, then. When looking at a map of south-east England one time I noticed Sussex, Middlesex and Essex, and their origins in Saxon regions. There was also a Wessex of course. At once I asked myself: why no Nossex? Well, there were no north Saxons to leave such a name. I knew at once that I had to invent the region. So I did. My fictitious Shrewsbury is in Nossex.

Buy Monique Orphan from Amazon

Tail Call Optimization

Tail Call Optimization appears in the March/April 2021 Issue of Analog

The story continues the Human Way series that has been appearing in Analog over the past few years. It takes place in the Recursion universe around 12 years after the events depicted in the novels.

Other stories in the series include The Region of Jennifer,  Threshold, The Human Way, Trapezium and Trespass


Stories about stories and storytelling

Written on the road between the past and the future, a writer explores his relationship with his dying father.

Literature, fantasy and science fiction come together in this unique and very personal piece.

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Ballantyne’s moving, quietly profound stories present flawed human beings confronting the vicissitudes of life with varying degrees of success. Superb.

The Guardian 16/10/2020

‘Sharp, touching, and very original, this collection uses stories of different genres to explore aspects of the same emotional landscape, creating a very personal and very satisfying whole.’

Chris Beckett, winner of the Arthur C Clarke Award