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

The Silent Woods

Chris Beckett and I have worked together on short stories in the past. This is our first successful collaboration.

The Silent Woods appears in Shoreline of Infinity 19. We were pleased with this story when we wrote it, it has become a lot more topical in the months leading up to publication.

Shoreline of Infinity 19


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.

Buy on Amazon (paid link)| Apple Books

| Barnes and Noble | Buy on Kobo

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

Excerpts from Another Life

I worked as a teacher in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham during the 1990’s. I loved teaching in Dagenham, I was delighted when Pen to Print asked me for a story.

Excerpts from Another Life was one of a collection of stories written during the last months of my fathers life. You can read it by following this link


Milanote is a tool for organizing projects into kanban like boards. It’s targeted at creatives, and comes with a variety of templates, not only for writers but for fields as diverse as game design, interior design photography and software development.

You can write notes and todo lists, upload images & files and save things you find on the web, which is pretty typical for this sort of software. Where Milanote differs from other products mentioned on this site is the way you can organize things visually.

Crucially, you can export your boards as pdfs or pngs, or export them in doc, md or txt format.

There is a free version available with no time limit. The PRO version is $9.99 per month (monthly and annual plans)

Disclosure: Milanote shared a lifetime subscription with me in return for writing this post. I must admit, I’m a plain text sort of guy and always will be, but if you think in pictures and not in words, this may well be the tool for you.