Back To Life

Orbital Operations for 17 March 2024

Hello from out here on the Thames Delta. I am now back to sending you your Sunday letter on a weekly basis. It’s been an odd week here, but I hope yours has gone very well indeed. Remember the golden rule: whatever doesn’t kill us makes us weirder, and when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.







Letters about the creative life by Warren Ellis, a writer from England. Was this forwarded to you? Subscribe.


Jean-Luc Godard’s weird collage film THE IMAGE BOOK is on MUBI and probably floating around elsewhere. It’s a mass of strange, chopped and distorted pictures, incredibly energising for the imagination. On rotation, MEGALITHS by Llyn Y Cwn, because it really does sound like being in a field of standing stones and burial grounds somewhere in Britain to me. A couple of tracks evoke a family visit to Wayland’s Smithy, and my daughter picking up some kind of charge or vibe off the stones there. Texts for Nothing and Other Shorter Prose, 1950-1976 (UK) (US) contains some of Samuel Beckett’s more forbidding work, but also some of his greatest word-images: “the distant sea in hammered lead," and “it’s as dark as in a head before the worms get at it, ivory dungeon,” and “the sun is blazing all down the ravelled sky.”



Sometimes, writing is like this:

“The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.”


Being a writer is sometimes like that, except you have to 3D-print your own block of marble first. Using only words. You have to make a giant monolithic block of words, most of which are crap. And then chip away at your giant block of crap to get at the script inside that isn’t bloody awful.

Be not ashamed of your first or second draft, or even the seventh if it’s all gone pear-shaped. You are doing the correct thing, which is to generate a suitable volume of crap. Your good story is under there somewhere.

Brought to you by a writer looking at the giant mound of shit he’s written who is trying to shovel it away to reach what he hopes is a halfway-decent script at the bottom.

Tentatively adding PROJECT NONESUCH to the board, a comics series with an old friend which will hopefully go to contract some time in the next few weeks so that I can start writing in May.



Blogging Social Media GIF by Party Down

Gif by PartyDown on Giphy

If you’re writing a blog regularly, do me a favour? Hit reply, paste your link in and email it to the office. And I mean your actual basic blogs, not your Telegram channel or social media.

Dougald Hine, from his fine newsletter, on The Hand Made Web:

What I’m going to call the Hand Made Web is the way that some of us are using the network, not against itself, necessarily, but against the logic that tends to dominate its larger spaces. The web that I inhabit today is smaller and slower than the one that I was part of five or ten years ago.... The quality of expression is such that the words I read or listen to don’t seem especially vulnerable to replacement with AI. And the scale of audience for most of the voices in this Hand Made Web is small enough that I can’t see these spaces attracting actors whose modus operandi is to flood a space with low-grade content and profit from a tiny conversion rate…

Let me sketch out what this looks like, knowing that your version will be different. There are maybe half a dozen blogs I visit regularly, a couple of which I’ve been reading most weeks for the best part of twenty years. Then there’s a longer list of Substacks, some where I’ll rarely miss a post, others which I dip in and out of, or keep half an eye on. There’s a group chat with a dozen members whose interests meet around one side of the themes I write about, a couple of smaller chats like that, and various folks who I get together with on a regular or semi-regular basis on a video call. A couple of podcasts I listen to fairly steadily, while others come across the horizon and set me on a deep dive through their archive for a week or two.

My version of this is, of course, different. I’m not in any group chats, the only time I ever have to do any kind of call is for work, and the great majority of the newsletters I get are newsy impersonal stuff. Which makes me think I should make an adjustment, too. Anyway. The point. The Hand Made Web is an interesting way to look at all this, particularly through the lens of social media winter.


Recently discovered the astonishing work of Katja Lang.



This is as of Saturday morning,. So we are staying at weekly, come hell or high water. We will see if I can do it without any help. Thanks to the one person who wrote into the office to say that I should do a newspaper-style weekly comic strip here. Which isn’t something I could do without one of those AI art generators, a class of things I refuse to touch for obvious reasons. But it’s a nice thought!



WARRENELLIS.LTD is my personal notebook, updated daily. If you use a RSS reader, it generates a feed at .

This letter has been zapped to you via Beehiiv.

Sometimes you’ll have a week where it seems like everything went wrong. And it feels like next week will go no better, and maybe worse. But you don't know that. Tomorrow’s got new potential and new chances, and so does the day after that. So we keep going. And one of those new days turns out to be a good one. Hold on tight. Better days are coming. See you next week.


I’m represented by Angela Cheng Caplan at the Cheng Caplan Company, Joel VanderKloot at VanderKloot Law and David Hale Smith at Inkwell Management. Please add [email protected] to your email system’s address book or contacts and move this to your primary folder when you get a minute, thanks.