'Give it a week' is a piece of advice I heard many years ago when I was starting out as a freelance writer. I believe the phrase is commonly used in advertising agencies, though as I've never worked in one of these myself I can't confirm this - I simply read it in a book, the rest of which I've long forgotten.
Anyway, the idea behind the expression is that, before signing off any piece of work, you should put it to one side for a week. When you return to it, with fresh eyes you are almost bound to see ways in which it can be improved.
Of course, in our frenetic world, you may not always have a week to spare - but even if you can only give it a day, the principle still applies.
I have always tried to apply this guideline in my writing, and when I haven't I've often regretted it. I think there are two reasons why it is such a worthwhile principle to follow.
First, you return to the project with fresh eyes. It's a well-known fact that if you spend hours continuously working on a project, you become so close to it you no longer see 'obvious' mistakes and infelicities - e.g. repetition of the same long word within a couple of sentences. This is otherwise known as the 'can't see the wood for the trees' phenomenon.
But, even more important, if you leave the project for a while, you give your intuitive right brain the chance to come up with its own suggestions. Readers of my course 'Write Any Book in Under 28 Days' will know that I'm a big believer in the right brain, left brain theory - the idea that we all have in effect two brains, a rational, logical left brain and an intuitive right one.
The right brain cannot communicate directly the way the left brain does - instead it works by sending ideas bubbling through in dreams and moments of inspiration. Giving the right brain time and space to work often results in better ideas than if you just sit down and try to complete an entire project in one sitting.
Personally, I find that a lot of my best ideas come when I am doing something totally unconnected to writing. Best of all, for some bizarre reason, is gardening, but shopping, walking and driving are also good. On the other hand, I can't say I have ever had any especially good ideas whilst watching TV - I think it's because television occupies all our senses and drowns out any attempt by our intuitive right brain to communicate with us.
Anyway, my main point is, when you think you've finished any writing project, if you possibly can, set it to one side for a week, then return to it for a final revision. I'll be amazed if you don't find mistakes you didn't notice before, and sections you can polish and sharpen. If you don't have a week, give it a day at least, but any break before tackling the final version is better than none. Otherwise, I can guarantee that, soon after pressing the 'Send' button, you will think of at least three ways the work in question could have been improved!
I was delighted to see that Aelfwin, one of the wonderful moderators on my forum at www.mywriterscircle.com
has started his own blog at www.aelfwin.co.uk
The Aelf's Bloggery has only just been launched, but already you can get a good indication of what is to come. Here's a great piece of advice for writers he posted yesterday:
If you want to be a writer, write. WRITE, WRITE, WRITE. If you are anything like me, the dread snake of procrastination is wrapped around your waist like a writhing, scaly living belt.
And there's more, all written in Aelf's cheery, homespun style. Take a look and, if you like what you see, add a note of encouragement to the comments at the end of each item.
As regular readers will know, from time to time I like to suggest ideas for writing projects in my blog. Well, here's another.
A couple of months ago, my partner Jayne decided our lives wouldn't be complete without a microwave oven. You might be a bit surprised we hadn't had one before. As we both enjoy cooking and take food reasonably seriously, however, we'd never felt the need for this 'convenience' tool before.
Anyway, a shiny, top-of-the-range microwave with grill and convector heater duly appeared in our kitchen. Slightly to my surprise we've found ourselves using it a lot, for all sorts of things from quickly heating up breakfast cereal in the morning to cooking jacket potatoes (which it does far better than our ordinary electric oven).
Anyway, here's the thing. I thought I'd get Jayne a book about microwave cooking as one of her 'stocking filler' Christmas presents. Off I went to my local bookstore and there I found - one book. I duly bought it, but it's not very inspiring - just a list of around 1,000 assorted recipes with almost no illustrations.
So it seems to me there is a gap in the market for books that inspire people to make more use of their microwaves. How about vegetarian recipes for the microwave, for example? Or low-fat microwave cooking? Or microwave cooking on a budget/for students? Healthy fast food with your microwave? Microwave cooking for the 21st century? There must be lots of possibilities.
It would also be great if I could find a book that shows you how to use the other facilities in a cooker such as ours - the grill and convector heater - in combination with the microwave. The instruction booklet which came with the oven is next to useless for this, and so far we haven't tried out these features at all. OK, not everyone's oven has these extra features, but I'm sure a lot do.
If you don't fancy writing a book, how about an article or two? Nobody ever seems to write about microwave cooking. In Jayne's women's magazines - which I peek at from time to time - they never seem to get a mention, unless disparagingly. An article offering a fresh perspective on microwave cooking could well be a winner with them.
So there you are. There must be many millions of these ovens across the world, with many of them being used for nothing more ambitious than reheating cups of coffee and cooking Pot Noodles. I know serious cooks sneer at them, but maybe it's time for the humble microwave to be rehabilitated. How about it, you food writers?
Here's a great website to visit if you're a journalist or media professional. The JournoBiz forums are run by UK freelance journalist Janet Murray and can be found at http://www.janmurray.co.uk/journoforum/
If you're a journalist, employed or freelance, the JournoBiz forums are essential viewing. As well as the main forum, there are message boards for photographers, broadcast journalists, PR folk, and (not least) fiction writers. The Jobs, Training and Events forum includes many opportunities for freelance writers and journalists.
Of course, you should also make a point to visit my own forum at http://www.mywriterscircle.com
. However, the JournoBiz forums are a great additional resource, and with the added attraction that both use the same messageboard software - so if you've used one, you'll soon get the hang of the other!
I made about £500 (roughly $700 US) this month without lifting a finger - all thanks to being registered with the PLR (Public Lending Right) office and ALCS (the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society).
The PLR office distributes money to authors based on the number of times their books are borrowed from public libraries in the UK. This year they are paying 5.57 pence per library loan.
ALCS pays money to authors for a range of things, most notably when their books are photocopied. They also distribute fees paid by other countries in respect of library lending, photocopying and so in in the countries concerned.
This year I'm getting about £400 from PLR and a further £100 (estimated figure) from ALCS. This is money in addition to the royalties I get from book sales, and though it's not a huge sum, it comes in very handy at this (expensive) time of year.
If you're a UK author with at least one published book to your name, you should sign up with both these organisations immediately to get what is due to you. The PLR website is at www.plr.uk.com
, while the ALCS site is at www.alcs.co.uk
Non-UK nationals cannot claim from either of these bodies, but many other countries (though not the USA as far as I know) have similar schemes in place to compensate writers for library lending and so on.
I've had a few queries about the Firefox browser which I recommended a few days ago, so here are some additional comments.
One person criticised Firefox because it doesn't have a 'History' icon. It's true that this is not provided by default, but it is very easy to add. Click on View at the top of the screen. Place the cursor over Toolbars at the top of the menu that appears, and click on Customise in the fly-out menu. A new window will then open including other icons you can add, including History, Bookmarks, Print, Copy and so on. Just drag the icon you want to the toolbar, and there it will be in future.
I've also been asked about Firefox 'Extensions'. These are small add-ons you can download free of charge to give Firefox additional functionality or change its appearance. There are literally hundreds of extensions you can choose from. They include everything from blogging tools to international weather forecasts!
To see what is available, click on Extensions in Firefox's Tools menu, then click on Get More Extensions at the bottom right of the new window that opens. This will take you to the official Firefox Ad-Ons website, which you can browse and select from to your heart's delight.
As I mentioned previously, you can download Firefox via the following link:
If you have any questions about grammar, or you're just interested to learn more about it, here's a website you should definitely check out.
The Guide to Grammar and Writing - http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/
Designed and written by Professor Charles Darling of the Capital Community College in Hartford, Connecticut, this huge site covers just about every aspect of grammar and writing you could want to know about. The 'Word and Sentence Level' section alone comprises pretty much an entire in-depth course on English grammar. The site also includes some of the best self-study tests and quizzes I have seen on the net, all with instant feedback.
There is also a free 'Ask Grammar' service for any grammar-related questions you may have. Check out the huge questions archive first, though, as it is quite likely that someone has asked your question before! Unfortunately Professor Darling has been unwell recently, but according to the site he is making a good recovery, so I'd like to wish him a speedy return to full fitness.
What can I say? In the last 48 hours the membership of www.mywriterscircle.com
has leapt from around 50 to nearly 300 - and still going up! Word is obviously getting around about this exciting new forum-cum-online-writers-circle - so if you haven't yet joined, why not pop over today and see why this site has got the Internet buzzing?
If you're like most people, as your browser program (the program you use to surf the Web) you use Microsoft Internet Explorer. This program is bundled free with most versions of Microsoft Windows, and for some years it has had no serious rivals.
All that has changed, however, with the emergence of Firefox, a rival 'open source' browser which has several clear advantages over Internet Explorer.
One of these is security. Because Internet Explorer is so widely used, hackers and virus writers have queued up to try to exploit flaws in it (and in the past they have discovered many). Firefox is far less vulnerable to such attacks.
Firefox has many other attractions as a browsing tool, however. I've been using it for about six months now, and one thing that has really impressed me is the speed with which websites load. I don't know why Firefox should be so quick compared with Internet Explorer, but others have noticed this as well. If, as I do, you typically visit large numbers of websites during the course of your working day, Firefox really can save you a significant chunk of time.
Another thing I like about Firefox is the facility it has for 'tabbed' browsing. You can open up to five different websites in the same window and quickly switch between them using the 'tabs' at the top of the screen. I tend to have www.mywriterscircle.com open on one tab, the page I am currently viewing on another, the BBC News page on a third (I like to keep a close eye on current affairs), and my website stats page on a fourth. Using Firefox, I can flip quickly and easily between them.
Firefox has many other features not offered by Internet Explorer, including the ability to view your browsing history not just by date but by name of website (alphabetical order), order in which last viewed, and so on. It is also much better at organising your Bookmarks (Favorites) than Internet Explorer.
The best news is that Firefox is free of charge, and you can download it via the following link:
Just click on this link and click on the button that appears to go to the main information and download page. Sorry that's a slightly roundabout method, but by following this method the website will automatically detect what software you currently have installed and take you to the most appropriate download page.
This version of Firefox includes the Google toolbar, which has a pop-up blocker, automatic form filler, Google search box, spell-checker, and much more. However, you can of course remove or deactivate the Google toolbar if you wish.
If you decide to try Firefox, I recommend saving the .exe file to any suitable folder on your PC, then double-click to launch it. Firefox will then automatically install itself. It will ask if you want to import your Favorites and History, and I recommend doing this (don't worry, they will still be there in Explorer as well). It will also ask if you want to make Firefox your default browser. You may wish to say 'no' to this until you have had a chance to evaluate Firefox for yourself.
There is, of course, nothing to prevent you having both Internet Explorer and Firefox on your machine. I do this myself, but nowadays I use Firefox almost all the time when browsing. I only switch to Internet Explorer on the very rare occasions when a site does not seem to display or operate correctly in Firefox.
As you'll gather, I'm a big fan of Firefox, and I recommend trying it out yourself and seeing if you like it. Some aspects of Firefox may look unfamiliar at first if you're used to Internet Explorer, but if you give it a fair chance, I'm pretty sure you'll end up making it your first-choice browser application.
As readers of my E-Writer newsletter will know, Jayne and I decided to go away on a cruise over the Christmas week. It was my first-ever cruise. Jayne did an educational cruise of the Mediterranean back in her teens, but of course it was quite a different experience in the age of steamships (only kidding!).
We booked on a cruise ship called the Thomson Celebration (picture below), on an itinerary which included Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Madeira, Lanzarote and Morocco. It was fascinating visiting all these different destinations, albeit only for a few hours in most cases.
However, what most sticks in my mind is the ship itself. Being British we're not really used to good customer service (grin), so we were amazed by how well we were looked after - from a cabin steward who seemed to be permanently on hand to look after our every request, to little details such as a crew member handing out wet-wipes to passengers returning to the ship after an excursion.
It occurred to me as well that while cruising is becoming incredibly popular, I've actually seen very few books or articles referring to it. It seems to me that a modern cruise liner could be a great setting for a romance or a murder mystery, for example. Equally, I'd be fascinated to read more about what it is like working on one of these ships - I'm sure there must be many stories to be told.
I could even see a market for how-to books and articles - "how to get a job on a cruise liner", for example, or "cruising for beginners" (how to choose a cruise, what to pack, what to expect, how to make the most of the experience, avoiding problems, and so on). Jayne and I would certainly have found the latter title very useful preliminary reading!
Anyway, if you decide to take up any of these suggestions, do feel free to get back to me with any questions about my own first-time cruising experience!
A few weeks ago I was interviewed by Linda Jones, a subscriber to my E-Writer newsletter, on the subject of 'writing for free'. The interview was for a website article she was writing. I thought readers of my blog might be interested to see an edited version of this.
Linda asked me if I had ever written for free in my earlier career, perhaps to help get my name known, build up cuttings, develop a specialism or market my services more widely. She also asked whether I wouldn’t even consider this now, or if I might still do the odd ‘freebie’, depending on what it could lead to. This was my reply:
In general I've always tried to avoid this. I believe that writers should be paid a fair wage for their efforts, and writers who routinely work for free are effectively undermining those of us who depend on writing for our livelihood.
There are exceptions, though. For example, recently I was asked to take on a job writing descriptions of antique beds for a company selling them on eBay. It was an unusual job and I wasn't sure exactly what the company expected from me or what to charge them. So I suggested that I do one free write-up for them, so they could assess my style and I could assess what the job would involve. Once I had done that, I was able to give them a quote for future work.
That was OK because it was quite a small job, but I wouldn't adopt this approach for anything more substantial. However, I might be willing to accept a lower than usual fee for writing, say, a test article, if I genuinely believed it was going to lead on to better things. I would definitely expect some payment if the job was going to take me more than half a day or so.
Linda then asked what advice I would give anyone starting out who was considering writing for free, and in particular what such a person should do if an editor asks them to write something ‘on spec’ to judge their writing. My reply was:
Obviously you need to judge the offer carefully. If it's just a small job to test your skills, and you're confident it could lead on to regular work, I'd say go for it. But if it's more substantial, I would think carefully. A little bit of negotiation may be required here. Point out to the editor that the job will involve a fair bit of work, and as a professional writer (even if you're still only part-time) you will expect some recompense for this. If they are reasonable people, they should understand and accept this. If not, you are probably better off not working for them anyway.
Finally, Linda asked me whether I thought the Web offered writers more opportunities to build a portfolio, without necessarily boosting their bank balance. My reply was:
This may have been the case in the past, but increasingly I find that professional web publishers are willing to pay proper fees to get good-quality copy for their websites. Personally I charge clients the same rate (hourly or per 1000 words) whether it's for the web or a printed publication. But it's true as well that there are lots of people out there running websites on a shoe-string who are more than happy to pay writers peanuts. If you want to write for such publishers to build up your portfolio, I'd be the last to say you shouldn't, but be sure you use it only as a stepping stone to better things.
I hope the above may be of interest, and that Linda doesn't mind me reproducing part of the interview here!
Happy new year! Though I'm sorry that my first posting of 2006 concerns some bad news. As some of you already know, my forum at www.mywriterscircle.com
has been down since yesterday.
It's all extremely irritating. WCCL (my publishers, who handle the technical side of things) have already switched web hosts once because of downtime issues, and it looks as though they may have to do so again. Who would have thought it would be so difficult to find a reliable hosting service?
Fingers crossed, www.mywriterscircle.com
will be back online later today, so do keep checking. And if you haven't yet looked in, do make a note to do so very soon. Mywriterscircle.com has only been going for a few weeks, but it is already a flourishing writers' community. Once the current technical challenges have been dealt with, I am confident that it will go from strength to strength in 2006.UPDATE
is now back online again. Check it out!