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Friday, November 28, 2008

Brain Evolution System Review


I have mentioned the new Brain Evolution System from my colleagues Karl Moore and Lee Benson a few times in this blog recently.

I have been trying this system out for the last three weeks, and am now in a position to provide a review of the product. But first, for the benefit of new readers especially, I thought I should start with some background information.

The Brain Evolution System is a six-CD self-development program. It uses advanced scientific methods for 'entraining' your brain, with the aim of helping you control stress, become more productive, sleep better, increase your creativity, and so on.

This has nothing to do with self-hypnosis, 'positive thinking', or any mystical mumbo-jumbo. The Brain Evolution System applies scientific techniques to help you control your brainwaves to achieve peak performance. It uses audio CDs, which you have to listen to via headphones to get the full benefit from.

The Brain Evolution System uses a mixture of technologies to achieve its goals, but probably the most important is binaural beats. To explain this, I need to start with a bit of theory.

If you've studied psychology (which I have - a long time ago!), you'll know that scientists can measure the electrical activity in our brains using a device called an electroencephalogram (EEG). It has been known for a long time that different mental states are associated with different patterns of electrical activity.

Someone who is fully awake and alert will exhibit relatively high frequency, low amplitude, electrical activity patterns (15-40Hz), known as beta waves. Someone resting or meditating will produce lower frequency alpha waves of 9 to 14Hz. This state is often associated with creativity, and is the frequency that WCCL's Writers Block CD (which also uses binaural beats) aims to entrain. Below that are theta waves (5-8Hz), associated with daydreaming and free-flowing thoughts - this is also a highly 'creative' frequency. And finally, there are delta waves (1.5 to 4Hz), the lowest frequency waves that occur in sleep.

For people such as writers who want to increase their creativity, there is clearly a lot to be said for any system that can help get brainwaves into the alpha and theta ranges. Unfortunately, you can't achieve this simply by playing sounds at these frequencies, as they are below most people's hearing thresholds.

However, it has been discovered that if you play sounds of slightly different frequencies to each ear, they combine within the brain to create a low frequency resonance. If you play a tone of 320Hz in one ear and 330Hz in the other, for example, it will create a resonance at a frequency of 10Hz - the difference between them. 10Hz is an alpha wave frequency; so by using this method, your brain can be entrained into a high alpha state.

The Brain Evolution System uses binaural beats, and two additional, complementary methods, to entrain the brain to a variety of mental states. The company calls this the 3P DEAP Method, for reasons you can read about on their background info site if you want to.

The six CDs in the set will take your brain through its entire range of 'operating frequencies', from beta through to delta, though with a particular emphasis on the alpha and theta ranges. For greater effect several layers of entrainment are applied simultaneously. The diagram below shows, in simplified form, the frequencies targeted by each of the six CDs. As you will see, CD5 - titled Neptune's Cave - takes you down very low indeed!


So much for the theory - how does it work in practice? Well, the CDs come in a handy carrying case, and you simply load them into your PC or music center to play them (you can also get MP3 versions for iPods and such like if you prefer, though CDs are recommended to get the best results). As mentioned earlier, it's best to listen through a pair of headphones rather than loudspeakers. The CDs work by producing slightly different frequencies in each ear, and if you listen through speakers, inevitably the sounds from the left and the right side will get mixed up.

To use the system properly, you are meant to listen to each CD six days a week for a month, then move on to the next. For the purpose of reviewing the system I didn't want to have to wait six months, however, so I tried all the CDs over a three-week period, including some 'days off' so that I could compare the effects.

I found listening to the CDs quite pleasant. The sound of running water is used on all of them, but in addition there are other sounds, including birdsong, bells and musical chimes. Thankfully, unlike WCCL's Writer's Block CD (which I do otherwise recommend), there is no irritating 'introduction' on these CDs - in each case, you get straight into the main track, which is half an hour long.

So what benefits did I derive from listening to the CDs? The effects I experienced even after my first few uses were actually quite noticeable. In particular, after listening, I felt an immediate sharpening of my mental processes.

To give an example, recently I had to review some quite complex software for a client, all within a three-day period. It was a challenging assignment, as not only did I have to master three pieces of unfamiliar software in a short time, I then had to produce a 4000-word comparative review for a knowledgeable readership. I was pleased to discover that focusing on the task after listening to the CDs was much easier than I expected. I quickly got to grips with the software, and the writing flowed really well. The article was finished in two days, and I got some great feedback on it too. I really don't think I could have done the job, or at least not nearly as well, without the Brain Evolution System.

The other benefits I experienced were more surprising. One was that I actually seemed to have a lot more energy. In some cases this could be slightly counter-productive, as I found myself wanting to get up and do something physical rather than sit and work at my computer. Still, I guess I can live with that!

I also found myself sleeping better. I've not been sleeping any longer than usual - the reverse, actually - but somehow the quality of sleep I've been getting has been better since I started using the system. I dare say this has contributed to the higher energy levels and better concentration I am noticing as well.

In any event, I am very pleased with the benefits I have been getting from the Brain Evolution System so far, and definitely intend to go on using it over the coming months. I will keep readers of this blog informed of how I get on.

There is one other thing I should mention: as well as the CDs, you also get a month's supply of Acuity capsules. Acuity is a supplement designed to complement the Brain Evolution System CDs. To quote from the website, 'Its powerful ingredients help enhance clarity of thought, mind power, and provide instantly-noticeable focus.' Each capsule includes energy-boosting Guarana and Kola Nut, memory-enhancing Huperzine A, brain-building DHA, and so on. To be honest, I haven't tried Acuity yet, for two reasons. One is that I wanted to test the CDs reasonably scientifically without changing any other variables as well; and secondly, I find the CDs stimulating enough on their own anyway!

The Brain Evolution System is currently on offer at a special launch discount price. In addition, you can test it out free and without obligation for 21 days, to assess exactly how it works for you. There is also a seven-months' money-back guarantee if you are in any way dissatisfied with the results you get. In my view there is nothing to lose - and a lot potentially to gain - by giving it a try.

For more information about the Brain Evolution System and to request your free trial, click through any of the links in this blog post, or on the banner below.


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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Great Christmas Gifts for Writers

Speak it softly, but Christmas is just a month from today...

Assuming you celebrate the festival, or at any rate the gift-giving and receiving aspect, you may well have some writer friends or relatives you'll be buying for.

In this post, then, I thought I'd set out some suggested Christmas gifts for writers. These are all things I'd like myself, if I didn't in most cases have them already! Note that to save time, and avoid this post running on too long, where possible I've linked to earlier posts when I first mentioned the items in question.

Thinking of books first of all, one top recommendation for anyone who doesn't have it already is Stephen King's On Writing. It doesn't matter whether the potential recipient is or is not a horror fan. On Writing is an entertaining and informative read, written in King's usual highly accessible style (though without any corpses).

The book is a mixture of autobiographical material - some of it very amusing - and tips and advice for writers. The latter is useful if not earth-shattering. I would see this book as primarily an entertaining read rather than a writing manual, but none the worse for that. Image links to the book on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com can be found below. As usual, if you are receiving this post by email, you will need to visit my blog to see them.





A good introductory guide for new writers is The Greatest Freelance Writing Tips in the World by my near-neighbour Linda Jones. It is primarily written for UK authors, though much of Linda's advice would apply equally across the world. Linda comes from a journalistic background, and her advice on 'pitching' to newspaper editors especially is well worth reading. At its modest asking price, this beautifully produced book is a steal.

For any aspiring TV scriptwriters, especially if they happen to be science fiction fans as well, the newly published Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale by Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook would be an ideal present. In this fascinating (and beautifully illustrated) book you get to see how the popular BBC TV series is written and edited. It's also well worth visiting the book's dedicated website, where you can read more reviews and background info, and download six free scripts from the show.

And speaking of scriptwriting, if your friend or relative is an aspiring movie writer, don't forget that my sponsors, WCCL, produce a popular guide on CD-ROM called Write a Movie in a Month. If you order now it should arrive in plenty of time for Christmas. And if you order via my blog review, you can get a $20 discount AND my two extra bonus reports!

Another gift any writer would be delighted to receive is one of the annual market directories. For US publications, you can't beat Writer's Market, published by the all-conquering Writer's Digest organization. For UK markets, there are now three annual market guides battling it out: The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook, The Writer's Handbook, and the latest arrival, Writer's Market UK. When I reviewed all three earlier this year, Writer's Market UK came out slightly ahead of the other two. But read my blog review of UK market guides and see what you think.

Leaving books aside now, an idea suggested to me by my colleague Suzie Harris is a digital pen. These clever devices let you take notes anywhere - in a meeting, watching TV, on vacation, in bed, and so on. Then, when you get to your office or study, you can plug the pen into your PC, and everything you wrote will be transferred into it.

A popular digital pen (and the one Suzie wants) is the Dane-Elec Zpen. This pen also has OCR software that will read your handwriting (assuming it's legible) and save it as text. For writers, I could see this modestly priced tool having a whole host of uses.

I've put links to the Zpen at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk below. As mentioned earlier, if you are receiving this post by email, you may need to visit my blog to see the image links.





A final possibility is an e-book reader. I believe that 2009 will be the year that e-books finally take off in the mass market, as the latest e-book readers really do make this a comfortable and enjoyable way of reading a book (the old argument about not being able to read them in bed definitely no longer applies).

In the US, Amazon's Kindle Reader has been sweeping all before it. For technical reasons the Kindle is not yet available in the UK and Europe, though it is expected to be launched in the new year. In the mean time, however, the Sony Reader has been getting good reviews.

Whichever reader you get, there are thousands of ebooks you can download free of charge, both classics and newly published books whose authors have chosen to distribute them in this way (see this one, for example). Other ebooks you will have to pay for, but they are cheaper than the equivalent printed volume and won't take up any space on your shelves after you have read them. Again, I've put links to both leading ebook readers below.

Happy Christmas shopping!



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Thursday, November 20, 2008

New Promotional Site for Ebook Authors

I recently heard from Australia-based Mark Gladding about his new website eBooks Just Published.

This site is a resource for authors who want to announce their ebooks for free. It also allows readers to subscribe (either via email or RSS), so that they can keep up to date with all the latest ebook releases.

The site announces both fiction and non-fiction, the only major criterion being that the ebooks are DRM-free. It's important to note, however, that eBooks Just Published is NOT a publishing or hosting site. Each ebook listed needs to include a link back to the publisher's or author's own sales site.

eBooks Just Published does not carry any advertising at the moment, so I asked Mark how he plans to make money from it. He told me that his company, Tumbywood Software, also produces the program Text2Go, which turns text to speech. He is therefore hoping that some visitors will purchase the software to listen to their ebooks on the go.

Apart from that, though, Mark says he doesn't have any other money-making plans for the site: "I really just want to make it a useful resource for authors and readers at this stage."

It's early days for eBooks Just Published, but already I'm impressed with it and plan to use it myself in the future.

One thing I've noticed as well is the number of free ebooks that are available. For example, you can download an electronic version of the excellent and thought-provoking Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (which I'm currently reading as an Amazon Vine selection) free of charge via the site.

My advice is to check out eBooks Just Published and sign up to receive the email or RSS updates. Even if you don't plan on releasing any ebooks yourself, there are some real gems already available via the site for free or modest cost. It's definitely a resource to keep a close eye on.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

100 Fun and Useful Search Engines for Writers

That's the title of another very useful article I came across online the other day.

100 Fun and Useful Search Engines for Writers lists search engines under a number of different category headings. They include image searches, blog searches, specialty searches, medical & technical searches, foreign-language searches, and meta-search engines (which aggregate results from several search engines).

As they say in the introduction to the article, 'Our list of 100 different search tools can help you manage your business, become a better biz tech or web writer, find primary sources, look up translations, and find the more authoritative information out there with minimal effort. Bookmark your favorites to take full advantage of everything they have to offer.'

I found some useful resources in this article that I hadn't known about before. They include the fast image search tool Picsearch and a range of non-traditional search engines such as Mooter, which presents your search results in mind-map-style clusters.

I can see myself using some of the sites listed in 100 Fun and Useful Search Engines for Writers quite regularly in future.

* Don't forget that readers of this blog can also obtain the premium research tool Research Wizard Pro for half price. See this blog post for more details.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Another Musical Interval

OK, it's time to chill out a bit after my last post.

Here's a beautiful song and video from composer/producer/chill-out artist Reuben Halsey and musician/author Miranda Dickinson, otherwise known as Wurdsmyth of Mywriterscircle.com. It's called The Meaning of Life...


As ever, if you are receiving this post by email, you will need to visit my blog to see the video.

In her recent blog post Miranda says that the song is being released at www.indiestore.com on 1st December 2008, just in time for Christmas!

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Trouble With Paypal

I'm normally a fan of the online payment system Paypal, but recently they've taxed my patience quite a bit.

I should say first of all that I have a Paypal Premier account, which I use to receive payments from overseas publishers and some affiliate programs. I've had my account since 2003, but recently I've had a number of problems with them.

The latest episode took place this week, when I found out that, without any authorization from me, they had tried to debit a subscription payment of 10 UK pounds from my bank account and, when this failed, taken the money from my credit card instead. This is despite the fact that there was enough cash in my Paypal account to cover the subscription many times over. I assume I will also be charged a cash withdrawal fee by my credit card company now.

It doesn't end there, either. They then proceeded to remove the link to my bank account, which was there solely so that I could withdraw money to it (I have no need to fund my Paypal account in this way). And, for good measure, they closed two ongoing subscriptions, again without any instructions from me, so I now have to set these arrangements up again, possibly at a higher price as I 'unsubscribed'.

I phoned up Paypal's customer support line - an incredibly frustrating process in itself - and eventually got through to a young woman in a call centre in (I assume) India. After about half an hour, she finally informed me that they had debited my credit card because there was not enough money in my Sterling balance to pay for the amount in question - even though I had more than enough in my US dollar balance, and they have always transferred money automatically from the dollar balance in the past when required.

By this point I was losing the will to live, so I didn't bother asking why they had also cancelled two of my subscriptions and deleted the link to my bank account. I'm normally pretty even-tempered, but I'm afraid I made a rather sharp comment about Paypal being the Bank of Mickey Mouse, and hung up. Apologies to the young woman concerned, as I don't suppose it was her fault.

I still have my Paypal account, as I can't operate as an online writer without it. I've removed the link to my credit card, however, and in future will use the account to the minimum extent possible.

Anyway, I thought I'd share this sorry tale with you. I'm not saying don't use Paypal, but I do advise employing great caution with them. This is not the first time they have made changes to my account without my authorization, and getting redress from them - or even a simple explanation - seems almost impossible.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bookmark Me!

In these posts recently I gave you the opportunity to Search Me and Contact Me.

Well, now I've added the opportunity to bookmark my blog or any particular post on it as well. If you look at the end of this - or any - post on the blog, you should see an Addthis widget similar to the one below.
If you're a regular web user, chances are you will have seen this before on blogs and websites. Basically, if you click on it, it will allow you to save the blog post (or blog/website) concerned to social bookmarking sites such as Delicious, Furl and StumbleUpon.

These sites allow you to save your favorite websites online, so you can access them from any computer. In most cases you can also review the sites concerned and share them with others. You do, of course, have to register at social bookmarking sites before you can use them.

I hope you will find this a useful extra feature. And obviously, from a personal point of view, I hope you will use it to bookmark your favorite posts on here, as this will help bring them to the attention of a wider public and boost their search engine ratings.

One small thing I've discovered, though. If you want to bookmark a particular post, it's best if you go first to the dedicated page for it (you can do this by clicking on the title of the post concerned). Otherwise, the address entered by the widget will be the 'bare' blog URL, i.e. www.mywritingblog.com. That will help boost my blog rankings, but may not be much good to you if rather than the whole blog it's a particular article you want to save/share.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Brain Evolution System Videos

My post about the launch of the new Brain Evolution System earlier this week has generated a lot of interest. In particular, several people have asked if I can explain how the system works in a bit more detail.

I'm clearly no expert on this, but by doing a little investigation using Research Wizard Pro I found two videos in which the main developer of the system, Michael Kelley, explains the science in more detail. Here's the first one...


And here's part 2...


As ever, if you are receiving this post by email, you will need to visit my blog to see the videos.

Another website that goes into the science behind the Brain Evolution System can be viewed by clicking on the link in this paragraph.

As previously mentioned, I am evaluating the system myself and will be posting a review here soon, but already I am excited by the results I have been getting. I am a regular user of WCCL's Writer's Block CD, which helps entrain your mind to a more creative state, but the Brain Evolution System takes this process much further and deeper.

NEW! My full review of the Brain Evolution System is now up. Click on the link in this paragraph to read it!

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Opportunity for a UK Scriptwriter

If you're a young, aspiring scriptwriter in the UK, or you happen to know one, you might be interested in this contest - launched today - to join the writing team for the E4 youth drama series Skins. And yes, the successful writer will get paid!

My contact at E4 says:

We are looking for some of the country's finest young talent to help us with a very special project.

E4 and Company pictures are about to go into production on an online mini episode of Skins that will coincide with the launch of Series 3 on E4. The episode will be produced by the Skins crew and will feature some of the main cast - but we've got four very important roles that still need to be filled. This role is part of a bigger team - it is just 1 of 4 roles available - with everything at e4.com

In order to produce this webisode we're looking for a writer to join the team. This role will be selected and mentored by Company pictures and the person will get to play a vital role in the production of the film.

We're looking for people aged 18 to 23 who have got the drive, ambition and most of all, talent to get involved with the UK's biggest youth show. Maybe they've got similar work experience, maybe they're studying something creative at college or uni, or maybe they just have a talent that's clamouring to get out - these are the kinds of people we are looking for!

To apply, you have to submit a short (max. 1600 words) comedy-drama script. Your script should NOT use any existing Skins characters. It should contain a minimum of three characters, and use a maximum of five locations. Here's a video from a Skins scriptwriter offering some advice for anyone thinking of entering...



And here's the current TV ad...



For further information on this opportunity, click here to visit the contest website. The opportunity is also being discussed on this topic on my forum. The deadline for entries is 6 pm on 9 December 2008, so don't delay too long!

P.S. There are also competitions to recruit a director, costume designer and production designer - see the Skins website for more details.

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Save Money on Your Christmas Shopping!

With Christmas (and Thanksgiving in the US and Canada), this can be an expensive time of the year - all the more so in these credit-crunched times.

So I thought I'd mention a new type of website that has become very popular recently. These are cashback shopping sites, and they give you back some of your money every time you shop through them. They may also pay you just for using a free online service or signing up for a free trial.

The way cashback shopping sites work is that they sign up as affiliates with a range of online merchants. As you may know, many merchants pay affiliates a fee for any business they drive their way. Rather than keep all these fees, cashback sites return some or all of this money to the actual buyer.

There are various cashback shopping sites, but I thought I'd draw your attention to a particularly good one Jayne (my partner) showed me recently, which I just joined myself. It's called TopCashBack, and you can visit it by clicking through any of the links in this post or on the banner at the end.

TopCashBack returns ALL of the affiliate commission it earns when you shop via the links on its website. They even top this up themselves for active users, meaning you can earn up to 110% cashback, paid to you by Paypal.

You can get rebates from lots of well-known and lesser-known online merchants, including eBay, Marks & Spencer, Comet, Argos and National Express (though not Amazon, unfortunately). I made myself an easy 6.50 UKP by signing up for a month's free trial with the credit reference service Experian and then cancelling my subscription before the month was up.

Joining TopCashBack is, of course, free. And yes, they do have a sort of affiliate program. If you introduce a friend and they then earn over 5 UKP in cashback, you get a payment of 2.50 UKP for introducing them. Obviously you won't get rich from this, but it's a nice extra bonus.

Unfortunately TopCashBack is only available in the UK, but there are similar services in other countries. If you live in the US or Canada, for example, try www.mrrebates.com.

* And don't forget, if you have a blog or a website yourself, you can sign up as an affiliate with my publishers WCCL and earn yourself a generous commission any time someone makes a purchase after visiting via your link. See this blog post for more info!

100% Cashback

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Brain Evolution System is Launched!


My colleague Karl Moore, in collaboration with brainwave pioneers Michael Kelley and Lee Benson, has recently launched a new personal development program called the Brain Evolution System (or BrainEv for short).

This is a massive six-CD program that has been almost a year in the making. I'll be reviewing it fully once I've had a chance to evaluate it properly myself, but briefly it uses advanced scientific methods for 'entraining' your brain, helping you to control stress, become more productive, sleep better, increase your creativity, and so on.

Just to emphasise, this is nothing to do with self-hypnosis, 'positive thinking', or anything like that. The Brain Evolution System uses sonic technology to help you control your brainwaves to achieve peak performance. It uses audio CDs, which you have to listen to via headphones to get the full benefit from.

The Brain Evolution System employs some of the same technologies as WCCL's popular Writer's Block CD, e.g. binaural beats. The new program is designed to be much more wide-ranging, however, and it's not only for writers. Users should experience benefits across almost every aspect of their lives.

The Brain Evolution System is currently on offer at a special launch discount price. In addition, you can test it out for free for 21 days, to assess exactly how it works and how it may be able to help you. There is also an unprecedented seven-months' money-back guarantee if you are in any way dissatisfied with the results you get.

For more information about The Brain Evolution System, click through any of the links in this blog post, or on the banner below. As mentioned above, I'm currently trying out the program myself, and will publish a full review here soon. See also this post: Brain Evolution System Videos.

NEW! My full review of the Brain Evolution System is now up. Click on the link in this paragraph to read it!


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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Writing Tips Contest Results

Yes, judging of my Writing Tips Contest is now complete, and I am happy to announce the winners!

To remind you, the rules required a writing tip of 250 words or less, including the title. I had two prizes of a year's subscription to SpellCheckPlus Pro to give away. One I have chosen myself (with a little bit of help from Jayne). The other has been randomly selected by my cat Reggie.

I've reproduced all the competition entries at the end of this post, lightly edited and with titles supplied by me if the author didn't provide one. I thought all of the entries had merit, and another judge might well have come up with a different winner (I'm pleased to say that Jayne agreed with my choice, however!).

So, without further ado, I'm delighted to reveal that the winner of the contest was Suzie, with her entry 'Keep Accurate Submission Records'.

I liked this for a number of reasons: it is well-written and succinct; it presents a specific, useful piece of advice that is germane to every writer; it is illustrated with an amusing anecdote; and it concludes by stating its key message clearly at the end. It didn't hurt, either, that Suzie followed all the rules of the contest to the letter. You can read her winning entry by scrolling down (it's the first in the list).

The other prize was awarded randomly by Reggie. If you want to know the mechanics of this, there were six entries left after taking away Suzie's, so I put a dice on the table with Reggie, and waited until he batted it onto the floor. He 'threw' a 4, so I picked the fourth entry, not including Suzie's. Congratulations then to Jo, who wins the other prize for her entry 'Use the Resources Around You'.

Jo, I will need your email address to notify the people at SpellCheckPlus Pro so that they can arrange for your free subscription. Suzie, I already have your GMail address, so I will give them that unless you tell me otherwise. Click here to contact me.

Congratulations to the winners, and many thanks to everyone who took part. Many thanks also to the sponsors, SpellCheckPlus - see the main page of their website for details of their free online spelling and grammar checker, and SpellCheckPlus Pro for their premium service. And, of course, thank you to Reggie, whose morning nap I interrupted for this important task!

All the tips are reproduced below, with Suzie's winning tip first.

1. KEEP ACCURATE SUBMISSION RECORDS - Suzie

When you send off an email or written piece, make sure you keep a diary or computer record of where you sent it, to whom, and the date - along with the details of the submission.

You can use a spreadsheet or, like me, if you prefer paper and pen, then buy a small notebook from a stationery shop and keep accurate hard copy records.

This can save embarrassing situations, such as the one I recently found myself in.

I used a web page submission form to fire off a query letter to a publisher. I didn't even think of making a note at the time, as I assumed they would reply before I forgot. What a mistake that was!

A few months later the publisher contacted me to thank me for my query and requested a full proposal. I could not remember what I had suggested to them so I had the embarrassing task of writing back to say that my PC had died and I had lost all my records. It wasn't true of course, and needless to say I never heard from them again.

So no matter how mundane it may seem, make sure you keep records of everything so that you don't miss the chance of being published.

2. IMAGINE YOU'RE AN ARTIST - Heather

As I write, and particularly when I edit my work, I imagine I'm an artist painting a landscape scene.

When you first put pen to paper (or, more likely, fingers to keyboard) you are using a wide brush, blocking out the background with bold strokes. You're aiming for the correct scale and proportions at this point, giving yourself a framework to work to. Perhaps, in some scenes, your eye will be drawn to one section of the canvas and you'll add in a little more detail with a narrower brush, but generally your main aim is to cover the canvas with paint.

Remember Rolf Harris...can you tell what it is yet? No, it won't be ready for anyone to read at this point, and if it's a longer story you might be some way from your ideal word count, but it doesn't matter at this stage.

Once your background, or story, is complete you'll pick up your thinner brushes and start building up layers of colour to add depth, light and shadow - giving your characters personality and emotion. Finally, you can choose a really fine brush and go over the canvas yet again, adding in those finishing touches, perfecting your word choices and bringing the picture to life.

3. DREAM UP YOUR STORY - Leah

I'm sure you're familiar with the advice to have little notebooks and pens in every room of your house. In the bathroom, on your bedside table. And here I'm going to tell you to not use them. Not with this technique, which I've been using successfully ever since I first started writing as a child.

When you go to bed, don't count sheep. Think about your story. Dream about your main character while you're still awake. Dream while you're in that twilight zone between wakefulness and sleep - but don't reach for your pen and paper; it will disrupt the flow of your dream. Dream about what's going to happen until you fall asleep.

When you wake up, still half asleep, pick up your dream where you left it last night and allow yourself to dream for just a little while longer. Then, when you're finally fully awake, grab pen and paper and write it all down.

You can also use this technique when you're taking a nice long hot bath, or in the car on a two-hour drive to your grandparents up North... Just make sure you're in the passenger seat.

4. LISTEN TO YOUR WORDS - Hughdunit

When you read, you subconsciously hear the words in your mind, so when you have written something, it makes sense to read it aloud, to make sure it conveys what you want it to. If it sounds right, it probably is. But beware. It might still need revising.

Driving too fast along the jungle track an elephant suddenly appeared in front of her.

The reader will know what you mean, but not before getting a bizarre mental image of an elephant behind the wheel of a speeding car. Your story, and your credibility as a writer, is ruined.

Reading your work aloud will not only show whether the writing makes sense, it will also help with the punctuation. Try saying out loud the following sentence:

She hurried past the cake shop she had already eaten and didn't want to be tempted, she was trying to lose weight.

As it is written, without proper punctuation, it's nonsense. What, she'd already eaten the cake shop? Reading it aloud immediately shows that it should be three separate sentences.

She hurried past the cake shop. She had already eaten, and didn't want to be tempted. She was trying to lose weight.

The comma after eaten is not essential, but the slight pause makes it sound better.

Whatever you write, whether a postcard or novel, reading it aloud will make it better.

5. USE THE RESOURCES AROUND YOU - Jo

If you are struggling to create characters you can use the resources around you.

Spend some time sitting in a cafe or pub and use other people to help mould your character or create a new one.

Listen to other people's conversations, are they telling any funny stories? Are they discussing any burning issues or talking about something that has actually happened?

Look at what they are wearing, how they have their hair, how they greet each other.

Ask yourself how they respond when they are laughing, how they look when they are confused and body language and non-verbal signs.

Alternatively look at old photos of schoolfriends or people you were on holiday with and try and remember their personality traits and mannerisms and use these in your characters.

As time has elapsed and you have fitted them to your story they won't be able to be identified but will be very believable.

I hope this helps either form an existing character or inspire a new one, perhaps even a whole new tale just from eavesdropping someone else's conversation.

6. STAY ON A ROLL - Margarett

My best tip is when you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, maybe paint to canvas and when you are on a roll keep going!

If inspiration hits in the middle of the night get up and put it on the page. We lose so much by not putting it down for safe keeping.

I know I had a big inspiration for this and then went to sleep and lost it. Seriously, get that first draft down, no matter if it does not play well.

That is what tweaking is for, and second drafts and third. Just keep writing till it's done and then worry about editing and touching it up. Get inspiration from anyone, anywhere and from anything.

Paint the picture you want seen with your words.

7. HOW TO CATCH ONE ERROR EVERY TIME YOU WRITE - Casey Quinn

In Microsoft we trust is a rule many writers come to follow. In doing so we leave ourselves open to sneaky writing errors that slip by Microsoft's editing. As a result, your writing looks, well, unedited. These simple mistakes happen to everyone and are the reason why you cannot trust your word processing software to do what only human eyes can. Next time you finish your writing and smile from clearing all underlined errors the editing gods determined are your only issues, comb over your writing in search of the following errors.

Right spelling, wrong form: While 'there' is spelled correctly, did you mean 'their'? 'See' instead of 'sea'? 'Write' instead of 'Right'? Make sure the correct forms of the words are being used.

Right spelling, wrong word: It happens. We meant to say 'he had bent down to pick something up' and instead we typed 'he had been down to pick something up.' Why did we do it? Who knows, but it is up to you to catch it!

Tenses: If only! If only they were smart enough to tell you that in one sentence your character took actions in the past but was currently in the present.

While the editing list is endless (plot, structure, dialogue, etc), if you run through your writing at the end look for these three things. I bet you make at least one more change just when you thought you were done!

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