Nick Daw's Writing Blog - Inside the writing world of Nick Daws
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Friday, December 22, 2006

Happy Christmas

I'd just like to wish all my readers a very merry Christmas, and a happy and creative new year.

I'll be taking a break from blogging over the holiday period, so unless something very urgent crops up, this will be my last post till January 2007.

If you need to contact me about anything in the next week or so, please excuse the fact that you may not get an immediate reply. I'm sure you'll understand the reason! If you need support or have any queries about my courses "Quick Cash Writing" and "Write Any Book in Under 28 Days", you may like to note that my publisher's customer support website at www.myhelphub.com will be operating throughout the holiday period.

If you find yourself at a loose end over the break, do visit my forum at www.mywriterscircle.com - lots of ideas and inspirations there, plus support and advice (on writing or anything else) whenever you need it. The new chat room at www.mywriterschat.com is also getting busier. You can enjoy live text "conversations" here with other writers.

And finally, if you have a broadband/DSL Internet connection, do listen in to WCCL's unique radio station for writers at www.writersfm.com. The station broadcasts an unbeatable mix of music, chat and interviews with successful authors, and you can also download individual interviews as podcasts.

Once again, have a great Christmas, recharge your creative batteries, and I'll look forward to seeing you again early in the new year.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Top Online Dictionary Site

Here's a site all writers should know about. AllWords.com is a multi-lingual dictionary packed with features. Not only can you search for words in English, but also in French, German, Dutch, Italian and Spanish.

A powerful feature of AllWords.com is the ability to search in a variety of ways. While most other major dictionary sites only allow users to search for words that match exactly or start with the string or letters typed in by the users, the AllWords search box allows users four different matches. These are as follows:

1. Words matching the typed in phrase/letters. Type in "pit" and only exact matches result.
2. Words starting with a phrase/letters. Type in "pit" and pit, pitch, etc. are returned.
3. Words that contain the entered phrase/letters. Type in "sis" and sister and oasis result.
4. Words that end with the entered letters. Type in "sis" and get oasis, basis, but not sister.

You choose the type of match you require by clicking on the appropriate radio button, then enter your search term, and click on "Find It". If you wish, you can also opt to see the results of your search translated into other languages. For the most popular search results, you can even click on a link to hear the word in question read out, so you know how it is pronounced.

AllWords.com has many other features as well, including Word of the Week, a crossword-solver, and an extensive links directory. In my view, this site is well worth a place on any writer's Favorites list.

Note: This review was sponsored by PayPerPost.

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Jayne's Writing Website

I've mentioned my partner, Jayne, on various occasions on this blog. One thing I've omitted to mention, however, is that she has a writing website of her own at www.writing-resources.info.

The other evening I noticed Jayne was working intently on her site. "Are you adding more useful resources for writers?" I asked her. "No," she replied. "I'm putting up my Christmas decorations."

I think this probably reveals something quite significant about the differences between men and women, or at any rate between me and Jayne...

But seriously, do check out Jayne's freelance writing website sometime. She has collected a great selection of useful tools and resources for writers (including my own courses, naturally). And the Christmas decorations are lovely as well!

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Make Your PC More Useful

Christmas is almost here, so here's a suite of products that can make your computer more useful and safer - and the good news is, none of them costs a bean!

The Google Pack is a set of free software from the search engine giant Google and its partners. Exactly what you get varies a little according to the country in which you live, but the chances are it will include the following core components:

Picasa - Google's photo organizer program.

Google Toolbar for Internet Explorer - this gives Explorer additional functionality, including a spell-checker and an automatic form-filler.

Mozilla Firefox - the alternative browser to Explorer, with many additional features. The version in the Google Pack is automatically supplied with the Google Toolbar as well.

Google Desktop Search - this program will automatically search your hard drive for files of all types.

I'm a big fan of all of these programs. Picasa is great for organizing your photos and posting them on the web (see this post for a link to my summer holiday snaps!). Also, unlike certain similar services such as Snapfish, people don't have to register and log in to your site before they can view your pictures.

Mozilla Firefox is currently my browser of choice, though with the latest Internet Explorer release there isn't much to choose between the two right now. Firefox has slightly more features, and I love the way you can customize it with "extensions" to do almost anything you want. On the other hand, I've found that the latest version, Firefox 2.0, is more inclined to crash than the previous version (or Internet Explorer). So there you go - you pays no money and takes your choice - but either way, the Google Toolbar in the Google Pack makes a very handy addition.

Google Desktop Search (GDS) is a facility I couldn't live without any more. It lets you search your hard drive in just the same way you would search the Internet with Google. For example, if you need to find a file on your PC and all you can remember is that it included the words "contracts for authors", you would just start up GDS and enter these words into the search dialog box. In a moment, a list of all files on your computer containing the term in question will be displayed: Microsoft Word files, emails, websites you have visited, and so on. Not being the world's most organized of people, I find GDS invaluable and use it almost every day.

The Google Pack also includes other software, including (probably) Adobe Reader, Lavasoft Ad-Aware, Google Pack screensaver, and so on. You can pick and choose which of these applications you want to download on the main page. To reach this, click on any of the links to Google Pack in this article, then click again on the banner that appears.

Downloading the Google Pack is then a simple and straightforward process. Once you've chosen the applications you want, just click on the Download button and follow the on-screen instructions. Just one point to note. If you opt to have Google Desktop Search - and I strongly recommend you do - you should know that when it first launches it will take several hours to index your entire hard drive, and while this is going on your PC may run slower than normal. The good news is that this only happens once. After GDS has fully indexed your hard drive, it then updates itself automatically in the background, with no noticeable effect on your PC's performance.

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Writing for Survival

Survival Books, I mean! They are a UK publishing house, which published my books Living & Working in Italy and Living & Working in Germany. Their books are aimed at people who are going to other countries to live and/or work, not merely as holidaymakers.

I'm mentioning the company here because the man behind Survival Books, Peter Read, is currently looking for more authors. I've already publicised this opportunity on my forum and in my E-Writer newsletter. As a result of that, at least three people have been signed up by Peter to write books about Australia, the USA and India. So many congratulations to Ruth, Anthony and Noel respectively! And there may well, of course, be others I don't know about.

Anyway, Peter has asked me to pass on that he is still very keen to find people to write the books "Culture Wise Hong Kong" and "Culture Wise China". You MUST live or work in China or Hong Kong, at least some of the time, to be considered for this opportunity. Please contact Peter directly by email at peterread-at-survivalbooks.net in the first instance. Obviously, change the -at- in the address to the usual @ symbol.

Peter does not want to hear from anyone about countries other than China or Hong Kong at the moment, but says he will be announcing more opportunities for authors in the new year. I will publicize these when I hear about them via this blog, my forum and my newsletter. So do keep reading to stay abreast of further opportunities with this fast-growing publishing house.

And if you get a contract from Peter to write a book for him, do let me know. I love nothing more than hearing about my readers' successes!

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Smart Writers Newsletter - Have You Seen It Yet?

WCCL's new Smart Writers newsletter (which I first mentioned in this post) is now up and running. The issue I received on Tuesday had a great little article by Rob Parnell called "10 Easy Steps to Becoming a Better Fiction Writer". Here are the first three tips to give you a flavour...
1. Step Away From the Car, Sir

Slightly detach yourself from your surroundings. Stop participating and begin observing. In social situations, watch people, see how they act and - more importantly - interact.

Don't pass judgment. Take it all in - and draw on it later when you write.

2. Look Harder, Homer

Stop and look around you. Consciously notice the buildings, what's underfoot, overhead, and what's right in front of you.

At home, look at something you take for granted. An iron, for instance. Find yours and study it.

3. Write Thinking Will Be Rewarded

A simple technique. Your mother is making tea and you are chatting to her. Take a mental step back and describe the scene.

Similarly, when you're outside, describe your environment as though you were writing it down.

Good, concise advice here, from a successful freelance writer and writing teacher. By the way, if you missed Tuesday's issue of Smart Writers, you can still see the full article on the Writestreet website by clicking here.

Smart Writers is free to subscribe, and as part of their special launch offer, WCCL (who publish my courses Write Any Book in Under 28 Days and Quick Cash Writing) are giving away nearly $4,000 worth (their estimate) of writing books and software.

The launch offer is not guaranteed to continue much longer, however, so if you're interested in subscribing I recommend visiting the Smart Writers website today. Full details of the current "Writers Giveaway" offer can be found there, along with a form where you can sign up for the newsletter and claim your freebies.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Christmas Shopping Ideas!

Christmas is now less than a fortnight away, and if you're anything like me you're nowhere near ready for it. So to help ease those last-minute Christmas-present-buying blues, I thought I'd offer a few gift suggestions for the writer in your life - or indeed for yourself as a little extra treat.

First up, you may not be surprised, I'd like to recommend one of my own courses. Write Any Book in Under 28 Days is my original, best-selling course for writers, published by WCCL. The course is packed with tips and advice for writers, but at its heart is my unique five-step method for writing any book (fiction or factual) in the shortest possible time.

I've lost count of the number of testimonials I've received for this course, but here are three that have come to me personally within the last week (many others go directly to my publishers).
I appreciated your book and used it for two unrelated projects this year: 1) writing my Ph.D. dissertation in economics, which I finished in May and 2) my participation in National Novel Writing Month in November, during which I produced a 50,000 word manuscript in 30 days.

...at this time I'm working my way through my second book using your Write Any Book course. I've finished one book which is currently with my agent and so I thought I'd use your course to do my second.

...I'm still using your outlining system to great effect some 18 months after reading about it.

I haven't named the authors of these comments as I wouldn't want to do so without their permission, and I want to get this blog posted as soon as possible. But if anyone really wants to know who they are, feel free to email me!

Write Any Book in Under 28 Days comes on CD. These are normally dispatched within 24 hours of orders being received, so if you order within the next day or two, depending on where in the world you are, there is every chance you will receive it in time for Christmas.

My second recommendation is another WCCL production, Write a Movie in a Month. I didn't write this myself (though I'd like to think that the methodology was partly inspired by my book-writing course). It was written by three successful screenwriters, two based in the US and one in the UK. As a matter of interest, the third of the testimonials for my course listed earlier was written by the UK author of Write a Movie in a Month. Oh heck, I'm sure he won't mind me revealing that it's Mark Lewin and you can visit his website here if you wish.

Anyway, I'm a BIG FAN of Write a Movie in a Month. Indeed, as regular readers of this blog will know, it's inspired me to try my hand at writing a movie screenplay myself. Watch out, Hollywood! Regular readers will also know that, until the end of December, I'm offering three extra special bonuses to anyone buying Write a Movie in a Month via the review on my blog. Just click on any of the links above and all will be revealed.

Finally, you might of course want to give the writer in your life (or yourself) a nice printed book rather than - or as well as - one of the excellent CDs mentioned above. In that case, I recommend a visit to the world's favorite online bookstore, Amazon.

I've already used Amazon.co.uk to buy a swathe of Christmas presents for my nearest and dearest. Indeed, I buy stuff from them all the time, not only books but also DVDs, CDs, electrical goods, and more. They provide a fast and reliable service, and delivery is FREE as long as you spend over £15 (UK) or $25 (US) in any one order.

In association with Amazon, I've just set up two online bookstores devoted to books for writers. Just click on the appropriate link below to visit the store of your choice.

Nick's UK Writing Bookstore

Nick's US Writing Bookstore

Any of the titles displayed on these sites would make a great gift for a writer. But if you want a single suggestion, I highly recommend Stephen King's entertaining and informative book "On Writing" (pictured left). It may well be showing on the front page of my bookstore when you visit, but if not just enter Stephen King in the search box at the top right and click on "GO". Whatever you opt for, don't leave it too late though. You can only get guaranteed delivery before Christmas free of charge if you order by the end of this week!

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Friday, December 08, 2006

The Gooseberry Comma

I'm talking today about a pet hate of mine. It's what I call the gooseberry comma - a comma that's been stuck, seemingly at random, in the middle of a sentence. There it stands, looking awkward and uncomfortable, wondering what it's doing there and wishing it could quietly fade away.

Oftentimes (as the Americans say) the gooseberry comma turns up between the subject of a sentence and its verb. Here's an example I noticed yesterday in the chiller cabinet at my local supermarket: "Items in the Reduced section, are excluded from any other offers."

Does that comma after "section" seem logical to you? It doesn't to me. There is no need for a pause between the subject of this sentence and its verb. You wouldn't write "Apples, are excluded" (to use a random example). Just because the subject of this sentence has a few more words, there's still no excuse for putting a comma after it.

Or here's a slightly more literate example from an email newsletter I received recently. As you'll see, it comes from the Q&A section:

Q. Will Search Engine Optimization (SEO) really help my affiliate sales?
A: Yes. Generating more traffic to your websites, means more visitors seeing your affiliate link and clicking on it.

Doesn't that unnecessary comma after "websites" look and sound horrible to you? It does to me.

I think what often happens in these cases is that the writers confuse them with situations where a pair of commas is used to parenthesize some content within the sentence. For example, suppose my second example was as follows:

Q: Will Search Engine Optimization (SEO) really help my affiliate sales?
A: Yes. Generating more traffic to your websites, which SEO helps you to do, means more visitors seeing your affiliate link and clicking on it.

In this version, the comma after websites is correct. Along with its partner, it parenthesizes the nonrestrictive clause "which SEO helps you to do". You could equally use dashes, or even brackets, in place of the commas.

So if you're tempted to insert a single comma in mid-sentence, especially between the subject of the sentence and its verb, do think carefully. If you wouldn't put a comma after a single-word subject, putting one after a subject with a few more words is unlikely to be correct either.

Be kind to commas, and don't make them play gooseberry!

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Unfortunate Domain Names

I recently read a great little item in the Daily Telegraph newspaper about companies who didn't think carefully enough about how their domain name might be misinterpreted. Unfortunately I couldn't find the article concerned on the website, but I put the list below together from memory and and another site, Independent Sources.

All of the following sites are (or were) run by legitimate companies who deal in everyday products and services, but clearly didn't give their domain names sufficient consideration. As far as I know all these examples are genuine, though in some cases the companies closed the domains down or sold them on when they realised their error. I haven't bothered to hyperlink the URLs themselves, therefore.

1. A site called Who Represents, where you can find the name of the agent that represents a celebrity. Their domain name is www.whorepresents.com.

2. Experts Exchange, a knowledge base where programmers can exchange advice and views, at www.expertsexchange.com.

3. If you want a pen, look no further than Pen Island at www.penisland.net.

4. Need a therapist? Try Therapist Finder at www.therapistfinder.com.

5. Then, of course, there's the Italian power generating company www.powergenitalia.com.

6. And Mole Station Native Nursery, based in New South Wales, ended up with the highly unfortunate www.molestationnursery.com.

7. If you're looking for computer software, there's always www.ipanywhere.com.

8. Or, if you need to change currency, www.dollarsexchange.com might fit the bill.

9. And finally, there's the rather offputting graphic artist website at www.speedofart.com.

Any other suggestions (that aren't too rude to print) welcome!

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Mywriterscircle.com - first birthday!

Last month was the first birthday of this blog. This month, it is the turn of my forum.

When, in association with my publishers WCCL, I launched www.mywriterscircle.com, I had no idea how popular it would prove. The forum now has over 2,700 members from all over the world, and over 50,000 posts have been made in total.

New friendships have been made, collaborations launched, and advice and information freely shared among members. Indeed, one thing that especially pleases me is the comment made by many people as to how friendly and supportive the forum is. Much of the credit for this must, of course, go to the hard-working moderators - Aelfwin, Carrie, Cathy C, Jillanne, Symphony and Lin - who all devote many hours to keeping MWC running smoothly, for no financial return. Thanks for your hard work, guys and gals - MWC wouldn't be the same without you.

A word of thanks, as well, to Karl Moore, MWC's sponsor and administrator. Karl works away quietly (for the most part) in the background, making sure all the technical aspects of the forum are working properly and adding new features (such as our brand new chat room) when requested. He also runs WritersFM, WCCL's unique Internet radio station for writers, and many other exciting projects as well.

Finally, thanks to everyone who has visited and (especially) contributed to the forum this year and helped make it the success story it is. And if you're still waiting to take the plunge, why not register today? You can then join in the discussions, post work for feedback, ask (and answer) questions, and much more. It's easy - just go to www.mywriterscircle.com and click on the Register button at the top of the screen, then follow the on-screen instructions. But if you need any more detailed advice on registering, check out my article at www.nickdaws.co.uk/ew027.htm.

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