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Monday, August 30, 2010

Don't Mess With The Grammar Police!

On a lighter note, here's a video that amused me.

As well as bad grammar it includes some (mild) bad language, so you may prefer not to watch if you're easily offended or in a public library...


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

Now, all I need is an emergency hotline to report offences against good grammar (such as this one) when they occur...

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Review: 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts

I was fortunate to be sent a copy of this new downloadable (PDF) guide by Chicago-based freelance writer Bryan Cohen, who runs the website Build Creative Ideas.

Its full title is 1000 Creative Writing Prompts: Ideas for Blogs, Scripts, Stories and More.

My first impressions were highly favourable. This is an extremely well written and professionally produced e-book, running to a respectable 100 pages.

As the name indicates, the great bulk is devoted to writing prompts. These are basically scenarios or ideas you can use to stimulate writing projects (I'll provide a couple of examples in a moment).

Bryan says the prompts have been compiled from various ideas that have floated in and out of his head over the last two years. He says he has made them as open-ended as possible, so the same prompt could be used multiple times over.

There is a concise but useful introduction, which suggests ways the prompts could be used, including examples. The prompts themselves are then set out under the following headings: Holidays, Seasons, Memories, Life, Health, For the Kids, Literature & Genre, Art, Sports, The Outdoors, The Modern World, The Weird, and General.

To give you a flavor of the prompts themselves, here is one from the Life - Home section:

260. Do you have a restaurant, bar, or other hangout that you feel is your home away from home? It's the kind of place where everybody knows your name, like the show "Cheers." The kind of place where they'd ask about you if you didn't show up for a couple of days. Talk about how this became such a location for you.

And here, by way of contrast, is one from the Weird section:

901. As you are walking down the street, you hear loud sirens. Before you can figure out the reason, you see a giant flash of light and you pass out. You wake up in a giant pile of rubble. What has happened and where do you go from here?

Understandably, the book has a certain US bias - for example, there are sections for prompts devoted to Thanksgiving and the 4th of July, neither of which is celebrated in Britain (where I live).

Nevertheless, for anyone who ever finds themselves struggling for inspiration for a writing project, 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts could be a valuable - and reasonably priced - investment.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Guest Post: Ideas - How to Catch Them, Feed Them, and Finally Set Them Free


Today I'm delighted to be hosting another guest post from writer, film-maker and creativity guru Phil South.

In today's article, Phil looks at the tricky subject of how to catch and keep your ideas, rather than forget and lose them. Take it away, Phil...

Being a creative writer is all about ideas. Readers and potential writers are always asking successful and creative authors the question, "Where do you get your ideas?" - to which the writers often stumble in reply, or have no real answer. It's an unsatisfying transaction every time - so why is it that writers can't say where they get their ideas from? I think it's partly because they don't really know, and partly because the way they collect ideas is individual to them, and so any answer they gave would be no use to the asker of the question.

Maybe they also get tired of saying it, and you can see why. I interviewed Terry Pratchett for magazine articles a few times, and while I was at his house one time at least twice in the hour we were interrupted by fans calling asking stupid questions. He patiently answered the same questions for a few minutes, then courteously got them out of his hair. Later on in one of his books I noticed he postulated the theory in an aside that ideas were like rain. Great thinkers and writers stood out in it and caught as many ideas as they could, while non-writers and non-thinkers sheltered from it. A lovely thought - simple, beautiful and very Terry.

I've always loved this idea. Wonder where he got it from?

Anyway, the point is this: ideas happen. And Terry Pratchett, as always, has it right. The crucial question is not where ideas come from. The important question is: where do they go?

What happens when you get an idea? I'll tell you what happens - mostly you forget it. The reason is that ideas don't happen when you are at the typewriter, computer or a desk with a pen in your hand. That would be like expecting laundry to come to you while you are standing next to the washing machine.

No, ideas happen when you are driving to work, shopping in Tesco, eating, cooking dinner for a group of noisy kids, sleeping or making sweet love. Ideas are inspired by things you read, but also things you smell, things you hear and taste. Coincidentally, we covered those in my last guest post on this esteemed blog. But some ideas are seemingly inspired by nothing around you. They come from nowhere, out of your subconscious, like someone is shooting at you from the shadows. Those are the gems, the pearls, the diamonds. Those are the thoughts you made for yourself.

So what do you do - how do you make sure that no idea escapes you? How do you ensure that a shower of idea rain goes into your pocket and not down the idea drain? The answer is like the song "Pennies From Heaven", where they say "Be sure that your umbrella is upside-down".

Catch them.

Catching ideas is like catching anything that doesn't want to be caught - like a toddler that runs away from you, a tiger that stalks in the underbrush or a lit cigarette in the driver's footwell. You need to catch them now before the situation gets out of hand, and you need a well-practised plan of action to avoid disaster.

Do you carry a notebook? Everywhere you go? Well, start. Now. It doesn't have to be nice or big. It just needs to have a surface you can write on and be small enough to fit in a jacket pocket without weighing you down or making you look like you have one breast bigger than the other. And a working pen. Keep a bigger, nicer notebook - you know, the leather one with the lovely paper in it - in your briefcase or bag, and the lovely fountain pen to go with it.

That's a good start, and for most of us that is enough. You have an idea, write it down. Ideas? Write them down. What do you do with any ideas you have? Yes, WRITE THEM DOWN.

Don't ever, ever, ever think, "That's brilliant, and it's SUCH a good idea I'll remember it and write it down in a minute" because you won't, and you won't. And even if you do, why take the risk? Self evidently you have ideas to burn.

Okay that's level one. Level two, hands-free.

If I'm in a car I use a voice recorder, what we used to call in the olden days a dictaphone. Ironically, now I have one on my phone. I can record messages to myself, ideas, song lyrics, anything that takes my fancy. When I can afford the cost of one of the new Olympus digital recorders I shall upgrade because they are superb - small, high quality and LONG recording time. Plus they have a USB inside to transfer to your PC.

Sleeping or making sweet love? No problem. Have a voice recorder or notebook by the bed, plus again a working pen and in this case also maybe a little LED reading light or torch so you don't wake your partner while you're scribbling or hunting for the recorder. Obviously, writing notes or dictating to yourself while making sweet love, much like changing channels on the TV, could possibly be misconstrued as disinterest, so bear that in mind. Just a tip there.

Myself, I use a combination of notebooks, voice recorders and file cards. I'm a big fan of file cards - you know, those little 5x3 cards we used to put business contacts on in a small box on our desks before the age of computers and databases, and more importantly cell phone address books? Well, there is a new use for those little cards of joy: interactive, battery free, compact note-taking and organisation.

I buy loads of these. I put a stack of them in an elastic band in my pocket, and if I get an idea I pull them out, take off the band, write the idea on the next blank card, put them together again, band em up, and put them back in my pocket. Also, being a bit OCD, I use a nice new Papermate Tempo fibre tip pen and I use coloured cards and match the colour of the pen to add a little frisson of design and colour co-ordination to the process.

I use the fibre tip pens because experience has shown that they make a nicer mark on the paper, they provide a lovely tactile sensation, and you can draw OR write. Plus biros have a tendency to skip on the surface of the card if they've been in your pocket for a while, which delays getting the ideas down.

File cards have the added benefit that if you write down only ONE idea per card you can lay them all out on the table after a while and reorganise the ideas into any order you like. This is also good, because it suggests gaps in the ideas where you can add another card.

Later you can dump all your cards and notebooks into a file box and store them for later use. I call this after William Burroughs (one of the patron saints of my blog, Going Down Writing) an "Idea Hoard". It's a good place to come when inspiration has left you and you need to get new ideas, or at least access ideas you had before but forgot till now. Plus, I find it's an awesome reminder of what a great writer and ideasmith you are.

So that's my strategy for catching Pratchett's Idea Rain. Simple and effective. If you have your own strategies, please do post them as comments below. I'd love to hear your own tips for ensuring you catch and keep all your best ideas for use later on!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Phil South has been a writer and film-maker for 26 years. He started in consumer technology journalism, also known as playing computer games and writing jokes for magazines like Your Sinclair, Computer Shopper and Mac User. After a spell making animated web sites for Disney Channel UK, he now teaches film-making and photography at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. While waiting to have time to make the ultimate British cult movie, he writes the creativity blog Going Down Writing and the Creative Genius Newsletter, which you can subscribe to via his blog. Phil is also on Twitter at http://twitter.com/snouty.

Thanks again to Phil for another thought-provoking guest post. I strongly agree about the importance of keeping a notebook to record ideas as and when they occur. And, as Phil says, I'd love to hear any thoughts YOU may have on the best methods for catching and saving ideas.

Photo credit: 'Magic Apples' by H. Koppdelaney on Flickr.

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Win The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing!

Thanks to my friends at Writer's Digest Books, I have two copies of the brand new edition of The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing by Marilyn Ross and Sue Collier to give away.

The publishers say about this book...

In this fifth edition of a self-publishing classic, best-selling author Marilyn Ross and publishing expert Sue Collier empower writers to publish their own work with minimal risk and maximum profits.

Inside The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, writers will find step-by-step guidance on publishing and marketing a book. From print-on-demand publishing to subsidy publishing to true self-publishing, the book provides a thorough explanation of how to decide which option is best.

Marilyn and Sue then help writers jumpstart a publicity campaign with a detailed marketing plan and timetable, as well as appendices filled with marketing contacts, organizations and vendors. Writers will also benefit from valuable case studies and examples of how other publishers have found success.

This expanded and revised edition of the bible of self-publishing also offers the latest information and cutting-edge advice on e-publishing and Internet marketing, with a chapter on ways to leverage social media marketing to create buzz and stand out from the crowd.

With an in-depth discussion of exclusive distributors, plus coverage of the most recent changes in bookstores and the book-selling industry, The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing equips writers with everything they need to publish and promote their books and take control of their writing career.

To win your own free copy of The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, all you have to do is add a comment to this post saying "Pick me!" or similar, including your name and where you live. US residents should provide their state (e.g. George Harrison, Texas), whilst those living elsewhere in the world should include the name of their country (e.g. Hilary Duchesne, France). Just one entry per person, please.

By arrangement with the publishers, one prize will go to a US resident and the other to someone living elsewhere. The winners will therefore be chosen by two separate prize draws. That's why I really do need to know where you live - any entries not including this info will regretfully have to be excluded.

The closing date for this contest is Tuesday 31 August at 12 noon GMT. The winners will be announced shortly after that, so do remember to check back on my blog to see if you are one of them.

Good luck, and happy self-publishing!

POSTSCRIPT: Please, please, remember to include your home country/US state! Without this information I won't know which prize draw to enter you in, so I will have to disqualify you. If you have already posted without this info, please post again to ensure your inclusion. Thank you!

THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED AND NO FURTHER COMMENTS WILL BE ALLOWED. RESULTS WILL BE PUBLISHED SHORTLY!

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Friday, August 13, 2010

Between You and I, It's Ungrammatical


Today I'm writing about an amazingly common mistake, even among writers.

Or perhaps I should say especially among writers, or scriptwriters anyway. While watching the UK soap Coronation Street the other day, I heard the character John Stape - a dedicated if deranged English teacher - use the term "between you and I" in conversation with his wife.

I found this hard to believe (admittedly, lots of things in Coronation Street are!). The character Stape is a stickler for correct grammar, so I can't believe he would really use an expression like this, even in casual conversation. It looks like a mistake by the writer to me, which wasn't picked up by the script editor.

There's a clear grammatical rule in these situations, which is that a pronoun following a preposition such as "between" must always be in the objective rather than the subjective case. That's me rather than I, him rather than he, and so on.

This mistake is often made by people who are actually trying too hard to be grammatically correct - it's therefore an example of hypercorrection. There's an easy test, though, which is to change the order of the pronouns around. "Between I and you" doesn't sound right, does it? So "between you and I" can't ever be correct either.

And if any Coronation Street scriptwriters happen to read this, for my viewing pleasure I hope they will get this right in future!

Photo: The Granada Studios, where Coronation Street is filmed, by Tasa_M on Flickr.



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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Blog Copy: A New, Free Monitoring Service for Bloggers

Blog  Copy
If you have a blog, Blog Copy is a new website you should definitely check out. The site monitors what text and pictures are being copied from your blog.

To use Blog Copy, you first have to register on the site. This is free and takes only a few moments.

Before Blog Copy can start monitoring your blog you have to do one other thing as well, which is add a snippet of code to your blog's HTML. This is, of course, explained on the website. It's quite straightforward, and does not require any skills beyond copying and pasting.

Once the code is installed, you will be able to log in to the Blog Copy website at any time and see what your readers have been copying, and several other statistics too.

I should perhaps make clear that you won't discover who exactly copied your work or what they did with it. The aim of Blog Copy is not copyright-protection, but rather to provide feedback on what sections of your blog your readers find the most interesting/useful. This is obviously valuable in terms of helping you decide what to write about in future.

It is, incidentally, fascinating to discover what gets copied from your blog - I wouldn't even have known this was possible prior to signing up with Blog Copy. The site's rather plain design won't win it any awards, but I've been impressed with how well it works and the usefulness of the information provided. And all for free, of course!

* Disclosure notice: This is a sponsored post, for which I am receiving a fee. This has not affected my review of BlogCopy in any way, though.

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Monday, August 09, 2010

Review: The Kindle Cash Machine

The Kindle Cash Machine ReviewThe Amazon Kindle is the number one e-book reading device in the US, and this month it launched in the UK.

And for authors, the good news is that anyone, anywhere in the world can now publish an e-book for the Kindle, and keep up to 70% of the revenue generated.

I was therefore very interested to hear about The Kindle Cash Machine, a new, downloadable guide for would-be Kindle authors by Barry D. Martin. I decided to buy a copy myself to see if it lived up to the promises on the sales page.

First impressions were good. The sales page (and process) seemed highly professional. I was also impressed to receive an email immediately after purchasing, with step-by-step instructions for downloading the manual and bonus guide and 'unzipping' them.

The Kindle Cash Machine itself is a 68-page PDF. It is well written, and illustrated with a selection of photos, graphics and the occasional screengrab. I wouldn't have minded a few more of the latter, but websites change frequently, so I suppose Mr Martin didn't want his guide to go out of date too quickly.

The Kindle Cash Machine starts off with advice on choosing a suitable subject for a profitable e-book. The emphasis here is very much on non-fiction topics (business, health & fitness, and so on). It's all good stuff but pretty standard (you'll find more detailed advice on choosing profitable niches in my own course, The 10-Day E-Book). If you want to publish your novel on the Kindle, you will probably want to skip this chapter.

Once you have chosen your topic, The Kindle Cash Machine explains how to sign up as a Kindle publisher and how to format your e-book for publication. This is clearly important information, and good as far as it goes. I might have liked a little more detail on using the Amazon Digital Text Platform, ideally including a step-by-step guide with screengrabs, but again I assume that Mr Martin has avoided being too specific in order to prevent the information dating too quickly.

The manual goes on to discuss copyright, trademarks and pricing - all important matters, though perhaps less than riveting! The advice given is concise and helpful, though.

The latter part of the guide covers methods of marketing your Kindle e-book and boosting your profits from it. Clearly, you need to do everything you possibly can to make your title stand out from its many competitors in the Kindle store, and there are lots of good ideas and suggestions here. I was, incidentally, interested to see that Mr Martin also recommends simultaneously publishing your Kindle e-book with another well-known self-publishing service.

As well as The Kindle Cash Machine, you get a bonus manual titled 7 Days to Easy Money. This explains how to create a non-fiction book proposal and sell it to a publisher. It doesn't have anything to do with Kindle publishing, as far as I can see, but it's a well-written practical guide that could be helpful to anyone looking for a bit of assistance with this process.

Overall, I thought The Kindle Cash Machine was a useful introduction to publishing for the Amazon Kindle. It takes you through the main steps required to devise and write your e-book, format it for the Kindle, and market it to generate sales.

As mentioned above, I thought the advice was a bit general at times (although as an e-book author myself, I can understand why the author has done it in this way). Also, without wishing to sound immodest, my own 10-Day E-Book has more in-depth information about devising, writing and marketing an e-book - though, admittedly, my course assumes you will be using an online publishing platform such as Clickbank rather than the Kindle.

* Do you have any comments about The Kindle Cash Machine or writing e-books for the Amazon Kindle in general? Please post them below!

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Friday, August 06, 2010

Free Video Blogging E-Book

Rapid Video Profits by Gideon ShalwickVideo is huge on the Internet these days. YouTube, the Internet's most popular video sharing site, now gets over two billion hits every day.

If you're a blogger, or thinking of becoming one to promote your writing, video is therefore something you can't afford to ignore. But many people - me included - are put off by the technical aspects of recording and uploading a video. And, of course, many of us are camera-shy as well!

The good news is that experienced video blogger Gideon Shalwick has this week released a great free report to help bloggers through every aspect of using video on blogs. It's called Rapid Video Blogging - the Easy Way to Dominate Your Niche Through YouTube.

This beautifully written and presented 90-page report reveals...

* Seven steps Gideon has used to dominate niches with video
* How to create high-quality videos fast
* Tips for setting up a YouTube Channel
* Why video is better than just text or audio
* How to optimize your videos for maximum impact
* Tips on what makes videos viral
* How to monetize your videos
* And much more!

Gideon has also recorded several videos to accompany the report. You can view these on the download page. Incidentally, he is also giving away iPads to three lucky people who download the report and leave a comment on the download page.

In case you're wondering, one purpose of Rapid Video Blogging is to promote a premium course Gideon runs on this topic, but there is absolutely no obligation to sign up for this. Details are included at the end of the report, but the latter is still an extremely useful - and free - resource in its own right.

Happy video blogging!

Photo credit: asparagus_hunter on Flickr.

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