Want to be more productive? Learn to touch type

Want to be more productive? Learn to touch type

Typing is the new handwriting. Honestly – other than filling out a form, when is the last time you wrote anything substantial using a pen? When did you last send someone a handwritten letter? Most of us don’t even send Christmas cards any more, and if we do we include a typed update rather than writing inside the card.

We all type, all the time. Even if you’re not a writer, you are writing. Emails. Social media updates. Web searches. By my guesstimation, writing is now third in line as a written communication method behind typing on a keyboard and tapping on a screen. Bringing up the rear but likely to catch up before long is typing using your voice.

So, given that you spend so much time typing, have you ever learnt to touch type? You know, typing using all ten fingers and without looking at the keyboard.

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Getting past 'I'm not a writer'

Getting past 'I'm not a writer'

Earlier this month we spent a fantastic weekend at the iconic Port Fairy Folk Festival (which, by the way, is much more than banjos and tin whistles). Once again I found myself in awe of the songwriter’s ability. Never mind the music: how do these people come up with such clever lyrics? I could never do that.

Or could I?

I don’t know if I’ve shared this before, but when I was at school (when telephones still had dials and were definitely not ‘smart’) writing was not my thing. I struggled with creative writing and writing analysis and never seemed to be able to find the right formula to keep my English teachers happy. In my last few years at school, English was the subject in which I achieved my lowest grades.

These days I’m a professional writer so I’m probably not meant to tell you that.

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Going hyper over 'my sister and me'

Going hyper over 'my sister and me'

controversy blew up in New South Wales yesterday when Luke Foley, the Labor opposition leader, told a radio station that his single mother had ‘… invested her whole life into us, my sister and me, and I owe her everything…’.

Apparently the talkback radio lines went into overload as caller after caller complained that Foley should have said ‘my sister and I’ not ‘my sister and me’.

In fact Foley was correct.

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Surprise yourself and your readers by being a little creative

Surprise yourself and your readers by being a little creative

CJ Chilvers is a photography blogger I follow who calls himself ‘A lesser photographer’. He has a refreshingly simple approach to photography which is reflected in his writing – short, sharp posts that, more often than not, stop and make you think.

A few days ago he posted with the heading ‘Surprise!’. ‘The foundation of any good story is surprise,’ he said. As he points out, ‘surprise is the only thing that makes the news’. 

In other words, it’s the surprising photographs that get attention.

This is great advice for photographers, but also for writers.

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PDF: still a great way to securely share your documents

PDF: still a great way to securely share your documents

There is a lot of talk in these and other pages about the use of the ‘ePub’ and other ebook formats formats to get your book onto the digital market. However there will be times when you don’t want to go to any trouble: you just want to share a document, ideally with some level of security to prevent it being easily duplicated.

In these cases the good old-fashioned PDF file may well be your answer. PDFs have a number of advantages for quick and easy sharing:

  • They are easy to create from any application’s ‘print’ menu.
  • They can be read on virtually any computer, tablet or smartphone, no matter the operating system, and normally without the reader having to install additional software.
  • They replicate the formatting and layout of your document, no matter what sort of device the recipient chooses to read it on.
  • While not absolutely bullet proof, they can be made secure in a number of ways.
  • They are often smaller files than their word processor equivalents.

The PDF is as close as you will get to a ‘digital photocopy’.

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Write and publish your book in a year – Step 12: Get your book out there

Write and publish your book in a year – Step 12: Get your book out there

When you finally have your book in your hot little hands, take a moment to reflect and enjoy the feeling – there’s nothing quite like it. But don’t bask in your newfound glory for too long. Now that your book is finished, it’s time to get it out to the world. This involves a combination of publicity, so people hear about your book, and distribution so that once people hear about it they are able to buy it.

Needless to say this topic could fill a book on its own; what I’m sharing here is the equivalent of the sixpence inside your Christmas pudding. 

It should also be said that while this topic is the last of my ‘write your book in a year’ series, publicity and distribution would ideally be considered before you start your project. When people ring me for advice on self-publishing, my first question is usually ‘How will you distribute it?’ simply because there’s little point writing a book unless you have the means to spread it around.

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The W-H-Y of ISBNs

The W-H-Y of ISBNs

When people write books, including ebooks, getting themselves an ISBN is often an afterthought – if they think of it at all. I thought it might be good to explain exactly what an ISBN is and why it is important.

What is an ISBN?

‘ISBN’ stands for ‘International Standard Book Number’. It is a ‘serial number’ for a book: no two books, or ebooks, published anywhere in the world will have the same ISBN. 

ISBNs are essential for maintaining order in book catalogues because they overcome the fact that both book titles and author names can be duplicated. ISBNs can also help avoid confusion when a book has multiple editions – by applying a unique ISBN to each edition, anyone searching for a specific edition will be able to identify it.

(A handy hint when comparing the price of books at online stores: to make sure you’re comparing like with like, find the ISBN of the book you’re looking for at the first store, then search on that number, rather than the title, at subsequent stores.)

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Five tips for writing numbers – to infinity and beyond

Five tips for writing numbers – to infinity and beyond

Let’s talk numbers. This is another topic that I file under the category of ‘things I always find myself having to correct when editing other people’s work’. (In case you’re wondering, two other topics in this category are the misuse of capitalsand double spacing between sentences.)

Let’s dive straight in, bearing in mind that there are few absolute rules on this topic and most of the following are really questions of style.

1. Digits or letters?

When using numbers in your writing, smaller whole numbers are generally spelt out (i.e. written as words) while larger numbers are written in digits. So ‘1’ is written as ‘one’; ‘100’ is written as 100.

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Crowded mind? Here's how to take the pressure off

Crowded mind? Here's how to take the pressure off

If there is one thing guaranteed to hamper your efforts at writing – particularly when writing is just one of numerous things you’re trying to do – it is an overly crowded mind. How can you expect to think creatively if your head is full of ‘stuff’? It’s like trying to find a gemstone in a rubbish tip.

We all know how it goes. You wake up remembering that you need to ring your mother for her birthday. Then you get on with your day. Mid-morning, that task floats across your mind again. It returns at lunchtime, again mid-afternoon and again just before dinner. Then again … late in the evening when it’s too late to call.

Multiply that one thing by the multiple other things that will cross your mind during the day and you will quickly realise why your brain feels so full all the time.

Productivity guru David Allen has been preaching this point for years.

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Write and publish your book in a year – Step 11: Printing

Write and publish your book in a year – Step 11: Printing

You’ve got the book writtenedited and proofread, the administration done and a beautifully designed interior and cover. You’re only one step away from having that precious book in your hands: printing.

When it comes to printing there are basically two choices available to you: short run (aka ‘digital printing’ or ‘print on demand’) and long run (aka ‘offset’). Your choice will depend on how many copies you want to print, which in turn will depend on how many copies you think you might sell and how much money you want to spend up front. Often – but not always – you will want to print an initial short run to test the market.

As with design, book printing tends to be a specialist field within the broader printing industry. Whoever you use to print your book, you’ll generally be better off dealing with people who print books, rather than brochures, for a living.

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Five great book titles ... and why they work

Five great book titles ... and why they work

There’s not much point going to the effort of writing a book if the end result won’t be noticed by anyone. Which means you need to invest in a) a good cover design and b) a snappy, unforgettable, ‘pick me up’ title and subtitle.

There are no absolutes when it comes to titles and subtitles, except that they shouldn’t be an afterthought. The two things I aim for when helping authors work on a title are: 

  • that the title and subtitle complement each other. Often this means the title is catchy while the subtitle provides a more explicit description of the book’s contents, and
  • that, especially in a business context, the title and subtitle combo sells the benefits to the reader of picking up your book.

Here are five examples of great title/subtitle combinations from the bookshelf in my office...

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The single most important rule when generating ideas

The single most important rule when generating ideas

I had a great idea for a topic for this week’s blog post. Believe me: it was a really good idea. The information I was going to share was pure brilliance. It might even have gone viral. But it won’t now. Unfortunately, I can’t share this idea with you … because I have no idea what it was.

If there’s one golden rule I’ve learnt in my career as a writer, and even before that in business, it is this: 

If you have a good idea, capture it now. Immediately. Straight away.

Otherwise it will likely disappear into the ether.

Unfortunately, even though I know this rule – and the risks of ignoring it – all too well, I still forget it from time to time.

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A handy weapon in the war on procrastination

A handy weapon in the war on procrastination

Confronting any writing task is a recipe for procrastination. After all, most writing requires some level of research, and that means jumping on to the internet – and while you’re there you might as check Facebook, and quickly find out when that new movie is showing, and what’s news in the football draft, and…

Then there is the challenge of staying focused on a difficult writing task. The challenged mind starts to wander off, body in tow, to greener pastures – a quick coffee, walk around the block or even, in a home office, a load of washing.

Is it any wonder you can get to the end of the week and wonder where the time went and why you don’t have much to show for it?

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Write and publish your book in a year – Step 10: Proofreading

Receiving your fully laid out book back from the designer is often the first time it feels like a ‘real thing’. Even though all you get is an electronic file – usually a PDF – it looks like a real book for the first time.

But the job’s not done yet. From the outset I have talked about the fact that a book is different from most other writing projects. It needs to be done right. More than right. It needs to be done as perfectly as possible. So the next step – proofreading – is as important as any other.

Proofreading is not copyediting. Yes, there are similarities of course. But where copyediting is like the final quality control check on a car (checking that nothing is missing, and that everything is in the right place), proofreading is like the final detailing before delivery – making sure your book really shines.

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5 reasons I find Dropbox essential to my toolkit

5 reasons I find Dropbox essential to my toolkit

It’s getting awfully overcast on the World Wide Web. More and more of everything we do is, or can be, stored in the cloud, accessed from the cloud and run from the cloud. Sure, using the cloud has its risks, as Jennifer Lawrence recently discovered, but if used carefully and knowledgeably those risks, in my view, are far outweighed by the benefits.

Over the years I’ve used various different services for online backup, sharing files and ‘access anywhere’. My favourite, mainly because of its ease of use, has been Dropbox.

Recently, Dropbox Pro, the paid version of the service, has become an even more valuable tool with its (practically) unlimited 1 terabyte storage allowance and additional security features. I really don’t need any other cloud service anymore.

Here are five things I like about Dropbox...

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