Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Writing Newsletters

I'm often asked where a writer can find markets. Here are a list of sites that publish (electronic) newsletters, where you can find markets.

Moira Allen's Writing World is by far the best site I've found on writing. You can sign up for a monthly newsletter on the site. Check out the Getting Started section if you're just, well, getting started.

Jenna Glatzer's Absolute Write is another good site, which has a couple of newsletters that you can subscribe to.

Angela Hoy's Writers Weekly is a comprehensive newsletter with markets and warnings and success stories. I'd signed up for this a long time ago and I got a nice free e-book, but I don't know if that's still available.

Hope Clark's Funds For Writers has a couple of newsletters in which she gives loads of markets.

Writing For Dollars has a newsletter that gives you markets.

Worldwide Freelance is another site which has a newsletter for markets.

Busy Freelancer is also another newsletter that has writing related information and markets.

Writing Etc has writing-related articles and markets.

Mridu Khullar's Writer's Crossing is a site that has a writing-related newsletter and a market newsletter.

Spicy Green Iguana has a lot of Speculative (Spec) fiction-related markets.

Ralan's Web Extravaganza is a great site for Spec Fiction and Humor markets.

You can find more links for writers at this site.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Using Shortcuts

I've been observing people at work lately and I realise that most people don't use keyboard shortcuts, preferring instead to use the mouse. Using the mouse (take it from someone who's had problems with his hand) causes you more trouble than the keyboard.

With Microsoft's products, you're most likely to be able to use the same shortcuts across applications (like Ctrl+C to copy, Ctrl+V to paste, Ctrl+N for a new window, etc.).

Even in Windows there are some great shortcuts that make your job so much easier.

To switch between different windows on your desktop, use Alt+Tab.

To minimise (or alternatively maximise) all the windows on your desktop Windows+D (Windows button is that button between the Alt and Ctrl on most keyboard with the Windows logo on it).

To open Windows Explorer, Windows+E

To open the Search files dialog, Windows+F

Try getting used to windows shortcuts, you'll find that your work speeds up and you'll reduce the use of your mouse, reducing your chance of RSIs (Repeated Stress Injuries).

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Speak in Plain English, *%*!~*!

I hate it when people write stuff that's so difficult to read that you have to hire a specialist to help you understand what they're writing. Can't we just ask people to make things simpler to read and understand?

The Plain English Campaign is a site that is fighting for this cause. Here's what their website says -- Plain English Campaign is an independent pressure group fighting for public information to be written in plain English. We have more than 6000 registered supporters in 70 countries.

Go take a look. If you're a plain English lover (not a plain English lover) like me, then you'll probably even sign up.

On Writing Well (Book Review)

On Writing Well is one of those books that, after you read a few
chapters, make you slap your head and wonder, "Why am I such an ignoramus that I didn't even hear of this book?" (Okay, I know it was just me!)

As far as books on writing go, I'd place this book in the same category as On Writing and Writing Down The Bones. High praise I know, but this book is the best book I've read about writing non-fiction.

Zinsser talks about all kinds of non-fiction; from business writing, to sports and science. And, he does it in a style that's easy to read and looks deceptively simple to write, but one that most writers know is the hardest thing to do.

Zinsser uses examples (from different writers) to emphasize what he's talking about and to make the points he's making easy to understand. His experience, as a teacher of writing, is evident throughout the book and after reading his book, you'll wonder about taking his course or feel like writing to him and telling him what an impact the book had on your life. And, if you're like most writers, you'll procrastinate and won't.

Whatever you do or don't, what I'd recommend is that you pick up the book, browse through it, and (hopefully) buy it. If you want to improve the way you write, you'll find this book worth whatever you pay for it.

Subject lines -- Why we need 'em

This is a pet peeve of mine. I've found that most people who use email tend to use short subject lines like, Hi, Hey, or Hello or have subject lines that span a few pages -- Project Management for the Doofus Project in Nigeria, Africa. Not to say anything about the Fwd: Fwd: Fwd: tags that people fail to delete.

Subject lines are so useful especially if you want immediate responses. A well-written subject line is a teaser to open the email that it points to. You can even prefix subject lines with tags like Article, Link, News, Action, Disc (Discussion), etc. If I receive the email I can easily find out if the email is something I need to read right away or whether it can wait.

I find that subject lines are most abused in mailing lists. (Here's someone who shares my pain) Someone will get the daily digest and reply to the digest with the subject line intact, which makes the subject line something like -- Re: Digest 405.

My other favourite is Help!!!, Please Help!!!, Plz Help!! and all possible variations.

Here's a link to writing subject lines for marketing.

Make the world a better place to email in.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

First Things First (Book Review)

There are a few books that can transform your life. First Things First is one of those books. The book is co-authored by Stephen Covey, author of the highly successful The Seven Habits of Highly Effective people, among other books.

Who Should Read This Book

If you have ever felt overwhelmed about the tasks in your life, or felt stressed for time, or knew that you wanted to do something, but couldn't find the energy to do it, or were not sure about what things to do in your life, this book will help you. This book will point you in the direction that you probably wanted to find all your life but couldn't.

While you might find this book in the self-help or time management
sections of bookstores, this book isn't about time management or
self-help. It's about learning the philosophy of life and applying it to your own life.

What's In It

The authors have realised through their own experiences and through reading other books (wisdom literature, as they call it) that there are certain underlying principles that govern our lives. When we realise that our lives are governed by principles, our attitude (therefore) our life changes, since the underlying assumptions we made earlier have changed.

The most important thing that this book will teach you is how to focus on what's important and distinguish it from what's urgent. We are satisfied when we do the important things but often urgency clouds our thinking and we end up doing the urgent tasks thinking that they are important. What you'll start to see is how doing the most important things on your "to do" list will bring you the greatest satisfaction.

The book takes a holistic approach to life, that life is one indivisible whole. There are four aspects to our life--the physical (our physical needs, exercise, etc.), spritual (religion, philosophy, meditation), intellectual/mental (work, reading,etc), and social (friends, family, etc.). When we find a balance through synergy between these four areas, then we tend to be the most happy.

We also play different roles in our life (parent, son/daughter, spouse, co-worker, manager, volunteer, etc.) and this book talks about how you can achieve synergy in your roles.

These concepts (and others) are presented with anecdotes about clients or experiences of the authors and the book is well-organised and easy to read.

The Bottom Line

If you want to change the way you do things and the way you manage your life in order to become happier, this book is a must read. In fact, like writing books it's a must-do kind of a book.

You don't become a good writer by reading good writing books, you become a good writer by doing the writing. It's the same thing with First Things First. You'll become better organised, will learn to focus on the important things, and your life will be much better if you follow the concepts outlined in the book.

That's what we're looking for isn't it, a better life?

Ants and the man

I've always been fascinated by ants. They're nifty creatures and they stock food, they work real hard and they live in a tribe (see the movie Antz, if you don't believe me).

I don't know for sure if ants plan their daily work and distribute their workload among each other but they seem pretty organised to me. I only have to leave some food out in the open to have ants swarming all over it in a few hours. I wonder if there are reconnaissance ants that fly over the landscape looking for food that can be "captured".

What I love about ants is their teamwork. They work as a team and they are all team players, at least the ones that I've seen. There's no showboating or going solo and they seem to work for a common aim.

There's something to be learnt in that.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Dark, gloomy, more grown-up, but the usual Harry Potter fun. I saw it the first day it was released and I enjoyed the movie. No, I am not a Potter fan, I've not read even one book. However, you've got to appreciate the imagination of the writer (J K Rowling) and the way the director and the script-writer have brought the book to the big screen.

The Dementors (or whatever they're called) reminded me of the Nazgul in The Lord of The Rings. I think I read somewhere that Rowling was influenced by J R R Tolkien. I guess he's influenced a bunch of fantasy writers.

The movie was pure fun from start to finish and you'd have to be really critical to say that it wasn't an enjoyable movie. Entertainment, in whatever genre, if it is good, people will buy books and go to movies. A lesson worth remembering for all those copy-cats out there.

Sensitive about mailing lists

I just wonder why people become so sensitive on mailing lists. I've been on a few and there'll be people who get offended because some small stuff is blown out of proportion. They'll even quit the list. It's weird. Do people expect that by throwing a tantrum that they'll get people to grovel and ask them to come back? Grow up.

Any form of electronic communciation is open to misinterpretation, especially email since it is so ubiquitous. I've misunderstood people's emails and people have misunderstood mine. However, I know that this can happen, so I keep my wits about me.

I wish people using email consider this.

Friday, June 04, 2004

The Seven Day Weekend (Book Review)

If you've ever wondered why you can take work home but can't take home to work, if you've ever wondered why things can't be different at work, if you've ever wanted to be treated (at work) like the adult that you are, then read The Seven Day Weekend by Ricardo Semler. It's a book that will show you how people can be successful even with the most radical ideas about management or lack of it.

Semler writes about the company that he revolutionised, Semco. Semco doesn't write business plans, doesn't have a written policy (they have a series of cartoons) and shares all its information with its employees, even the janitors. You don't get a permanent desk or a permanent office. Meetings are not documented. There are no quality processes and employees are encouraged to think.

Yes, they make money and they are pretty big (3000 employees). The company has been the subject of case studies, PhD and Masters dissertations and visitors line up to learn how Semco works.

The book will tell you how, but it's so unbelievable that it's, well, unbelievable.

The Day After Tomorrow

Interesting movie, great special effects and a good way to get the point of global warming and environmental pollution across. Sure, there are Hollywood touches (like trekking from somewhere near Philadelphia to New York in way below freezing weather), but the studios have to make money, so I can forgive them. If you can ignore the Hollywood touches, you might enjoy the movie.