Monday, January 31, 2011

Writing As Therapy

When I was 16 years old, my parents separated and my Dad moved in with the woman who was to become his second wife. It was a difficult time for everyone involved and in those early days the separation was all that anyone could think of.

At the time, there were only a few weeks to go, before I sat my O level exams and it was important for me to sit down and get back into 'revision mode'. But I couldn't, because all I could think about was our current family circumstances.

However, the writer inside me urged me to pick up a pen, so I did. I decided to write a letter expressing all of my feelings. It was one of the best things ever did. (It was also one of the worst things I ever did, because as a naive 16-year-old I didn't think about what the consequences were of posting the letter!) The act of sitting down and writing the letter enabled me to clear my head. Once it was written, I was able to think about other things ... like revision.

It's something I still do today with my writing. Sometimes, I find I'm not able to get on with the project I want to, because I'm thinking of something else. At the time though, whatever it is that my mind is thinking about, isn't always clear. Other writers may think this as Writer's Block, but I don't believe in the dreaded block. This is because my solution to this difficulty is to sit down and write!

So, whenever I can't get started on the writing project that I want to, I pick up a pen and notebook and I start writing a letter. It's a letter to myself, and in it I simple start by saying, For some reason I can't get started on XXX project and it's annoying me. Perhaps it's because of .... and I let my mind wander freely.

Sometimes my letter produces an interesting response. Perhaps there is a family issue that needs dealing with. Or perhaps I have a couple of other ideas floating around in my head and I just need to spend time jotting down the ideas, so that they don't get forgotten and I can come back later to them.

But after about 20 minutes, my mind feels clearer once more, and I'm ready to get working on my writing project again.

I've learned my lesson - I don't post these letters - they stay in my notebook. But I know that writing a letter to myself can get me writing again. Writing is therapy and it can help us to recover our minds. It's one reason why personal diaries and journals can be so effective for a writer.

So next time you feel stuck and unable to settle down to write, pick up a pen and notebook and undertake a little therapy. Write a letter to yourself. Tell yourself what it is you are thinking. You might be surprised by what you reveal. It may also motivate you into cracking on with your other writing projects too.

Good luck.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Tips for creating a free business listing in Google Places: Adding useful descriptions and relevant categories

(Cross-posted from LatLong)

With this blog post, we’re concluding our three part series about the Google Places quality guidelines. Today, we’ll discuss how to choose the best fitting categories for your business listing as well as how to provide a useful description. In case you missed the first two blog posts, you can find here the first post about business titles and here the second part about business types.

Adding useful descriptions

As a business owner, we encourage you to add a specific description of your business in the “description” field. This gives potential clients more information to understand what your business is about and see if your business matches what they are seeking. You can also use this field to provide further guidance about the location of your business which might be useful in some cases where it is hard to find, e.g. if the entrance of your business is only accessible via the rear.

Keep the description clean and concise, so it is helpful to users and catches their attention. A series of repeated keywords or categories may turn off potential customers, but a crisp and catchy summary of the services you offer help users determine if your business is right for them.

Choosing relevant categories

If you provide appropriate and accurate categories, we can better match your business listing to relevant user searches. We recommend choosing specific categories that describe the core of your business well instead of broad ones. A good way to find representative categories for your business is asking yourself the question “What is my business?” Be sure to capture what your business is as opposed to what it offers or sells - in that sense, “bakery” would be a good category as opposed to “cakes” or “bread”.

Also, do not include location information in the categories field. If you would like to provide such additional information about your business, you can use the description field and, if appropriate, the service areas feature.

You will be asked to choose at least one category from our standard list - just start typing in the categories field to see what is available via the auto-suggestions.

We recommend always choosing the best matching and most specific category for your business - for any specific category, Google will be able to automatically determine the more generic category as well. That means, if you are a Mexican restaurant, you should go for ‘Mexican Restaurant’ and not ‘Restaurant’ - Google then automatically knows that if you are a Mexican restaurant, you are also a restaurant.

You can provide up to five categories for your business listing. After picking a standard category, you can add up to four customized categories. To add another category, just click on ‘Add another category’ and an additional field will be triggered. Put only one category per entry field. Entering more than one category into a category field is not compliant with our quality guidelines and could result in your listing being suspended and not appearing in Google Places. In case you find it difficult to find an appropriate standard category to start with, just pick a category that fits best and add more specific custom categories. If you are uncertain about categorizing your business, you can also ask for advice in the Google Places help forum and discuss with other business owners.

We hope that this information helps you add a concise description and accurate categories to your business listing in Google Places. This gives potential clients more information to determine if your business matches what they are seeking. For further questions you can visit our Google Places help forum.

Posted by Sabine Borsay, Consumer Operations

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Google Boost: Now Appearing On Mobile Phones

(Cross-posted from LatLong)

Back in October we announced Google Boost, a new advertising solution to help local businesses connect with potential customers in their area. Today we are excited to announce that Boost ads can appear on Google Search results pages on Android and iPhone devices.

Consumers increasingly use mobile devices to search for products and services, and Boost will give advertisers the opportunity to reach these customers exactly when they are looking for local businesses on their phones. This feature will automatically take effect for current and future Boost advertisers.

In case you aren’t familiar with Boost, it’s Google's new advertising product that helps business owners quickly create an online advertising campaign that targets local customers. Using information from the business’s free Google Places listing, Boost automatically suggests and creates text ads that appear on Google Search and Google Maps results pages.

Google Boost is now available in all U.S. cities to select business types. To find out if your business is eligible, sign in to your Places account (or create a free one if you haven’t yet) and visit the Dashboard. If Boost is not currently available to your business, fill out this short form and we’ll notify you when it is.

Posted by Kiley McEvoy, Product Manager

Monday, January 24, 2011

Google Apps for Business now available for Verizon customers

[Cross-posted from the Google Enterprise Blog]

Editor's Note: We're excited that beginning today Google Apps for Business is available through Verizon. We've asked Monte Beck, Vice President of Small Business Marketing for Verizon to share more details.

At Verizon we make it easy for companies to get online and be productive in the office or while on the move. We do this by offering business owners a bundled solution of essential services to fit their particular needs.

Beginning today, our small- and medium-sized business customers will also be able to access the same applications that come with Google Apps for Business: Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Sites, Google Video, and more.

Most of Verizon’s service offerings are in the cloud and delivered to any business connected to the Internet with a click of the mouse. So it makes sense for us to offer Google Apps for Verizon to allow businesses to communicate and collaborate in the office or on the go.

Google Apps for Verizon – with three free user accounts – is available to business customers that subscribe to a bundle consisting of Verizon Internet service and either Verizon voice or TV service or both. Customers have the option to buy additional accounts. Also included is a domain name free for one year (i.e.

Other small business essentials provided in Verizon’s bundled solutions include an easy do-it-yourself “kit” to develop your business’ professional website, Internet security, online backup, and more. Most importantly, we offer WiFi access – a necessity today to quickly respond to customers and access programs and files while out of the office.

Verizon’s business bundled solutions are available in parts of 12 states (CA, CT, DE, FL, MD, MA, NJ, NY, PA, RI, TX, and VA) and Washington, D.C. Those who just need Apps can subscribe to Google Apps for Verizon for $3.99/user/month.

To better help and inform small businesses, my team also developed the Verizon Small Business Center, a one-stop online portal with free resources, industry news, expert advice delivered through free webinars, networking opportunities, discounts, and much more. In combining these free resources with cloud products and services, we’re helping small businesses gain a competitive edge. Even the smallest companies now have access to technology that’s being used by larger businesses at minimal cost.

Google Apps for Verizon helps Verizon’s business customers harness the power of the web in new and exciting ways.

Outlining the Outline

I was marking an assignment over the weekend, when I came across one student who was having difficulty outlining the article she wanted to write. In the end she'd skipped this bit and written her article. However, she hadn't. She admitted it had taken her three attempts to finish it.

When we get an idea, the urge to write the article can overwhelm us. Don't! It's important that you have a clear idea as to whom you are writing it for. You need to know your target market and therefore, your readership. Only then can you begin to angle your idea to make it of interest to your intended readers.

If you're unsure as to whom you want to target, think a bit more about your idea. What is it that you want to say? What do you want readers to learn from your article? This may help you to identify who your idea is aimed at.

For example, if you have an idea about how to take better photographs, what are your tips going to be? Will they be tips that a professional photographer will use, or those that a family member might use when snapping their children playing? Get this clear in your mind, and you can then start searching for magazines that these readers might buy.

When it comes to outlining the article, think about everything that you want to say. Forget about a beginning, a middle and an end for the moment, just jot down everything you feel is important at the moment. What are those tips? List them. List every one of them. (The last thing you want to do is forget one of them!)

If you need to do some research, then think about the questions your reader would ask:
  • Do I need a special camera?
  • Do I need a special lens?
  • What are the benefits of having a tripod?
  • How should I frame my picture?
And so on.

When you've listed all of your tips, or questions, start playing about with their order. Sometimes you might find that one particular question more naturally follows after one further down. Or perhaps, for a reader to understand one tip, they need to comprehend another tip earlier.

Do this, and you'll slowly begin to produce your article's outline. This may be infuriating when all you want to do is get down and start writing, but it will help you in the end. It will enable you to produce a more coherent article.

Outlining can be difficult when you get started, so a useful tip is to create an outline from an existing published article. Sit down and read the article in full. Then read it again, but this time, summarise each paragraph in one sentence. Then on the next line, write a sentence that summarises the next paragraph. Do this for the whole article and you'll produce a basic outline. If you can, try this technique with different articles from different magazines and you'll start to see a pattern which you can use in your own pieces.

Outlines are worth it, because they make your articles stronger, well-argued and more entertaining for the reader.

Good luck!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Our big gift for small businesses

To kick off 2011, we wanted to thank a few small businesses for taking the first step toward enhancing their online presence—and to provide additional resources for achieving this goal. So over the holiday season, we paid a surprise visit to five small businesses who recently started advertising their businesses online: Create A Cook and Twinkle Star in Massachusetts, Ramy’s Garage and Atlas Flooring in Texas, and Cloud 9 Frozen Yogurt in Georgia. These small businesses span several industries, but their founders share one common goal: to expand beyond their brick-and-mortar storefronts and into the world of e-commerce.

To help, we gave them each of them $100,000 in AdWords spend for 2011 as well as free consultations with AdWords representatives. Because we know online presence means more than just AdWords, we’ll also be providing them with web consultations, wireless service for the year as well as a few other little surprises. See footage from our surprise visit below:

We’re looking forward to making big investments in small businesses far beyond these lucky five. Small businesses have long benefited from Google products and services; now our hope is that all small business owners can have greater access to the tools and training they need to develop a cohesive strategy for doing more business online. We started last year by creating the Google Small Business Center and asking small business owners about their biggest wishes for 2011. We received an overwhelming response from business owners who, like the owners of these shops, want to do more business online in 2011.

The Google Small Business Team surprises Atlas Flooring in Texas.

We’re thrilled to help these five small business owners find online success in 2011 and we think we have a lot to learn from their experiences. We’ll check in on them from time to time and report on their successes as well as their growing pains.

In the meantime, check the Google Small Business Blog for updates, and if you’re a business owner, visit the Google Small Business Center for information on how you can bring your business online in 2011.

Posted by James Croom, Product Marketing Manager, Google Small Business Team

Monday, January 17, 2011

100 Stories for Queensland

It's impossible not to have heard about the horrendous flooding that has been taking place in Australia, and now here's a project where writers can play their part in helping with the immense recovery process.

Following the huge success of the anthologies, 100 Stories for Haiti and 50 Stories for Pakistan, an anthology of 100 stories will be produced, which will be sold to raise money for the Queensland flood victims. 100% of the profits from this anthology will be donated to the Queensland Premier's Flood Relief Appeal.

100 Stories for Queensland is headed by Brisbane resident and co-owner of eMergent Publishing, Jodi Cleghorn, and UK author, Trevor Belshaw. The management team is made up of Maureen Vincent-Northam, David W Robinson and Nick Daws who all worked on the Haiti and Pakistan anthologies with McQueen. They are assisted by a growing band of 20 volunteer readers and editors from across the globe. McQueen is working behind the scenes, organising the audio book and podcasts in conjunction with UK author and podcaster Em Newman.

The deadline for submissions is Friday 28th January, and submissions should be made electronically, via the SubmishMash website (

Stories should be upbeat and generally positive, and can be in any genre, and must be between 500 and 1000 words in length. Further rules can be viewed at the SubmishMash website address above.
If you enjoy writing fiction, then give this a go. It's a tight deadline, but that's not a bad thing because it will help to focus your mind! There's just over ten days until the cut-off for submissions, so there's still time to plan an approach.

  • Spend a day creating and developing an idea.
  • Over the next three days, produce your first draft.
  • Put it aside on day five and ignore it.
  • Read it through on day six and undertake an initial edit.
  • Ignore it on day seven.
  • Review and edit further on day eight.
  • If needs be, put it aside again for another 24 hours.
  • Day ten, make one more read-through to check for errors and then submit it.
Submitting an entry is a great way to create a new short story, get experience of working to a tight deadline, and offer you an opportunity to help people cope with the aftermath of a natural disaster.

Good luck.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Now available: Google Places with Hotpot for iPhone

[Cross-posted from the Hotpot Community blog]

We recently released Google Places with Hotpot in Google Maps for Android, and starting now, you can have that same great experience as an iPhone app. We realize the importance of finding places you’ll love while you’re out and about, no matter what mobile device you use. And Places with Hotpot not only helps you find places near where you are, it gives you the best places to go for you by personalizing your search results.

In case you aren’t familiar with Google Places, it lets you quickly search for places nearby and personalizes the results based on places you’ve rated. We get you started with a few popular search categories, but you can also tailor the list by adding your own favorite searches. This makes it fast and easy to find the best places for you with little fuss.

Use a default search category, save your own, or rate the nearest place quickly.

It can be pretty rewarding to discover a new place you love, but we also realize that there are some experiences you just can’t wait to share. So Places makes it super simple to rate a place with your iPhone while you’re there. Just fire up the app and hit “Rate now.” It will use your location to guess your current place and let you post a Hotpot review right from your phone. But it’s not just about getting to say what you think—the more you rate places, the more you’re sharing about your tastes and the more we can give you personally tailored recommendations.

Give your star rating and add optional details or a review so Hotpot knows your taste.

If you want to make things even tastier, just visit from your desktop computer. Here you can add friends to the mix and quickly rate all the places you already know. Once you’ve added friends, you’ll find your results seasoned not just with reviews from around the web and recommendations based on your own personal taste, but also with your friends’ opinions too.

Once you start rating and add friends, Places can give you personalized recommendations.

Get the Places app on your iPhone now by searching for Google Places in the App Store or going here.

This first version of Places is available for all iOS devices in English only. However, expect more features and improvements to roll out soon, including localization in many new languages. We’re hard at work to make Places with Hotpot more and more delicious.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Introducing Google Engage for Agencies in US and UK

[Cross-posted from the Agency Ad Solutions Blog]

Are you a US or UK based Webmaster? WebDesigner? SEO? Marketing Consultant? Freelancer? or offering web related services to Small Medium Businesses? then keep on reading...

At Google, we’re committed to the success of the digital economy and we believe that helping small business get online and thrive is fundamental to that success.

We recognize that many SMBs rely on freelancers and small agencies to create and manage their online presence as well as help them with their online marketing. To make the jobs of these agencies easier, we’ve launched a new training and incentives program called Google Engage for Agencies.

Google Engage participants will receive free access to educational resources dedicated for them and more incentives to grow their own and their clients’ businesses.

We hope Engage will help businesses that offer web services in attracting new clients and in adding value to existing clients. Check out Google Engage today and learn about the benefits the program can offer your business and the SMBs you support.

If you’re a webmaster, web-designer, digital agency, freelancer, SEO, IT consultant, or provide any other web services to US or UK based small businesses, you can apply to join the program starting today.

Please see links below for information on participation for US and UK-based agencies:
Google Engage for US Businesses
Google Engage for UK Businesses

Posted by: Alon Chen & Esra Guler, Product Marketing

Monday, January 10, 2011

Competition - Win A Paid, 12 Month Blogging Contract

I've just heard of the following competition from Candis magazine, where they're looking for a new blogger. The prize winner will be required to update their blog at least twice a month for a 12 month period, for which they will be paid £150 per month.

Details are as follows:

Would you like to share your news and views with thousands of Candis readers? Then enter our competition to win a 12-month writing contract for our website!
For the past year our fabulous Candis blogger, Melanie Crabb, has kept us entertained with stories of her hilarious family life. Her blogs have gained a huge following - and now it's time to appoint her heir. So we're looking for someone special to take up the metaphorical pen and bring us a brilliant new blog.

The winner will be profiled in a future issue and win a 12-month contract to write for the Candis website. And you'll be paid for your efforts - our winning blogger will get £150 a month for the full year!

If you can craft your day-to-day life into sparkling prose, and know one end of the keyboard from the other, we want to hear from you. Ideally you will be immersed in family life, with children of all ages, and you'll be happy to tell us all about them - not to mention the rest of the family. You might be a mum or a dad, grandma or grandad, married or single, and you might go out to work or be a stay at home parent. Either way we want to reflect the kind of family life that other readers will recognise with (and even sometimes sympathise with).

Whatever you have to say and however you say it, if you think it will entertain and enlighten us then we want to hear from you!

*Terms & Conditions: Closing date for entries is 31st January 2011. The judges' decision is final. The winner will be required to update their blog at least twice a month. Winning payments will be paid monthly for the duration of the 12-month contract.

See:,CA8P,1VR2E2,YT9Z,1 for more information.

Good luck!

Looking At Things From A Different Angle

This is the view looking across the market town of Ludlow, Shropshire. It's not a view that many people see, because they're too busy wandering along the streets below. I like this picture, because it's taken from a different angle - it's not a viewpoint that we're used to seeing. To see Ludlow from this angle requires a bit of effort. To reach it, you have to climb 200 steps, in a tight, confined space, and if that doesn't put you off, the warning at the foot of the climb advising those with a heart condition not to undertake the climb, probably will.

It's always worth considering a different angle with your writing too. Like climbing those 200 steps, it may involve a bit of effort, but it's usually worth it. Too often, when we think of an idea, we use the first one that comes to mind. We tend not to look around to see if it is the best angle, we simply go with the initial idea. It's the different angle that editors and readers love. It may not be entirely original (I am not the only person to have seen Ludlow from this viewpoint, after all), but it'll be more original than the angle that everyone else is taking.

October 2005 saw the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. From March 2005 onwards, I was inundated with articles students were writing, which they were hoping to place in magazines to co-incide with the anniversary. Many of these articles recounted the facts about the battle and Nelson's death. On the whole, most of these articles were perfectly good, well-written articles, of publishable quality. But they were all from the same angle.

Another student was clearly thinking about the Trafalgar anniversary, but instead of going with the obvious angle, he decided to write about Nelson's mistress, Lady Hamilton. For her, the Battle of Trafalgar and Nelson's death was a life-changing moment, and not for the better. It marked the start of her decline into debt and drink.

The article stood out because all the other articles focused on Nelson, but this one didn't. The writer had chosen a different angle about the Battle of Trafalgar. Faced with a deluge of articles on the same topic, an editor is more likely to pick the one that looks at the subject from a different, more refreshing angle. (Remember too, this happened nearly six years ago, and I can still remember the article in question, such was its difference.)

The same goes with fiction. If a story isn't working well why not take a look at the character's viewpoint you are using? Would it work better from a different character's perspective? If you're story is about a first date, most writers may begin with the women's point of view. Some may go from the man's perspective. But why not use the waiter who is serving them their meal instead? Or the taxi driver who is dropping them back to their respective addresses ... or is he?

Next time you sit down to write something, just stop and think about your angle. Are you making the obvious choice? If so, try to put in a bit more effort to come up with something completely different. You may be surprised with where it takes you.

Good luck.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Hotpot Goes Barhopping

[Cross-posted from the Google Places Community Blog.]

Editor’s Note
: While we’re in Portland over the next few weeks, we wanted to bring some local flavor to the blog by asking writers who live in the area to contribute Hotpot-style city guides: recommendations on where to eat, where to shop, where to hang. Below, locally based writer Geoff Kleinman shares how Hotpot recommendations guided him through a night of Portland barhopping. Be sure to join the conversation in the comments below.

One of the things I love about
Hotpot is the way it uses my ratings and my friends' ratings to point me toward places that are the best match for me and my tastes. While I've discovered some great businesses in my Google searches using Hotpot from the comfort of my home’s desktop computer, I thought it would be fun to take Hotpot on the road using my Android phone, acting as my “person in the know” on a recent Portland barhop.

First stop: Irving Street Kitchen.

For the first stop, I wanted to find a place that was known both for its good food and good drinks.
Irving St. Kitchen was recommended to me on Hotpot because I had rated Beaker & Flask 5 stars and my Hotpot friends had rated Irving St. Kitchen highly.

Place page for Irving St. Kitchen had several Best Ever awards and most of them talked about the amazing drinks and bartenders such as Brandon Wise and Allison Webber. It seemed a perfect place to start our hop.

Allison Webber whips up something tasty.

When we arrived at Irving St. Kitchen and took a seat at the bar, Allison made us a few great classic cocktails. My favorite was a variation of the Negroni — a White Negroni that was flavorful, balanced and a perfect before-dinner drink.

White Negroni at Irving Street Kitchen.

Allison made some food recommendations including a beet salad with truffles, fresh salmon over lentils, and our favorite dish of the evening, a shrimp and crab fusion dish served over a savory bread pudding.

Shrimp, crab and bread pudding - True Fusion at Irving Street Kitchen.

We probably could have spent the entire evening sitting at Irving Street’s bar, but we were on a mission to hop with Hotpot. Using the
Rate Places widget for Android, we gave Irving St. Kitchen a glowing rating, then used the Android Places app to look for other bars nearby that friends had recommended. Clyde Common came right up. It was just down the street and recommended by our friend Jennifer Heigl on Hotpot.

Second stop: Clyde Common.

Checking out Clyde’s Place page, we read that the restaurant is the home bar for noted bartender and blogger Jeffrey Morgenthaler. Several of the reviews referred to the barrel-aged cocktails, so when we sat at the bar we immediately ordered one.

Jeffrey Morgenthaler's famous barrel-aged cocktails.

Jeffrey wasn't behind the bar that night, but Andrew Volk was, and in addition to mixing up a few barrel-aged drinks for us, he also made an original Islay scotch cocktail that simply blew us away.

Andrew Volk works the Clyde Common bar.

Clyde Common is a little bit of a way station bar, and we found that our group grew a bit as we headed along to our next stop. This time around, instead of looking for a nearby bar, we wanted to see what would happen if we just asked the Places app to
search for the "best cocktails."

Third and final stop: Teardrop Lounge.

So far Google Places with Hotpot hadn't steered us wrong, and it was doing a great job of being the “person in the know.”
Teardrop Lounge came up on the list and it was just around the corner, so we made our way over. Many of the reviews on Teardrop’s Place page talked about its classic cocktails, so we sat at the bar and checked out the massive cocktail menu, which has close to 30 different drinks listed. A little daunted with the menu, we got help from bartender Brian Gilbert, who spent a lot of time with our group getting to know what kinds of things we drink.

Brian Gilbert helps us decide what drinks to order at Teardrop.

I ended up with a drink called “Unfinished Business,” which was served in a very cool antique glass with a huge block of ice.

One of Teardrop's many cocktail options, "Unfinished Business."

Having Hotpot recommendations as our guide for the evening took a lot of the guess work out of figuring out what to do and where to go. Even more helpful were the reviews and tips left by my Hotpot friends, so I knew exactly what to order.

Using Hotpot on your hops and crawls? Share your stories in the comments below.

Posted by
Geoff Kleinman. Geoff is the editor of, a national blog helping people figure out what to drink, and, helping people figure out what to do in Portland.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Just Do It!

Hello and happy new year to you all! I'm posting this later than planned because I've been away for a few days. It was all rather last minute, but it was great. For various reasons we've never been able to go away for New Year, but this year, the opportunity arose.

At 4pm on Wednesday 29th December, we had no plans to go away. We were planning on having a day trip to the Lake District the following day (it's three hours driving each way) but I was a bit concerned because of the amount of fog that was forecast. Which is when I had the idea - why not see if I could book a couple of nights in a self-catering cottage, travel up on Thursday and come back on New Year's Day? Then I began thinking about it a bit more, and another little voice told me to stop being silly. People book holiday accommodation for Christmas and New Year months, even years, in advance. There was no point.

Yet the idea wasn't letting go. Go on! Give the agency a ring, it kept saying. So I did. And guess what? They had one property available. I only wanted it for two nights, but the agency said they couldn't let it for two nights - or rather - they could, but they'd have to charge me the short break price, which is for three nights. Then the agency said that for an additional £15 we could have the cottage for four nights. Sold! So, within 30 minutes of having the idea, the accommodation was booked and all sorted, and at 8.30 the following morning, I was on my way up to the Lake District.

As we say goodbye to the old year and hello to the new, everybody looks back at what they have achieved in the last year and plans what they hope to do in the next. But we should also remember, that whatever it is we plan to do in 2011, it won't happen unless we get off our backsides and do it.

So if 2011 is the year that you've decided to get ten articles or short stories published, or to write the first draft of a novel, or to try to get an agent, remember that none of this will happen unless you get off your backside and do something about it. Don't sit there thinking about what are the chances of your idea working. Sometimes we can think too much. Just do it! It's the only way to find out. If you want to target a new market, then do it. If you want to go to a literary festival, then do it.

We had a lovely time in the Lake District; it was a wonderful way to begin the new year. I'm so glad I picked up the phone to the self-catering agency.

Whatever your dream is for 2011, don't think about it too much. JUST DO IT!

Good luck.