Monday, December 26, 2011

Start Jotting for Christmas 2012.

Happy Boxing Day!

To paraphrase a line from a Christmas nursery rhyme, Christmas is over and we're all getting fat, so thinking about Christmas 2012 might not be at the top of your agenda today. However, the writer in you should be busy jotting down notes.

Many of you are aware that magazines start preparing their Christmas issues as early as June, however, it can be difficult sitting in a heatwave, trying to think about Christmas. The trick is to take out your notebook and make notes now. Go on! Shift your bottom from your comfy chair - you don't really need to be slumped in front of the television watching the repeat of yesterday's Eastenders or Coronation Street.  And you don't need to worry about the children, because they're still playing with the cardboard boxes yesterday's toys came in.

Grab your notebook and pen, and jot down all you see, smell, hear, taste and feel. All you need are bullet points, although if you want to write more, then go for it. Things to consider are:

  • Advent calendars
  • The Nativity
  • Christmas trees
  • The spicy aroma of Mulled wine
  • Christmas lights
  • Mince Pies
  • Mistletoe
  • Wrapping paper
  • Mess!
  • An elderly relative snoring ... in front of the Queen
  • Turkey
  • More Turkey
  • Eggnog
  • Children arguing
  • More Turkey
  • Chocolates
  • The Queen's Speech
  • Candles
  • The snap of Christmas crackers
  • The groan at the so-called joke inside it
  • Carols
  • Midnight Mass
  • Even More Turkey
  • and so on....
It's far easier to make these notes whilst everything is in front of your eyes, nose and ears. See how much you can jot down in ten minutes. Ten minutes of notes now will save you so much time next June!

Have your camera to hand too. If you have any top tips for stuffing a turkey, take a photo now, while you're stuffing it. It'll be much more difficult to take a photo in June! Likewise, if you're writing a travel article about visiting a destination at Christmas, get out now and take photos of that place with the Christmas lights and decorations all up. Take photos of the Christmas shop windows displays.

A little preparation now, will come in immensely useful later in 2012 when you begin thinking about articles and short story ideas for next Christmas. And if you suddenly find yourself drafting the first version of your article or short story, even better! Put the draft aside for a couple of months, and let the editing begin when the decorations have been taken down, and the New Year Resolutions long forgotten.

Now you can put your feet up and relax, smug in the knowledge that you're prepared. All that's left to do is start tackling that teetering pile of Turkey sandwiches.

Good luck!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Just a quick post to say Merry Christmas to you all, and thank you for your posts and comments on my blog this year. I hope you have a great time and that 2012 will be the year when many of you achieve your writing dreams.

Best wishes,


Monday, December 19, 2011

Google Apps highlights – 12/16/2011

(Cross posted from the Official Google Blog.)

This is part of a regular series of Google Apps updates that we post every couple of weeks. Look for the label “Google Apps highlights" and subscribe to the series. - Ed.

The elves got an early jump on the holidays this year by leaving us some surprises in Google Apps over the last few weeks. Sharing from Gmail got a whole lot easier, and Google Calendar can make better use of precious screen space. We also have 10 new Google Apps customer stories to share from the tens of thousands that have gone Google in recent weeks.

Gmail gets more social
Last week we sprinkled a touch of Google+ into Gmail, making it easier to connect and share with people from your inbox. You can add people to circles right from an email thread through Gmail’s people widget, share photo attachments with friends and family on Google+ without leaving Gmail, and view a filtered version of your inbox only showing messages from people in your circles. We also improved Gmail’s address book by incorporating contact information shared by your friends, family and colleagues in their Google+ profiles.

New features in the Gmail iOS app
Just yesterday we added several new improvements to the Gmail app for iOS 4+. Now you can set up a custom email signature for mobile messages, manage your vacation responder, and view nested labels from your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. We also added scribbles, a fun way to spice up messages by adding a quick hand-drawn sketch. You can create scribbles using a range of colors, brush sizes, lines, erasers and spray paints from your touchscreen device.

More free calls right from Gmail
Last year we introduced free domestic calling in Gmail within the U.S. and Canada, and we’re extending this free service for the whole year of 2012. We’re happy to help you keep in touch with those special people in your life, for free.

Hide morning and night hours in Calendar
If you don’t often have appointments early in the morning or late at night, a new trick in Google Calendar might be useful. Now you can hide morning and night hours, leaving more screen real estate for the times of day when most of your events take place. Give it a try in Calendar Labs.

Who’s gone Google?
Businesses and schools are switching to Google Apps in droves these days. From tiny startups to large enterprises and nonprofits to college campuses, we love hearing the inspiring stories that our customers share. Here’s a new batch of stories for your reading pleasure: TripIt, IPSEN, Ebby Halliday, Ticket River, VigLink, HeyZap, The Great Books Foundation, Utah K-12 schools, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and UC Santa Cruz. Welcome one and all!

For more details and the latest news, check out the Google Apps Blog, and keep an eye out for this series here after the holidays. We launched more than 150 improvements go Google Apps in 2011, and we have a ton more in store for 2012!

Dear Santa

So, have you written your Christmas list yet?

I write two Christmas lists. One I give to my family listing what I would like from them (and I never know what to put on it, so it gets shorter every year, therefore I must be getting old) and the other one is for me. This second list is the one where I identify what I want to give to myself over the following year, through my writing. (This one seems to get longer every year.)

This year, I wanted to secure a publishing contract for a new non-fiction book. I can tick that off my list (more about which, next month). I also wanted to go to a new writing conference - and I did - which gave me access to a literary agent who offered me some good advice.

Another present I wanted to give to myself, was to learn more about the Amazon Kindle, and self-publish a second e-book - which I have also achieved this year, and seen sales too.

This is the time of year when many look back at what they've achieved over the last 12 months, before trying to gaze in to the future and identify what they hope to achieve in the coming year. But instead of creating a set of New Year Resolutions, why not write down an extra Christmas list for yourself, detailing the writing presents that you will give yourself over the next 12 months?

This does two things:
  • Writing it down helps you to focus on what you want to achieve.
  • It reminds you that you're the only one who can give yourself that present. (If you want to write an article every month, then only you can give yourself this present by sitting down and writing one ... every month!)
When we reach a certain age in childhood, we discover that Santa is not the well-fed chap with the bright red outfit and the facial hair problem. Christmas presents do not materialise down the chimney one night. They happen because real people make them happen. They go out and battle the crowds of shoppers to buy them, or they go to the effort of making a hand-made gift to give to you. So, if you create a Christmas list of what you want with your writing next year, just remember that Santa won't be the one to deliver it to you - only real people - you - can make that happen.

And this is where your first Christmas list comes in - the one you give to friends and family identifying the gifts you'd like to receive from them. Choose carefully, and those gifts could help you give yourself the present you want from your writing next year. If you're still stuck for things to put on your Christmas list of presents that others can buy for you, here are a couple of ideas:
  • A subscription to a writing magazine (Writing Magazine, The New Writer, Writers Forum.) When your creativity is flagging, the next issue will help reinvigorate your muse.
  • Notebooks, pens, and Post-It notes to help you to jot down those inspirational ideas.
  • Useful writing books (more of which, next month :-) but here's some ideas, in no particular order or preference).
  • Ask friends, or relatives, to buy you a ticket to a literary festival event.
  • Or perhaps, they don't have to give you anything of financial value - they can simply give you an IOU - I Owe You two hours of peace and quiet, so that you can write!
So, over the next few weeks, while everyone is busy watching the repeat of Mary Poppins or The Great Escape, why not take a bit of time to think about the writing gifts you'd like to give yourself over the next 12 months?

Good luck.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Don't Beware The Idea Snatcher!

In the latest issue of Writing Magazine there's a great article by Helen Yendall about ideas and the fear of someone 'snatching' your idea. Essentially, her advice is to 'get over it', and I have to agree. For some of my newer students, this may come as a shock.

Idea theft is something that many new writers fear. Indeed, I have had one writer say to me, "I'm not sending off my article in case the editor pinches my idea." Well that's fine, do what you want, but what was the point of writing the article in the first place if you're not going to send it off? If all writers kept their ideas to themselves, fearing the editor would steal their ideas, then nothing would be published!

There is no copyright in ideas. An idea isn't something that is 'tangible'. Not until you write it down. Then it becomes tangible and you own the copyright in the way you have expressed that idea.

It is rare for an exact idea to be copied. It is common for many writers to have similar ideas. The 7th February 2012 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens. In the next few weeks we're going to be bombarded with articles, TV programmes, radio programmes, Internet articles about the writer. That's not to say that the writers of these TV and radio programmes, and articles, have stolen the idea from each other. They haven't. They'll have taken the theme of Charles Dickens and applied a different angle to create their idea.

We're all individuals. Our life experiences are unique to us. And it is those unique experiences that enable us to put our own individual twist on those ideas.

If you don't think this is possible, go to a writers' group, creative writing class, or workshop. There, you'll be given an idea. (In fact, you'll probably be given many!) You might have to take it away with you and write it up for the next meeting, or if it's a workshop, you may only have an hour to write something. But remember this: everyone is given the same basic idea. But when it comes to reading them out, every writer will have applied their own experiences and thoughts to the idea, and you'll hear that everyone's final written piece is completely different.

With ideas, it's all about what you do with them. Don't sit on them. Don't hoard them. Do something with them. Get them written and get them out there. And if you find another writer has had a similar idea to you, don't get angry about it. Get over it. Be pleased with yourself, because you're clearly thinking along the right lines!

Good luck!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

New TalkBin improvements make it easier to connect with customers

Businesses interact with customers all the time, but it can be challenging to get honest and useful feedback that can help improve your business. TalkBin makes this easy by giving your customers a direct and convenient way to reach you via text message. No more clumsy comment cards and surveys; instead, customers can simply use their mobile phones to text you comments and feedback the same way they’d text a friend.

Today, we’re excited to announce three improvements that make it even easier to manage customer feedback.

1) Getting started tutorial

When you log in to TalkBin, you’ll be welcomed with a handy educational tutorial that explains all the most important features. This makes learning how to use TalkBin a cinch for you and your employees.

2) Updated dashboard

Based on your feedback, we updated the user interface with a fresh new design that helps you to manage all of your settings in one convenient place. For example, now your Account Settings are just one click away from Location and Billing Settings.

3) Custom sign builder

In-store signs are key to getting quality feedback from your customers. The new sign building feature help you make and print custom signs in just a few minutes.

To learn more about how TalkBin can help your business, check out these firsthand perspectives from Fraiche Yogurt and P. Terry’s Burger Stand.

Also, for the rest of the month, Google Small Business Blog readers can get TalkBin for just $5/month per location (discounted from the regular $25/month per location). Just enter promotion code BLOGSMB when you sign up at This offer expires December 31, 2011.

Posted by Qasar Younis, Product Manager, TalkBin

Monday, December 5, 2011

Pedal to find your dream home with Google Maps

(Cross-posted on the Lat Long Blog.)

The features available in Google Maps are equally functional and fun. You can tour distant cities with Street View or map out a trip with multiple destinations using Custom Maps. Not only is Google Maps a great tool for everyday personal use, but it’s can also be used as a practical business tool. Such is the case for Matt Kolb, owner of Pedal to Properties.

Matt is an avid cyclist and a realtor based in Boulder, Colorado. In 2006, Matt decided to blend his hobby and career by founding his own real estate agency called Pedal to Properties. His company is built on the idea that by touring homes via bicycle, one can get a better sense of the local community and determine if a particular property is the right fit.

When Matt meets with clients, he locates various properties on Google Maps and creates a biking route of the houses they’ll visit that day, using Bicycling Directions as a guide. Home buyers are encouraged to interact with the map, using Street View to check out a property and its surrounding neighborhood, and using nearby search to take a look at local schools and businesses. Through this process Matt is able to narrow down viable homes for a specific buyer, making the experience enjoyable and time-efficient.

If you have interesting stories about how you use biking directions, Street View, or other Google Maps features to enhance your business, comment on our Google+ Page with #mygmapstory

Back Up ... Back Up ... Back Up ...

Of the many nightmares a writer can have, losing all of our work must be one of the most frightening. Especially if it is a big project, like a novel, non-fiction book, or a series of articles.

But there are some online services which can prove useful to writers in several ways too. Dropbox ( offers registered users 2 gigabytes of storage, online, for free. It is possible to increase this to 8Gb for free, although further space is available for a fee. I find the free 2Gb is perfectly adequate for how I use it.

Dropbox installs a folder on your computer. (It works with all operating systems). Whatever you save in that folder is automatically saved and copied to an identical folder online. So, should your hard drive suddenly decide to go up in smoke (which has happened to me in the past) all is not lost. You simply switch on another computer and connect to your online Dropbox account, and you are up and running again.

Dropbox also allows you to work on the same project on different computers. When you have a Dropbox account, any computer you work on, can be linked to this. I have a desktop computer and a laptop, and so I have my Dropbox folder on both. If I'm working on a project on my desktop computer, when I save it, the updated copy is uploaded to my online Dropbox folder. Then, when I next switch on my laptop, one of the first things my laptop does is update the copy of the file from the online folder. This means that whichever computer I happen to be using, I can work with the current copy of the text. And should the worst happen, there's always a recent copy on my online folder.

I don't save everything to Dropbox. I save any current 'big' projects to my Dropbox folder, such as novels and non-fiction books. (They're the ones I would be most devastated about, if my computer were to suffer a catastrophe!)

There's also another online service called SugarSync. ( It, too, enables you to use free online storage space (about 5Gb for free - more storage space can be acquired for a fee) as a back up to your work. Unlike Dropbox where you have to put the files you want backed up into one specific folder on your computer, SugarSync works differently - you tell it which of your existing folders you want it to back up. So by using a combination of the two free services can provide you with a more than adequate amount of back up space for your text.

Don't just rely on these online services though. Always take extra back up precautions. I save a complete copy of my work once a week, on two different hard drives, which means that the important files on Dropbox are backed up every time I save them (several times a day) and then again, when everything else is backed up weekly.

So, don't have nightmares - back up frequently!

Good luck.