Monday, May 26, 2014

Farewell Dear Friend

I was sad to receive my latest copy of  The New Writer magazine and read the enclosed letter from the publisher that this would be the last issue. Unfortunately, the economics of running a magazine meant that despite the efforts of the new owner who took control just over a year ago, it was not financially viable to keep the publication going.

It’s sad for me, not just because I was a regular contributor to this publication, but because in the days when the magazine was known as Quartos (it became The New Writer when it merged with another publication) this was where I had one of my first articles published, way back in 1993. Spurred on by this success, I went on to have several more articles published in Quartos, and then I became a regular contributor to The New Writer.

It’s a fitting reminder that magazines come and magazines go. As writers we need to be prepared for such events, and look for new markets to replace those that have fallen by the wayside. Sometimes this can be beneficial because it encourages us to look for new markets, to stretch our boundaries and step out of our comfort zones. When I worked for a high street bank, we were rarely in the same role for more than three years - management liked to ‘shake us up a bit’ by moving us to a new position, or a new branch, just to keep us on our toes. Magazine closures have the same sort of effect.

So while I have a lot of history with The New Writer, and I’m proud to have been part of the team who contributed to its pages over the years, and I’m saddened to see it go, I also appreciate that this is a moment of discovery … of new opportunities. Who knows what may happen as a result of this? Although we may like to think that we control our writing careers, we are not always in control.

Good luck.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Having A Mayoral Bash!

Last week I was in Southampton at the Writing Buddies Fifth Anniversary Exhibition of Work event, which took place in Southampton’s Central Library (and a fab library it is too). The idea behind the event was to publicise the writing group (and perhaps attract new members), whilst also showcasing the group’s achievements during their first five years. As a friend of the group, they’d invited me down to join in their celebrations … and I also made myself useful by snapping a few photos, too!

It’s an exercise that I would encourage all writers to undertake on a regular basis … and by that I don’t mean taking over the local library and getting the Mayor to come along and give a speech, although if the idea interests you, then why not? No, what I’m referring to is the exercise of reviewing your achievements and putting them together in one place.

The Writing Buddies brought along copies of the books they and published (both traditionally, and self-published) and ended up filling two trestle tables with their work, and also filling several display boards with snippets and cuttings of their work. It wasn’t until their efforts were all grouped together like this that people suddenly realised what they’d achieved in five short years. Standing there, in front of the tables and displays, all we kept commenting on was that five years ago none of it existed!

If you can, set aside some time and collect all of your work that you’ve written and put it in one place: the dining room table, the living room floor, or the kitchen worktop. If you’ve had any books published, pile them high. Get out your folder with your cuttings or tearsheets and stack them up, and gather all of your notebooks together into one heap. When you’ve done that, take a step back and yes - take a photo. Capture the moment. There in front of you is what YOU”VE done. Print your photo out and stick it somewhere obvious. (And then tidy everything away again!)

Next time you feel a little despondent about your writing (because those moments happen to all of us) just look up at your photo and remind yourself of what you have achieved. Then pat yourself on the back. (And why not do what the Writing Buddies did and celebrate with a cake?)

Good luck.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Happy Small Business Week!

Small business owners are some of our favorite dreamers and doers. More than half of Americans either own or work for a small business, and two out of three new jobs in the U.S. each year are created by small businesses. It’s clear that you make a big impact with your creativity, hard work and passion.

As you grow, we know that you may have lots of questions on how to make the most of the web. National Small Business Week is a chance to say thanks for all you do for us and our communities and to share a few helpful resources.

Today we’re launching the Google Small Business Community, a place for you to share what makes your business special, connect with other businesses, and get a direct line to help from online experts. Join the community from May 12 - 16 for special content like a message from President Obama and tips from business leaders and the Small Business Administration.

After this week, the Google Small Business Community will continue providing information and inspiration. Daily posts, weekly trainings and regular Hangout series will be based directly on what you want to learn. And a team of trusted Advisors and Googlers with digital expertise will always be around to answer your questions.

We’ve also created a new Helpouts page for small businesses to get one-on-one advice with experts over video on topics like online marketing, branding and web design. And if you join the Google Business Community between May 12 - 16, you’ll get access to a Helpout of your choice.

We’re excited to meet you. Drop in and tell us a little bit about your business. Happy Small Business Week!

And Another Thing!

Do you use your writing skills to their fullest? Being able to word your thoughts and feelings skilfully can earn you money in other ways … complaining. 

I recently and cause to close an account with a financial institution. When I telephoned to make my request the representative made several attempts to get me to change my mind. He actually sounded quite desperate and it even made me wonder whether he was under pressure (via internal targets) to retain customers at all costs. Unfortunately, that ‘desperation’ led to the representative making a comment that was offensive. Eventually,  the representative capitulated and took action to close the account.

Having worked in the past in a customer service environment I wasn’t happy with the way my request and been handled. So, with a little freelance-writer investigative powers I tracked down the email address of the CEO of the company involved and drafted a letter offering them some feedback on my experience.

Twenty-four hours later I received a phone call and a promise to investigate the matter. Three days later, having tracked down my phone call and listened to the conversation I’d had with their representative (see, that phrase ‘this call may be recorded for training purposes’ has its benefits) they agreed their representative had been offensive and unprofessional. Although it wasn’t why I got in touch, I have received some financial compensation. Based upon the number of words in my ‘experience feedback’ it wasn’t a bad rate of pay!

Of course, being self-employed has its benefits too. Last year, I and problems opening an account (yes, financial institutions again, but a different one this time) and they made an error on the account, which resulted in the need to return to the branch on four separate occasions, and being based in a rural county, this meant a round trip of 50 miles each time. So, I wrote a carefully constructed letter explaining how their error had impacted upon my business, reducing the amount of time available to earn a living. I rather cheekily, enclosed an invoice for my lost time. When they rang, not only did they apologise and offer to pay the invoice, they also offered to pay a bit more in compensation!

So, are you using your writing skills to the full? And guess who’s busy drafting an article about complaining?

Good luck!

Monday, May 5, 2014

A Mindful Moment

Just stop what you’re doing (well, okay, finish reading this post first). Close your eyes, and use your other senses to experience the moment. What can you hear? What do you feel? What can you smell?

Clear you mind, if you can (deep breathing exercises can help with this), and ask yourself each of those questions in turn.

What can I hear? At this precise moment, I can hear two clocks ticking in my room, but they’re not in ticking unison. Through the open window a buzzard mews and two pigeons are flapping haphazardly around. (I know which two these are. The male pigeon knows what he wants and the female pigeon is having none of it!) There’s a sudden roar, as the blade of a lawnmower goes from 0 to 7500 rotations a minute.

What can I feel? The sun’s heat is intensified as it pours through the window and falls upon the right hand side of my face. I have one warm cheek can one hot cheek! My fingers rest on my keyboard, and the notches on the F and J keys, to designed help with touch-typing, make themselves known to me. Strangely, I don’t normally notice them.

What can I smell? The aroma of freshly mown grass now wafts through the window. It’s sweet and has a lushness to it. Whoever is cutting their grass has chosen not to wait for the morning dew to evaporate first.

There. I got all that from just one brief moment of mindfulness. Taking a few moments to zone out of today’s pressures and focus in on what our senses tells us can be a great way to influence our writing. I love the ideas that can come from these moments. The thought that I have two out-of-sync clocks now has my mind racing about two time zones operating in my room, a split second apart. Think of the implications of that! On the face of it, both clocks tell the same time, but the noise they make tells me this isn’t true.

These tiny observations can add detail to our own writing. Often it is the smallest of details that our readers enjoy the most - and helps to draw them into our work. It’s something travel writers should practise regularly, but I think all writers can benefit from a little mindfulness. I often stop when I’m doing my walk and just let my other senses absorb the world around me. Two potential article ideas arose after yesterday’s wander. 

Of course, you can be mindful with your eyes open, and the scene in the photo above is one such moment that my eyes feasted on recently. I watched, transfixed, as the cloud fought with the hill and tried to drag it back under the blanket of fog. (Indeed, it’s generated a series of ideas I’m pitching to an editor.) 

Mindfulness techniques like this help us to observe more about our surroundings (which is why many spiritual beliefs and wisdoms promote mindfulness as an energising exercise). As writers we draw upon our surroundings for our ideas and subject matter, so if you find your writing is a little stagnant, or you’re stuck with a piece and are not sure how to move it forward, take some time out. Why not have a mindful moment and see if that can help you see a solution?

Good luck.