Thinking time is never wasted

22 February 2010

We all have writing projects that don't get off the ground from time to time. Sometimes it's because we fail to convince editors to commission them. Other times, it's because more exciting projects crowd them out and there isn't time to pursue them.

There was a nice quote from Stephen Fry on a BBC News story about Fry tweeting again (is that news? - that's a discussion for another day, perhaps). Fry was in discussions to write an episode of Dr Who for David Tennant, but it never happened. "The window passed, and I never really got round to it," said Fry. "But I'm very happy to have had the experience of thinking about it."

I had a couple of projects which didn't take off recently, but that's my view of them too. It's a shame they didn't happen, but it wasn't wasted time. I did enjoy the experience of thinking about them. In my case, I got as far as drafting something. But unless I'm reading that draft, what remains is the way I felt about those ideas and the places they transported me to.

Thinking is not writing (as I've said before), but it is part of the process. Often, it's the hardest part of the process. Even though the projects I was working on failed, they excited my imagination and fused together new paths in my brain. Thinking time is never wasted.


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Vote now for the oddest book title of the year

12 February 2010

Voting is open now for The Bookseller's annual Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year. Thanks to Twitter, this year saw the number of suggested titles triple, although self-published works were excluded.

Prize coordinator Horace Bent told The Bookseller: "The adage that everyone has a book in them may well be true, but that doesn't mean every Tom, Dick and Harry out there can bash a few words out on a keyboard and then upload it to Scribd with a humorous title like: The Historic Adventures of the Purple Waffle Iron on His Horse Made of Asparagus, and then think they have a chance at winning my prestigious award. I refuse to ackowledge such submissions."

This year's longlist ranged from the intentionally funny (such as children's book "Father Christmas Needs a Wee", of which my nephew is a fan, and bestseller "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies"), through the highly specialist ("Baptist Autographs in the John Rylands University Library of Manchester 1741-1845", "Dental Management of Sleep Disorders"), to the totally perplexing ("I'm Not Hanging Noodles on Your Ears", "The Great Dog Bottom Swap", "Venus Does Adonis While Apollo Shags a Tree").

You can help Horace to whittle the longlist down to a shortlist by casting your vote now. Even after that survey closes, you should be able to read the full longlist for the awards here.

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Two thoughts on The London Weekly

05 February 2010

A new freesheet has launched called The London Weekly. On Twitter, it's getting a serious kicking at the moment. People are criticising its amateurish layout, and its inability to spell the name of Phil Tufnell in a front-page headline.

From the photos I've seen, it looks very much like a student newspaper. The design is boxy, it uses centred and multicoloured headlines, and leaves a lot of distracting dead space. I haven't seen a clear enough photo (or a real copy) to read the body text.

But, here are two observations:
  • Firstly, if you're going to criticise a publication for having typos in it, be very sure your critique does not include typos itself. I've read two blog posts on the subject of The London Weekly, and they both include errors at least as bad as those they are damning The London Weekly for.

  • Secondly, shouldn't we celebrate the daring of this venture? A relatively inexperienced team has gone into a mature market with a new publication. At the end of the day, they were able to say that they actually launched a new newspaper. Okay, so maybe they'll look back on it in future and wish they had the experience or funding to do a better job of it. But, what did you launch today?

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Microsoft Office 2010: what's in it for writers?

02 February 2010

I've been playing with the beta version of Microsoft Office 2010. I'm a big fan of Office 2007 - it made a few enemies by ditching a user interface with over ten years of history behind it. But it does make most activities much quicker to carry out, once you've worked out where they are hiding on the new toolbar.

Office 2010 has a lot of crossover with Office 2007. Lots of people were infuriated by the removal of the File menu in Office 2007 and even more so by the help which told you "IMPORTANT: you can't get it back" (paraphrasing only slightly). Well, Office 2010 has introduced a File tab, which takes you to the backstage area. This is basically about the file settings, and the other stuff that goes on in the background and doesn't affect your document's content or appearance. All the features that used to be behind the Office button in Office 2007 are now found here, and the office button itself has gone. This provides quicker access to a lot of features and saves time hunting between different sub menus to find them.

There are a few new features which might save some time. There's a cool feature for inserting a screengrab into your document. You just select which of the currently running programs you'd like to grab (it must not be minimised), and the image is inserted in your document. For those writing software tutorials, this could save quite a lot of time, although this workflow won't help out with book production much because publishers typically need the images to be separated out.

Word 2010 has a new navigation panel down the left, which adds search to the thumbnails and document map, and makes it easier to switch between them. There are some new text effects too, and a web-based translator built in to the Review tab.

The main new addition to Office 2010 is integration with Skydrive, which enables documents to be stored online so that they can be accessed and edited online and from other machines. This is a response to the rise of Google Documents and other online editing services.

I expect additional new features will come to light as I use Office 2010 more, but for now it seems to be more of an evolution than a revolution. Perhaps just having a File tab where the File menu used to be will be enough to encourage people to give it a go. They'll be pleased they did: the old version of Office hadn't changed very much since 1995, and was designed for much smaller screens than we typically have today. Office 2007 and 2010 more fully exploit the available screenspace to enable you to write more intuitively and quickly.

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