Sam van Zweden




Marketing, Expanding, Not Spamming Friends

I’ve just started a Facebook fan page for this here blog.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how to expand my readership, and whether that’s something that’s important to me (answer: “No, not really, I’d rather have loyal and engaged readers than many, many not-caring ones”). I’ve also been thinking about what kinds of connections I form with people outside my immediate peer group, and how I do that. All these things are connected with my reasons for starting the fan page. It’s also a bit about egoism.

Also, I’m feeling somewhat merciful toward all those friends who don’t read my blog anyway and have been putting up with my “NEW POST!” spam for over a year now. (Sorry guys). And I want to give people a chance to communicate with me outside commenting directly on my blog – which is becoming less common anyway, probably because it’s a bit… tricky. So if people don’t want to comment on my blog, what’s their other option? Twitter? Ok, but not the ideal forum for real discussion. Facebook has “like” functions, which require almost no thought at all other than the “liking” impulse, but they still express what someone thinks with minimal effort. And, as I’ve discovered in talking to other bloggers, some people are certainly more comfortable engaging via Facebook. Unless you’re in my direct friendship circle, you don’t have an opportunity to do that. Up until now. And, as per previous posts, I have noticed I’ve got some readers who aren’t my mum or boyfriend.

So! Go forth and LIKE, yo!

National Young Writers’ Month

Express Media, that amazing bunch of enthusiastic helpful people behind Voiceworks, are gearing up for National Young Writers’ Month. During the month of June, there will be heaps of events, as well as web-based discussions and exercises to help get the brain doing brainy things.

I’ve just registered for NYWM on the Express Media website, and there’s already some great discussions going on in the forums. When you register, you’re asked to set yourself a goal. My goal is to write and polish (whole process, from scratch) at least five pieces of poetry or prose throughout the month of June. Reading other people’s goals on the forums is making me think that maybe I should try to incorporate LGWABP into my goal in some way too…

The NYWM launch proper will be part of the Emerging Writers’ Festival


I just came across this post by Cid Tyer about “versioning”. I like her system – my own way of doing it is incredibly disorganized and can do with a jazz-up of Cid’s description.

Versioning is one of those tricky necessities when writing on a computer. You’re working on a piece, and you save it. Simple enough. Then the next day you come back and scrap half of what you worked on the day before, substituting it with something different. Save again. Then realise you actually liked what  you had two days ago – too bad. It’s gone.

By saving versions of your work as you go, you can always recover any earlier work you’ve done.

I like to do a lot of editing long-hand, which means I have print-outs of earlier drafts of my work with notes scribbled in many a margin. I’ll probably keep doing this, but at least by saving different versions of a WIP I can save myself the hassle of hours of shuffling through paperwork for the right edit.

It’s also nice to sometimes show yourself just how much a work has evolved. Early vomit drafts of pieces that ended up working often make me feel better when I can’t seem to find my way into or out of something new. Sure, it’s bad now, but it has potential to not always be that way – look what happened with this other piece!

So today I give “versioning” a thumbs-up.


Have you heard about Virgule?

Virgule is the Voiceworks blog, which has been up and running for about a month now. At this stage, Virgule is penned (…keyed?) by members of the Voiceworks team, but I believe in future they’ll be looking for guest bloggers to help with content. Having said that, there’s no shortage of brilliance up there at the moment.

There’s a pretty steady stream of material going up, all of it worth a read. Earlier this week Sam Cooney made a post about his favourite opening lines. Quite an entertaining read, and one that really made me consider the importance of my own first lines. It’s strange, I can really appreciate a great first line from someone else but I never really think about making my own first lines jump off the page. EdComm members regularly post about something interesting like this.

Virgule also helps writers keep abreast of what’s coming up, not just at Voiceworks (who are currently looking for EdComm members), but also other opportunities out there in the big wide world of Melbourne publishing.

Perhaps the most helpful posts that have been going up though, are the Friday Writing Exercise posts. The exercises are open enough to have fun, but provide some ideas for more structured writing, and help develop the skill of writing to a theme, which is an important part of competitions and publication.

So add Virgule to your Google Reader, keep up to date with what’s going on at Voiceworks and partake in some of their conveniently digestible posts in your lunchtime!

110+ Ways to Waste Time AND Learn Something!

I’m good at procrastinating. Really good.

So imagine how chuffed I was when, one afternoon that should have contained much more homework than it did, I came across’s fantastic post: “110+ Resources for Creative Minds”.

And I’ve only just started working my way through this. There are countless hours yet for me to spend avoiding Derrida or TS Eliot.

There is just so much stuff on here, it’s mad. How the author (who goes by “Skellie” – whether that’s a real name or an endearment, I don’t know) has managed to compile this list is beyond me. This would have taken a lot of dedication.

The links offer ways of breaking through writer’s block, many of which are directed specifically at blog-writers, but also web pages that have various little things that might just get you thinking creatively accidentally.

I’m certainly nowhere near even most of the way down this list, but I’m up to about number 10. My favourites thus far?
Chris Brogan’s post containing 100 blog post ideas has a lot of ideas that I simply wouldn’t use on Little Girl With a Big Pen… however, there are still quite a number of ideas there that I can apply to writing and reading, and come up with a decent post from.
Scott Berkun blogs about all things creative-process, and his post on surviving creative burn-out is a really interesting read.
Ronald Huereca’s post about design decisions which annoy readers gives some really nice insight into what might or might not be holding your blog back.

There are a few dead links on Skellie’s list, but there’s so many active ones that I can live with that. I’ll no doubt be posting more stuff from this list in the coming weeks. Months. Years… It could take me a mighty long time to get through this list!

Two Options: Write or Die.

Dr Wicked’s Write or Die is an online writing tool that promises to “put the ‘prod’ in ‘productivity'”.

Write or Die enforces the above (“two options”) ultimatum on your writing. You tell Write or Die how long you’d like to write for (from 10 mins up to 2 hours) and how many words you’d like to achieve in that time. You then select your “consequences”, which range from “gentle” to “electric shock mode”, each with its own consequences. Write or Die lets your choose a “grace period” too, (“forgiving”, “strict” or “evil”) which is the amount of time the program allows to pass before there are consequences. Write or Die opens a document in your browser, and then you start writing.

Consequences for not writing are incredibly well thought-out. They encapsulate your worst nightmares. They differ in degrees of malice, from a pop-up telling you to keep writing, to “MMM-Bop” playing, to the program actually deleting your work. It deletes it in a really horrible way too, working backwards, you see your lovely words disappearing – the only way to stop this happening is to start writing again.

These things don’t just happen randomly, there is the grace period you nominated, and then the background screen starts turning red, and then the consequences happen.

I’m great with procrastination. And I’m terrified of a blank page or document. This program battles all these things in one place, stops me from staring out windows or just reading a page or two of whatever is in front of me, or deciding that the dishes simply can’t wait until after I’ve written.

There are also a heap of handy little widgets that Write or Die gives you at the end of your session, along with your stats (eg “I wrote 200 words in 10 minutes”), which you can copy the code for and upload to a blog or facebook or whatever you please.

The only thing the online version of Write or Die doesn’t do is save your work. The website contains a warning to writers, asking them to copy and paste whatever they type in the browser into a document they can save so they don’t lose it.

There is also a desktop edition of Write or Die ($10), which looks like it remedies a lot of the issues of its online counterpart. It works on your desktop, so you can’t access all the tempting things that will stop you from writing in the first place. There are also a heap of customizable entertaining and smart bits n pieces: disabling the backspace button so that the only way is forward; making it impossible to access any windows behind Write or Die; not being able to save your work until you reach your goal; and heap of awesome stats things, one of which links to Twitter so you can wage “#wordwar” against anyone in the Twitterverse who may wish  to compete.

While I have a billion things to pay off right now, the next spare $10 I get will be going towards the desktop edition of Dr Wicked’s Write or Die… Until then though, the online version gives me plenty of impetus to write. Or die.

Thought-stalking Jacinda Woodhead and Google Reader “test”

Right when I was thinking about whether I read enough, Jacinda Woodhead (of Meanland) blogs about Reading Anxiety.

Through that post, I was convinced that Google Reader was worth a look-in. So for the last week I’ve been giving it a test-run. And then Jacinda Woodhead blogged about Google Reader stealing all your reading time.

Dear Jacinda Woodhead – props on some awesome writing, but you’re stealing my blog posts. And I’m feeling mildly creepy for this unintentional thought-stalking. S

Okay, now that’s out of the way: Google Reader.

I’d seen a little mention of it via Gmail, and disregarded it as part of the Google-plan-of-taking-over-the-world. Then I started to see mentions of it everywhere: on Twitter, on trams, on blogs. Everyone’s been mentioning this magical program that takes hours off your online-reading time.

How? Well, Google Reader is a program to which you plug in all the websites you would ordinarily go to every day to check for updates. For me, this is many many. Many.

I’m a hardcore advocate for Gmail. I wouldn’t go back to any other email client if you paid me. So when I got onto Google Reader I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that it runs in much the same way as Gmail. It constantly updates itself (while you’re in it) and makes it really easy to organise material.

You can “star” things in the same way as on Gmail, to come back to important things later. You can search through a huge amount of blog posts to find just the right one. You can view posts in a heap of different ways according to what suits you best.

The only thing is, now there’s NO posts that I miss, anywhere, ever. Now Google Reader is something that adds to my reading anxiety. Having said that, Google Reader saves these posts like unread emails – it sits in bold until I have an afternoon free to catch up on things that aren’t priority.

It’s great though. I’m chuffed. Now, along with Twitter, Facebook and WordPress, I have Google Reader constantly open. It runs calmly in the background. Right now it’s telling me that there is “(1)” new post that I haven’t read. “(1)” website that I would have had to trawl for new content, but now I don’t.

Google Reader is like hiring someone to do all the inane click-and-scroll shit that takes up a heap of your reading time. I don’t know how I did without it.

It’s pronounced “In-oh-go-loh”

Remember when you first came across the name “Descartes”, and never realised that was how you spell “Day-cart”? This happens to me all the time

I constantly have trouble pronouncing things. I spend so much of my time “hearing” about things in print, that I inevitably come up against words I cannot pronounce. Up until recently I just had to spit out my own pronunciation and hope it didn’t discredit me too much. But no more! 

I introduce to you: 

  Inogolo prevents any more of those awful moments where you say “don quicks-o-tee” and everyone gets a little awkward.
Just type in the name, place, or “stuff” you want to know how to pronounce, and inogolo gives you the correct pronunciation, along with a sufficient definition. 
So, I just tried it with “Chuck Palahniuk”… I’d previously been pronouncing it “Pall-ahn-yuk”… Turns out it’s “Pall-uh-nik”… In my defence, my previous pronunciation was much less ridiculous than some I’ve heard, like “Pa-laz-nik” (where’s the z!?), or “Pa-lah-niu-mik” (magical extra syllable)…
Next time I hear one of these more ridiculous pronunciations, I’ll be referring them to inogolo. 

Tip Of My Tongue!

 Tip of My Tongue is a very helpful tool.

Tip of My Tongue allows you to type in any clues you may have for a word that you can’t quite remember. The website acts as a dictionary, a thesaurus, and (best of all) someone who is just really good when you go up to them waving your hands saying “ummm… you know, that WORD… it’s like…ch-something…”

While at times you can almost hear the search engine grinding and clunking along before spitting out the desired word/s, the idea behind this website just blows me away and sometimes has proven invaluable.

A very handy tool to keep in the favourites.

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