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                      W R I T I N G   W O R L D

A World of Writing Information - For Writers Around the World


Issue 10:23          11,990 subscribers         December 2, 2010
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THE EDITOR'S DESK: Is It Truly Better to Give Than to Receive?
by Moira Allen 
THE INQUIRING WRITER: Columns, by Dawn Copeman
FEATURE: Components of a Good Opening Scene, by Joseph Bates
COLUMN: Free Stuff for Writers - Fun December, by Aline Lechaye
THE WRITE SITES -- Online Resources for Writers
The Author's Bookshelf

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Is it Always Better to Give Than to Receive?

NOTE: This editorial is aimed at those of our readers who celebrate
the holiday season.  It is not meant to give offense to any who do

This is the time of year when, traditionally, we think about
giving.  It is the season of gifts -- as every store has been doing
its best to remind us since before Halloween.  Every Christmas
story, every Christmas movie ever made reminds us of the joy of
GIVING (except, of course, for the classic "A Christmas Story,"
where we're all rooting for Ralphie to get his BB gun and NOT put
his eye out).  Christmas shopping is the true nightmare before
Christmas -- the nightmare we endure for others, people we care
about.  And, quite often, for people we may not care about quite so
much, but feel we must buy presents for anyway, for one reason or

If you're old enough to read this column, you've probably reached
an age where you're doing a lot more "giving" than "getting" at
this time of year.  But you're probably not so old that you aren't
thinking, at least a little bit, about what you might RECEIVE this
holiday season.  Unless you've reached a Scrooge-like level of
curmudgeonhood, I'm betting there is at least a corner of your mind
that's wondering whether there's something special under the tree,
or in the stocking, or beneath all that shiny paper, just for you.

And then, quite likely, you slap down that thought as unworthy,
selfish, and most inappropriate for this "season of giving."  It's
not about getting, we remind ourselves; it's about giving.  And in
reminding ourselves of this all-important fact, we are, I think,
often in danger of forgetting another small, but equally important
fact: Yes, it IS the season for "receiving."  

You can't have giving without receiving.  Bob Cratchit, you'll
recall, did not send the turkey BACK. He didn't say, "Thanks very
much for the offer, Mr. Scrooge, but if we can't pay for a doctor
for Tiny Tim on our own, well, he just won't have one."  The entire
concept of giving is predicated on the assumption that someone,
somewhere out there has a need to receive.

The problem with Christmas stories, movies, sermons and all the
rest is that they all seem to assume that someone is never YOU. 
And this, I believe, is one reason why so many of us end up
dreading Christmas.  It's not simply the bah-humbug reaction to the
fact that Christmas has become over-commercialized.  It's far more
a reaction, I suspect, to the fact that the commercialization is
aimed at accomplishing one thing and one thing only: To get us to
dig ever deeper into our pockets, often more deeply than we can
afford, to give stuff to other people.  

But most of all, what we are called upon to give at this time of
year is TIME.  Right now, I have a to-do list sitting by my
computer.  I almost never write myself "to-do" lists, but this
week, there are so many little things that I must accomplish, or
THINK I must accomplish, that I don't want to risk anything
dropping through the cracks.  As I look at the list, what comes to
mind, no pun intended, is "something has to give..."

All too often, that something is us.  Writers are, I think, one of
the most giving breeds of humanity I know.  Just take a look at the
amount of free information that has poured forth with the advent
(again, no pun intended) of the Internet.  Look at the thousands of
websites and blogs that exist purely because a writer feels that he
or she has useful information to share, and is willing to give it
away absolutely free to anyone who needs it.  People who have coped
with an illness or injury want to share with others the best way to
recover; people who have coped with tough situations want to reach
out to others who may be facing similar troubles.  We write about
our towns or our countryside because we want to introduce others to
a place we love.  We write about our pets and how to care for them,
so that pets everywhere will live a better life.  Writing is a gift
we have been given that DRIVES us to give to others.

At this time of year, however, sometimes we can be driven too far. 
As we scramble to meet deadlines and turn in assignments, we're
also scrambling to get the shopping done, and the baking, and the
decorating, and the entertaining, and the cards, and... and...  Well,
you can fill in the blanks better than I!  It's far too easy to
keep pressing on with the notion that "giving" is not so much a
gift as a requirement, whereupon it becomes a burden, and a short
step to burnout.

So here's my bit of holiday advice, trite as it may seem: Take a
moment, take a breath, and think about what you want to RECEIVE
from the holiday season.  If it's a sense of warmth and joy,
whether you derive that joy from family or tradition or
spirituality or all of the above, and you're not getting it, take
another moment and figure out what is getting in the way.  What are
you "giving" that you don't need to give?

Put more concretely, take a look at your to-do list and pick one
thing, just one, that you absolutely HATE doing -- but think that
you must, because it's part of the "giving" tradition.  Maybe it's
baking six dozen Christmas cookies, or spending an entire day
cooking a turkey, or attending an office Christmas party that you
loathe.  Then... give yourself a gift, and simply don't do it.  Let
someone else bake, buy a ham, make your excuses.  RECEIVE.

For me, it's Christmas cards.  Every year, I've spent at least two
full days preparing and designing and printing a four-page
newsletter, signing cards, addressing cards, stamping cards, and
finally, mailing cards.  Since my list holds about 100 names, I
calculated that the total cost, with printing and cards and stamps,
comes to over $200 -- which I wouldn't mind spending if I enjoyed
it.  But I don't.  So last year I informed my list that in 2010,
the newsletter (if any) would come by e-mail and the cards wouldn't
come at all.  It's a decision that saves trees, fees -- and me. 
And I seriously doubt that any true friends will be deeply grieved
by the decision (which, quite probably, frees some of THEM from the
burden of reciprocating).

This year, I'm going to return to a tradition long held by
Writing-World of NOT publishing a second newsletter in December,
and give everyone involved a nice holiday break.  I'm sure that
Dawn, who has a lively 8-year-old daughter, has better things to do
two weeks before Christmas than crank out another newsletter -- and
I'm sure all of you have better things to do than read one!

So I wish you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, or joyous
(insert holiday of your choice).  And I wish, most sincerely, that
you all RECEIVE whatever it is you need from this season of giving.
 See you next year!

-- Moira Allen, Editor


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by Dawn Copeman and Moira Allen
Last month our question came from Ramon Walker who wanted to know
how to write columns and get them syndicated.  Well it seems that
Ramon's question has stumped you all.  Not that I'm that surprised.
 Writing columns is quite a tricky business; so tricky that this
month we have combined answers from both of us. 
First of all, the writer has to come up with something unique and
something that they can write about week after week or month after
month with no difficulty.  Then they have to find a market for that

Most of the people who I know who write or have written columns
have fallen into writing them by chance. They spot a new magazine
or ezine opening up and suggest a column. Or they have spotted an
opening for a column in a magazine or newspaper that they regularly
read and written to the editor to suggest their column, including a
sample column and titles for several follow up columns. Rarely, but
it does sometimes happen, magazines will put out a call for
contributors including columnists. 

When you do find somewhere with an opening for a column then the
first thing you will need to do is to write a sample column to
showcase your writing skills and your knowledge of the column's
subject matter.  You must not rush this.  Work on it until it is as
good as you can make it but also bear in mind that with a column
you also need to demonstrate speed and reliability.  You must get
your column in before you said you would.  

Moira has written a wonderful article about how to self-syndicate
your column which can be found at: 
And speaking of Moira, here is her advice to fellow writers on this

Q: What should I state as my column word-length?
I'm preparing my proposal packet and have a question. I have sample
columns with word lengths between 650 and 800 words. I would like
to identify the word length at 600 or 700 words. Whatever I decide,
I was wondering if my sample columns have to follow my specified
word length? An editor has shown interest in my column idea and is
awaiting my proposal packet. 

A: Unless someone has specified a column length, I wouldn't worry
about this overmuch.  If your word lengths vary from 650 to 800,
why not say that columns "average" 750 words?  No one is going to
complain if a particular column is 50 words more or less.  However,
you might ultimately want to raise the word count on the shorter
columns (add a paragraph or two). Since someone already has
interest in the material, don't hold it up any longer than you have

Q: How do I choose between two newspapers in competition?
I'm sending out an article to newspaper travel editors all over the
country. My dilemma is, I've got one to go to two different Texas
papers. I know how newspaper editors hate you to submit to other
papers in the same circulation region but I have no idea how much
in competition these two papers are. What do you suggest?

A: I'd suggest that you contact the one you want most first.  If
they don't respond, or if they say no, then contact the other.  You
will probably get an answer fairly quickly, so you won't have to
wait a long time -- and that will avoid any problems in selling to
both at once.  If you do sell to the first one, and you've made
clear that you're offering nonexclusive rights, then you can talk
to the editor about what papers are within their circulation
overlap.  Explain that you will be offering this article to other
newspapers in Texas, but do not wish to offer it to those that have
overlapping circulation, so to please let you know which papers to

Q: How do you determine if publications are non-competing?
I have started writing a column.  I wanted to ask about
"non-competing" publications.  Where do you draw the line in
deciding whether two publications are non-competing?  For example,
the Globe and Mail (I'm in Canada) is a national paper -- would it
be considered as "non-competing" with the local "Ottawa Citizen"? 
Would these be "non-competing" with the local indie papers?  Would
the local indie paper aimed at parents be non-competing with that
aimed at senior citizens? 

A: I would generally recommend working from smaller papers "up."  A
large national paper is more likely to want complete exclusivity --
and even to demand all rights.  On the other hand, Ottawa Citizen
isn't likely to be in competition with the next city or region.
However, it could be considered in competition with smaller local
"indie" papers in the same area.

If you start at the bottom of the pyramid, with local papers, you
can usually build a much larger number of papers to which you sell.
 Such papers are often easier to break into than a large national
paper -- but of course they also pay less.  It's really a personal
choice there: Do you want to try for the "top," which has the best
pay and the largest circulation (national) or to work up from the
bottom and try to get as many papers on board as you can?

Papers on different topics (parents vs. seniors) are generally not
considered competing even if they are in the same area, as they are
likely to have little overlapping readership.


Now this month our question comes from Moira herself.  She wants to
know what we as writers do to 'give something back'.  Personally, I
act as a scribe to my elderly neighbours, transforming their
scribbled notes on the backs of envelopes into word-processed
letters for them. It's not much, but it's a start.  What do you do? 

Email your responses to me at editorial"at"writing-world.com with the
subject line Inquiring Writer. 

Until next time, 


Copyright (c) 2010 by Dawn Copeman and Moira Allen


BE YOUR OWN EDITOR, by Sigrid Macdonald, is a crash course in 
writing basics: everything from run-on sentences to character 
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Writing Could Help Women Achieve More in Science
More confirmation of the therapeutic benefits of writing. According
to a study by the University of Colorado at Boulder, women who
write a short values-affirming essay go on to achieve higher test
scores than women who didn't.  Interestingly, the values-affirming
essay activity had no effect at all on men's test scores.  For more
on this story visit: http://tinyurl.com/2ctouyh

More Problems with Fake Reader Reviews at Amazon UK
Following last year's problem with fake reviews of a history book
being written by a rival historian, it seems that the problem of
fake reviews at Amazon have not gone away.  One PR company even
admits to writing fake reviews for publishers to criticize rival
books.  For more on this story visit: 

Penguin Launches Product Red in US and Canada
Penguin is launching a series of classic novels in red covers on
December 1st to support World AIDS Day. 50% of the profits from
each book sold will be donated to a charity that aims to eradicate
HIV/AIDS in Africa. For more on this story visit: 


ALLBOOKS REVIEW is the review and author promo source for POD 
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US Airways Open to Submissions
US Airways Magazine is looking for writers who can deliver smart,
pithy copy. They like breezy, humor, and a friendly, light tone.
They prefer to receive story submissions or inquiries via email
with "Pitch" or "Story Submission" in the subject line. They prefer
specific ideas or pitches based on a careful perusal of their
magazine (refer to Web site if you don't have access to a bound
copy). Avoid sending "shotgun pitches," a single email with
multiple story suggestions. Attached clips are preferred, along
with a brief note about who you are, what you write about, and
where you've been published. They pay from $100-$500 depending on
originality of idea, projected space in the magazine, and amount of
research used to create an original idea. View website for contact
details. http://www.usairwaysmag.com/contact/

Darkside Digital Open to Horror Submissions
Darkside Digital is now accepting submissions. We have teamed up
with Delirium Books to offer both digital and print contracts to
authors who submit work from 15K words to 40K words. For
submissions less than 15K we will consider them for only a Darkside
Digital release as an e-book.

We are looking for original horror fiction only. From 2000-40,000
words. No simultaneous submissions; no reprinted material.


25% royalties off the cover price paid quarterly via Paypal from
our parent company Horror Mall (Horror Mall will pay Paypal fees,
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darkside-digital (dot) com) to negotiate a flat professional rate.

For more information view the guidelines at: 

Literary Traveler Wants Travel Articles
Literary Traveler was launched in March of 1998. Their audience is
made up of people who love to read and travel and who are
interested in literature and the arts. They are seeking articles
that capture the literary imagination. Is there an artist or writer
that has inspired you? Have you taken a journey or pilgrimage that
was inspired by a work of literature? They focus mainly on literary
artists but welcome articles about other artists: composers,
painters, songwriters, storytellers, etc. Token fee offered for
accepted work. View website for details.


ARE YOU A WRITER WITH A DAY JOB?  Do you steal moments late at 
night or on your lunch break to write?  Then The Nighttime 
Novelist: Finish Your Novel in Your Spare Time, by Joseph Bates, 
is the guide for you, with techniques, mini-lessons, exercises 
and worksheets to help you get that novel finished. From Writer's 
Digest Books. http://tinyurl.com/28zl756


FEATURE: Components of a Good Opening Scene
By Joseph Bates, author of:
The Nighttime Novelist: Finish Your Novel in Your Spare Time


In The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the
Rejection Pile, writer and former literary agent Noah Lukeman
claims that the amount of time you have to grab your reader's
attention -- including that of an agent or editor -- is, you
guessed it, five pages. Lukeman may've been a bit generous in this;
other testimonies I've heard put the number closer to one page. Or
half of one. 

Whatever the actual number, and no matter how intimidating it ends
up being, the message is undeniable: Your story has to start with a
strong opening scene. And despite the fact that all of us will be
writing very different novels, on varied subjects and in divergent
styles, there are a number of components that all good opening
scenes have in common. 

A good opening scene has four key components. 

1.  It has a compelling hook. 
A hook is an opening line that entices the reader into your story
by (1) beginning in a clear moment of action or interaction and (2)
serving as a tease, revealing just enough information to ground the
reader in the moment while maintaining enough mystery -- through
the careful omission of certain information -- to keep her reading.

By moment of action, I don't mean that you begin with a bomb
ticking, or someone running for his life, or a massive explosion.
Rather it means that you avoid synopsis, stage direction, and
backstory by dropping us directly into a scene in progress so that
were in the midst of the action, or in medias res. (Such a direct
opening can be particularly difficult for the meticulous writer,
who's thought so much about her protagonist and his backstory that
she's not really sure where to begin.) 

Likewise, the tease of a compelling hook is not about intentionally
hiding things from the reader, making it difficult for her to
figure out what's going on. Inexperienced writers often confuse
abstraction for mystery, and they'll believe that an interesting
opening scene is one where the reader has no clue what's going on
and has to figure it out for himself, as when the reader is dropped
into the middle of a dream, or a drug trip, or a riot, or the
ocean, or whatever. ("What was that? Who's talki -- wait, something
was touching her now -- Is that a voice she heard? Who's talking?
And what was touching her on the leg? And is that a white glowing
mist in the distance -- ?") The result, as you can see, is less one
of mystery than frustration, which is obviously not what you want
your reader to experience -- on page one or anywhere else. 

So let's consider what we do mean by a compelling hook. Let's say
your opening scene takes place in a dentist's office, with your
protagonist going in for a root canal. Probably your first
inclination would be to begin with some straight-up information
getting the character there: "Barbara Morris walked into the
dentist's office and up to the receptionist's window to sign in for
her root canal." But while that's very informative, it's also a bit
of a bore. How, then, might we convey the same basic information --
we're in a dentist's office for a procedure -- that begins in the
action of the moment and also holds enough mystery to convince the
reader to keep going? 

Maybe something like this: "Barbara Morris breathed in the hissing
gas and immediately felt her face sliding off her skull." 

At the baseline, this conveys the same basic information as the
previous first line we tried. But it puts us in the moment, with
the reader feeling as if he has that little hissing mask on his
face, too, already an improvement over the first. Plus, in the
first line we tried out, there's very little mystery involved; we
know what's likely to come next (the character is going to speak to
the receptionist). But in the second one, we get the feeling that
anything might still happen: Barbara Morris might panic and try to
take the mask off; she might accidentally reveal her darkest secret
while loopy on gas; she might look at those two hairy dentist's
hands coming toward her and suddenly realize she's in love. We
don't know what'll happen next, but hopefully we're intrigued
enough to read to the next line to find out. 

And all of this is accomplished by starting with something fairly
general (going to the dentist), considering what exact moment there
we might focus on to begin, and finding a first line that conveys
the moment in an interesting way and makes us, as authors, want to
write the next line. 

2.  Grounds us in the protagonist's perspective. 
It's good to begin in a moment of action or interaction, something
to grab the reader's attention right away, but it's important to
remember that your reader experiences your fictional world as your
protagonist does. Thus a good opening scene is one that grounds us
in the main character's perspective, shows us the world through his
eyes, from the very beginning. 

Immediate action that's not grounded in character is just Stuff
Happening and can be disorienting for a reader. As an editor and
teacher I see this quite a bit: stories that begin with a gun
battle, for instance, with characters barking out orders and
bullets flying and lots of Stuff Happening -- high action, the
author thinks, this'll hook a reader -- but that offers no way for
the reader to know whom to root for, whom to run from, what's
important and what's just chaos. And our reaction to such a scene
at the beginning of a novel is much the same as if we'd been
dropped into a gun battle in real life: Get me outta here. 

This is the double burden of a solid opening: introduce the
character and get us into his head and heart while simultaneously
engaging us in action. But when you find that opening that does
both of these things well, the chances are good that your reader --
not to mention your potential editor and publisher -- will be drawn
into the story and will feel compelled to keep going. 

3.  Has a complete arc of its own but also urges us toward the
Your opening scene has an arc of its own: We have our protagonist,
who we understand has a clear internal motivation because we're
grounded in the protagonist's perspective; we have a conflict,
which comes up against the character's motivation or want; and
finally we have a resolution that's satisfying by the scene's end
-- though the way the arc plays out should raise a number of
related questions that keep us reading, to see how those questions
or problems play out. 

It's tempting to think of your opening scene as an introduction,
something that's slyly moving pieces into place that'll become
revelatory later, and in a sense this is what an opening scene does
(as we'll discuss in just a moment). But your first scene can't
merely be a scene that delays, that promises something more
important coming later on if you'll just keep reading; we need to
see stakes right away. Making sure your scene has a complete arc is
one way you assure the reader has a sense of something at stake
immediately, even if what's at risk in this first scene is
relatively minor in relation to what's coming up (as you get to the
first act's Inciting Incident and Plot Point 1 that leads us to the
second act, both of which raise the overall stakes even more). 

But while the arc we see play out in the opening scene must be, in
relation to what's coming up, minor, your opening scene can't
simply be a throwaway scene, just a quick conflict for conflict's
sake; in fact, this first minor arc and how it plays out will
resonate throughout the rest of your book. And that's because a
good opening scene . . . 

4. Contains or suggests the end of your novel. 
What's that? We have to start thinking about the end so soon?
Actually, yes. There are really two closely related arcs launched
at the beginning of your novel: one that plays out and resolves
itself by the end of the opening scene (the external motivation and
conflict of the particular moment), and one that plays out over the
course of the book (the character's internal motivation and
conflict: what's revealed about what he wants in the longer run).
Thus, an important consideration in crafting your opening scene is
to begin thinking about and crafting the end of your novel,
planning for how you believe the story will resolve, and then
making sure that whatever ending or resolution you have in mind is
established in the beginning. 

Think back, for example, to the overall arc of The Wizard of Oz. We
begin and end that story in the same place, Kansas -- I defy you
not see it in black-and-white -- though the scenes we have in the
beginning and end are poles apart from each other, showing the far
ends of Dorothy's arc. In the beginning we see Dorothy feeling
unwanted and unsure she belongs, wishing she were someplace else;
at the end, we see her knowing that this is home, the place she
belongs. That ending scene is the completion of what we see of
Dorothy's arc from the very first scene. In the beginning of that
story is the end.


The above is an excerpt from the book The Nighttime Novelist:
Finish Your Novel in Your Spare Time by Joseph Bates. Joseph Bates'
fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The South Carolina Review,
Identity Theory, Lunch Hour Stories, The Cincinnati Review,
Shenandoah, and Novel & Short Story Writer's Market. He holds a
Ph.D. in comparative literature and fiction writing from the
University of Cincinnati and teaches in the creative writing
program at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. For more information
please visit http://www.nighttimenovelist.com and follow the author
on Facebook and Twitter.

Copyright (c) 2010 by Joseph Bates

For more information on creating a great opener for your story
visit: http://www.writing-world.com/fiction/greenway1.shtml


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By Aline Lechaye

Thanksgiving is over, Christmas is just around the corner, and
you're probably starting to feel a little overwhelmed at the sheer
amount of work that needs to be done. Relax. Our free organizer has
got you covered. The other freeware we're giving you this month is
a little more on the fun and light-hearted side. Come on, take some
time out for yourself!

If you're looking for good books to give as Christmas gifts, don't
forget that The Book Depository offers free shipping worldwide for
all their books, so if any of your loved ones live overseas, you
might want to check out the site: http://www.bookdepository.com. Be
sure to take advantage of their holiday discount offer: introduce
your friends to the store and get a 10% discount coupon!

Keep track of all your to-dos this holiday season with SpringPad.
This web-based, easy-to-use software can save photos, contacts, and
notes in one place. You can also save websites while you're surfing
them, get reminders of saved to-dos, and get price comparisons on
products by scanning the bar codes into your phone. Or create
"notebooks" for each project you're currently working on --
SpringPad can help you put everything together in corkboard mode,
making everything clear at a glance. Plus, you can share everything
in your SpringPad with your friends and family, so that everyone is
on the same page for the Christmas party! Synchronize your laptop,
phone and iPad at http://springpadit.com/home. 

Stuck for story ideas? MapCrunch is an alternate way to find
inspiration. Go to http://www.mapcrunch.com/ to get random Google
map street views of different countries. You may be surprised at
what you see. That café could be the perfect setting for your
romance novel, or maybe you'll find a castle that looks ready for a
horror story. Be warned, though: it's easy to get addicted to the
site! Remember how your high school teacher told you geography was
fun? Looks like she was right after all...

Feeling bored? Take a five minute break and use E-muse to generate
a poem. All you have to do is follow the instructions, typing words
into the blanks provided, and the site will put everything together
and turn it into poetry. Try it out at: 
http://www.poetryexpress.org/emuse/emuse.html. The results can be

Astronomy lovers can generate sky maps for their city on Your Sky
(http://www.fourmilab.ch/yoursky/). The site will show you current
positions of the moon, sun and stars in your area. Print out the
map and plan a night out to explore the skies with friends or
family. Take some time to enjoy the virtual telescope on the
website, too. 

Put your imagination to work on Adventure Maker, free software for
designing RPG "click-and-point" games. The beauty of Adventure
Maker is that it requires very little programming knowledge. You
don't even need complicated software to create graphics -- you can
just use the pictures on your digital camera! You can make games
that be played on a laptop, a PSP, or even an iPhone. The website
provides detailed tutorials, as well as examples of games written
by other users (which you can download for free and play on your
computer!) Download the freeware at 
http://www.adventuremaker.com/index.html. Compatible with Windows


Aline Lechaye is a translator, writer, and writing tutor who
resides in Asia. She can be reached at alinelechaye"at"gmail.com.

Copyright (c) 2010 by Aline Lechaye



Column Writing Tips
Written by Malaysian author Oon Yeoh, this site has tips on other
writing genres too. 

Horror Writers Organisation Writing Tips
This is a collection of writing articles in the horror genre
written by members of the Horror Writers Association, who are all
published horror authors.  The site also has links to useful sites
for horror writers as well as industry news.

Poynter's Online Journalism University offer a wide variety of free
self-directed courses covering a wide range of journalism topics. 
You will need to create an account to access a course but that too
is free. 


WIN PRIZES AND GET PUBLISHED! Find out how to submit your stories,
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US and internationally. Newly updated for 2010, WRITING TO WIN
by Moira Allen is the one-stop resource you need for contests
and contest tips. Visit Writing-World.com's bookstore for details:


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