Charles Stross Hates Microsoft Word

Author Charles Stross has produced an excellent blog post about Microsoft Word called “Why Microsoft Word Must Die.” It’s dead-on accurate, with in-depth commentary that betrays Stross’s technical origins — he was a computer programmer before he was a successfully published writer.

As someone who has produced a lot of large documents in my time, I personally hate Word’s Master Document and outline features, which have never actually worked well enough to use for production purposes, and which have never been improved in twenty years. Microsoft Word really is a lowest-common-denominator product.

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Akismet: Preventing Comment Spam

Tools for Writers: Akismet Plugin - for Preventing Comment SpamI’ve been getting so much comment spam on my WordPress blog that I needed do something to resolve the problem. I was, quite frankly, spending way too much time reviewing comments (and getting increasingly irritated every time I had to do so), and not doing some of the things that I wanted to be doing. When I went to Scotland for vacation this past December, I accumulated more than 2500 comment spam messages. Buried in that batch were some real comments that I wanted to approve for inclusion on the site, so I actually had to scan through all of them.

My solution for this problem is the Akismet plugin. You download the plugin, activate it and then get an API key from Akismet. Once you’ve added the API key to your configuration, Akismet tests each incoming comment and filters out most, if not all spam, into your spam folder.

It’s been awesome.

I recommend the Akismet plugin to anybody who operates a blog. By now, this should include all writers, whether traditionally published or self-published.

The most popular plugin version of Akismet is for WordPress, but they support around 20 different blogging platforms, so you should be able to integrate Akismet into most viable blogging tools. The service is free for personal use, but they do request a modest amount of money if you’re using it professionally or on behalf of a business. They even allow you to set the price that you pay based on the value you feel you’re getting from the tool.

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Toastmasters, a Tool for Writers

Tools for Writers: Toastmasters for training in communication and leadershipIf you’re a writer, I think you should consider joining Toastmasters. It’s one of the most effective tools you’ll find for honing the skills you’ll need as a professional writer. But, I hear you saying, Toastmasters is for improving public speaking, not writing. What’s it going to do for a writer?

Well, do you think speeches, especially good ones, just happen by accident? No, they’re written. Even better, you practice them in front of a live audience that’s been trained by Toastmasters to critique them effectively. So, you’re writing and you’re getting critiqued. By people who are serious about their analysis.

Additionally, have you considered that a significant part of a writer’s career involves marketing yourself and your stories? This has only become more important in today’s turbulent publishing industry. Traditional publishers are looking for writers that already have a “platform” — the poster child for this situation is John Scalzi, who was a well-known blogger and speaker before he became a published writer. And if you’re going the self-publishing route, it’s even more important to market yourself effectively.

Are you ready to be a panelist at a convention? Do you think you could handle being interviewed on video? Can you impress an audience with an effective reading of your own material? What about that one-minute elevator pitch for your novel?

Toastmasters can help you by:

  • Encouraging you to write.

  • Enforcing discipline on your writing. — Have you ever tried to write something complex and meaningful in 600 – 1200 words? That’s the typical length of a 5 – 7 minute Toastmasters talk. It’s hard, which makes it a great writing exercise.

  • Improving your public speaking. There’s far too many ways that this can be useful for your writing career to even list them here.

  • Boosting your confidence. Toastmasters is all about stretching your limits. When you learn how to do things effectively that you could never do before, you have no idea how uplifting and liberating that is.

I also make sure that I write down my best speeches. Many of them have become blog entries on this site (or on my technical blog, KeenerTech). The end result is that I have built up a varied selection of what I consider to be pretty good content. These talks span a wide range of topics, such as my personal musings about my technical career, inspirational talks, and intricate fables that exercise my storytelling capabilities. Some of these talks have been videotaped, so people can read or view my talks.

Here are the talks that I have available online (not counting the hardcore technical talks for software developers that are available on KeenerTech):

  1. The Match: This is what I consider to be my best talk. It’s a 9-minute historical story in second-person narrative. It’s also available as an online video.

  2. At the Crossroads: My Icebreaker, my first speech for Toastmasters in June 2010. It helped get me my current job, because the technologist who interviewed said “I knew exactly who you were” from the blog entry that I created from my talk.

  3. Islands in the Mind: An inspirational speech with a Toastmasters slant. Also aimed at writers, since one of the major threads is about a writer.

  4. Philosophy 101: An inspirational speech for the Ashburn Toastmasters Holiday Party (on video).

  5. The Finest Legacy: My 2012 speech for the International Speech Contest — which got me a 2nd place trophy in Area 45. This is the text of the speech, with a link to the video as well. It’s about my Dad, science fiction and the hidden impact of science fiction on the real world. I still get approached by people who remember this speech fondly.

  6. Going the Distance: A three-minute Area Governor speech for a club visit. Promotes Toastmasters contests.

  7. The Apple Falls Down: Perspectives on Global Warming: My 10th speech in the Competent Communicator manual, with both text and a link to the video. All about the perils of global warming.

If you’re a writer, try out Toastmasters. It’s one of the best tools available to you, and the membership cost is negligible (around $9 per month, but you can visit some meetings for free). You’ll be surprised at how much Toastmasters can help you with your writing career.

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