July Newsletter: Anyone can learn to write – here’s how.
Anyone can learn to write
It was five weeks into my current face to face Creative Writing Class on Monday. The participants had been reading their assignments out for comment and feedback over a glass of wine (to loosen them up, you understand).
There was a brief silence, before one of them said: “I can’t believe that, after such a short space of time, everyone is writing at this level. So many things have suddenly become clear. I look at what I wrote before and I can see exactly where I was going wrong.”
It was gratifying. Actually, I lie, it made me want to leap to my feet and burst into the Hallelujah Chorus. It’s what this is all about, after all. It’s why we started All About Writing. To help people become the best writers they can be. To make their dreams come true.
What it does, though, is emphasise what we believe and it’s this conviction which underpins our entire practice: Everyone has the ability to become a pretty decent writer, at the very least. Perhaps not everyone can win the Man Booker, but you can become the best writer you have the ability to be.
Three essentials reinforce this process:
- Reading, and lots of it. It familiarises you with narrative devices, so that you learn a great deal intuitively.
- Remember Malcolm Gladwell’s ten thousand hours? The more you write, the better you get.
- Learn the skills. Understand the important concepts and your writing will take a leap to a completely new level. We’ve seen it happen.
In the spirit of making dreams come true.
Some of you will be accompanying us to Venice in September, for our annual writing retreat. This retreat is now completely full. Those who are coming, I hope you’re excited. It’s always a creative time, spiced by new friendships with like-minded people, unexpected encounters and stimulating expeditions, all accompanied by excellent food and plenty of Spritz.
It’ll be a time for yourself, away from the plumbers and banks and employers who plague all of our normal lives. It’s a time to write, walk, observe and daydream. To fantasise that you’re a Venetian writer, looking up from your laptop to gaze down through your palazzo window at the canal, or cobbled square below.
If you aren’t coming, don’t be too jealous. There’s always next year. But book early.
And if you’re in the UK, we’ll be running our now annual weekend writing workshop from 14 to 16 September in Stow-on-the-Wold. We only take six to eight people, so book soon. Last year’s workshop was full and we expect no less this year.
But of course if you want to launch your quest to sharpen your writing skills you could do so immediately by joining one of our currently running courses. Choose from our introductory Power of Writing, course, our flagship Creative Writing Course, the Creative Screenwriting Course or our coaching programme focusing on scenes.
And just to inspire you…
We’re brimming with Community News this month.
Ekow Duker is bringing out his new novel, Yellowbone in the first quarter of 2019, published by Kwela Books.
The book is about Karabo and André. She is a light skinned black girl from the Eastern Cape who experiences animosity and admiration in equal measure due to the colour of her skin. André is a South African emigré in London who teaches the violin at a prestigious music college. He suffers from an acute form of synesthesia that manifests in the most remarkable ways.
The book traces the journey of Karabo and André across two continents and culminates in a moving climax.
Alumnus and Italian ambassador for Zimbabwe, Enrico De Agostini held the Johannesburg launch of his third book at the Dante Alighieri Society. Mind was published in Italy and an English translation is underway.
Enrico tells us that Mind “addresses a fundamental problem that modern society is facing: the pace of progress – electronic progress in particular – and how we deal with it.”
If you didn’t make it, you can still see photos from the launch.
Marilyn Cohen de Villiers launched Deceive and Defend, the third (and final) book of the Silverman Saga series in Johannesburg and Cape Town.
“I never set out to write a trilogy,” she said, “but it just turned out that way. It was an honour to be invited to launch it at the Jewish Literary Festival in Cape Town in June.”
She was in conversation with radio personality Nancy Richards. At her Johannesburg launch at the Greenside Bookdealers, she spoke to media consultant Janine Lazarus. She was interviewed on Radio Today the next day with Chris Avant-Smith “who raved about the entire trilogy”. You can support her by buying it on Amazon!
Penny Castle has self-published the story, Cure, which she conceived with her terminally ill son, Josh, and wrote after his death. You can find it on Amazon.
Her memoir, Cultivating Happiness, is due for publication later in the year.
The June/July Challenge
Here’s your chance to put into practice one of the basic principles I mentioned above. Write a lot and write often. So why not try your hand at our latest competition?
You stand a chance of winning a mini book report on the first 5000 words of your manuscript (or detailed feedback on 5000 words of writing) worth ZAR 2750.
July Writing Tips:
Writers are often required to become devil’s advocates – advancing arguments – or beliefs, or assumptions, or convictions – with which they do not agree. After all, their fictional characters are not all cast in their own mould. In fact, we hope that none of them are the mere puppets of their creators, mealy-mouthing the opinions of their creators.
To give your antagonist anything less than the best possible argument in any conflict he has with your protagonist is to forego possible dramatic conflict.
So the fact that you don’t share a character’s belief, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do your damnedest to make that belief as believable as you possibly can.
The greatest test of an atheist writer’s skill is, surely, to create a god-fearing character whose beliefs are as compelling as they are convincing.
By the same token, the greatest test of a theistic writer’s skill is to create an atheistic character whose beliefs are as compelling as they are convincing.
Even if all we’re talking about is a taste for malt whisky, or Darjeeling tea, or Marie biscuits, then our duty is the same: to make the best case possible for our character’s idiosyncratic preferences.
The principle upon which this truism is based, is respect: respect for your characters, respect for your readers. A writer who allows his cynicism to colour his representation of his characters, who allows himself the cheap luxury of creating straw targets and then burying his arrows in them, is doing his craft a disservice.
We’re halfway through the year, can you believe it? However much writing you have or haven’t done so far, there’s no time either for beating yourself up or leaning back and congratulating yourself. Look at it this way: there’s still half a year to go. Let’s fill it with words, words and more words.
Jo-Anne Richards and the rest of the All About Writing team