November Newsletter: Don’t lose your writing fitness

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Don’t lose your writing fitness

Daily writing is to writers what exercise is to athletes. Stop, and you’re in danger of becoming stiff and stilted. You lose your flexibility and strength.

Having said that, I’m in awe of the many people who manage to maintain the discipline of NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – while the year is rushing to its end. (We’ve compiled 8 handy tips for NaNoWriMos, too).

Good luck to those of you who are already halfway through the challenge of writing 50 000 words in the month of November. It’s a tremendous feat.

For those of us who aren’t part of the excitement, it’s still important to keep up a daily writing practice, even if this is the busiest time of year, as we count down to the holidays, and a new year.

It’s not impossible. And just like going to the gym, you’ll feel worse if you don’t.

When I had small children, I sometimes used to sneak into the bathroom at night and sit on the floor, scribbling in my notebook. It was the only place I had a modicum of privacy.

Why it’s important to write regularly 

  • Your writing grows in precision and strength
  • It clarifies your thinking for the day
  • It helps deal with difficult emotions
  • It makes the process of writing more normal – which, in turn, helps banish the fear of embarking on a specific project.
  • It maintains your momentum. If you stop, it’s harder to pick it up again, and that much easier to procrastinate.

How to make it happen

  • Tell everyone, including those closest to you, that you have a very important deadline or chore at a specific time. Non-writers don’t respect writing time.
  • Keep to the same time, so that it becomes a habit.
  • Even if your head is blank, sit down and stare at the screen. If you write nothing, do not allow yourself to stand up until at least an hour has passed.
  • Put your mobile phone in another room and disconnect the internet. Do not check emails, or messages of any kind.
  • Make a ritual of it. Keep a “lucky writing pen” beside you or light a scented candle – anything that marks this time as special.

But perhaps we can help.

Inspiration and hard practical advice

They say that the best things in life are free… Well, here’s a heady dose of inspiration and hard-headed practical advice for writers all for the cost of a click, which is to say, no cost at all.

There’s still time to join one or both of our 14-day Coaching Programmes, which not only provide daily inspiration and writing prompts, but which come with full personal feedback, which is honest, but always kind.

People currently on the programme are saying things like: “It feels like a holiday from my life. Who knew it could be such fun.” Or: “I’m loving the Scenes course.”

These courses aren’t free – because they come with full daily feedback on every one of your writing submissions.

You can start at any time, as long as your last assignment is in by 15 December. Focus on Scenes will carry you through the process of writing vivid and dramatic scenes – essential for both fiction and creative non-fiction. The Logic of Story will show you everything that holds a good story together, from characters and scenes to conflict and suspense.

If you’d like your hand held through a writing project next year, you can’t do better than our unique Mentoring Programme. Submit up to 5000 words per month and we’ll give honest but kind advice on how to make it the best it can be. You’ll be part of a supportive group and the submission dates create a writing discipline.

We prefer participants to have completed a substantial writing course before joining, or at least to have extensive writing experience. Apply before 30 November for the first six months of next year. Please email us for further information and the application form. Places are limited.

Community News

A special thank you to Clare Blatchford, Macmillan, Pamela Cheesman and Victoria Young for their generous sponsorship of our Zonderwater prison writing project. It continues to go really well. Here’s an update from Pierre Brouard, co-facilitator with Helen Webster:

What we are finding is that the participants are very enthusiastic about the technical aspects of writing, and keen to find ways to make their stories more interesting. They are beginning to see that artistry matters too, and are learning about a captivating opening line, working with key hooks, holding the story thread, and featuring well drawn characters.
In addition, we feel the “process” of the workshops has been useful and intriguing for them. Both Helen and I have shared some of our own personal writing, offering them a window into our motivations, histories and complexities. In a sense we have made ourselves vulnerable to the participants and we can see by the increasing levels of trust and disclosure that they value this and find meaning in the journey we are taking with them.
Perhaps we are being naive, and we recognise that everyone in the room has broken the law in quite serious ways, but we do feel that the experience of a respectful and accepting workshop space has elements of healing in it.

We’re still looking for contributions to help fund this project. We need donations for printing, dictionaries, stationery, and for Pierre and Helen’s transport to the prison. If anyone can help, no matter how small the amount we’d be very grateful.  Please check out the options in our shop and if none of them appeal to you please contact us to discuss.

Mark de Wet’s poem Mont Aux Sources – The Lightning, made the finals of the Sol Plaatje European Union poetry competition and has been published in the collection, Volume VIII, released last week. “See what a big hangover can do for one’s writing!” he says.

Tanya Haffern, a member of the AAW family for many years, has just published Escaping Corporate Bondage: The essential guide. Pre-order your copy by emailing tanya@tanyahaffern.co.za.

The harrowing new memoir, Behind the Blue Door, by Meg and Angie van der Merwe, will launch at Exclusives, Cavendish Square, Cape Town, on 15 November, at 6 to 6.30pm. Meg and Gail Gilbride (Angie van der Merwe’s alter ego) will be in conversation with journalist Penny Haw. Gail has also been one of the family more or less as long as AAW has been in existence. Her own book, Under the African Sun, was published last year.

Eva Meklis Mazza, who accompanied us to Venice this year, has a book coming out with MF Books early in 2019. Sex, Lies and Stellenbosch gives us a behind-the-scenes glimpse into life among the vineyards.

Susan Newham-Blake has had her novel accepted by Penguin for publication in July next year. The working title is As if born to you, although that might still change.

And lastly, I have again been asked to run a course, How to Write a Novel, for the 2019 UCT Summer School, from 21 to 25 January. (Suckers for punishment, they are.)

October/November Writing Challenge

Our October/November writing challenge offers you a chance to win a literary assessment from us, valued at ZAR2 750. It also comes with some nifty tips on descriptive layering. Deadline 30 November.

Happy writing

Jo-Anne

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