January Newsletter: A compendium of writing advice

 In Newsletters

A happy new writing year from all of us

Start the year as you mean to continue – writing.

We’ll be here for you through the weeks and months, when it flows and when you feel as though you’re dragging yourself through a mire.

We’ll provide you with enough courses and coaching programmes to get you started and teach you the craft. Our writing challenges will keep you stimulated, and we’ll feed you more than enough advice and motivation to keep you going.

You’ll find our first compendium of writing advice from the All About Writing team below. We hope you’ll find it valuable. 

Before we get to that, though, here’s a selection of our offerings for the first part of the year:

Start immediately with our online Power of Writing Course. This inexpensive course will introduce you to the basics of writing creatively – and will give you tools to increase your confidence and build your voice. It is suitable for adults and teenagers. Sign up and start today.

Perhaps you’d like to launch your writing year by growing your writing discipline, with a tutor by your side. Our two Coaching Programmes, Logic of Story and Focus on Scenes, provide daily advice, a daily writing prompt – and personal feedback on every assignment.

Our ten-week online Creative Writing Course, which kicks off on 11 February, is a truly comprehensive course. It will teach you the craft of writing in a logical and easy-to-grasp way, with loads of examples, links and live webinars. It’s suitable both for newbies and more experienced writers looking to improve their skills and take their writing to another level. We have set out to give you all the skills you need to embark on a work of fiction or creative non-fiction – and it must work because well over thirty books have been published by past participants.

We do offer face-to-face versions of this course in Cape Town and Johannesburg. The Cape Town February course is now full. If you’d like to go on a waiting list, in case of cancellations, please contact us on admin@allaboutwritingcourses.com. Otherwise, we’ll run another starting 3 June. Book early for this one. Besides the fact that it’s already filling, there’s an early bird discount.

One Johannesburg course is now full, but we’ve opened another to run on eight Thursday evenings from 14 February. We expect this to fill just as fast, so please contact us if you’d like to secure a place.

Our online Screenwriting Crash Course also launches on 11 February. Allow our award-winning scriptwriters to guide you through the process of writing professional scripts for the small or the large screen.

Our new year compendium of advice

We asked the members of our team to give you their contributions for the new year – what to do, what to avoid, and what to read. Here’s what they said:

Jo-Anne Richards, novelist and co-founder of All About Writing

What to do: Pay attention to the humble sentence. Yes, the characters and story are important, but every sentence will either draw readers on, or bore and repel them. Vary the pace of your sentences. Use sentences to reflect the mood you want to put across – languid and relaxed, perhaps, or urgent and choppy. Are you allowing the dramatic point to be lost by adding it, like an afterthought, to the end of a long and complex sentence?

What to avoid: Catch-all verbs and phrases which have become clichés. Be more creative about what a character does with her drink, car keys, boyfriend and handbag. (Must they always be grabbed?) Use strong verbs. Does everyone have to walk, when they could slouch, stride, tread, stroll, saunter, amble, march or stagger?

What to read: I’m not going to suggest a book about writing, but an author whom I admire and whom I believe can teach us a great deal. Maggie O’Farrell is a subtle and complex writer, who captures human relationships through her use of specific detail, and who never resorts to clunky explanation. Read either The distance between us or This must be the place.

Richard Beynon, award-winning scriptwriter and co-founder of All About Writing

In order to make yourself a better writer…

You should write where your passion leads you, whether it seems ridiculous or unattainable: write because you can’t not write; write because words are the air you breathe; because you define stories, and stories define you.

What you should avoid is rote writing, using as your inspiration what you’ve seen in movies, writing the stock scene, the cliched line, the familiar phrase.

Go back to the book that first convinced you that you had what it takes to write and read it again, and see that although it remains electric it is by no means beyond your capabilities.

Fred de Vries, non fiction writer and our travel writing mentor

What to do: Ask questions. Walks as much as you can. Breathe, sniff, scan, use all your senses to give us a complete and unusual description of the place. Look for those little things that evoke atmosphere – aromas of food cooking, perfumed plants, seaside smells, newly cut timber. Describe not just the big things – the buildings and bridges – but also the little things – the street signs, the road surfaces, the seats.

What not to do: Use clichés. There is only one Mecca, it’s in Saudi Arabia. Paradise is where you may go when you die. Don’t go silly with personification. Do buildings ever really smile, do ruins beckon at every turn? And don’t be a snob. People from all backgrounds travel these days, so don’t alienate any of your potential readers by using obscure language or allusions.

What to read: My personal travel writing favourites are Jack Kerouac, Jan Morris, Ryszard Kapuściński and Paul Bowles. The first for his boundless enthusiasm, and lyrical writing; the second for detail, sparseness of the prose and the feel for the places she describes; the third for his insights into people; the fourth for his eye for the absurd, the scary and the weird.

Michéle Rowe, scriptwriter, novelist and All About Writing scriptwriting trainer and mentor

What to do: Take yourself seriously and develop strong opinions. Not received wisdom, but your own attitude to life. The more idiosyncratic, daft, or downright offensive the better. Who wants to read anodyne writing from some milque-toast hack of cookie cutter ideas?  Readers respond to a certain boldness, to intensely personal visions, to quirks and weirdnesses.

What not to do: Book clubs. Because they encourage mediocrity. What could be worse than having to read the top ten books on Exclusive’s bestseller list and then discuss them with people you don’t like? The internet is the other great no no. Being online is worse for your writing than booze, heroin and cigarettes combined, especially if you watch interviews with other writers.

What to read: I don’t think it matters what you read as long as it’s absorbing I read a lot of trashy true crime, like Anne Rule’s books—as well as books about mental pathology and forensic psychology. Not because it’s good literature, but because I have a morbid fascination with the criminal mind.  If you have to choose one book, make it the King James version of the Holy Bible. Not only is it a masterpiece of English renaissance poetry, but it has tons of murders and mayhem and even ends with an apocalypse.

Aimee-Claire Smith, student and social media manager

One thing to do: Journal/freewrite, regularly, to learn to trust your voice.

One thing to avoid: Comparing your writing to anyone else’s (and yes, I mean anyone).

What you should read: Anything you enjoy. And, Light the Dark by Joe Fassler – essays on writing and creativity which will change you.

AAW’s sojourn into a book town – and winners of the Wigtown challenge

The Wigtown writing challenge is the culmination, for Richard and Trish, of two and a half years of anticipation. That’s how long they had to wait to take their place as stewards of Booktown’s Open Book. Richard’s imagination ran riot. He spent ten days concocting his story, Basil and Bella in Booktown. And then we set you a writing challenge: write a short scene set in a book shop, preferably The Open Book. Read the winning entries here.

December 2018 / January 2019 Writing Challenge

All About Writing’s latest writing challenge offers the winner a literary assessment on 5000 words of writing worth R 2750. Read the full guidelines here.

Happy writing,


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