Rounding up the year’s top secrets to good writing (Part 1)

 In Jo-Anne Richard's blog, Tips for Writers

All About Writing co-founder Jo-Anne Richards is the designer and facilitator of many of our courses including our flagship Creative Writing Course and our popular Saturday Writing Workshops She is an internationally published novelist with a PhD in Creative Writing from Wits University.

Jo-Anne has published five novels: the best-selling Innocence of Roast Chicken (recently re-released as part of the Picador Africa Heritage Classics collection), as well as The Imagined Child, My Brother’s Book, Touching the Lighthouse and Sad at the Edges.

Every Wednesday without fail, Jo-Anne shares her writerly wisdom and some of her secrets to good writing on our blog. We’ve rounded up 15 of the top Writing Secrets blog posts from 2020. Read the full archive here.

1. It’s like religion – you’ve got to believe

In a Creative Writing class I was teaching recently, I suggested that, if you’re not sure of an aspect of your writing – like which point of view would be most effective or how to structure your work – try your different options and see what works best.

“That’s an awful lot of investment,” one of my participants commented, “for something that’s never sure.”

And basically, that sums up the whole process of writing. Writing a book takes years, and for much of that time, you’re putting in time without any certainty… [more]

2. The self-awareness trap

How self-aware should your fictional characters be? It’s a decision that needs some consideration, since it’s part of your protagonist’s make-up and personality.

There is no short answer either. In life, someone who is utterly blind to their own flaws can be irritating – but this same personality type can make for an intriguing protagonist. A character who consistently lies to herself can hold us because of her very self-deception.

As readers, we enjoy seeing further than our characters do. Readers are active and pick up the subtle clues that writers leave them… [more]

3. Is your writing intention staring at you fiercely? 

So the year has begun. And now your creative intention is staring you in the face, and it has a ferocious expression.

It seemed easy enough a couple of weeks ago. If you took any notice of my last blog, you’ll have set yourself a manageable target to keep writing and being creative through the year. But now you have to put it into practice and your heart is beating, your hands are sticky, and you’re ready to beat yourself with that same old stick:  “I always do this? I never manage to keep it going.” You can’t even think of the word for … writing with ease and putting things across clearly? Oh yes, eloquence… [more]

4. What can you do for your writing? Read.

I was asked the other day what I would consider to be the “most important thing” a novice writer can do to improve her creative writing skills. Besides read, I asked?

Her jaw became set and her eyes glazed. “Okay,” she said stiffly. “What must I read?”

Hit me with it, she seemed to be saying. It made me want to laugh. It struck me that we’re programmed to think of all learning as unpleasant, and to believe that reading should be purely instructional… [more]

5. Writing in the time of Corona

It seems strange, in these apocalyptic times, to continue with my normal blog subjects. Instead, I would like to wish our community well and urge you all to remain safe as far as you are able.

The media has, as it should, been focusing on aspects of the virus we need to understand – most of it scary and negative. But it does have its positive side: it does provide an opportunity for creativity.

You may be working from home now, or released from your study environment, and we’re all spending more time at home rather than going out. Don’t let this time fritter away… [more]


Jo-Anne Richards is an internationally published novelist with a PhD in Creative Writing from Wits University. Jo-Anne has published five novelsThe Imagined Child, The Innocence of Roast ChickenMy Brother’s Book,  Touching the Lighthouse and Sad at the Edges.

Her first novel, The Innocence of Roast Chicken has been rereleased, as part of the Picador Africa Classics collection. When it first appeared, in 1996, it was nominated for the Impac International Dublin Literary Award and chosen as an “outstanding debut novel” by a British book chain.

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