Rounding up the year’s top secrets to good writing (Part 3)

 In Jo-Anne Richard's blog, The secrets behind the practice of good writing, 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. Click here to read part one, here to read part two, or here to check out the full archive.

11. Do you have something to say? (I certainly hope not)

Way back in the misty dawn of time, I had a university professor who saw himself as something of a Svengali. When I told him I longed to be a writer, he asked me why.

I told him of my love of words, the longing that had consumed me since the age of four when my mother read me The Nightingale and the Rose. I waxed on about the compulsion and the joy I felt when words flowed in just the right way…

“Wrong answer,” he said. “You’ll never make a writer. You should have said, ‘Because I have something to say’… [more]

12. Hook your reader and promise them more

We like to say that the best beginning – of a book or short story – should contain a hook and a promise. Hook your reader, and promise them more.

That’s fine in theory, posed one of our participants the other day, but what is the best way to hook a reader? And, as I mentioned last week, there are as many pieces of advice on this as there are beginnings in the world. We are drawn in by many widely different openings. A good beginning can shock us, introduce us to a character we are drawn to… [more]


13. Don’t be predictable, but don’t come out of left field either

A publisher once told us that, halfway through an unpublished manuscript, she tries to predict how it will end.

If she succeeds, she will likely pass on the manuscript or, if there is a lot to be recommended about it otherwise, she will suggest the ending be rewritten.

Since we’ve been considering the best book and story openers over the past two weeks, I thought it worth considering endings today. Again, there is no easy formula. The final test is whether it works, whether it resonates and remains in the mind of the reader… [more]

14. Don’t be afraid to get creative with life

“Everybody who writes fiction draws from their own life, but if it ended there, it would be very boring,” says writer, Judy Blume.

I came across her advice the other day and it chimed with me because it’s something we always say to our participants. There’s nothing wrong with drawing on the pool of ideas and characters who surround you in life. And, of course, we all do it.

But our caution would be: don’t become stuck in the trap of what really happened. Use what serves you, change what doesn’t… [more]


15. The cure for perfectionism is love

In the nineteen-eighties, a writer named Elizabeth Tallent published four novels, and her short stories appeared frequently in The New Yorker. Then followed a 22-year silence.

She has broken it with a memoir which focuses on a subject close to many of our hearts. She writes of her long writer’s block and the reason for it. She blames perfectionism.

She suffers from an extreme form of this malady, having grown up with a mother who refused to hold her as a new-born because she suffered scratches during the birth process… [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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