Letters from the Principal

These editorials were published in the college newsletter between 2007 and 2011.

Read an Interview with the Principal, Nichola Meyer.

January 2011

It's a brand new year brimful of possibilities to shine and stretch yourself. Our focus this year is to see as many of you achieve your writing dreams as possible.

"Talent is helpful in writing, but guts are absolutely necessary," the American author Jessamyn West once said. And she's absolutely right.

This year we are asking you to be courageous, to set up and stick to your writing routine and to keep the assignments coming. The great secret to becoming a writer is that there is no great secret. You just have to write, preferably every day, and for a long time. (That's where the guts come in!) As fantasy author David Eddings puts it: "A writer's apprenticeship usually involves writing a million words (which are then discarded) before he's almost ready to begin."

We're here to haul you over the finish line, but you DO have to hand in the work.

Let's make 2011 your year!

Happy writing!

NICHOLA MEYER: The Writers’ College Principal

December 2010
"It can happen. It does happen. But it can't happen if you quit." Lauren Dane

This newsletter is all about YOU - our college students and past college students. It is to celebrate your progress and your achievements as writers. This year - 2010 - saw our biggest number of successful graduates: more than 160. Merely completing a writing course by correspondence is an achievement; to finish with a fine result is even more commendable. On behalf of the tutors and staff at our writing school, we congratulate you.

For those of you halfway, or almost done, let's do this thing. Don't try to squeeze all your writing into your week of holiday between Christmas dinner and your Old Year's Eve party. Start writing a little bit, every day, right now!

Upgrading the Websites

This year was our most industrious ever. Not just on the student front with almost 500 enrolments and several thousand applicants, but we also upgraded our Web presence. After being hacked three times and wiped out by a tenacious virus in September, we needed a fresh start for both our SA Writers' College and NZ Writers' College websites. We handed our college website maintenance into the capable hands of Zeald.com.

Working on our Courses

We inaugurated several new courses in 2010: our popular Introduction to Poetry Course, The Write a Memoir Course and the Basics of Creative Writing for High School Children.

In 2011, we kick off with Helen Brain's Advanced Course in Creative Writing, The Advanced Grammar and Editing Course for Writers and the cutting edge News Journalism for New Media Course.

Connecting with Writers

One thing graduate students have requested is more interaction with other students on our courses. We launched a Google group for the college which has taken off nicely, especially for students from the Creative Writing Faculty.

Doing a correspondence course can be hard, lonely work, and small reminders, like interesting links to articles and updates from us can help to keep you in the writing mind space. It takes a minute to connect: link to us via Facebook and Twitter.

We also launched a blog for all three colleges (www.writerscollegeblog.com) where we post news about students' successes, interesting articles about writing and showcase student writing. We write weekly updates, so please come and browse!

Where to Next for the Writers' College?

In 2005 we launched the college with one course - the magazine journalism course. Six years and many, many hours of work later, we have 26 courses and a staff of 30 writers. Our aim now is to keep our content fresh and on the forefront of changes in the media, publishing world and general writing industry. We aim to improve student access to material by taking all the course modules online. At the same time, we strive to maintain the most important aspect of our courses: the relationship between you, your tutor and the written word.

Thank you to our wonderful tutors, our dedicated admin staff and all our students for making 2010 an outstanding year.

We wish you a peaceful, joyful holiday period and a New Year brimful of writing opportunities. Come back well-rested and inspired. We have big plans for you in 2011.

Happy writing!

NICHOLA MEYER: The Writers’ College Principal

August 2010

Read Bob Mayer's ebook 70 Solutions to Common Writing Mistakes (Writers' Digest Books) and you'll find deadly habits that many of us writers seem to share. I highly recommend that you read all of them. Here were some that jumped off the page.
  • Not Starting
  • Not Finishing
  • Thinking You're the Exception to the Rule
  • An Unwillingness to Learn
  • Waiting for the Mood to Strike
  • Not Managing Your Time Correctly
  • Failing to Learn From the Masters
  • Listening to Too Much Feedback
  • Quitting.

Any of these sound familiar?

Our past newsletters have focused on perseverance, attitude, motivation, inspiration and time management. We have commiserated and mollycoddled, cajoled and hopefully encouraged. But this month, reading Helen Brain's no-nonsense advice to aspirant writers was a refreshing jolt: "If it's so hard to be a writer that you have to moan about it all the time, then give it up. Otherwise stop whining and start writing."

Her words are a reminder that if we are serious about writing, we need to quit the talking and get writing. We're in the countdown to December, so keep those assignments coming. Reading about writing is also important. Join us on Twitter, Facebook or our Google Discussion Group. Read other students' writing.
This newsletter gets right back to the writing process and organising your writing life.
Happy writing!

NICHOLA MEYER: The Writers’ College Principal

May 2010

I have yet to meet a writer who finds writing easy. Granted, there are days as a writer where you will have moments of joy in front of your computer, like when your friend posts a funny Facebook update, or a loved one brings you a latté. And yes, of course you will feel a thrill after notching up a few hundred words in one sitting, or when an acceptance letter arrives from a publisher. Fleeting moments of celebration.

Most writing is like marathon training: hard slog. There's pain, sweat, maybe even tears. Being a writer is uncomfortable, pushes you and leaves you sore for days if your work gets rejected. If you're hoping for an easy run to the finish line, then you're not on the right track.
"Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon one can neither resist nor understand." George Orwell

"Writing is the hardest work in the world." Harlan Ellison

"If writing seems hard, it's because it is hard. It's one of the hardest things people do." William Zinsser
"Each day is like an enormous rock that I'm trying to push up this hill." Joyce Carol Oates on writing.

If even the well known writers find it hard, why does anyone bother becoming a writer? For the same reason that athletes run marathons. They love it. They feel compelled to. They press on despite the agony. And so can you.
So if you are caught mid-way through your course right now and you feel like giving up because it's too damn hard, remember this: there's only one thing that will get you to a completed manuscript. It's not talent. It's not genius. It's not education.

The only thing that will get you there is persistence. Which is why our 'Write A Novel' tutor, Alex Smith says her greatest writing achievement is not her latest literary award nomination - but simply 'not giving up'.

Be the one to get to the finish line! Keep writing!

NICHOLA MEYER: The Writers’ College Principal

December 2009

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.’ Aristotle
It’s been an incredible year. Had we not been a virtual college, a graduation ceremony with fireworks and popping champagne corks would have been fitting. With over 300 students, 100 successful graduates and more than 20 articles published by our students and past students, 2009 was our most successful year yet.

The 'thank you' list has grown too big to mention all the companies and individuals who have supported us this year. We are very grateful for every ounce of interest and energy. A huge thank you from our staff at our writing school.

Another thank you must go to those ordinary people who sponsored students on courses this year, helping them upgrade core writing skills, build their confidence and achieve their dreams. We applaud your generosity.

Then a word of thanks to our tutors. They are our heroes. Apart from their own writing projects, they managed to cajole hundreds of young writers across the finish line over the past five years, offering encouragement and insights every line of the way. Take a look at the recent course feedback and you’ll see that they’re not budging an inch on their high standard of training.

But if motivation is what gets you started, then habit is what keeps you going. These are the words of Jim Ryun and they couldn’t be more applicable to the writing life. Hats off to all of you students (and non-students) who kept going this year, who kept writing, despite all obstacles, until it became a habit. That's our motto: to become a writer, you need to write.

For 2010, we are planning our first Poetry Course, an Advanced Creative Writing Course, the Write Your Memoir Course and the Creative Writing Course for High School students. We will continue to expand and upgrade our website, as well as offer bursaries to promising writers from disadvantaged backgrounds.

To round off 2009, we celebrate our top five of everything: top student achievements, top courses, articles and tutor awards. Enjoy the read.

We reopen the college on 4 January 2010. Have a wonderful, restful festive season. Gather your courage for some break-through writing feats in 2010; we’ll see you on the other side.

Happy Writing!

NICHOLA MEYER: The Writers’ College Principal

October 2009
"I learned to just show up at the page and write down what I heard. Writing became more like eavesdropping and less like inventing the nuclear bomb. It wasn’t so tricky, and it didn’t blow up on me anymore. I didn’t have to be in the mood. I didn’t have to take my emotional temperature to see if inspiration was pending. I simply wrote. No negotiations." – Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

There is something profoundly daunting about signing up for a writing course. We know, because each week we read dozens of applications saying pretty much the same thing: “I’ve finally drummed up the courage to apply”, "I’ve put off my dream to write for 30 years. It’s now or never”, “My friends love my stories, but are they good enough to be published? Eeek.”

But if signing up is hard, getting started on a course is even harder.

Many of the people who want to be writers never get to write even one word towards their goal. They put off the final step of registration until it’s a vague memory buried under lots of excuses; their application stays just that - an application. The jump from dream to reality is literally “too scary for words”.

At the Writers’ College, as writers and tutors, we understand the doubts, the excuses, the fears. We’ve all had them ourselves. If writing is 90% perspiration, 10 % inspiration as the common saying goes, then we’re there to help you through the 90% part: those times where your palms go clammy, your heart thuds and you’d rather dump your Word files into the recycle bin than submit them to your tutor, never mind an editor. We encourage, guide and yes, push a little to get you over the finish line. And so, after many months, you end up with a manuscript in your hands.

So where-ever you are in the process of doing a course with us: keep going, keep writing, show up at the page. This month we look at how to get started with writing, the pros and cons of doing an online course, rules of writing at work and the Four Basics of Getting Freelance Work.

Happy writing!

NICHOLA MEYER: The Writers’ College Principal

June 2009
"My best advice for young writers? Read. Read. Read. If you keep on spewing words out, you’ve got to put them back into your head. Read books, newspapers, newsletters, anything." Karen Lotter, Web Writer

"At the notebook stage, your writer's eye is like a magpie collecting elements that shine, cramming the journal pages with description." Louisa Peat O'Neil, Travel Writer

The novelist, the journalist, the non-fiction author, the poet, the scriptwriter, the copywriter: their writing styles may differ vastly, but they all have something important in common. Research.

For some young writers this comes as a nasty surprise. "What?" they ask in horror. "You mean we need to do research to be a writer? We don't just write from our own incredible wealth of experiences and opinions?" No.

Some react to this as though you've asked them to lick a slug.

But really, no writer writes in a vacuum. They don't just "make stuff up". Without reading and researching many sources, there is no story. Just one "inaccuracy in detail, event or outlook", as Altimari puts it in his article below, and you risk losing your reader.

Different writers may go about the research process differently. The novelist may call it "reading" when they research other novels, look up names, places and events for their own novels. Journalists, broadcast journalists and travel writers "report" on events and places, gathering facts for their stories. Non-fiction authors take months, even years, to "gather" facts, stats and quotations for their manuscripts. Whether you use a Dictaphone, a Blackberry or a shabby notebook, all professional writers spend their lives collecting interesting facts, snippets from daily life, clippings from the news for their Future Ideas File and their writing projects.

This newsletter looks at some of the key rules for research, and while we include critical reading for journalism, fiction and non-fiction books, the rules are the same for every field of writing.

Happy researching!

NICHOLA MEYER: The Writers’ College Principal

March 2009

Up-skilling seems to be the global theme of 2009. Learning to make money from something as simple as the written word, in as many fields as possible, is a smart move, especially if it's a supplementary income you're after. This month we include articles about how anyone can get started as a freelance writer.

We also take a look at the way the digital media industry is expanding about as fast as a primordial black hole. Even in the book industry, a relatively conservative industry, technological developments are changing the face of publishing forever. These quotations come from the Write a Novel Course tutored by Henrietta Rose-Innes:
My first novel was published in January 2003. It concerns the machinations of technologically immortals who have occupied Walt Disney World’s Haunted Mansion … The book won the 2003 Locus Award for Best First Novel and is a finalist for the 2004 Nebula for Best Novel. The whole text of the novel is available as a free download in a multitude of formats, as well as a physical object at bookstores everywhere. – Cory Doctorow
I love books, and don't want or expect paper to go away entirely, but I won't have any regrets if we achieve a world in which access to all the world's content is instantly available on a global basis, without killing trees, burning diesel, or building warehouses. – Bill McCoy
One can head off to the New York Public Library's e-Books online library and actually check out books by downloading them to your home computer. These downloaded books are "time bombed" to expire at the end of three weeks so instead of taking the book back to the library you just let the book expire on your hard drive. – David W. Boles
Creative Commons provides free tools that let authors, scientists, artists, and educators easily mark their creative work with the freedoms they want it to carry. You can use CC to change your copyright terms from "All Rights Reserved" to "Some Rights Reserved." We're a nonprofit organization. Everything we do — including the software we create — is free. – http://creativecommons.org/
And it's not just digital outlets for literary and non-fiction book writing that are mushrooming. The Web itself offers an abundance of prospects for writers to earn money: for example, syndicating magazine pieces to online magazines, writing articles for online article factories like Suite 101 (paying market), articlecity.com, amazines.com, articlebase.com (don't pay but you get free advertising as a writer), blogging with Google AdSense creating revenue on your site, blogging for news sites, writing search-engine friendly copy and content for the millions and millions of websites on the Net - all relatively new "job opportunities" for writers.
Back to a more traditional matter - we are putting out our second last call for entries for the 2009 SAWC Short Story Award. This is one of those nothing-to-lose opportunities that life occasionally hands you. You don't have to buy anything to enter. No entry fees. No stupidly obvious questions to answer before you qualify for admission. Just send us your story. It's a chance to tick one of those "I wish I had …" items off your to-do list, a chance to learn, have fun improving your writing, and maybe even win!
So sit down for a few hours and "tell" us a riveting tale. Make up some characters, make stuff happen between them, and make sure the ultimate theme is about growth. Send your 2000 words to me, Nichola@sawriterscollege.co.za before 30 April.
Happy writing!
NICHOLA MEYER: The Writers’ College Principal

January 2009
"The perceived romanticism of Being a Writer is pervasive. Most people, as someone famous pointed out, want to have written a book. They don't actually want to sit down to the business of writing it in the here and now. Because that implies effort. It implies being talented, and then working your ass off to learn your craft. And it takes years, friends and neighbours. This is the reason that most writers peak in middle age. But it continues to puzzle me that people who don't think they need any training… expect a JK Rowling-esque adventure." Diane Awerbuck, author of Gardening At Night. Source: Litnet
At the Writers' College, we don't promise you an easy ride; just that we'll hold your hand as you negotiate the bumps of the writer's life. We don't tell you to ditch your day job; just that you can make some extra money on the side, while you figure out if you have the makings of a professional writer.
We are one of the few online writing college in the world that offers months of one-on-one training in our courses. No mass classes or generic feedback at exorbitant fees. Just special attention. We target your unique strong points in your writing, and guide you through your writing blocks and grammar mistakes. We want you to write regularly, write well and feel the thrill of getting published. If you want to be a professional writer, our training could be all you need to launch your new career. All at the click of a mouse.
Next month we will look at digital publishing and the growth of Internet opportunities for writers. Last week, for instance, we had a call from editor-in-chief, John Duerden at www.Goal.com, for South African aspiring writers for their website: 'Road To Africa 2010'.
His request: We are looking for aspiring writers in Africa - both football and non-football related. Each writer gets their own page on the site, exposure on the main page and, by the time the World Cup starts, an estimated 40 million unique visitors a month. Gain experience of the very fast-paced world of online journalism and something for your resume. Write as much or as little as you like. Interested students can contact John at john.duerden@goal.com
And don't forget the SAWC Second Annual Short Story Competition for unpublished writers, closing 30 April 2009. We are thrilled to announce our judges for this year's competition: Ginny Swart, Lisa Lazarus, Henrietta Rose-Innes, Karen Jeynes and Charlotte Randall. See full details under our competition section below. We'll continue to list new competitions, writing job openings, writing resources and tips as the year progresses. Our goal: make 2009 the year of no-excuses writing and grabbing opportunities.

"Most of us go to our grave with our music still inside us." - Oliver Wendell Holmes
"A year from now you'll wish you had started today." - Karen Lamb 

What would YOU like to have written by December 2009? We'll help you make it happen, every word of the way.
Let's go for it.
NICHOLA MEYER: The Writers’ College Principal

December 2008

It is with gratitude that we review the successes of 2008. Firstly, gratitude towards our students, many of whom have done really well. Our journalism students, in particular, addressed pertinent issues that made us proud, including Virtual Water, Doctors on Cocaine, The Food Crisis, Autism and Diet, The Empty Nest Syndrome, The Life of a Prostitute, Mass Emigration and the Downside of the Emo Movement.
We are also grateful for the large number of entries from the public into our two annual writing contests: it is the greatest reward to see novice writers doing what they have to do to polish their writing - writing.

In the third place, we thank the following companies for their support this year: Highbury Safika, New Media Publishers, Caxton Publishers, SABC, Juta, Associated Magazines, Multichoice, Mediaweb, British American Tobacco, Stellenbosch University, Engel & Völkers, SA Décor & Design, Nedbank, Democratic Alliance, Vital Health Foods, International SOS, Pfizer, Omage Holdings, TWP Consulting, BM Analysts, Natal Museum SA, bs3 and Emperor's Palace. Thank you for your patronage, and we look forward to working together in 2009.
I would also like to thank our tutors at the Writers’ College. Last week we held our SAWC end-of-year function at Starlings in Cape Town, and I felt privileged to share a table with some of SA's top writers - hand-picked professionals who also happen to be great teachers. Again, I am grateful to each member of our team. Thank you for your hard work.
Finally, Candice Kotze, our administrator, deserves a special mention. Few will know that she answers dozens of writing queries each week, has processed about 900 applications this year, and looked after 219 students who studied with us this year. Thank you, Candice, for being on top of the numbers.
In 2009, we are bringing you several new courses, among others, Writing For The Web, Write Your Memoir Course, The Complete Freelancer's Toolkit, The International Travel Writing Course, plus we have just opened The Copywriting Course. Some of our courses are almost five years old now, and are being revamped for 2009. We currently have over 180 modules of course notes, equating to way over 3600 pages of writing tools, tips and expert knowledge in the various fields of writing. An astounding amount of work.
To round off 2008, we celebrate our top five of everything: student achievements, courses, articles, tutor brags and past-student successes. Enjoy the read.
We reopen the college on 2 January 2009. Have a wonderful, restful festive season. Get those batteries re-charged for some spectacular writing in 2009!
NICHOLA MEYER: The Writers’ College Principal

November 2008

The close of 2008 is scurrying towards us. Some of our students are polishing final assignments; many have just finished their courses and others are about to hang their framed certificates. We will showcase their achievements next month in our 'Best Of 2008' December Newsletter, but for now it would be fitting to say that 2008 has been a jam-packed 12 months. We have seen excellent assignments and prolific writing from over 300 beginner writers in South Africa. Well done.
This newsletter presents dozens of writing tips and ways to make money from writing. Take note of the articles from our tutors, Tracey Hawthorne and Leoni Benghiat on writing for magazines, and tax tips, respectively. We include several fun writing competitions with fabulous prizes, so make November a writing month and submit those short stories and poems.
Remember these wise words from Mark Twain: "The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one."

And from Helen Brain - our children's book tutor: "You can line up ten people who want to write a book for children, and it is not necessarily the most brilliant, creative or fabulous person who makes it to the finishing line, holding the published story in their hand. The person who wins, the one who becomes the real writer instead of the wannabe, is the person who is able to keep their bum on the chair until the last rewrite is finished."

So just do it! Happy writing!

NICHOLA MEYER: The Writers’ College Principal

September 2008
The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called "truth". Dan Rather
You are rewarding a teacher poorly if you remain always a pupil. Friedrich Nietsche

We, as tutors at the Writers' College, understand that our beginner writers hazard themselves with every assignment and completed manuscript. Like any artist, a writer's lines reveal hidden prejudices, sophistication betrayed in one word, learnedness in one syllable. Author and critic, Quentin Bell, once said that one's writing "is so much a part of oneself that in delivering it to the public it feels as if one were pushing one’s own child out into the traffic." We get that.
We have students who, I quote, write: "I would appreciate strong and honest criticism that will motivate me to improve my writing in the future. Be very harsh. I can handle it!"
Others nurse their words like a swaddled infant, and we need to nudge carefully when asking them to give up the baby in their arms.
Either way, on our courses, you are signing up for feedback. We are feedback specialists, writing coaches and coaxers. And regardless of your skill, you will receive pages and pages of feedback. Every writer has blind spots and needs coaching, even the Pulitzer-winners.
Our best writers are those who take on our feedback with gusto. They drop the clichés, last week's topics and phrases, they clip their arduous sentences and push themselves to the unnerving precipice of something new…and then they pirouette.
Many of our students this year are no longer pupils, but writers. Leigh-Anne Hunter, who started with us in January, has just had her second article accepted by O Magazine. Noleen Daya has completed her Advanced Course with four excellent articles in her portfolio. Naomi Myburgh had her third article published this month. Peet Steyn has already had two articles published in Wegbreek and he's working on several more that have been accepted. Andrea Meyer has written sixty reviews for worldreviewer.com. Writers like Christo Valentyn, Karen Huxham and Kate Turner have turned professional.
How do we feel about them? As if we have let our babies out into the world.

Happy Writing!
NICHOLA MEYER: The Writers’ College Principal

August 2008

Finding that Big Idea is Free and Easy...
Michael A. Banks is an American author of over 2000 magazine articles and 30 books. He says, “…Getting ideas isn't difficult. You are sitting on a bunch of 'em right now…. Ideas are free and easy. All you need is to be receptive.”
And yet, coming up with the Big Idea is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for new writers. They wonder: “Ok, this interests me, but is everyone going to be equally enthralled to read about the seven lives of my cat, or how to keep potted African violets alive?” Is my idea too wide? Or too narrow? And will the editor buy it? Is it old hat - or too controversial?” And so the doubts go.
Henrietta Rose-Innes, our tutor for the “Write A Novel” Course, comforts her beginner students with the following words:
Some writers know exactly what they want to say, and how, before they start out. For others – most of us – finding those things out is all part of the writing process. So don’t get into a panic if you don’t have a “big idea” to start with, or if you have an urge to write without a clear idea of where you’re going with it. Once you find a topic that inspires and excites you, you will recognise it…. The important thing in the beginning is just to start writing – even if your first attempts are not great, or even good.”
Our newsletter this month is specially devoted to advice to help you generate winning ideas. And remember, finding saleable ideas is simply another skill to master in your writing journey. It does get easier over time, and with practice.
Happy writing about inspiring ideas!

NICHOLA MEYER: The Writers’ College Principal

July 2008

When I wrote my first article for a magazine, writing it was relatively easy. Knowing how to deal with the editor was the terrifying part. My heart thumped in my ears as I emailed my final draft, and I prayed that my cover letter was written in the right format. Then I waited for what seemed like an eternity for a reply from the god of words at the other end of cyberspace.
After checking my Inbox thirty times a day, for seven days, I would have been relieved with any response from the editor, even if she wrote that I had about as much writing talent as Fred Flintstone.
By day eight, and still no word about my precious article, my writing confidence had sunk lower than the ink in an empty pen. I decided to do the all-important follow-up call. This turned out to be a decisive moment in my about-to-be-dumped writing career.
“I didn’t get an article from a Nichola Meyer,” she chimed. “Don’t you want to re-send it?” Hell yes. One follow-up call later, and she had bought the piece.
I wrote the entire Magazine Journalism Course to allay my fear of editors. I reckoned we all needed to know….
  • When do you make the critical call to find out if they received and liked your piece? After one day? One week?
  • How many times can you phone before you cross the fine line between professional eagerness, and being a pain-in-the-butt?
  • How do you know if it is deadline week on the magazine, so the copy editor in the throes of coffee psychosis won’t scream at you?
  • When do you bring up the subject of payment – without sounding like a money-grabbing, impoverished writer (bearing in mind the strange, but often true maxim that the more a writer clamours for money, the less their talent)?

And that’s just for starters. There are many vital things a writer needs to know about keeping their editor happy, like how to manage missed deadlines, rewrites, copyright issues, and how to negotiate big writing deals.
This newsletter brings you a few of the golden rules you need to make and maintain excellent editor-writer relations.
Happy writing!

NICHOLA MEYER: The Writers’ College Principal

May 2008

Type the words “self-publishing” into a search engine, and over 2 million entries pop up on the topic. AuthorHouse, Writerswrite.com, Xlibris, Lulu.com, Authors Online, IUniverse, the list of self-publishing houses can potentially fill pages, and the result - hundreds of thousands of books being self-published right now.
But there isn’t just a fresh proliferation of self-published titles. According to Rachel Donadio, in her New York Times piece, 'What, You’re An Author? Me Too!' last year alone “a whopping 400,000 books were published or distributed in the United States…”. And the graphomania doesn’t end there, as “University writing programs are thriving, while writers’ conferences abound”.
The same article claims that the blog tracker, Technorati, calculates that 175,000 new blogs are born in cyberspace each day. Free time, it seems, is now dedicated to writing for nearly 7 % of Americans, mostly for “personal creative gain”, and the trend is rapidly spreading world-wide.
We’ve witnessed a similar growth spurt at the Writers’ College. Last month we peaked at 32 new students registering on our courses, and way over a hundred applications for April alone. Our student numbers have grown to 278, a figure that seems unreal and far beyond what we expected when we started the college a brief three years ago.
The response to our First Annual Short Story competition was also exciting for us, as over 120 stories streamed in, and we battled to choose our top six. Congratulations to our three winners, Ross Ian Fleming, Widaad Pangarker and Katja Abbott. We will post full critiques by the end of the week. Well done to everyone who entered a story.
April also saw the exciting launch of NZ Writers’ College. Visit our New Zealand school at www.nzwriterscollege.co.nz.
The newsletter this month is devoted to the pernickety art of editing. Whether you write for your own satisfaction, or to “make it” as a writer, we show you how adding those final touches adds immeasurable value to your wriitng. I mean writing.

Take care with your words this month!

NICHOLA MEYER: The Writers’ College Principal

April 2008

We have had students who sweat their way to the end of their course, and then, as we’re about to file their report, they ask us tutors one of those really difficult questions: do we think they ultimately have what it takes to be a writer? For us, this is an impossible question to answer (and that’s not just an excuse to avoid delivering a painful truth).

It’s impossible to answer, because being a writer is not just about how well you string words together, or how incisively you can communicate ideas. Being a writer is a mindset, a longing, a necessity. Being a writer is about possessing an unusual assembly of personal traits, where sheer determination, guts and self-reliance work side by side to keep writers in their seats, at their desks, year in and year out.

So what it takes to be a writer is wholly dependant on what you’re willing to give (or give up) to be a writer.

Writers put in arduous hours of word-polishing, because that’s what it takes to get the job done. There is no magic wand, nor glitterati, accompanying this quiet, solitary task. As author and journalist, Jenna Glatzer, says:

"Great writers are great rewriters. Great writers have the humility to know that they aren't so brilliant that perfect prose drops out of their brain on the first try. They're also patient enough to keep tweaking until there's nothing left to tweak."
And what do you give up? Work colleagues, regular working hours, Christmas bonuses and secure pay, for your love affair with words. So this newsletter is devoted to those of you who simply have to be writers. We have a special emphasis on our exciting competitions this month. Our national Short Story Competition drew well over a hundred entries from the nooks and crannies of South Africa. Our five judges will select the top three entries on 30 April. Well done to all those who entered stories!

We also announce our second annual New Journalist Award, closing date 30 September 2008. Aspirant entrants must please read the article, What Is Magazine Journalism? for style and content guidelines for this tricky-to-master genre of writing.

And finally, Room to Read is currently promoting its first Local Language Publishing Writing Competition, open to all writers over the age of 18, with fantastic prizes. See the details in our competition section.

Happy writing!

NICHOLA MEYER: The Writers’ College Principal

December 2007

This year – 2007 – has been the year that put our writing college firmly on the map. We made news in Die Burger, Beeld, The Star, The Times, on Bizcommunity.com and in People’s Post, among others. We had an influx of well over 100 students. We received more than 500 applications, had 1500+ queries about our courses, and had almost 70 000 hits on our website.

And while we are thrilled by our swelling numbers, we are aware of staying true to our college mission: to provide personalized training for our students, to give them quality guidance that noticeably shifts their writing ability – and gets them published. As one of our most-published students this year wrote: “My writing has improved tenfold!” That is the kind of difference we like to make.

To keep up with the student numbers, we are hiring another administrator, as well as two additional magazine journalists to tutor the Magazine Journalism Course. We will be announcing our new staff members in January 2008.

As this newsletter will focus on the best of 2007, the best part for us at SAWC has been our students. We have loved their unsolicited feedback from recent weeks:
‘I always found your comments very helpful and I feel I learned an astounding amount from you... THANK YOU!!!

‘Take this email as a big, fat hug and a kiss from me, and you can share it with Nichola. Thank you so much! I am extremely grateful to both you and Nichola!’

‘Ek's dol oor die kursus en geniet dit ongelooflik baie.’

‘Nichola, hi. I can’t tell you how pleased I am to have [done] this course - the learnings have and will continue to prove invaluable to me.’

‘Thanks again Nichola, you will never know how much I appreciate everything…many doors have opened up due to this! I certainly will work towards the day when you’ll stumble across an article with my name on it!’

‘With many thanks for everything - you've been an absolute star. You're professional to your fingertips, and very communicative and encouraging.’

‘I want to thank you for making my experience with your college a pleasant one, I have learnt much!’

‘Thanks so much for coordinating such a wonderful course; I enjoyed every second of it!’

Thank YOU to our students for the privilege of training you to be future writers!

A wonderful, restful festive season to all of you! And happy writing for the New Year!

NICHOLA MEYER: The Writers’ College Principal

October 2007

I have a friend who, at age 15, announced: “I want to be a writer”. She wrote articles for her school magazine. She studied journalism at Rhodes. She got a sub-editing job at a publisher, pleased to have squeezed herself into the literary world at a time when jobs were scarce. “It’s great writing experience for me, a stepping stone to my own writing,” she promised herself.

Fifteen years have passed. My friend’s still working there, re-arranging other writers’ paragraphs, correcting their tenses and commas. Her total number of days of dreaming “I want to be a writer”: 7300. Her total number of articles, books, poems, stories, memoirs published during that time: zero.

Dreaming about becoming a writer, no matter how strong your dream, isn’t enough to get you there. Without the courageous action of writing down words, for a reader, your dream remains wishful thinking.

Which brings me to the issue at hand. We have almost 100 journalism students, all aspiring writers, at our college, and 500 newsletter subscribers, yet only one person among these has so far entered the Emerging Journalist Award that closes on 14 October. Here is an opportunity to 1) write an article 2) receive expert feedback 3) receive up to R5000.00 for it and 4) get published. Here’s your chance to be a writer.

We don’t expect a masterpiece (although masterpieces are welcome!). We also know writing isn’t easy, and that you’re likely to doubt yourself, delete every sentence you write six times, and generally feel quite uncomfortable in the beginning. Even the greatest writers feel terror and doubt. Author, E.L. Doctorow, says: “Writers are not just people who sit down and write. They hazard themselves. Every time you compose a book your composition of yourself is at stake.” That’s writing for you!

But what you can be sure of is that we will support you; we want to see you succeed. So this weekend, face the infamous writer’s block. Book off two to four hours, and write a humour or opinion column (700 words), a celebrity profile (1200 words), a how-to (1600 words), or a topical feature (1600 words). Students, if you have an almost-complete draft, finish it and send it in. E-mail me your article on Monday at Nichola@sawriterscollege.co.za.

Go on. Just do it!

NICHOLA MEYER: The Writers’ College Principal

September 2007

A survey of 2461 people across Britain published in The Guardian Unlimited last month found that “more Britons dream about becoming an author than any other job”.

And why not? Writing has to be one of the most accessible art forms. You don’t need a degree to become a writer. You don’t need an apprenticeship to make money from your craft (although it could certainly help hone those skills). You don’t need exotic fabrics, expensive oil paints, a kiln, or a musical instrument to practice your art. All you need is a pen and paper, imagination, and guts. Total cost to get started: less than a few bucks.

So if that's all it takes, why do we find ourselves putting off our dream to write? In this issue, we explore some of the possible reasons that could be stopping you from writing your magnum opus. If it’s a psychological reason, take a peak at the humorous piece, “The Desire To Not Write”. If it’s time, read Beth Mende Conny’s “You DO Have The Time To Write”. If the legalities of writing (and making money from your writing) are a stumbling block, we give you all the answers you need about copyright law, how to make money from re-sales, and how to avoid plagiarism.

So out with that pen and paper, and start writing today!

NICHOLA MEYER: The Writers’ College Principal

August 2007

This month, while the barometer does extreme stunts and you take refuge under cosy covers with your juicy novel, we ask you: What would it take for you to write your own book?

Many of the top writers in the world didn’t start out as novelists. Some first worked as journalists, including big names like Charles Dickens, Albert Camus, Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, Graham Greene, Paulo Coelho and Isabel Allende. Others weren’t even involved in writing for a living at first. Henry James and Franz Kafka had a background in Law; T.S. Eliot and William Faulkner worked in banks for years. D.H. Lawrence and J.K. Rowling were teachers.

Then, at some point, after some catalytic moment, they started work on their first chapter. And the rest is history.

That could be your story, your first chapter. So what is stopping you from writing your own novel or non-fiction work? This winter newsletter provides tips, guidelines and secrets to help you answer that question.

Happy writing.

NICHOLA MEYER: The Writers’ College Principal

June 2007
"I only write when I'm inspired, so I see to it that I'm inspired every morning at nine o'clock." Peter De Vries
If only it were that simple! Most writers who clock in at 9 am every morning know that the most magical thing about inspiration is how quickly it disappears when faced with a blank screen.

Words don’t always come easily; our thoughts aren’t always brainwaves; and rearranging dozens of paperclips into neat piles while we wait for the perfect opening line doesn’t help. Ever.

Those of us who make a business from writing know all about this daily struggle. We know that the laws of creativity defy our disciplined routine, our neat desk and lofty intentions. Look at history and we see that some of the greatest artists produced their finest work in times of crisis, anguish, in fits and starts, at odd hours, and often in squalid conditions. They somehow knew that self-discipline and effective office systems don't control the creative impulse. That creative energy cannot and should not be fought for.

Which brings us to the focus of our June newsletter: how to work with writer’s block and kindle inspiration – during office hours.

Some of our tips will go against your work ethic, but that may be precisely where you need to go. For example, author Beth Mende Conny advises: “Sometimes the best thing you can do for your writing is nothing. Literally nothing…. Walking away is another way of walking towards. With distance comes perspective and rejuvenation, both of which are essential to creative works.”

For those who prefer to face their writer's block head-on, but without the paralysing panic, read John Hayward's excellent piece on what writer's block really is - and how to overcome it. As his piece suggests: Relax. After all, it's just ink.

Happy writing.

NICHOLA MEYER: The Writers’ College Principal

May 2007

It has been said that writers can be divided into two camps: plungers and planners.

Plungers believe that writing is sourced by inspiration. ‘You either have the talent – or you don’t,’ they insist. For them, the writing process consists of just that, plunging right in and jotting down ideas as easily as compiling a birthday wish list. These writers may re-arrange some paragraphs and scrap a few words in a remarkably brief edit, but most run away from scrutiny of their writing as though it were a nuclear meltdown.

Planners, on the other hand, are nitpickers who plan and plot, and may even write from a pre-established map. These writers (and we tend to agree with them!) believe their craft is sourced by perspiration.

Now whatever group you fall into, you cannot escape the basic rules of good writing. Both the impetuous Plunger and the meticulous Planner have to produce writing that, at the very least, makes sense. And that’s where we go to work in our monthly writing tip: working on the logical order of content and structure in your writing.

If you Plungers are starting to glaze over at the thought, remember, our college aim is to make the lives of your publishers, editors, and most important, readers a little easier. It’s not that we don’t believe in the magic of inspired writing. We just believe it takes a calculated approach to achieve it.

As Roy Peter Clark, senior scholar at the Poynter Institute for Journalism (www.poynter.org) explains: Many journalists think the best work is magic. "I could never report and write something like 'Blackhawk Down,' even with all the time in the world," they say. Marathons are run a mile at a time, and journalists grow from understanding the best work as a rational process, a path of steps.

Happy Writing!

NICHOLA MEYER: The Writers’ College Principal

April 2007

Making a living as a writer is a contentious issue, because it depends on how you define “living”. If oysters and Dom Pérignon are your staple luxuries, then being a writer may cramp your style somewhat. It’s not that you can’t enjoy the good things in life now and then (i.e. when you visit your rich friends), just that very few writers conjure up the magic words that turn them from being penny-pinching writers into sterling millionaires.

Most writers are used to a modest lifestyle, and many augment their income with part-time teaching, or writing for several different fields. A writer’s income is also sporadic, depending on article sales or bi-annual royalty payouts for books. So yes, you may nibble on Caspian caviar now and then, but to survive as a writer, you need to be just as happy with beans on toast during the lean times.

However, there is no reason to lapse into the "starving artist" stereotype. This issue of our newsletter is devoted to tips and tools to maximize your income, either as a fulltime writer, or as an after-hours supplement. We also provide ways to tap into the riches that the writing life has to offer.

Happy writing! Happy earning!

NICHOLA MEYER: The Writers’ College Principal