"Write what should not be forgotten." Isabel Allende

A point of departure

Day 2

I have six blogs (five unused); a motley collection of journals filled with ramblings, attempts at poetry, the beginnings of stories, ideas for other stories; a head full of images and descriptions; muses tugging at my attention – the heart of a poet. But I find words fail me when I try to formalise my attempts; they skip elusively beyond my reach, taunting me and trying me. This attempt was exhausting – finding a starting point. Putting pen to paper, or in this case finger to touch screen. Why do I find it so hard to pin them down?

One writing prompt that has helped is Ray Bradbury’s idea that list-making can stimulate creativity. He writes:

“These lists were the provocations, finally, that caused my better stuff to surface. I was feeling my way toward something honest, hidden under the trapdoor on the top of my skull.”

He believed that making lists helped tapped the subconscious and allowed new ideas to flow freely; that the writer would be able to see patterns emerging in the lists that could lead to new ideas, titles, links and more.

He urged aspiring writers to pick one of the nouns from the list and then sit down to write a long prose-poem essay on it.

“Conjure the nouns, alert the secret self, taste the darkness … speak softly, and write any old word that wants to jump out of your nerves onto the page…”

I like this idea. It is a way to bypass rationality, insecurities and fears and to let the words come to life, to let the stories start to reveal themselves and become full-blooded, bold, beautiful narratives.

So, I took a deep breath and jumped…


From start to finish

Day 1

It is hard to make writing a habit. It is hard to finish something you start – to give a story the end it deserves. I am rusty and out of practice; out of the habit and the feel. I don’t even know where to start. I have spent years with pages and pages of unfinished poems and short stories stuffed in my draws  – ideas idly circling like dark crows in my head. The last time I really tried was a year ago. I started writing a story in my favourite red journal. I was diligent. It did not last. Fear is a persistent and loyal companion – my companion.  I need to finish at least one.

I never thought it would be this hard.


As one of my friends recently wrote on his facebook profile, “I owe, I owe, it’s off to work I go.”

For many of us it’s back to mind-numbing traffic, deadlines, too much caffeine, and stress. What I miss most is the sense of freedom I experienced during the holidays riding pillion with my partner on his Suzuki. Although, physically, it is a lot more strenuous than taking to the open road on four wheels (a roof can be very advantageous), it is one way to travel in a more unconventional manner. On a motorbike you become part of the scenery – you can feel the cool shadows of trees growing along the road; you experience the sudden dip in temperature as you pass over a river, and you can smell the rain or mud, the sun-baked tar, or – less poetically – chicken farms, dust and pollution. When you ride, you are more in tune with subtle changes in geography, and each town and city has its own smell and mood.

You can’t help but feel uninhibited and a little devil-may-care with all that horsepower at your disposal. There is an unmistakable nonchalance inherent in the purr of the engine and the smooth way the machine leans into curves, and it’s this feeling – free and a little crazy – that I miss most.

Freedom. To me, it is the colour blue. The midnight black 1967 Chevrolet Impala from the series Supernatural. The immensity of mountain ranges that cradle the sky. Distant horizons. U2, Depeche Mode, and the Stereophonics. Autumn. A wolf’s howl – the siren song of wild and free spaces. And, when I was a young girl, the thrum of traffic outside my grandmother’s small flat in Joburg that lulled me to sleep at night.

Maybe that is why I often associate freedom with movement – a lack of restriction, exploring, road trips and adventuring.

But how do you feel free when the weight of the working world and its rules and routines overwhelms you? Is it even possible to feel free? I hope that freedom can be a state of mind, as well as a long stretch of highway to a new destination; allowing yourself to get lost, swept up and swept away. I hope that freedom can be found in the choices I make to continue following my goals, dreaming big, being spellbound by fiction and imagination, and letting go of the restrictions in my own mind – the fears of failure and inadequacy – letting go of those days of intense frustration over small minutiae and small-minded people.

I hope that freedom is all about perception. On the motorbike we still travel the same highways that we do in the car, but the experience is very different, and I think it is because our perceptions are different – we feel free and defiant – and the road changes for us. It reflects our “biker insouciance” and we experience it as more electrifying.

I hope I can be like a Jedi knight and bend my perceptions to ease the weight of that tedium. I want to find freedom in sharing laughter with my partner, in books, and music and eccentricity, and in being a writer. This has been a long journey for me. In fact, a journey that spans 14 years of my life, starting in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape as a journalism student who went on to spend many years searching for a higher purpose. A purpose that was always with me, but was obscured by faulty perceptions.

I would like to think that I have found some clarity on the back of a Suzuki – with the wind bearing down, and storm clouds racing us on the horizon.

Maybe finding our purpose frees us. Here’s hoping.

Show me the networking

Being a freelance writer and editor entails more than just skill, qualifications and a good turn of phrase – increasingly it includes being a consummate networker – whether it’s on social media platforms or in person, it’s a skill that is invaluable when making new business contacts and securing work – it is also about building a solid reputation and linking up with other professionals in a similar field. I came across the following article on the website, which is a great writing resource, about networking and I think the tips are quite useful for any writer trying to break into freelancing.

These were their top 10 tips for successful networking:

1. Join an online writers’ community or social-networking site. (Facebook or LinkedIn are good starting points.)

2. Become a member of a writers’ association. (In South Africa you could join SAFREA, which is the South African Freelancers’ Association, or the Professional Editors’ Group.)

3. Sign up with a genre-specific writers’ association, such as the Mystery Writers of America.

4. Form or join a writing group.

5. Look up a site for writers of fan fiction, such as

6. Take a writing or literature class or workshop, and keep in touch with the students (and the instructor).

7. Attend writers’ conferences.

8. Attend (or organise) author events, poetry readings, open mics, and other literary gatherings.

9. Cultivate relationships with editors and with other writers. A rejection letter can be a beginning as well as an ending, and freelance writers (and editors) can pass leads on or hand surplus projects off to each other.

10. Develop your networking skills outside the writing realm by joining a civic or professional organisation, volunteering with a nonprofit organisation, or getting involved with a club or a hobby group.


Of course, creating your own blog is another way of showcasing your work, and being active on discussion forums for writing professionals is another way of using other writers as soundboards for your ideas and for getting advice.Where possible list your services on editing and freelancing associations’ sites, or any other sites such as Bizcommunity, where you can list your services for free. And, never underestimate the power of the Internet – if you have the resources available, a personal website is a powerful networking tool.





A freelance writer’s basic guide to SEO

More and more adverts for online writers require a knowledge of SEO, and I thought it was time to do a bit of research. I came across this basic article that outlines some of the key terms involved in search engine optimisation. Now, I just need to find some good tutorials that can guide me through implementing the technique. If anyone knows of any, please feel free to post the link.

“Hands up all those freelance writers who, when scanning the job boards recently, have seen writing gigs looking for copywriters with SEO experience? (should be everyone). Keep your hands up if you don’t understand what SEO is, or if you do, were confused the first time you saw it used? (should still be everyone). And now keep your hands up all those freelancers who have since realised how easy it is to make money writing SEO articles, or who would like to know what it’s all about? (Everyone should still have their hands up).

Yes it’s true, SEO seems like one of those fancy modern phrases, that only applies to tech-minded people, but the reality is very different. SEO has been around for a while; it’s only since the Google revolution has it been defined as an entity. Get your head around SEO, and it can be the source of many lucrative writing jobs.

This article will give you the low down on SEO, what it is, and how you can earn from it.

What is SEO?

SEO is an acronym for Search Engine Optimisation. It is the term to describe the methodology used to boost a website’s rating when it is searched for on an Internet search engine, and the resulting page rank it receives in relation to other related websites. This is achieved through the use of web content and articles enriched with keywords, and meta tags in the structure of the webpage.

Why is it Relevant?

SEO is relevant in the world of e-commerce and online business, and for those involved in the creation of web sites and web content. Because most Internet users don’t browse past the first page of search results they are offered, the higher a website can rank for a given keyword or phrase, the better its chances are of bringing in new customers. Research has shown most users only ever click on the top 5 to 10 results.

Yahoo, MSN, and in particular Google, account for over 70% of all search engine traffic on the Internet, so for an online business this avenue of attracting customers is highly valued.

What is a Page Rank?

Page rank is a way of determining a website’s importance dependent on its desirability and exposure. The term was derived by Google, who developed an algorithm to calculate rankings.

When this algorithm is executed, it determines the number of links pointing to a website, the amount of relevant content it contains, and then assigns it a number between 1 and 10; 1 being the lowest level of rank, 10 being the highest. The higher a page rank, the better chance a website has of appearing at the top of an Internet search result page.

What is a Keyword?

A keyword is a word or phrase an Internet user will enter into a search engine when trying to locate something, i.e., a product or information. For example, a website selling herbal tea will list keywords such as, “herbal,” “tea,” and “tea bags,” etc.

What is Keyword Density?

Keyword density is the numerical factor derived from dividing the number of words on the page of a website, by the number of keywords that are used within it. The more keywords used throughout a web page (and ultimately the entire site), the better the website will rank for that keyword or phrase.

Websites that have too high a density tend be considered as spam by search engines, and may be excluded.

Can’t Website Owners Pay For A Higher Ranking?

It’s not possible to purchase search list rankings, because they are free and calculated through algorithms. Instead, a website must earn its rating over time, and through the use of Internet links and keyword relevance.

It is possible to pay for promotion based on specific keywords or phrases, however these are separate to the free results offered when running a standard search, and usually appear as sponsored adverts.

What Has All This To Do With Freelance Writing?

For freelance writers, this means the appearance of more and more writing gigs looking for writers who are able to write dedicated SEO-rich web copy, related articles, and blogs.

All these methods are aimed at attracting hits and links to a website, thus boosting its rankings, and pushing it up the search ladder. There are two main methods you might be hired to do this.

The first is through the writing of web content for the target site. The aim of this is to attract interested users directly into a website via a landing page. For example, a user will search for the term “herbal tea,” and find their way onto a website that sells it. They will then be able to read all about it and order their favourite brand before they leave.

The second method is through the writing of articles and blogs that are external to the website, but show up in search engine results and guide users towards the main website at the centre of the business. So for example, somebody might search for “Lemon tea” and discover an article written by a freelance writer on the physical benefits herbal tea promotes. The article will contain a by-line or other links throughout it, that direct the reader to the main website so they can purchase lemon tea.

Where there are websites looking for business there will always be a need for writers. Fresh and attractive articles that are written using SEO techniques, and are enriched using keywords in a subtle and sensitive approach, are becoming more in demand. Master SEO writing, and you will never be short of work.”

Source: (Thanks to the author, Colin.)

‘Intrinsic link between free speech and democracy’

This article was taken from the Right2Know website. According to this site, the Right2Know Campaign (R2K) is “a nation-wide coalition of people and organisations opposed to the Protection of Information Bill – also known as the Secrecy Bill – currently before the South African parliament. The Bill will threaten hard-won constitutional rights, including access to information and freedom of expression.



The following interview was published online by Mail&Guardian:

Mail & Guardian: How do you draw the boundaries on the limits of free speech?

Kate O’ Regan: (Justice Kate O’ Regan served as a Constitutional Court Judge from 1994 to 2009)
What is important to realise is that there are limits to free speech. We need only remember the classic American example of shouting fire in a crowded theatre to see why these limits are essential. In the processof drawing these limits we have to rely not only on the Constitution but also on rigorous and open public debate. We are seeing this kind of debate in the UK in the wake of the phone hacking scandal, where individuals and organisations appear to have overstepped the boundaries. We also do not need to go far to see what happens when the right to free speech is restricted. One of the main reasons we value free speech is that there is an intrinsic link between free speech and democracy. In a democracy it is access to information that allows citizens to make informed choices and it is often because of this that authoritarian regimes clamp down on free speech early on.

M&G: How is free speech being undermined in SA at present?

KOR: There are examples of people trying to dominate the conversation through rhetoric rather than answering key questions, and to some extent the press needs to take responsibility to ensure it promotes careful reasoned debate. The unfortunate reality is that abusive speech often sells newspapers, which provides a reason for the media to provide a platform for destructive speech. This is an issue that the media needs to consider on an ongoing basis.

M&G: How important is the Constitution in determining the limits of free speech?

KOR: Rights do impose responsibilities and recently we have seen a string of interesting decisions from the Constitutional Court on the limits of people’s right to speech. South Africa is a very open and audible society and we constantly have to establish where the boundaries of free speech are and what the responsibilities of speech entail. Luckily our Constitution is well worded and this provides some of the guidance that is needed in this respect.However, we shouldn’t only rely on litigation to define the boundaries. People need to assert their own views. The current Right2Know campaign is an example of this.

It matters…

A long time ago I stumbled across a simple little website called Pioneers of Change. On their website, the pioneers write: “All change starts with our perception and understanding of ourselves and our situation. A pioneer needs to think and see possibilities and connections. If we choose to redefine ourselves and others as unique human beings, each with something special to contribute in a world where positive change is possible, then we invite the possibility for transformation.”

Possibilities. Potential. Pioneers. I have always envisioned creating a blog that is a site for wordplay and creativity: a space of potential for stories, ideas, notions, imagination, activism, change and challenges – challenging perceptions, and making connections.

My passions are many – human rights, education, literature, science and technology and the environment – and I would like this space to be a forum where I can write words that matter about topics that should not be forgotten.

Here goes…

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