Thursday, March 17, 2016

Sometimes The Writing Process Involves Getting Things Wrong & What I Do About It

I'd forgotten that sometimes, writing work means getting things wrong.

Your editor, client or whoever has final approval on the piece may have so many queries the hurt from looking at the red-inked tracked changes is almost physical. That was how I felt yesterday.

The PR company I write for sent back an article I wrote for them, and they had at least 10 queries, and when  I read what they said, I realised that I started the writing process with too many built-in assumptions. Even  though the subject was technical (IT, Virtualisation), it's always, always about telling a story and instead of explaining things clearly and concisely, I threw in a lot of "facts" and big words. The resulting input involved  "what do you mean?" "this does not make sense and "give examples please?" Urgh! My poor client, having to read that mess and wondering if I've lost my mind.

And no, I didn't just do a quick and shoddy job on the fly. That kind of problem is whole different kettle of fish.  My great excuse is that the article scope was shorter than I liked for what I wanted to cover (600-800 words) and there was plenty to explain, so I didn't feel like I had room to say too much. Also, I had an underlying attitude of, "This is for tech professionals. I'm sure the readers know the basics of this." Big mistake. Never assume. And I'm not implying that they wouldn't know, but my job is to tell them a story that also imparts information that they can use for their business.

So what did I do?

1. Get over your ego, shaken confidence and hurt feelings - I did mention that I became a blubbering mess inside, right? So I had to calm down, stop the self-blame, which is self-indulgent.I walked the garden, then played an hour of Criminal Case before I was ready to face the page again. Please don't judge me on Criminal Case. I know it's mindless, but sometimes that's exactly what the brain needs.

2. Inform the client that you're on the case - If the problem was a small one or I knew a fix would take less than an hour, I would have simply rewritten it and sent it back. But while the queries were clear, I could see a bigger underlying problem and a complete rewrite was needed.

3. Reread the manuscript and the consider the client input -I printed the article out, as sometimes it's easy for me to miss things on a screen. Then armed with a red pen and my original source documents, I went through the article.

4. Consider the story that you initially wanted to tell - If the article had a few minor queries, I would just have typed in new changes answering the queries and left it at that. But I felt like, while that could pass muster for having answered the queries, this was not the best version of the story I could tell. So I read up on the subject matter all over again, went to bed and slept on it, letting the information marinate in my brain.

5. Focus on what is important- There was pressure from wanting to get it right this time; pressure from wanting to do the writing as quickly as possible, because yes, there is always a deadline. And I had other work planned and the scope of the changes I wanted to make would have an impact on my schedule. I had to remind myself to focus on what I needed to and could do, reschedule and manage everything else.

6. The final fix - It's been raining since last night. Slowly. Quietly. Rain soothes me and makes me happy because I know my garden is being fed. This is especially important to me after a devastating drought this past Summer. So this morning I cocooned in my home office, just me and my computer and lots of herbal tea, and wrote.

6. Once it's gone, it's out of your hands - Once I sent the new version out, I had to mentally let it go. I can't control how this new version will be received and honestly, once it's accepted, it's no longer my baby. A thorough copy-editor will go through it and likely find one or two things I missed. That's what they are there for ... to make a writer's work shine.

Right now blogging about the process is helping me let go. I got it wrong. I learnt from it, and now it's time to open a new manuscript and start another writing process.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

National Library Week Starts Next Week. How Are You Commemorating It?

 Photography by Otshepeng Buckwalter (Baby)
The South African National Library Week starts next week, taking place from the 11 - 21 March 2016. According to the Library and Information Association of South Africa (LIASA), the national launch is to be held on Friday 11 March 2016 in Mandeni, Kwa-Zulu Natal.

"LIASA through its diverse membership is driving the process to make SA Library Week a celebration of our country’s intellectual and literacy heritage.  Libraries across the country use this annual event as an opportunity to market their services to the users, the broader community, civil society and also decision makers," LIASA says on its website
  SA Library Week was initiated in 2001 by LIASA to be a commemorative period recognized by government when all types of libraries across the country use it as an opportunity to market their services in an effort to contribute to the understanding of the important role that libraries play in a democratic society, advancing literacy, making the basic human right of freedom of access to information a reality, and to promote tolerance and respect among all South Africans. 

This year I'm going to join them to commemorate National Library Week:

  • I'm donating some books and magazines to young community members in Phokeng, where I live. We've already started spreading the word at the community meeting and through our WhatsApp group.
  • I'm updating my old free children's stories and poetry blog. So far I've done the look and feel, but I also plan to post some free stories there throughout the Library Week.
  • I'm blogging about National Library Week
  • I would also like to ask you to blog about and encourage reading among our children. It's such a vital skill.

Are you going to commemorate National Library Week? Please share some of your planned activities in the comments. 


Thursday, February 25, 2016

Meet LolanKiki

Kiki is made from light-brown fabric and Lolais fabric is darker
For years my friend Neo Motshumi has dreamt of making and selling LolanKiki, a range of ethnic cloth dolls she designed.

Drawn from all nationalities in South Africa, the dolls are a snapshot of SA tribes, including Zulu, Xhosa, Batswana, Bapedi, Basotho, Ndebele, Venda and Shangaan.

As South Africa is a very diverse country, Neo also included  dolls that represent our Chinese and Indian communities.

Neo and I have been friends since the early 90s, back when we both lived in Mahikeng. Last year we agreed that she should come from Durban to Phokeng for an extended visit with me.

She's a very creative individual and I needed her "out-of-the-box" thinking to spark my own creativity. In return, she needed my very practical nature to ground her as she creates and begins to market her range.

So I converted one of the rooms in my house into her studio. Her first visit was in October and since then she has come and stayed depending on both our whims. The result has been numerous dolls made and sold, with bulk orders to creches and individual orders both nationally and internationally. This is still the very beginning of her business, but finally she's seeing her dream through. I'm very proud of her.

About the dolls

There is a wide variety of outfits to choose from

Lola is made of dark brown fabric while Kiki is made from light brown fabric. Both dolls  have a variety of outfits to choose from, inspired by all SA tribes. There is also Chinese Lola and Kiki, who are yellow/gold and wear kimono-type dresses and Indian Lola and Kiki, who wear a sari or kurti.

The dolls also wear a brooch, necklaces and bracelets made from beads and carry a handbag that their friend can use to store their clothes.

The brooches

The handbag, necklace and bracelet
The package comes in a recycled newspaper gift bag.

Currently, the full package is available for purchase directly from Neo for R350.00. You can email her at to place your order. The dolls are also available on etsy (I've just activated a long-dormant account).

Additional clothes are also available to order for the dolls and can include shorts and tops. You can also choose to buy a custom-made outfit for the child to match the doll's clothes. In such instances, you will need to email Neo to discuss your order. Of course large orders from specialty shops and children's clothing shops are very welcome.  There are several women's sewing projects here in Phokeng, itching to get busy fulfilling orders!

Sample dress
Sample dress 2

As the resident storyteller, my job is to write stories about the adventures of Lola and Kiki and their friends. Medium-term, the stories will accompany Lola and Kiki doll packages and also be sold as stand-alone books.

Buying Info


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With the exception of entries specifically credited to individual authors, the content on this blog is copyrighted by Damaria Senne and may not be reprinted without permission.