Essential Reading for Developing Writers

An old piece of mine from the Capital Letters blog.


— Rachael Nielsen

I don’t have a yacht and I don’t come from money.

The opposite is the assumption when I casually mention that I’ve studied at Oxford. That’s Oxford University in England, yes. (Note: you must mention something like this casually otherwise you sound pretentious). I tend to mention this summer of study and writing fiction when I’m trying to impress boys or if it is of some value to the conversation. As I’m not in a pub nor will this article circulate throughout a dating website, I’m not trying to impress you, it is the latter this time. The Forest for the Trees was required reading before I flew the twenty-six hours to England. It is one of the best books on the process and life of writing, and thus goes on my list for developing writers. This book, as well as the others I will mention, is…

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The well regarded and the brave: a winter recommended reading list


Words by Rachael Nielson

I buy most of my books online and read reviews before purchasing. I’m eyeing off Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride, and The Prince Lestat by Anne Rice. For those of you who, like me, enjoy a recommendation before buying a book, I have put together a currated list of well regarded contemporary and classic books for a variety of reading moods this season.

A Challenge  

You want to use your intellect during weekends in the blue mountains in amongst bush walking and antiquing. Going on a mini break doesn’t mean you’re not up for an emotional and ideological awakening.

candycoverCandy by Luke Davies
Luke Davies has mastered breezy prose and spot on slang. He builds a sense of place which is tangible and often lacking from contemporary literature. Candy gives the…

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Love in the Time of Cholera : Gabriel Garcia Marquez

A vivid review of one of my favourite books.

GloBooks reviews the best in translated fiction


Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a master of lush proses, vivid descriptions and also a literary alchemist who takes all the elements of an epic story and produces a novel that will leave you enchanted. Set on the exotic Caribbean coast at the dawn of the twentieth century, it tells the story of this seemingly hopeless teenage romantic Florentino Ariza and the object of his affection, the beautiful and mysterious Fermina Daza. Set in a time where Cholera, a disease which ravages towns and leaves death in its wake. and certainly a metaphor for the power and madness of love.

From the moment he first sees her, he is consumed with love and desire for the beautiful Fermina and is completely intoxicated with love or certainly what he feels is undeniably love. Marquez is beautifully skilled as a writer and leaves you with an immersive read. He is someone who understands…

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The Devil is in the Details: On Descriptive Writing

The Daily Post

We often hear that we should “show, not tell” — that we should paint a detailed picture for our reader that lets them see what’s happening, rather than simply narrating.

Easier said than done! All details are not created equal: some detail throws a barrier between the reader and your story, and some detail is (ironically) not detailed enough. How do you tell whether a detail helps or hurts? Here are four things to keep in mind when you’re writing descriptively, and some writers who illustrate them perfectly.

Good detail is relevant.

Including every detail is the written equivalent of your friend who can never get to the point of a story because he can’t remember if it happened on Tuesday or Wednesday, or if it was 1 PM or 2 PM, or if the car was red or blue. Good detail is relevant to the point of your post.

Writer beware! Not…

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The Freelance Life: Revisiting a Writers’ Roundtable

The Daily Post

Earlier this year, we talked to four professional writers about the freelance life, getting paid to write, and writing for free and exposure. If you missed it the first time, be sure to read this roundtable, full of great advice for new and aspiring writers in particular.

Here are highlights from the Q&A:

Give us a breakdown of your typical day.

Every day is different. I start by reading the New York Times. I listen to BBC World News or two great WNYC radio shows, The Brian Lehrer Show and The Leonard Lopate Show, from which I get story ideas and learn about the world.

I start work by 10:00 am — I’m not a morning person! If I’m working on a story, and usually several at once, I’m seeking sources, conducting interviews, writing, reading, or revising the pieces and answering questions from my editors.

Like most working…

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“Make glorious, amazing mistakes.”

The Daily Post

In Neil Gaiman’s now famous 2012 commencement speech at the University of the Arts, he offers some excellent advice to free us from perfectionism, imploring us to simply create — to make art — no matter what. What’s wonderful about this advice is that it applies to any creative endeavour, regardless of whether your art form is writing, drawing, painting, sculpting, or découpage:

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good…

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Declutter Your Prose: Three More Phrases to Avoid

The Daily Post

In the spring, we noted some examples of phrases that might be distracting or unnecessary in your prose. Since many of you found these suggestions helpful, here’s another round of phrases to avoid:

1. In today’s blog…

Interested in more blog vs. post discussions? Read Slate’s take, Meg Pickard’s note on terminology, and Kristen Havens’ semantics lesson.

blog is your site, posts and pages and all. What you probably meant to write is: “In today’s post…” Or: “In today’s blog post…” Posts make up the content you create on a regular basis, while your blog is your complete online home, your site, on which you publish your posts.

That said, think back to other introductory phrases we’ve talked about: “In this post, I will explain…” or “Today, I will write about…”

This phrase, too, is unnecessary:

In today’s blog, I’d like to share some of the best…

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Could you be our next Blogger in Residence?

Going to be applying for this!


Art Expo Flyer

Could you be the next  ACT Writers Centre Blogger in Residence?

We are looking for creative individuals to pen our blog for a period of 3 months, open to writers wanting to whet their writing appetites or expand their portfolios. You will be producing content in the form of interviews, short writing related articles, and anything else you may be inspired by at the time (we will be open to your pitches).

You will be aiming to produce a post every 1-2 weeks that will go up on the ACTWC blog. We will be here to guide you along the way, and help you source people you might want to interview. This is an unpaid position, but at the end of the 3 month stint you’ll have new connections, experience and a collection of online published writing.

Have a look around and if you are interested, send an application to admin(at) with a sample of your writing, topics you…

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15 Words in Other Languages with No Direct English Equivalent


Found in Translation‘ is an ongoing series that highlights words in other languages with no direct English equivalent. The illustrative posters are done by Anjana Ilyer, a Mumbai-born graphic designer currently based in Auckland, New Zealand.

Anjana’s goal is to do 100 of these illustrations in 100 days. You can see the entire series to date on Behance.

1. Iktsuarpok (Inuit)

words in foreign languages with no english equivalent (15)

Artwork by ANJANA IYER
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Behance

2. Mamihlapinatapei (Yagán)

words in foreign languages with no english equivalent (11)

Artwork by ANJANA IYER
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Behance

3. Tsundoku (Japanese)

words in foreign languages with no english equivalent (17)

Artwork by ANJANA IYER
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Behance

4. Pochemuchka (Russian)

words in foreign languages with no english equivalent (8)

Artwork by ANJANA IYER
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Behance

5. Schadenfreude (German)

words in foreign languages with no english equivalent (10)

Artwork by ANJANA IYER
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Behance

6. Ilunga (Tshiluba)

words in foreign languages with no english equivalent (6)

Artwork by ANJANA IYER
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Behance

7. Friolero (Spanish)

words in foreign languages with no english equivalent (9)


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Mistake # 62: Letting your work expire.

What Not to Do as a Writer

Today’s guest post courtesy of Annie Neugebauer.

When Lisa asked me to do a guest blog, I was tickled but stumped. Not because I’m so arrogant as to think I’ve never made a mistake. Far from it. It was more along the lines of, “How am I going to think of one that Lisa hasn’t already discussed?” Because honestly, Lisa does a pretty damn good job here (as you know, since you are likely one of her regular readers), and I make the same mistakes every other writer makes.

I began going through some of my old writing files trying to pinpoint a mistake that hasn’t already been covered but is still worth sharing. I’ve made dozens of mistakes. Maybe hundreds. My god, some of that stuff is embarrassingly bad. And to think that I was actually pleased with these works at the time. Proud, even. Cocky.

And that’s when…

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