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What does a Writer do?

Writers are involved in the creation and development of works of fiction and non-fiction. This covers various forms of writing, including poetry, short stories, novels, life writing, scripts for theatre, screen and radio, magazine and newspaper articles, and web content. New media is also opening doors for writers in areas such as mobile phone content and computer game scripts.

A writer’s work could include:

  • choosing a subject based on personal or public interest, or on a commission given by agents or publishers
  • coming up with themes, ideas or plots
  • researching information using the internet, libraries and personal interviews
  • editing, revising and reviewing work especially in response to feedback
  • marketing and distributing work
  • liaising with publishers, agents, script editors, producers and directors
  • talking about your work at events and conducting readings or book signings
  • developing an understanding of copyright law
  • negotiating terms and conditions of contracts.

What qualifications do I need?

There is no set entry route to become a writer. You may need specialist knowledge, depending on the type of writing you do. Most academic qualifications help develop strong writing skills, and provide a good grounding in grammar and the structure of language. Beneficial subjects are English and literature studies, communication and media studies, creative writing, journalism, and performing arts. Postgraduate courses typically combine academic study with practical experience and mentoring. Pre-entry experience in related industries such as bookselling, publishing, film or television may be helpful. It is important that writers build up a portfolio of work (published or unpublished) in order to have material to showcase to potential publishers or contacts.

What subjects do I need?

Contact each institution for their specific requirements, but these subjects are recommended: 
• English
• Drama


Where can I study?

strong>University of Pretoria
Bachelor of Arts: Languages (specialising in Journalism)

University of Johannesburg
Bachelor of Arts: Journalism or Languages

University of the Free State
Bachelor of Arts: Communication

University of Stellenbosch
Bachelor of Arts: Languages or Journalism

Bachelor of Arts: Languages

North-West University
Bachelor of Arts: Communication or Journalism

University of the Western Cape
Bachelor of Arts: Communication

Cape Peninsula University of Technology
National Diploma: Journalism

Tshwane University of Technology
National Diploma: Journalism

Durban University of Technology
National Diploma: Journalism

Where can I get more info?

Academic and Non-Fiction Authors’ Association of South Africa (ANFASA) – www.anfasa.org.za
South African Writers’ Network (SAWN) – www.sawn.co.za
Southern African Freelancers’ Association (SAFREA) – www.safrea.co.za
Writer’s Guild of South Africa – writersguildsa.org


Interview with a Writer

Susan Mann | WRITER | Self-Employed

Susan Mann | WRITER | Self-Employed


Why did you choose a career as a writer?
I grew up in a house full of books. My mother was a librarian. I’ve loved writing since I learned to read. I also really value the freedom that working from home affords a freelancer.

What training did you undergo and where?
I studied languages at the University of Natal. A little later I did an English Honours degree through UNISA. And some time later I did an MA in Creative Writing at UCT. But the best advice I received was from a newspaper editor who lived next door. He told me that if I wanted to write I should not study journalism, but something that interested me. I should find out what’s going on out there, try out different ways of thinking. He believed you could not be taught to write, but you could be encouraged to think. I think he was right.

Describe your typical day
There is no typical day, that’s the best part. If you have a deadline you can work well into the night to meet it. But if you don’t, well… you can head off to the beach, or canvas for more work, or write a novel. I love the flexibility.

What do you enjoy most about your work?
The flexibility. The creativity. Even though not all writing work is creative. I once had to edit legal statutes.

What don’t you enjoy?
I don’t like not having the luxury of a reliable paycheck at the end of each month.

What hurdles have you had to overcome?
Getting rid of those voices that say you cannot make money as a writer.

What’s been the highlight of your career to date?
Having my two novels published, and the ripple effects of that.

What are your future goals?
To write more fiction.

In your line of work, is experience as important as formal training?
It’s more important.

Is there a type of personality best suited to this work, or certain traits one should (or should not) have?
I think it helps to be a person who listens. Not only to what the world is saying, but to what it’s not saying too. It’s important to be able to listen to your own voice, not only other opinions, to the rhythms of your own sentences. Keeping a journal helps.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in your career?
Decide what ‘making it’ as a freelance writer means to you. Then find a way to give yourself two years to get there. Keep notes on the journey.

Describe your job in three words
Liberating • Satisfying • Creative