2016 has been… worthy of many different adjectives, I’d say.

It’s been a humdinger of a year for the world between political upheaval, celebrity deaths and various other plot twists. Personally, it’s been a challenging year, but one that’s yielded many lessons and opportunities nonetheless.

As I prepare to leave for a holiday to celebrate my 10th wedding anniversary with my long-suffering husband, I’m quite ready to say cheers to 2016, but I guess I do have to say thank you too.

So, to 2016, thanks for:

  • The opportunity to compile the narrative for this-here-little-book, Glory Game: The Joost van der Westhuizen Story. This was one of the most rewarding projects I have worked on to date. Learning about motor neuron disease was interesting, but learning how Joost van der Westhuizen and those close to him have dealt with this debilitating condition with grace and humour has been inspiring. The hard copy books hit shelves this weekend, so please do look out for them.
  • Teaching me that no risk = no reward. I owe a great debt of gratitude to Rebecca L Weber and her Freelance Writer Bootcamp for teaching me to reach beyond my Imposter Syndrome and take a chance on pitching stories to publications I want to write for. Taking the risk has resulted in being able to write a story I’ve wanted to tell for two years now in two different ways for two publications I have always wanted to write for. I’m hoping 2017 brings more of the same.
  • Reminding me what’s truly important. This year has shown me the value of true friendship and love time after time. Whether it was through a dear friend suffering great tragedy in her family or dealing with what felt like massive stumbling blocks in my own relationships, 2016 has been a stark and sometimes painful reminder that when life gets tough, money, success and “stuff” doesn’t mean much. What counts is faith, friendship and family.
  • Occasionally giving me the boot up the rear end that I needed. I’ve been accepted into the GIBS / Bloomberg Financial Journalism Programme for next year. I am utterly terrified, but hugely chuffed. I would never have applied if it wasn’t for a push from my dear friends at Crazy Grape Media.
  • Introducing me to new people, ideas and experiences. 2016 has sometimes overwhelmed me and sometimes made me question humanity, but it has also showed me that there is ALWAYS room to learn and grow, and that it’s worth stopping to listen to other people’s opinions (even when they are diametrically opposed to mine). They just may have a valid point. I have learned (although I still forget sometimes) not to shut myself off to unlikely possibilities. I have met a business partner in a sewing lesson and discovered that having someone you love betray you can open up a path for a more honest, deeper relationship in future. I have learnt that professional relationships can develop into lifelong friendships, competitors can become collaborators and that Twitter is a great freelance job market. I have been challenged to take on jobs that push me to learn new skills and forced to admit that, sometimes, the best thing I can do is come clean that I am clueless and find a partner that has skills that fill my own gaps.
  • Leaving me alive and kicking. I won’t lie – 2016 was not my favourite year. But here I am, alive and ready to take on 2017. And not just alive, but ready to make next year a better year. Or at least to try. Because at the end of the day (or, in this case, the year), the best we can all do is to look back, see what we can learn and try to do better the next time round.

Wishing you and your loved ones a beautiful, blessed Christmas if you celebrate it, and a wonderful holiday period making memories with the people who are important to you. May 2017 be good to you.

Please note that Word Chef will be closed from 15 December 2016 to 9 January 2017.


One of the things I love about freelancing is the variety it affords. I’ve written feature articles on everything from musician profiles to start-up marketing advice, whisky collecting, the state of gender equity in local business and even perfume bottle design. I feel like I get to learn something new every day!

Sometimes, however, I get the chance to work on something that really is completely outside my comfort zone. It’s been one of those seasons for the last few months. I’ve had to chance to:

  • Ghostwrite an exciting book that should be launched in time for Christmas
  • Contribute a number of chapters to various academic textbooks
  • Deliver a custom report writing workshop for equity analysts and economists at a bank through a new business partner
  • Pitch a human interest story I have wanted to write for a couple of years to a magazine I’ve always wanted to write for (and have it commissioned – yay!)

I’m looking forward to sharing news of these projects over the next few months, but for now I wanted to take the time to reflect on the benefits of taking on new work that scares you a bit. This season has reminded me of how important it is to be a little terrified once in awhile.

I am terrified of deep water and always almost bail when we go snorkeling. After the panicking, I thoroughly enjoy it and am glad I did it. Work that scares you is just like that.

I am terrified of deep water and always almost bail when we go snorkeling. After the panicking, however, I thoroughly enjoy it and am always glad I did it.
Work that scares you is just like that.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. Being open to the new means sometimes having to let go of the old. It’s helpful to take stock every now and then to see what’s working and what isn’t in your business, and to ditch what’s not. There’s no room for new growth if you hang on to habits / products / client relationships that aren’t working anymore.
  2. Learning new skills or tackling new types of work is invigorating. If you find yourself stuck in a rut or bored with what you do, look for opportunities to try something new, even if they scare you a bit. Challenging work makes you engage your brain differently.
  3. If you don’t take the risk, there’s no chance of the reward. I am not advocating taking risk for the sake of it, but being willing to put aside your imposter syndrome for long enough to give something a go. What would you do if you weren’t scared to do it? Do you think you could do it even while being scared? If yes, go for it!
  4. “Scary” work always provides a learning opportunity. You may need to do some research or up-skill yourself before you tackle the work, but don’t forget about what happens when it’s over too. Whether you feel you’ve succeeded or failed, you can learn something from it. Sometimes there are elements of success and failure – things that worked and things that didn’t. Work through these so that next time you can adjust how you tackle the work.

What have you learned from taking on work that terrifies you a little?

It’s been an incredibly busy season for me this last while. Whenever people ask me how I’m doing and I tell them that, they inevitably say, “Well, that’s a good thing, isn’t it?”

As a freelancer, yes – it is, generally. But there’s a difference between a good level of humming along with lots on the go and working until 2.30 in the morning because there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. And my busy has been tilted towards the not-so-good kind this last while.

After a decade of working to article deadlines and six years as a full-time freelancer, I have become much better at managing my time, learning how much I can take on, and saying “no” to unreasonable projects / clients (or even wonderful projects that I just don’t have capacity to do at the time). I mostly stick to my limits. This protects me from burnout and ensures I am able to deliver on time and meet the client brief.

Sometimes, however, life doesn’t play along with my planned production schedule. There are so many reasons that this can happen – many out of my control. There have been a few of these sorts of mini-dramas during this latest busy season:

  • People stood me up for interviews on the eve of my story deadline.
  • A client moved the goalposts on a seriously big project, but the deadline stayed the same.
  • There were some changes in roles and responsibilities at a charity I work with, and we had to spend some lots of time sorting through the ensuing new processes.
  • I somehow managed to get shin splints in my left leg (???) and had to find time to fit in a good few hours of physio during the work week.
  • There was a bunch of complex financial admin that I needed to sort out in-person by a specific date.
  • I took on a project in a field I’ve never worked in before, and underestimated how much time it would take me to research and understand the subject matter.

None of these things was a big deal on its own. But, Murphy being a jerk, they all happened together, along with a slew of rush jobs and personal challenges. And it was not fun. There were lots of 16-hour days and working weekends. In fact, I have injured the tendon in my right hand from spending so many hours typing. I must be the only person I know who has contracting a typing injury. It’s a little bit ridiculous.

Check out my keyboard in the pic and you’ll see it is being worked to death well used! I put keyboard decals on the keys three weeks ago because the letters had worn off. As you can see, the stickers haven’t lasted too well either.


Now that things have slowed down to a less frenzied level of madness, I’m looking back at this crazy time to see what I can learn from it. There are a few things I could have done better, and there are also the good things that got me through this period, which I want to reflect on and try to do more of when life gets overwhelming again.

Here they are, to remind me, and in the hopes that they might help you too:

Behaviours that don’t help when work is too much:

  • Panicking. It just makes things even scarier than they are. Next time, I’m going to try to panic less, pray more and breathe deeply. Panicking actually makes me less productive because my mind gets stuck running through the “what ifs” instead of the “what nexts”.
  • Being a martyr. I come from a line of strong, stoic people. That means I want to be strong and stoic too. I don’t like to admit when I am struggling. Instead of asking for help, I have a tendency to just push myself harder, which is fine until I get sick (this almost always happens when I am super stressed). I need to learn to ask for help earlier. And that there is no shame in asking for help. Or making things a little easier for myself. A good example: I asked a client if we could do a Skype meeting instead of me having to drive through to his office, which saved me an hour in traffic. He didn’t mind at all, so I think that might be the way we do meetings from now on.

Strategies that do help during tough work times:

  • Leaning on a good support system. I have the most wonderful family and friends. I enjoy helping them whenever I can, and sometimes I forget that they feel the same way about me. My husband was a star while I was frantic with work. He did the shopping and quite a bit of the cooking (we usually cook together), and although he didn’t enjoy not being able to have much “us” time, he kept reminding me that he understood, which really helped. My folks also listened patiently to a few tearful meltdowns and gave me space to work in peace at their home over a long weekend, which meant I could forget about cleaning, meals and chores, and just get on with it. Sometimes I feel like I have to have it all worked out, and I appreciate the people in my life who love me when that’s clearly not the case. Hanging out with them is so important. As a freelancer in South Africa, I also lean on the wonderful Southern African Freelancers’ Association, Safrea. The members have helped on countless occasions with finding last-minute interviewees, putting an end to scope creep and generally staying semi-sane.
  • Finding people who’ve faced (and overcome) similar challenges. I took a break the one day, smack in the middle of project mayhem, to have lunch with a friend who also freelances, even though it really didn’t feel like there was time for it. It turned out to be the best way I could have spent that hour and a half! I left feeling refreshed and calm, having spoken honestly to someone who understands the challenges I deal with and has faced them herself. Chatting to someone who has come through the same issues helps me to believe that I will get out on the other side when I’m not sure I can make it. And it’s also helpful to hear how other people deal with the same challenges – there is much to be learned from others’ survival strategies.
  • Tapping into faith. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my dry seasons of faith tend to overlap with my seasons of feeling overwhelmed in life. When I feel like there’s not even enough time to pray – that’s when I most need to pray! I feel like I need to have this tattooed on my right hand (the one with the injured tendon from typing, which would be apt). Even if I didn’t believe in God, I think the act of slowing down, breathing and focusing, and then articulating my feeling, need or thought (that’s sort of how I like to pray) would be helpful. The fact that I believe my prayers are heard and answered obviously brings a whole new level to this, but even if you don’t believe, you might just find trying to pray is beneficial.
  • Fighting tunnel vision. It’s easy for a big project or a tough period to take over. I call this “eating my life”, which is what certain projects have done before. They seem so big and impossible that I struggle to think about anything else. In the long term, however, they probably won’t matter that much. I try to remember this so that I don’t waste my best energy stressing about something that’s not going to be hugely significant in the overall context of my life. I’ve found that I have to be intentional about this, which means reminding myself about what is important, especially when I’m under pressure. Will this matter in a year? No? Then I’m not letting it eat my life now!

I’d love to hear what gets you through tough work times, or if any of these notes above helps you during a mad period. Leave me a comment or drop me a mail.

April’s been an interesting month for me, with a number of different projects on the go. I’m splitting my time between developing a custom business writing workshop for a client, finishing up some textbook chapters and researching a non-fiction book I will be ghost-writing. This is in between writing website copy for two new clients and doing the usual magazine and content creation for my regulars.

Most of the work I’m busy with at the moment has a business focus, so I’ve found myself looking at the common mistakes people make when it comes to their business copy and content, and thinking about what makes great writing stand out.

If you and I were sitting down together with a cup of coffee and discussing these things, here are the seven steps I would likely give you if you wanted to improve your business content:

  1. Stop talking to yourself. Often, businesses become too inwardly focused with their content. They want to tell everyone about what they do, how they do it and what makes them special. They use jargon and they assume that everyone understands their industry like they do. Instead, they should be focusing on their target audience. Who are they targeting, what questions do those people want answered and what problems do they want solved? Businesses need to answer those questions and tailor all their content accordingly. Remember – if you’re developing a company website or brochure, you are not the primary target audience! Write for the people who are.
  2. Don’t try to say too much in one go. We’ve all been told how people’s attention spans are getting shorter and how the advances in mobile technology mean people quickly scan content rather than reading it thoroughly. While I believe that there is still a place for long-form content, your business website or company profile is probably not it. I get it – you’re passionate about your business and believe that everything you’ve developed serves a purpose and is important to what you do. It’s holistic, integrated and end-to-end (those seem to be the trendy words at present). But giving your customer all the available information at once can be completely overwhelming. Remember that the customer is usually not a specialist in your field. He or she is more interested in whether or not you can solve the problem (and how much it will cost). The details can come later. This is especially important on your website home page or company newsletter. Don’t try to shove in eight different ideas or messages. You just dilute your overall impact. Prioritise what’s most important to say and communicate only that.
  3. Stop, collaborate and listen. Often, businesses view their communications efforts as a one-way process. If they are missing the point with their target market, they will never know. Provide communications channels where your customers can talk with you, and then listen. Don’t send out stock standard form responses and never go beyond that. Show your customer that he or she has been heard and that the views shared have been taken into account. Use tools like feedback surveys or regular check-ins to find out how you’re doing in terms of your content, and use the responses you receive to keep improving on what you’re doing.
  4. Kill the buzzwords. Innovative. Unique. Disruptive. Ugh. You know what’s not innovative, unique or disruptive? Using the same words that everybody else is using. Chuck them out. Your copy will be better and you won’t have to keep updating it to keep up with the ever-evolving corporate nonsense trends.
  5. Use plain language. Bigger words are not necessarily better ones. Business writing is not a game of Scrabble. I can’t tell you how often I come across convoluted copy that businesses think sounds impressive, but actually jut confuses their clients. I find this is a particular problem in professional services businesses. Here’s a great (terrible?) example from Gawker that shows just how a business can get so caught up in saying things “impressively” that it manages to say nothing at all. Try this exercise: fit your message into the 160 characters that Twitter would allow. As one of my journalism lecturers used to tell us, if you can’t fit your story idea (or message in this case) into a single sentence, you don’t have a clear enough understanding of what you want to say.
  6. Get some help. Ideally, hire a professional writer to assist you with your copy and content. You are likely an expert at what you do, but not necessarily at writing about it. Writers are trained to communicate ideas using words. A good writer will be able to help you get your point across to your customer clearly and professionally. He or she will also be able to assist with avoiding problems like spelling mistakes, ambiguity and poor flow, all of which can damage a customer’s perception of you and your business. If you really, truly can’t afford a writer or are set on doing the writing yourself, at least get someone else to read through your writing before publishing or printing it. We tend to read what we think we’ve written, not what’s actually on the page. It’s easy to miss a small typo or repetition, especially after reading something multiple times. An extra set of eyes may pick up mistakes you’ve missed.
  7. Regularly check that your content is up-to-date. I deal with a fair number of people who want their business content rewritten in a big hurry because it’s hopelessly outdated and having a negative effect. Some businesses have changed the services they offered and come to me for a website rewrite because they are getting irrelevant sales queries due to outdated copy. Others urgently need a 20-year old CV rewritten for an interview (which ends up costing them quite a bit because CV writing has changed substantially in the last two decades and it means essentially starting from scratch). Whatever the case, businesses and business people can save themselves time, money and admin by keeping their content up to date. Technology changes, trends shift and businesses grow (hopefully). As things change, content should be updated to ensure it remains accurate. Like you’d schedule a car for an annual service, you should diarise a regular “content check”. It’s easier to make small changes as you go along than to have to rewrite everything after a lengthy period.

These are just a few thoughts from my business writing and editing experience. I’d be interested to hear what business owners and other writers say. Feel free to drop me a comment or to get in touch.

I have always wanted to take good photos. I nagged my parents for a camera from when I was about five or six years old. I still remember the first one I owned – it was a kiddie friendly point-and-shoot film jobbie that was shaped like a clown’s face. It’s the only clown I can ever remember having an affinity with (I don’t quite suffer from full-blown coulrophobia – a phobia of clowns – but let’s just say I am not a fan).

Clowns / people in masks... they're scary!

Clowns / people in masks… they’re scary!

From then on, I snapped away, handing my poor mother one roll of film after another for processing. I think the clown camera  conveniently broke at some point, but I then started buying those throwaway cameras with my pocket money instead.

In high school, I asked for a decent camera of my own for my birthday and was gifted a beautiful little Olympus compact camera. I took it with me when I did an exchange programme in Australia, and despite dropping the thing in Sydney and damaging its auto focus, I just kept snapping. This resulted in a full album of blurry images and an ensuing game of “guess who’s in this picture”.

For my 21st birthday, my uncle, Dave Esmonde-White, who was then an amateur photographer (he’s recently turned pro), granted my wish and paid for me to do a basic photography course at the Cape Town School of Photography. He also gave me his old Ricoh SLR film camera. I remain grateful for both of these things.

It was my first SLR (single lens reflex) camera and it opened up a new world to me. I finally started to learn how to control the camera to get the image I wanted from my head on to the film. I remember the magical feeling of picking up my processed images and flipping through them and occasionally finding that almost perfect shot. It’s something I will always miss about film.

Yay for starting to understand depth of field!

Yay for starting to understand depth of field!

Then I finished my degree, got married the week after I graduated and started working as a junior copy writer. Like many newlyweds, my husband and I were living mainly on love and Salticrax, so getting photos developed was a luxury I couldn’t really afford at that point. I got a little Canon digital compact camera and mainly took weekend snapshots that stayed on my computer and never got printed.

In 2010, again for a birthday, my wonderful parents gifted me my first digital SLR – a Nikon D3000. Since then, I’ve done a few courses at the College of Digital Photography here in Johannesburg, and tried to improve my photography skills. I’ve bought a proper tripod, a second lens and a bit of other camera equipment, and I’ve learned to occasionally get up early (I am SO not a morning person) to chase the best light.

2014-09-29 09.59.33

Sometimes it is actually worth getting up early!

The more I learn, however, the more I realise how little I know. I am still such a beginner! And for some reason I find it very difficult to “put my photos out there”. It feels like sharing a bit of my soul and opening it to judgment. I’m used to sharing my writing because that’s what I do every day and I have some confidence that if I wasn’t an adequate writer I wouldn’t still be eking out a living from writing. But photography is another matter entirely!

This year, when setting some goals and re-looking my dreams, I was forced to admit that I am being a bit of a wuss.

So I have taken a brave and bold step (or so I keep telling myself – it fells more like mad sometimes). I have joined Snapwire – a stock photography site that aims to “make photography human again”.

It’s been enlightening:

  • I have been so inspired by the photographers showcasing their work. It’s given me new ideas and made me want to pick up my camera more often to try new things.
  • I have been challenged by the photo requests that come through from Snapwire clients. Again – this gets me photographing more often and taking photos that aren’t same-old same-old (like the millionth picture of my three cats!).
  • I have started to see my photography style as I create a portfolio. It’s always easy to spot someone else’s style, but I didn’t think I had a particular bent myself until now. It’s become apparent that I really like colour. And finding fun ways to shoot everyday or boring subjects. I’m so not the “washed matt hipster instagram photo feel” type. And I’m okay with that!

That’s my photo journey so far. I hope it keeps progressing. I’d like to be able to sell my feature articles with photos to boot one day. Shew… I can’t believe I am going to publish that statement. It kind of makes it real if it’s “out there”.

Well, so be it! Here’s to new adventures in painting with light!

PS: you can see my Snapwire portfolio here.

Snapwire portfolio small

Travel is one of my great passions in life. I have been fortunate to visit some interesting places, from a ghost town in Namibia where the sand dunes have swept into the old homes, to the largest firefly colony in the world near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Travel writing is tricky, however. Unfortunately, cliches abound in this genre – possibly more so than in any other (well, excepting maybe sport). But I have recently begun to explore the possibility of channeling some of my love of travel into short features, and I am grateful to Caroline Hurry at Travel Write for providing me with a platform. Here are some of the blog posts I have shared:

  • Swaziland Gifts: on hitting the craft trails in the Southern Hemisphere’s smallest country.





For many years, I have been searching for a business name that “fits right”. I wanted to choose something that would show I’m serious about the craft of writing and that I really love words, without resorting to cliches (or stealing someone else’s name, seeing a lot of very cool names have already been nabbed).

One morning, at about 3am, my brain was stumbling from idea to idea when the name Word Chef came to me. A chef is someone who is able to take a group of ingredients and turn them into something delicious through skillfully balancing flavours and making use of various techniques.

It struck me that as someone who loves to write and to cook, that’s what I want to do for my clients, but with words. I want to take a group of words and ideas and turn them into something that whets the brains’ appetite. I want to turn my passion for all things wordy into creative, tasty copy that keeps clients coming back for more.

And so, out of my desire to bring seasoning to great stories that need telling, Word Chef was born.