The Tannie Maria books have become a favourite of people everywhere, and writers marvel at the writing expertise within the literary works. 

As writers, we often look to the veterans and works of others to help and guide us to become better.

After all, every writer wants to improve! 

Alrika Möller from media update spoke to Sally Andrew to get her top writing tips. 

How do you overcome writer's block when it strikes, and do you have any advice for writers facing the same challenge?


I find this a strange and unhelpful term, and I don't see it's equivalent in other professions. Builders block? Surgeon's block? Perhaps because I don't really believe in it, I have never experienced it. 

Sometimes sitting down to work is difficult, but once I am in the chair, I write. It may not be easy or brilliant, but I write something. If I need to make plans or read back on my notes or previous writing, I do so

I write a 'treatment' — a couple of lines summarising each chapter, as I go along, and this quickly reminds me where I am. I also have an advanced treatment: a line or two describing the next chapter or two.  If I need to take a break, I do so.


What role does research play in your writing process, and how can writers effectively incorporate research into their work?


This varies. Often, I can plot my whole novel first and do the research after. But sometimes I need to do the research early on to ensure there aren't any big plot holes

Much of my research is experiential (as I live in the same area where my books are set). I also have a lot of kind and helpful experts who advise me (activists, botanists, lawyers, doctors, chefs, policemen and fashion designers) and books written by experts

If I have questions, I prefer talking to people (or emailing them) to online research. It's more fun and personal. Also, I have no reception in my Karoo home, so I can't just jump online.  

Oom Google can take you down so many rabbit holes, and some are dead ends. I will use him to check things at the end … Or when all else fails.


Storytelling is a crucial aspect of captivating writing. What are your techniques or strategies for crafting compelling narratives?


Great characters who want something they haven't got. A gripping plot, full of suspense, mysteries, clues and humour. A setting you want to spend time in. Layers of personal, political and criminal challenges. 

Dialogue that gets to the core of the matter. Sensual descriptions (i.e. using all the senses). Tension and release. An escalation of climaxes. Show don't tell. Evoke, don't explain. Get to the action with only brief contextual descriptions. Write slow scenes fast and fast (ie gripping) scenes slow. 


Editing is often said to be where the real magic of writing happens. What advice do you have for writers on the importance of editing and the best practices for effective editing?


I spend at least as much time editing as I do writing. Sometimes I have 10 drafts. The changes include structural content, corrections and adding or removing info or descriptions. 

But they are predominantly about improving humour, magic, poignancy and poetry. I notice how the writing affects my body. And rewrite for more impact (laughter, tears, goosebumps, tension and release). I write and edit not just with my mind but also my heart and body

When I do the editing, [it] can vary. I may reread each chapter the next day and do some edits right away. Or, I may need to just keep barrelling forward while I have momentum and then come back months later at the end of the book. Often, I will be making notes to myself in the comments section about things I will need to address when I edit. 

I have codes, so I can do a quick search on similar themes; for example, rrxx for recipes or clothesXx. Or qqxx for queries that need research. Then the editing process with the publisher's appointed editor is another story: sometimes a delight and sometimes extremely traumatic and stressful.


Finding one's unique voice is often a journey for writers. What steps can writers take to develop their own voice and style amid the sea of online content?


You find your voice through writing and writing. And writing. It is unique, as you are. When I write in my main character's first-person voice, I 'hear' it in my head. I have a picture and a sense of her.

Curiously, writing non-fiction is more challenging for me to 'find' my voice. It seems to change as the story is being told. It is hard to see yourself as easily as another character. Yet we are each character. It is more complex than our fictional characters.

Perhaps it's like learning to sing. Each of us has a unique voice, all of us can sing. But we are shy, repressed, unpracticed etc. The truth is your voice has always been there; it's not about finding it but allowing it.

There are psychological blocks to overcome and techniques to practice. But if you keep at, keep at it and keep at it, you will hear your voice. And how beautiful and powerful it is. 

Like a bird uses its whole body to sing, we use our whole beings to express our voice, but also to contain our voice and to harness it is a process, you may as well enjoy it. Be kind to yourself. Be a good coach to yourself. Do not crush your voice. Speak it, hear it, hone it. 


Balancing creativity with structure and format is a challenge for many writers. How do you strike this balance in your own work, and what suggestions do you have for writers trying to maintain a similar equilibrium?


In fiction writing, we talk about plotters versus pantsers (who write by the seat of their pants). I am a plotter. I like to have the whole structure laid out, as well as the main dramatic and thematic threads within that. 

A Hero's Journey is planned, with all its classic elements. (The elements of the Hero's Journey are something that will support great storytelling).

When I have an overall summary, I write a list of "things that happen", which changes if needed. I follow my character's leads, they are entities in themselves. The planning frees me up to be very creative

The inner strong structure is there, I can focus on the creative sculpting without worrying about a plot collapse. The magic for me is in how the story is told, not the outcome. (The outcome in my books is usually obvious. The bad guy(s) will be caught, the main character(s) will grow in a healing fashion and a delicious meal will be eaten in a beautiful place.)

When I sit down to write, I have a sentence telling me what will (maybe) happen in this chapter. And each time, it's a wondrous mystery to me how that idea unfolds into a poignant story. 

I don't like to go and hunt for my tools and materials afresh every day. I like them laid out on my table so I can be free to play. 


Lastly, facing rejection and criticism is an inevitable part of a writer's journey. How do you cope with rejection and negative feedback, and what advice can you offer content writers to navigate these challenges without losing motivation?


Rejection and criticism are hard in writing and in life. At one point in my attempts to be a published writer, I committed to sending out two fresh submission letters for every rejection letter I got. I got hundreds of rejections for various books I submitted. Yes, hundreds

But there is no learning without 'failure.' Failure is a strange notion too. If you are 'failing', all it truly indicates is that you are trying. Learning something new is always a process. Even walking and talking have to be learned. 

I had some very informative and helpful rejection letters. Some of these encouraged me to keep going. In the early days, I had very contradictory feedback from 'experts' on the same manuscript. One of them depressed me so much that I sat in bed and cried for a week. Then the next feedback on the manuscript came and gave me real hope of making writing a career

People's feedback is just their opinions

Criticism had devastating effects when I was new to the game. As I got more confident, it affected me less. But it's still difficult. It still hurts, but it doesn't throw me as hard. Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about it nicely in her book Big Magic. You gotta keep writing, keep learning, keep doing and not let the waves of Success or Failure rock your boat. 

Success can also mess with your writing. Your job is to stay in your own power, centred and grounded, doing your thing. Be affected, sure, you're only human but then return to yourself — to your job, to your calling. 

If your pain of rejection is very great, it is giving you a chance to heal. Self-love is an art. Sometimes the pain shows you what really matters to you. I did that once with envy. Instead of letting it eat me up, I let it show me what I really really wanted. I became inspired, instead of envious. It showed me the road to 'success'. 

What is success? It's remembering you are the most powerful person in your own life. It's choosing your own path and not being so affected by what others think. Then you can see more clearly, without the blinders of reactivity, and decide if their 'feedback' is useful to you or to your craft


Did you find a particular tip helpful and insightful? Let us know in the comment section below. 

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If you want to take your writing to an even higher level, check out our Five tips for editing your own writing

*Image courtesy of Penguin Random House