Q. How did you become a writer?
I have always written. I can't remember a time when I wasn't writing "stories". But the Internet stuff happened about three/four years ago when I needed a website for a book I'd written with a friend on Protocol and Business Etiquette (http:// www.protocolinpractice.co.za).
I started a blog and then soon left terra firma and moved into cyberspace.
My work for a Canadian website, Suite 101 (http://www.suite101.com) took me into Search Engine Optimization and social networking. I then formed a website business, Ethekwini Website Factory (http://www.ethekwiniweb.co.za) and just kept on dancing as fast as I can.
Google my name, you'll see how fast I'm dancing in cyberspace, although a few of the Karen Lotters aren't me - I mean I've never worked for Telkom! I also don't live in Las Vegas or Massachusets. I'm known on the web as Ethekwinigirl and like most writers/journos, I've got a "groot bek" (Afrikaans for a "big mouth").
Q. How do you decide what to write about? Where do you get ideas?
Sometimes I get writing assignments; other times I put together a proposal and approach a client or a potential client. But the important thing is to do your homework to know how to pitch and what to pitch, and, more important than anything else - who you are pitching to.
For Suite 101 I am the Features Editor for Forensic Science - one of my great interests. (I read mainly crime fiction, true crime and mysteries and I watch the Crime and Investigation Channel).
I enjoy researching these forensic science articles and crafting them to earn money for me on the Pay-per-click system. It is a delicate balance to write good, interesting content that is well optimised for the Web.
I love writing fiction but I need to cross borders to unlock that door of my creative brain and that is not possible at present. I have written a novel - a mystery, which has been accepted by a publisher in the USA.
Q. How easy is it to make a living as a writer?
It is easier when you are older, more experienced and have a network of contacts. I'm waiting in anticipation to get older so that it can get easier.
Jokes aside, I think the only way writers can survive today, unless they are phenomenally successful, well-connected, or have a patron, is to have multiple streams of income.
I think if you have two or three retainers and then a good regular client base you are safe. The others that come in put the jam on your bread.
Q. What general advice would you give aspirant writers/journalists just starting out?
Ask yourselves why you want to do this. Think carefully. If your answer has the words"rich" or "famous", or any variations of these in it, rather do something else. Don't waste your time.
If you know it is not a case of wanting to be a writer or a journalist, but needing to be one, knowing that there is absolutely nothing else you can be, then you're in the right place.
I've often tried to "run away" and do other jobs, but it never lasted long. I was still writing stories wherever I went and I ached to really sink my teeth into something.
So what general advice can I give young writers? Read. Read. Read.
If you keep on spewing words out, you've got to put them back into your head. Read books, newspapers, newsletters, anything.
And I know young people often think it isn't necessary, but make an effort to read some of the great works of literature - and I'm not just talking about the boring ones we were force-fed at school.
Q: What do you consider to be the most important writing tip you ever received?
I do know that good grammar, spelling and a neat looking document get you very far with an editor. I think often really good writers mess up their chances with sloppy presentation.
I've worked closely with two writing teachers, one in the USA and one in Ireland and I think the single most important thing I came away with is that you must make a space in your day that is your writing time - a quiet, uncluttered and undisturbed space. Whether it is for an hour or two early morning before the household wakes up or at night after they are asleep. And make sure you keep to that time.
Then you need to just write. If you feel that you aren't focusing on your manuscript or story, put it aside and just free write, write down anything that comes into your mind. Use a pen or pencil and paper if it works better and just let the thoughts flow.
The free writing comes from my Irish teacher Orna Ross (www.ornaross.com) and Peggy in Asheville NC has a similar Technique she calls centered writing (http://www.clarityworksonline.com)
Q: When you mark your students' work, what are key qualities you look for in their work?
First of all I want to see if they have read and understood the module. I also give a lot of links for extra reading. Things move so fast on the WWW, that by the time I've finished writing something, it may have changed. I also want my students to get into the habit "living on the Net".
What happens, when one has a lateral mind, like most writers do, is that surfing sometimes becomes something of a metaphysical experience - you start off with one thing; pick up a link, get distracted, take another branch and only look up two hours later when the cats are screaming for their supper. You feel a bit dazed and your head is full of all kinds of exciting and interesting stuff that you can't really name, but that you know you have absorbed somewhere.
So I hope that by encouraging them to explore, they will go on some of these "magical mystery tours" and learn to be confident on the Web. I can teach all the web writing techniques that I can find and think of but if the Web doesn't become their "Hood" they might as well do a course on decoupage or tatting.
So what do I look for? I just see if they "get it". If they don't, we work on it till they do. See my blog for extra info for my students: http://karensalwayswrite.wordpress.com/