The “very easy facebook for small businesses” workshop

If you’re a small business owner, entrepreneur, freelancer, crafter, artist or author struggling to work out how this whole Facebook for business thing works, Better are hosting an informal workshop that is perfect for you, run by Content Writer and Social Media Manager, Tracey Walker.

Learn how to set up and effectively manage a business Facebook Page that nurtures your business or product with content that builds a loyal community of clients and customers. With 1.86 billion active monthly Facebook users, the potential to find people who need just what you are offering is endless, just as long as you can get them to listen to you.

As marketing expert Seth Godin remarked “marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make but about the stories you tell”. And Facebook is where everyone is talking and more importantly, listening.

So come along to Better for a morning on Thursday 21st September from 9:30 until 12:30. You’ll get coffee, tea and a workbook with all the information we discuss as well as a monthly content template to help you get started. (Free stuff, yes!) The workshop costs R550 and members of Better pay R450.

Space is limited to 10 people, so please book your place now. E-mail Tracey at walkertracey0@gmail.com or call her at 083 424 7749 for information. Contact Candy on create@better.joburg or 011 327 6098 to book.

A Glint of Moonlight: A Better Writing Workshop, with Gus Silber

Don’t Tell Me the Moon Is Shining. Show Me the Glint of Light on Broken Glass.”
Anton Chekhov

All writing, in some way, is travel writing. All writing, in some way, is memoir. When we write, we invite the reader to join us on a journey; when we write, we cast a light on who we are, where we come from, and how we see the world.

On this Saturday writing workshop at Better, you’ll learn to do both, as you explore new ways of packaging memories and sharing stories that bring character, experience, and emotion to life.

Whether you’re new to writing or want to sharpen and invigorate your writing skills, this hands-on learning and writing session will show you how, by putting the focus on tools and techniques that shape your thoughts into stories and add flair and impact to your words.

You’ll learn how to make sense of writing, by using all your senses to write. You’ll learn what good songs and good movies can teach us about the art and craft of good writing. You’ll learn how to plan and structure your story, from the ground up, or the sky down. You’ll learn how to bring out the better writer in you, no matter who you are, where you come from, or how you see the world.

  • When: Saturday 20th May, from 10am to 3.30pm (please arrive at 9:30)
  • Where: 91 Oxford Road, Saxonwold, Johannesburg
  • What to bring: A pen or a pencil. A notebook. The stories in your head and your heart.
  • How much: R650 including tea, coffee, snacks, and a light working lunch. (R550 for Better members)
  • Who: Gus Silber is an award-winning journalist, author, scriptwriter, and media trainer.

Places are limited so booking is essential. To secure yours contact Patience at patience@better.joburg or 011 327 6098.

Come and write at Better!

Writing is a very solitary pursuit. This makes it difficult to stay motivated and inspired.

A community of writers can help you. Peers help validate the value in the craft of writing, provide social pressure to make progress, and reinforce the habit of writing regularly. They are also valuable sources of information, sharing their tools and processes, tips on getting published, and practical, lived experience about making life as a writer work.

Better is a co-working space in Saxonwold. We’re creating a community of writers who provide this kind of support for each other. Better provides a warm and welcoming space with quiet rooms, fast Wi-Fi, reference books, curated information for writers, tea and coffee and good company. We run regular workshops and writing-related events too.

Read our story to get a feel for who we are.

Visit Better and see the place for yourself. Work here for a day, for free.

Join our community as a member. Membership gets you in on your terms.

Better for academics

Sabbatical?

Nagging publisher?

Trying to finish your thesis?

Conference deadline looming?

…we can make it Better

 

Better is a place for people who do creative work that is often solitary, to get together to work, share and relax. This makes it an ideal place for academics to escape from the bustle and interruptions of campus, to focus on research writing.

Working together with other writers makes writing easier because

  • there is camaraderie,
  • there is some social pressure to sit down and write
  • it’s inspiring to work with other writers
  • there are fewer distractions – you can’t go and stack the dishwasher
  • and when you get stuck, coffee and a chat can help you to get unstuck.

 

Better has been put together by Judy Backhouse, based on her experiences of running writing retreats for academic writers, and in response to the difficulties of writing on university campuses.

Think of Better as your permanent writing retreat, a place to drop in and write at any time. You could use Better

  • once a week to make a habit of research writing
  • for a week or two when you have a paper to prepare
  • for two or three days when you are chasing a deadline
  • every day to make the most of your sabbatical
  • to attend a workshop to inspire you now and then
  • to run a workshop, on a writing theme

 

Better has cosy rooms with tables and chairs to work at, armchairs to read in, free Wi-Fi, books and curated information on research writing, as well as other resources for writing. The venue is homely, warm and welcoming, with a large garden. There is free tea and coffee. Lunches can be ordered in, or taken at a leisurely pace at one of the many nearby restaurants. It’s located along Oxford Road, between Killarney and Rosebank.

Better supports slow scholarship, the idea that, like slow food, good writing (and thinking) must be “carefully prepared, with fresh ideas, local when possible, and is best enjoyed leisurely”. The process is respected here, more than the product. There is aso a programme of workshops and events for learning and sharing.

To ensure that you have access to this environment all year round, become a member. Memberships are monthly, with no contracts. Visit us to see the place or get in touch.

Membership options at Better

Make Better your regular work and play space by becoming a member of Better.  We’d love to have you join our community. Here we explain our membership options.

The free stuff

All members of Better get, for free

  • fast WiFi,
  • coffee, tea and snacks,
  • access to books and curated information, and
  • the use of a range of creating equipment and materials.

Members can attend many of our events free and get discounts on workshops and training.

The membership options

There are three tiers of membership:

As a starving artist (tier one) you want access to Better more than four times a month, but your budget is tight. For R550 per month, you get:

  • access Better up to ten days in the month
  • 5 pages of printing free each day, and
  • a discount on one guest per day.

If you are at the point of creating every day, and want a place to work regularly, leaving your stuff overnight, then the regular maker (tier two) option is for you. You pay R1200 per month for

  • access to Better as often as you want
  • 10 pages of printing free each day,
  • a discount on two guests per day,
  • off-street parking, and
  • your own locker.

If you run a successful freelance business and want, not only a place to work, but the kind of services that will free up your time for more important things, then we consider you a creative agent (tier three). At this  level, for R2600 per month you enjoy

  • access to Better as often as you want
  • 20 pages of printing free each day,
  • a discount on four guests per day,
  • off-street parking,
  • your own locker,
  • 8 hours exclusive use of a meeting room in the month
  • 12 free secretarial services in the month
  • 2 hours of tech support in the month

There are no contracts. Our memberships run from whatever day you sign up to that same day in the next month. We’d like you to renew each month, but only if you love being here.

You can pay for 3 or 6 months at a time, and we’ll give you a discount of 5% or 10% respectively.

Sign up here.

The pay as you go option

You can also pay R150 per day to come and use the space. Once you are inside, you will have access to the free stuff for members. You can also pay for other services as follows:

  • Printing R1 per page
  • Locker RR30 per week
  • Meeting room R200 per hour
  • Secretarial services R110 per task
  • Tech support R400 per hour

The discounted rate for guests of members is R100 per day.

Or sign up here.

So you plan to write a book?

If you are anything like me you have four or five books outlined in your head, or even in a document. You may even have started writing one or two of them. I have a good 10000 words down for one of mine. But “finally writing a book” has been on my to-do list for the past four or five years.

I’ve decided that actually getting it done needs me to make some kind of change – a change in my habits and way of working.

The habits of published writers have been dissected and reflected on and so we know that writing is about discipline and that successful writers cultivate the habit of writing. Among prolific writer Henry Miller’s commandments for writing we find:

  1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
  2. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
  3. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
  4. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
  5. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
  6. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

I can see I need to work on 1 and 5, but I like 4 too!

I’ve learned in my academic life that the only way to make sure that research papers get written is to schedule time for writing and then to guard that time ferociously. Students and colleagues who knock on my office door when the “I’m writing” sign is up, get snarled at. It also helps to make writing fun and to do it in great surroundings, hence the growth of writing retreats at universities.

An interesting outcome of writing retreats has been the realisation that, while the actual act of writing is solitary, there are lots of supporting roles for other people to play in the process. My academic writing has benefitted from the support of colleagues to egg me on, give advice, suggest new directions, make me stick to deadlines and generally to commiserate during the process. Those who attend retreats are pleasantly surprised at how productive they can be writing in a room full of writers.

While I have academic colleagues on tap, when it comes to the other books I want to write, I don’t have much opportunity to include others in the process. So part of the story of Better is to make those opportunities. I am hoping that Better is going to be habit-forming. I certainly want to use it to improve my own writing habits and perhaps it will help you to improve yours.

Better offers a conducive environment and the company and support of other writers. If you are a writer with experiences to share, or an aspirant writer wanting to establish new habits, come along to our Regular Writer’s Tea on Friday mornings for a chat.

Regular Writers’ Tea at Better

The Writer’s Tea at Better is a fun morning for all sorts of writers who want to be more regular in their writing practice.

Meet with other regular writers, bloggers, journalists, poets and other creatives. Enjoy tea – and coffee and cake – while you chat, share what you are working on, seek inspiration and support, and swap writing practices with other writers. It’s informal and casual. You can just hang out and listen if you are shy.

After tea, we have some activity. Participate in a writing exercise devised by a member of the group. We have written collaborative stories, played with memories in the first and third person, and written to music. Stretch yourself by trying something new! Bring a notebook and pen with you. Want to see what it’s all about? Here are some pics. (and follow us on Instagram!)

You can also stay and write! This is your time to add words to your current book, blog-post, short story or poem, in a comfortable, wi-fi enabled space. You will be surrounded by other heads-down writers who understand the importance of writing regularly.

The Regular Writer’s Tea happens every Friday morning from 10:00 to 12:00.

  • FREE for Better members
  • R50 for non-members – Writer’s Tea
  • R150 for non-members – Writer’s tea and write for the day at Better

No need to book for this one, just come along and pay at the door. We take cash or credit cards.

back to Events

Coral reefs and tangled banks

Steven Johnson argues that coral reefs and the tangled banks of rivers are the environments that best support innovation. These complex, messy environments that support a variety of intertwined life forms, have unique properties that lead to a rich, fertile and flourishing state. Rich, fertile and flourishing is what we are aiming for at Better. In his book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Seven Patterns of Innovation, (also subtitled The Natural History of Innovation in other editions) Steven Johnson delves into the history of innovation to identify seven themes which reflect on the conditions that support creativity. Some of these themes inform our vision for Better as a creative space.

Part of the vision for Better is that it is a place where people can share ideas, projects, knowledge and skills. We want it to be a place where you will be able to bump into people who share your interests and challenges. Andrew talks about it being like a bar for creative pursuits. You go there when you want to meet people and you can usually be sure that there will be someone there.

Johnson talks about a liquid network, one that is dense and viscous enough that ideas can move and collide. Solids prevent movement, while in gasses the particles are so far apart as to make collisions unlikely. We want to be sure that a range of people come to Better – not the same people all the time (which would be like a solid). We envisage having a member base large enough so that you meet different people on different days. We also envisage events that bring non-members into Better to provide fresh ideas. We want to make sure that there are enough people there on any one day for you to find someone interesting to share a coffee with, and we plan on using themed afternoons and evenings to make sure that you bump into the people who share your specific creative domain.

Another of Johnson’s themes is that of the slow hunch: ideas emerge slowly, they take time to mature and grow in response to information and impressions that are gradually added to. This idea reflects the growing concern to rediscover slow scholarship, allowing for deep ideas in academia to emerge. Slow scholarship, the movement’s slog (slow blog) explains, “is carefully prepared, with fresh ideas, local when possible, and is best enjoyed leisurely, on one’s own or as part of a dialogue around a table with friends, family and colleagues”. By being a physical space for actual warm humans, Better provides those local ingredients as well as the tables and the company. In particular Johnson notes that “pressures, distractions, accountability and supervision all work against ideas”. Better is a place where those pressures can be left behind, where you can contemplate quietly, and let your best ideas emerge, slowly.

Another theme in the history of innovation is that error plays an important role. “Innovative environments thrive on useful mistakes” says Johnson. So one of our concerns for Better is that it needs to be a messy space for trial and error, for experiment. One of the challenges of creative work is the ever-present fear that what you have made is not good enough. Particularly when it comes to the visual arts, so many people are paralysed by the fear of their stumbling efforts being seen and criticised. Better is a playful, permissive space, not only for the accomplished. We want people to try, to do things they have never done before, to produce misshapen mistakes in the process of learning and having fun. We welcome and celebrate things that go wrong or don’t work. We hope to see fabulous flops.

And finally, Johnson makes the point that innovation requires platforms, places where innovation can take place, where the habitat needed for innovation is built by what he calls ecosystem engineers. Better invites you to be an ecosystem engineer, and help to build a coral reef or a tangled river bank, to shape Better and make it into the kind of space that supports your creative process.

 

Software tools for writers

While you are planning and outlining your writing you might want to try note-taking tools to capture thoughts, quotes and resources, and to play with structure. EverNote allows you to capture notes as text, or photos, and has a plug-in to your browser so you can automatically save from web pages. WorkFlowy enables you to put together nested lists (of chapters, sections, characters, tasks). I love the mobile app that allows me to work on these lists in meetings. For the less linearly-inclined there is Spiderscribe that keeps your notes in mind maps.

For the actual writing, you can use your favourite word processor, but you might want to try tools like Scrivener or Writer’s Blocks that are designed for more heavy-weight writing. These tools help you to keep track of large and complex writing projects with outlining and overviews and allow you to easily move text around to re-structure a large manuscript. Scrivener also gives you the tools to output your work as an e-book. If you want to write an e-book, but don’t want the full power (and cost) of Scrivener, try Sigil, a free and open-source e-book editor.

If you struggle to just get the words out, try WriteorDie which uses a game-like format with rewards and punishments to make you write. You set a target for, say, 1000 words and then you have to keep typing until you reach it. It’s a great tool for doing initial free-writing about your topic. I use it for the first draft of blog posts. And if you are easily distractible, try some of the tools that declutter your desktop, taking away all the social media notifications so that it’s just you and the text, and possibly a soothing background image and soundtrack. FocusWriter and OmmWriter are worth a try.

For academic writers taking the time to build up a database of references in a good reference manager will pay off in the long run, making it easy to find and format references and taking your productivity to dean-pleasing heights. Mendeley and Zotero are both free (for basic functionality) and store your references in the cloud so that they are easy to access. Both have tools to automatically index your database, making it quick and easy to add items.

Do you have favourite software tools for writers? Share them here.

Better tools for writers

I am running a writing retreat next week and have been putting together lists of my favourite writing tools to share. I thought I’d share them here too.

“The Sense of Style” by Steven Pinker, subtitled “The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century” is a book about why writing matters, what makes writing good, and how to navigate unsettling changes in language with style, without being stuffy about correctness.

The Book on Writing” by Paula LaRocque is a great guide to writing simply and for clarity.

“Keys for Writers” by Ann Raimes and Susan Miller-Cochran is a (costly) reference text for academic writers. It covers the writing process, using resources and referencing, technical aspects of language and a very helpful guide to how the grammar of different languages impact on expression in English. The international edition is available through Exclusive Books (not Amazon).

Refseek is a great source of reference web sites. Think of it like the reference section in a library. It has a guide to online dictionaries, including general dictionaries and those for specialist terms like medical, computer and financial terms. The site also gives links to other reference works, such as style and grammar guides.

Visuwords is a really fun graphical dictionary where you enter a word and related words pop up around it. Try it! Good for really understanding all the nuances of any particular word and identifying possible ambiguities.

Urban dictionary is a great way to while away a boring meeting or seminar. Words are defined by the users of the site so there is nothing official about them, but it gives great insight into how words are actually used. You can submit your own definitions too, so get creative!

There is nothing like good writers for advice on writing. Here is one of my favourites, Ursula K Le Guin, on Rules of Writing. Explore her site for more or hunt for your favourite author online and let them excite you about the possibilities of words.

What resources inspire you to play with words? Share your favourites here.