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Schreiner on Writing & Publishing

Olive Schreiner was a ‘writing woman’ - from a young age she was continually involved in the different activities she associated with the term ‘writing’. It included her thinking out the structure of something she wanted to write; planning it in detail before putting pen to paper; putting it on paper and editing as she went along to try to make it closer to the image she had in her mind; writing something out neatly in its almost ‘final for now’ form; having things typed and then editing the typescripts; editing and tidying proofs of her writing; and then later editing them again whenever they were going to be re-published.

Throughout her life, Schreiner tried out her ideas in her letters, which should be seen as a ‘working knowledge’ that was emergent and linked to the moment of occurrence. Thereafter such ideas might be written about more formally in her essays, novels or allegories - but often they remain in their epistolary incarnation, and so her letters offer privileged insight into her thinking and reflecting processes on many important matters that don't appear elsewhere.

From time to time - and with people she was particularly close to, such as Edward Carpenter and Mary Sauer - she sometimes wrote about the things she was writing, and also the writing process itself. Such things are exceptional in her remaining letters, and so their occasional appearances are all the more important.

Following publication in 1883 of The Story of An African Farm, Schreiner became a professional writer. As a consequence, she had many direct and indirect dealings with editors of journals and newspapers and publishers of books. Friendly inquiries, excuses for lateness, negotiations about titles and contents, and disputes about financial arrangements, are in additon covered in these letters.