Australian writer of books for younger readers, young adults, verse novels and poetry.

A Writer’s Masterclass

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I used to be a fast, gulp-it-down, voracious reader. I’d read one book and at the book’s end, be already reaching for the next like a chain smoker. When I worked in our second-hand bookshop in my teens and early twenties, I’d practically snarl at customers who dared interrupt my engrossed reading. Much later, I recognised myself in Bernard of Black Books (without the bottle on the counter!) and cringed when I thought back to some of my less than shiny customer service. My first real job in Melbourne also afforded a lot of reading time – I was lucky to be in an office in the same building as the then CAE library. On slow days I’d stick a ‘Back in 10’ notice on the door and slip upstairs to refuel.

These days, like many other people I suspect, my leisure reading time has been eroded. I’m ‘at work’ for longer periods and much of this work has to do with reading – unpublished manuscripts, critical texts, revisiting fiction I’m going to teach, reading books about writing for new ideas to inspire students and excursions into poetry collections and anthologies for poems to do likewise. Much of this reading is hugely enjoyable, of course, and it’s very focused.

Which has made me wonder if I approach my other reading as attentively. So, this year is my year of writerly reading. I think I always say this to myself, and it always falls through in the face of practical irritations – where is that reading journal, I’m trying to keep? Can I post this rather negative review on Good Reads? How can I make note of that beautiful phrase when I’m listening to an audio book on the train?

But I know that purposeful, searching reading excites me. It’s one of the reasons I love entering a story – how did that writer achieve that amount of suspense, that plot twist, that deft characterisation in one small detail? Reading like this is a masterclass in writing.

So I’m back to my resolution – 2018 is the year of writerly reading. I’m basically going to do a mini reader’s report on most, if not every, book I read this year. And this will mean slower, more considered reading with a notebook at my side. It’s a journey with no other destination than to appreciate the craft of a diverse range of writers and to improve my own.

As anyone else made reading resolutions for the new year? Have a must-read list or a must-revisit list? Or are you over lists and more into the browse-and-grab? My current daydream is a cruise accompanied by a suitcase of all the books I have stacked by and under the bed. Forget the day-trips for scenery and souvenirs. I’ll be in the deck chair, waving you off, as my other hand hovers over my next writing masterclass.

3 Responses

  1. I love the sound of your Writing Masterclass. I’ll have the same plus a bottomless fizzy lime drink to sip while I sink into my pile of books.

    A number of years ago, I started a reading journal after I read Francine Prose’s How to Read Like a Writer. She includes a list of books to read for good examples of character voice, POV, setting, etc. The reading journal encouraged slow, deliberate reading, savouring beautiful sentences, scribbling snarky notes about how some people can get away with breaking rules, and stockpiling intriguing words. The practice lasted for the duration of my holiday. Then, sadly, I was back to gulping down my books.

    Thanks for inspiring me to again read in a more writerly way. Happy New Year!

    • Catherine says:

      Hey Ali – it was Francine Prose’s book that made me think of this originally – my reading journal which I’ve obviously kept so sporadically it’s shameful dates from January 2007!

  2. Oh, that’s funny! Mine is dated January 2009, and it’s shamefully empty after about two dozen pages of scribbled notes.

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