Tuesday, April 15, 2008

the little red writing book

The air is so clear, you can see straight through it. Sharp-edged distant hills stand behind green bush stand behind nearby gums, layered stage scenery against the flat blue backdrop of the sky. River red gums, scab-skinned and pot-bellied with age, stretch twisted limbs into the warm still air. Long morning shadows lie in dense black tiger stripes across the highlighter green grass. Sweat moves sluggishly down my skin.

I've been reading The little red writing book. It's full of writing exercises like this one, which I wrote in my head during a morning walk. The book is a rich feast of hints about writing: it reminded me of things I'd forgotten, and taught me things I never knew.

I could have picked up any book on writing, and been told to vary sentence length, avoid cliches, use the active voice, and cut out unnecessary words. But most writing manuals are tedious collections of rules. I borrowed one so badly written it was virtually unreadable.

What sets The little red writing book apart is that it's written with such style and grace, you'll want to stop and savour every sentence. It practises what it preaches: you can't help noticing how precisely every word is chosen, how skillfully every sentence is constructed. Each chapter opens with an example of lucid, glorious prose. Lovers of good writing, as well as writers, will be captivated by this book.

And we're all writers. We all need to know how to write, especially with so much communication happening on line. Whether we're working on a technical paper, leading a discussion group, or typing an email, we could all write with a little more grace and clarity. It doesn't matter what kind of writing you do, once you've read this book you'll do it better.

The little red writing book not only reveals how to write, but what it is to be a writer. Mark Treddinick invites us through the looking-glass into his experience writing this book: the frustration of the first blank page, the unexpected usefulness of a child's interruption, the process of planning the final chapter on planning. He takes books from his shelves and shares favourite quotes from famous writers. And he shares his own writing with us:

I sit down to write the book. Nothing happens.

It's summer out there. I'm working at a seventies office desk in a seventies ranger's hut close to a visitor's centre by a glacial lake, far from home. Being here's a gift, part of a prize I won for writing something else. And I want to spend my time here well; I want to spend it writing this book. If I don't, my publisher may kill me.

It got down below freezing last night, and I was cold in here. But the morning is warm and still and clear. There are black peppermints standing up in it, and black currawongs crying their guttural cry in it; and filling it out, there's a light as clean and a sky as blue as you're ever going to know. I've come here to write a book. So I walk out into the morning to find it.

I've just found out Mark Treddinick will be speaking at The faithful writer, a conference for Christian writers in Sydney. What sounded interesting now sounds unmissable! Want to come with me?

Thank you, Karen, for introducing me to The little red writing book (have you finished it yet?) and for freeing me from the necessity to read lots of tedious manuals about how to write.


Belinda G said...

If the timing works out I definately want to come. You would be welcome to stay at our place too if you would like to.

Pilgrim Penguin said...

I went last year and it was great. Prob won't make it this year, but I do recommend going.