9 writing and reading tips from writers

Whether you’re wrestling writer’s block or you’re an avid reader wanting to approach stories from a new perspective, try these tips from the experts.
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Are you are an emerging or professional writer? Maybe your day job consists of writing, reading and replying to numerous emails. Perhaps you may want a better understanding of the craft of writing, which in turn will allow for a different perspective when you are reading other people’s words.

As Margret Atwood stated in The Guardian‘Reading and writing, like everything else, improves with practice. And, of course, if there are no young readers and writers, there will shortly be no older ones.’

To help you traverse this global culture of constant communication, ArtsHub spoke with five writers to ask them for some helpful reading advice.

1. Read a poem, even write one

When was the last time you wrote a poem? Or spent longer than a few moments indulging in verse?

Bella Li, winner of the Poetry prize at the 2018 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards (VPLA) for her collection, Argosy, encouraged everyone to try their hand at poetry.

‘In general, whether you are writing fiction or short fiction, what you’re trying to do is make language disappear, in a way, because what you want to come out, or bring to the fore is the story, the characters, the setting, the plot – all those sorts of things.

‘Poetry is going the opposite way and really looking at the tools that we are using – and that is the words. It’s the syntax and grammar and it’s all the things that we are taking for granted when we sit down and read a novel or when you have a conversation over the phone,’ she explained.

Li also encouraged writers to read works by local poets. ‘Pick up a poetry book from Independent presses like Giromondo, UQP, Vagabond, Puncher & Wattmann, and John Hunter. There are a whole range of small presses that are publishing quite a lot of poetry and it’s a really vibrant scene in Australia.’

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2. Read a short story

If you have never picked up a collection of short stories maybe now is the time. Short story writer Melanie Cheng said that the short story form can be at times an ‘acquired taste’ but can give the reader a different kind of satisfaction.

‘I only started reading short stories when I started writing them,’ Cheng said. She explained that the more short stories she read the more her appreciation for the form grew. ‘In a way I had to learn how to read short stories as well – if you are accustomed to novels and longer form work you can come to short stories and feel dissatisfied at the end of the short story.’

She said some readers may be unaccustomed to the way short stories can affect them as a reader and encouraged people to approach short forms with a different mind set.

‘The short story form demands that the reader do a little bit more work – often that’s what I like about short stories, it can leave you with questions and that’s part of the beauty of it. But if you are not used to that you may find it a bit off-putting or leave you with a bit of an uneasy feeling.’

3. Enter a prize, even if you might not win

Although Alison Evans didn’t win their category in Fiction for Young Adults at the 2018 VPLA, they did win People’s Choice Award for their YA science fiction novel, Ida.

‘I didn’t win in my category but I still got a two-book deal which I got after I was shortlisted. I had a couple of agents approach me, which didn’t end up anywhere but it was still pretty cool. And it’s just getting your book and your face out there, so yes, I would recommend entering a prize – you meet a lot of cool people.’

Addressing young writers in the community, Evans said: ‘Don’t give up – finish the book you are writing. Start the next one. Eventually you are going to find the right person who’ll want to publish your book, and when readers read it it’s going to be the best feeling ever.’

4. Don’t write for a particular audience

Li said that writing with a particular reader in mind is not an ideal place to start, and that being comfortable with your own unique writing style is imperative.

She said: ‘Be comfortable with what you’re doing, in your particular way. Sometimes maybe with writing it’s easy to look at what’s already out there and then say, “OK I’m going to write like this”.

‘Trust in what you’re driven to write about and the way you’re driven to write about it. It’s the best thing to do because you’re writing from a very genuine and honest place, and you can trust that. Just try to write without an audience in mind.’

5. Read a different genre

Evans’ writing focuses on the intersection between genres. They said story genres that intersect have a surprisingly diverse readership, and new readers may find there are aspects of the story in these unexplored genres that they identify with.

I definitely think that – ’cause there’s not a lot of stories like that [Ida]. Whenever there’s a book like that people will read it, even if they’re not sure they like it. They might not like science fiction but they’ll read it ’cause it’s got queer characters in it. So there are all those kind of factors. They also have a hungry readership – you know when they all combine.’

6. Don’t think mainstream

Writer and biographer Sarah Krasnostein said when you sit down to write, you should not be thinking about the stories that are popular.

‘When you look at mainstream TV or mainstream radio we are still mono-cultural – in ways that aren’t good for the well-being of our kids who are not mono-cultural.’

The mainstream discourse needs to better reflect the multicultural society we live in, she said. ‘They need to see from the very beginning these narratives in the mainstream reflecting everyone’s experiences.’

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7. Read your words out loud

Li reflected that her love for spoken word helped her analyse language in a deeper way. ‘Way back in the beginning it was probably the rhythm of the words I fell in love with. This is going back years ago but I was introduced to Alfred Noyce’s The Highwayman, in regular metre and it rhymed … I really enjoyed the performance aspect of it, the fact that you often read poetry aloud,’ she said.

‘Subsequently I now appreciate it as a genre because it really interrogates language itself. It really puts language under pressure – under a microscope.’

Even if you’re writing a report or an email, hearing your words out loud can give your written communication the nuance it needs.

8. Don’t give yourself a deadline

YA writer Demet Divaroren said that even if you’ve been working on a novel or idea for years, you shouldn’t beat yourself up about how long it’s taking you to write it.

Her YA novel took roughly three to four years to complete, Divaroren explained, but that was just part of the project. ‘Realistically the main project probably started after a 13 to 14 year journey – and this is my third manuscript. The other two were thoroughly rejected.’

She also said that winning a prize or being shortlisted for an award doesn’t necessarily fast track the publishing process. ‘The first manuscript was shortlisted for the Vogel Award and then it just got rejected by nearly every publisher.’

9. Write what you know

Your best writing may come from your own lived experience, Divaroren explained, so don’t be afraid to write what you know: your point of view may resonate with readers.

‘For me, I know what’s it like to grow up in the outer suburbs. There was always this mainstream Australia on TV that didn’t look like me, didn’t sound like me, or any kind of similarities that I could identify with – the experiences are so different. So when I write I just try and give a voice to a diverse perspective and try to find those bridges of connection,’ she concluded.

Andrea Simpson
About the Author
Andrea Simpson is a freelance contributor and former Feature Writer and the Reviews Editor for ArtsHub. Andrea is a Filipina-Australian writer, editor, and content creator with a love for diverse Australian stories. She is curious about all forms of art, though she has an especially keen interest in Australia's publishing sector. Her feature writing has appeared in Inside Small Business. Andrea is an Assoc. member of Editors Victoria (IPEd.). Her short stories have been published in Visible Ink Anthology 27: Petrichor (2015), and Frayed Anthology (2015). You can find Andrea’s poetry in What Emerges (2013) poetry selected by Ania Walwicz.