Despite recent cutbacks in the arts and entertainment field, Australia has a plethora of aspiring writers hoping to one day make their mark on the industry – either through a novel of their own, journalism, literary criticism or some other way. But the professional development workshops that can teach you how to break in can sometimes come at a heavy cost.
The only solution, therefore, is the self-help section of one’s local bookstore or library. But have you seen the sheer volume of “how-to” guides on the creative industries lately? Sure, there’s the ones everyone talks about, like Lynne Truss’s highly regarded Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, The Penguin Guide to Plain English by Harry Blamires or even How Not To Write a Novel by Sandra Newman & Howard Mittelmark, but there’s also hundreds of others dedicated to specific styles of writing, such as script writing, copywriting and writing for children. Where’s a fledgling writer, professional or otherwise, to start?
That’s where Roslyn Petelin comes in. As the designer and initiator of University of Queensland’s Program in Writing, Editing and Publishing, and an author in her own right, Petelin knows what she’s talking about. And her latest book, How Writing Works is designed to bridge the gap between aspiring and professional, targeting both writing workers (those who have to write for a living as part of their job, such as lawyers, administration staff, accountants etc) and working writers (those who have succeeded in making a job from their love of writing and the written word, such as authors, journalists, copywriters, editors and the like).
As a qualified editor/proof reader and freelance journalist looking to break into the market, I knew without a doubt that this was the book for me. How Writing Works, unlike other books of the same genre that I have come across so far, is marketed as “a field guide to effective writing” and covers topics such as ‘Keeping a Journal’, ‘Writing for the Workplace’, ‘Punctuation’, ‘Style’, ‘Understanding Genre Expectations’, ‘Writing for Social Media’, and many, many more.
Each chapter includes practical examples of how to apply the knowledge Petelin provides, the mistakes she herself has made along the course of her career, and even activities for readers to complete in their own time. It really is like a workshop or tutorial, all contained within 325 pages of material that will be useful to writers of almost any discipline.
If you’re reading How Writing Works in one go, like I did, you may find it a bit of a struggle to get through. But as a reference book, there’s almost no faulting it. Drawing from her experience as an associate professor, Petelin’s writing is clear and informative.
While it does have a certain “textbook feel”, such is the nature of its subject. As much as we love to think it isn’t, writing is serious business. When discussing some technicalities of writing, there’s simply no way to make the prose any livelier than it is. And to be honest, if Petelin was to joke about matters such as copyright infringement and the nitty-gritty of grammar and punctuation, it would feel false and out of place for the book’s purpose.
Whether you write for pleasure or profit, this is the “how-to” guide you’ve been waiting for.