“It’s about keeping your sentences robust so that people get to the end of them alive.”
It’d be easy to rattle off Mark Tredinnick’s list of achievements: the prolific output; the many published books, essays and poems; the Australian and international awards; the 2020 Medal of the Order of Australia for services to literature and education.
But the first thing you notice about Mark Tredinnick is the clarity with which he talks about his craft.
Perhaps it’s this ease that has drawn teachers, students and mentees to the celebrated Bowral-based writer and poet for over a quarter of a century. His guide book The Little Red Writing Book is a staple in English staffrooms across Australia and for a skinny on writing, it’s a remarkably readable book – a point that seems obvious to Tredinnick.
“It would seem to me to be an incredible failure to write a book exhorting grace, voice and levity in written style and not to have practised one’s preaching,” says Mark.
Tredinnick’s clarity around his craft has seen him build a steady following as a teacher, where he has taught in the writing program at the University of Sydney for over 25 years.
“I teach from my own craft,” Tredinnick says; “I teach from what I have learned helps writers of all ages whom I’ve taught and mentored; and I teach from my long and passionate engagement with literature—making it, reading it, teaching it. What I teach is craft. And the love of it. I like it that readers find The Little Red Writing Book inspiring; I love it that they find it useful, even life-changing. Nearly all the tricks that work for me, and all the keys I’ve found open doors for aspiring writers you’ll find in The Little Red Writing Book.”
“Some people tell me they can’t put it down,” he says.
But Mark says that creativity and the courage to find your voice demand another important element.
“The Little Red Writing Book is a book of technique. Writers need tips, tricks and inspiration. Sometimes creativity and courage are not enough,” he says.
“Horace said poetry should both instruct and delight,” Tredinnick says. “So should all writing, and so should the writing instruction we perform in the classrooms. I hope mine does; and it was my hope that The Little Red Writing Book would model such an approach.”
In The Teaching Writing Toolkit, Mark will open up the toolkit he has accumulated carefully over three decades to help teachers teach creative writing more effectively. It’s not about teaching perfection, he says; it’s about “helping students get their ideas onto the page with greater clarity—and with more freedom, including from cliché and fear.”
Tredinnick says that teachers make such an important difference because even the best writers write bad sentences.
“Like all of us who write, I know how to write a bad sentence,” he says. “But good teachers know how to fix them. That’s the thing. The best writers know how to take their writing through the many drafts it takes to make a piece of literature to feel like it was written the first time just perfectly. Good teachers learn from the best writers how to steer their students through the many drafts, too, the work it takes. And they teach their students the five or six tricks writers know, the tools they use to make their first drafts more like final drafts.”
Mark’s companion book The Little Green Grammar Book is about the structures and microstructures that underwrite expressing writing. It’s a book about grammar as readable as a novel. And it offers up a compelling and useful approach to teaching grammar to creative and analytical writers, young and old. It is a writer’s guide to grammar. As he put it, The Little Green Grammar Book is “about how to keep your sentences robust so that people get to the end of them alive.”
Dr. Mark Tredinnick teaches Cornerstone’s The Teaching Writing Toolkit.