Obviously this reading journal was always going to be useful, but it’s a case of knowing something on a logical basis versus knowing it through experience. The more I wrote this journal, the more I saw the value in it – and the more I saw it as inseparable from the reading packets (preparation and discussion), workshopping (giving and receiving feedback), supervision, and – of course – writing (and revising). I’m really grateful for this journal being part of the process this year because I wouldn’t have done it otherwise. Obviously I would have thought about various elements of what I was reading and writing, but not in the same cumulative way; I wouldn’t have had the same appreciation of how the strands and layers of the course come together, build up. In my journal entries, I’ve captured the things that I noticed, the things that got me thinking, the things that helped me – my gut impressions, not a scholarly critique. There’s a bibliography at the end, which is about as scholarly as it gets.
Looking back, there are some things from my reading that particularly impacted my process and / or my project:
- Writing something that matters: I struggled with this a lot. It caused me a bit of concern, and honestly, if I dwell too much on this now, all of that doubt will come back. My project isn’t the most meaningful project, in the sense that I’m not reclaiming culture, or telling of intergenerational suffering; I’m not a fresh new voice or telling stories that haven’t been told before. But I’ve come to find / see / infuse meaning in my project. Smaller scale meaning, meaning that might be personal to me, but also perhaps meaning that will resonate with other people’s experience of grief, of having no family to carry you through day to day life, of being surrounded by people, yet still alone. Sometime quite early on, I changed my project. It took a while to settle into the new project, to be confident it was the right thing to write, but I am confident of that now – and I can see elements of that first idea in my current project, even if the projects themselves are vastly different, so maybe I always was going to tell the same story, it was just a matter of changing everything about how it looked!
- False starts & looking at the details: Damien Wilkins’ session at the start of the year, taking us through three different drafts of an opening chapter, is something that I’ve come back to time and time again this year. It struck a chord before I even saw (or had pointed out to me!) the need to do it with my own project. It gave me a great deal of confidence just knowing that this is something that is done, and that it changes and improves the story. It’s not a waste of time. Each of those drafts is doing necessary work. This is linked to other sessions we had about thinking about every single word and sentence during the revision process. I’m not saying I’m necessarily doing that, but again, I recognise it now as what (some) people do, the value it adds, and the care it shows towards writing as a gift, as art. I’m trying. It’s made me so much more open to revising, even if it’s sometimes hard to let go of certain things or hard to think about doing the work. I’ve perhaps become more critical (observant) of sentences in books or scenes in films where I don’t think that care had been taken. A lot of the craft of a beautiful book means that people aren’t aware of the individual words and the effort that has been put into writing – they’re carried along by how well constructed the whole thing is, like all the training ballet dancers do to make the dancing look effortless.
- Listen to Country: The more I read, the more I realised how much I want the landscape to play a part in my project, how much I want to honour the natural world and how much a part of people and culture it is. I knew this, but came to realise it more and more. Seeing the Acknowledgement of Country in recent Australian books has made me think a lot more consciously about landscape being part of culture, of me not being a part of those cultures, and how to honour that in my work. It’s also made me wonder about what direct acknowledgement I need to make in my work about the fact that it’s set on other people’s land.
- An ode to joy and beauty: I’m not saying that I’m doing this, but through this process I’ve realised that I want to create something beautiful – which, for the scale of this book, might be no more than the things I’ve mentioned above: being prepared to revise, and to do that at a granular word and sentence level; writing a story that has meaning to me so that it will hopefully have meaning for someone else; using imagery, so that, consciously or not, my words will cause a reaction for a reader; showing the beauty in the natural world. It’s only August, so I still have a few months to keep working on this.
And there are two really significant ways that this Reading Journal helped shape my project:
- Point of view: Very early on, I changed my project from a first person narrator to a third person point of view. I’d started writing in the first person without really thinking about it, but as I started to read books written in the first person, it made me question whether this perspective was the best choice for my work. This led me to ask the question in my first supervision meeting, which led me to change this aspect of my writing, and I’m so glad this is something I noticed and changed early on. I think it opened up my story so much more than I appreciated – for example, if I’d stuck with the first person, I probably would’ve stuck with that one perspective. For better or for worse, my project contains multiple points of view; it also gives me more scope to withhold some bits of information, as well as to make observations that a single narrator couldn’t have made.
- Structure: It felt like something of a revelation to change the structure of my project so that it was in Parts. This came about by reading a book that was structured in Parts, but I couldn’t see any obvious reason for it. So it wasn’t so much a case of wanting to emulate something; but it really got me thinking about whether it was something that would work in my project. Although instinctively it felt right, I thought it might be a bit wacky, but once I made the change, it really did feel like the right thing to do.