On Writing: Michaela McGuire

by Estelle Tang , August 26, 20101 Comment

When did you start writing? Why?

I was given a beautiful burgundy journal when I was in Year Four and for whatever reason, I thought it’d be a good idea to walk around for weeks writing down everything my family members did. I remember watching TV with my brother and writing, ‘And now James is asking me what I’m writing about all the time’. I lost interest in this pretty quickly and then started writing about what I was doing, and it still slightly disturbs me how often I think it’s a good idea to write down everything that I do. Thankfully, this sort of mental illness only ever lasts a few weeks and I revert to my regular state of just writing about things that interest me; everyday curiosities.

Why do you write?

It’s a reflex. I’ve worked in a lot of boring, shitty jobs and if I have internet access at these boring, shitty jobs I write hundreds of emails to, well, my housemate, actually, to alleviate the boredom.

My motivation for writing is entirely selfish. It keeps me entertained and it’s the easiest way for me to keep check of the changing conditions of my mental weather. It gives me some idea of how to negotiate any impending storms.

What do you admire in others’ writing?

Anybody who manages to produce more than 500 words a day that they’re satisfied with is automatically upgraded to hero status. Those who can write easily about anything that isn’t just stupid shit that has befallen them earns my admiration, although I suspect this is something that most people grow out of, and I’ve been using the remaining few weeks before I turn 25 to work towards this end.

I also admire people who can use commas properly and don’t end up with sentences that go for five lines.

What do you find most difficult about writing, and what do you find the easiest? Is there anything easy about writing?

The most difficult thing, for me, is beginning a piece. I usually start writing somewhere in the middle, pick my way towards the end and then start writing back towards the top of the page in small, excruciating increments. I can’t write on paper, only on a computer. As a particular recruitment agent once told me, ‘Your typing speed is … like a bat out of hell!’ and I’m convinced the only reason I ever get anything onto the screen is simply because I can type faster than I can think.

Opening a new document is easy. Hitting ‘save’ reflexively is easy. Changing folder icons to little colourful dinosaurs is easy. Now, anyway. I did nearly lose ¾ of my book because I decided I absolutely could not continue work on it before there was a small, pink pterodactyl next the folder name. The folder just disappeared in this little puff of smoke on my desktop, and I had a panicked 15 minutes before I located it again. I was dreading having to explain to my editor why I needed her to send me all of my writing.

What do you get out of writing?

I might throw to the piece that I wrote – ‘That One Time I Tried to be a Writer’ – for the latest issue of Kill Your Darlings

There are moments though – the ones in between all the 3am starts, tracked changes, false beginnings and bad endings – that are, as they say, ‘worth it.’ Twice now have I had the pleasure of excusing myself from whatever office I happened to be working in at the time to go run wild, silly loops around the city blocks listening to LCD Soundsystem’s ‘Daft Punk Are Playing at My House’ on my headphones because someone wanted me – me! – to write a book. You learn to watch for these moments and to guard them carefully, because they are often all that is needed to carry you to the next. Gradually, the horrors of 3am will fall away until one day you’ll find yourself standing in the kitchen, wondering if it has always been possible to smell the parsley that grows out from underneath the garden shed, and when a housemate finally asks what the hell you are doing you’ll be able to tell them, ‘It’s finished.’

Read Michaela McGuire’s ‘That One Time I Tried To Be A Writer: Pitfalls and Pleasures’ in Issue Two of Kill Your Darlings.


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