Queensland Writer’s Life – Benjamin Law

WQ is proud to present a series of interviews with writers from across Queensland. We have approached novelists, playwrights, freelancers, memoirists, short fiction writers, songwriters, game writers, poets, debuts, old hats, traditionally published authors and self-publishers, and asked each of them the same eleven questions. Read individually, each writer’s answers reveals their unique approach to their craft. Read as a group, broad patterns begin to emerge. All of it to answer the simple question: what is the Queensland Writer’s Life?

New Queensland Writer’s Life interviews will be posted to writingqueensland.com.au on a weekly basis.

Why do you write? What drives you to do this?

God the first time I was asked this, my mind went blank – I’ve been writing since I was a teenager, so I rarely question it. But I guess I love stories in all their forms – feature articles, plays, TV shows, novels, journalism, films – so I guess it’d make sense I’d become a writer. Partly I write the stories I wish I’d read when I was younger (eg. The Family Law – both the memoir and TV show – are stories I wish I had growing up as a Chinese-Australian kid). But ultimately, the kind of writing I do is an education, and I’m a massive nerd. Writing allows you to share your education with strangers, which is a kind of magic of its own.

How did you come to writing?

When I was 16, I was obsessed with music magazines like Rolling Stone and Juice, and was one of those irritating kids who’d write letters to the editor. Once, then-Rolling Stone editor Elissa Blake picked my story as Letter of the Month, I got a Panasonic stereo as a prize, and I thought, “Wow, writing must be really well paid.”

What were your greatest obstacles starting out? How did you overcome them?

The greatest obstacle is getting your first byline out there. Initially I wanted to be a music journalist, so I fired off half a dozen emails to all of the local street press for work experience. And one of them responded back. And from street press, I then wrote for newspapers, then glossy magazines, then anthologies, books and now a telly show.

How do you keep yourself motivated and disciplined?

Deadlines. And fear of my editors, producers and agents. Fear’s a great motivator. I feel physically ill if I’ve let someone down in any way.

How do you manage your writing time with everything else you do? How has that changed from when you were starting out?

My neutral state tends to be over-committed. It’s a freelancer’s habit: either you’re overcommitted and earning money, or under-committed and starving. It took me a while to learn I needed to schedule in other normal things like eating properly, exercise and seeing my boyfriend, friends and family. If I manage to fit in a volunteering session at the Sydney Story Factory in Redfern, then my time management is going okay. But sometimes, especially in TV, you’ve no control and you’ve just gotta work from 6am to midnight if you want to hit a deadline that can’t be moved.

Where do you write? How do you arrange your working space?

I’m lucky enough to have my own office in my apartment nowadays. When my boyfriend and I moved to Sydney, the removalists accidentally demolished my old crappy 2nd hand school desk, and it was time to get another one anyway. My boyfriend Scott spotted this beautiful, beaten-up, heavy-as-fuck 1950s kitchen bench – the perfect size for a standing desk – at an antiques centre. I tend to work between my standing desk, our dining table and – in winter – occasionally from bed.

What are your essential writing tools?

13” Macbook Pro, Scrivener, Express Scribe, Sony Dictaphone. Noise cancelling headphones for work on the road. And Muji make the best ink pens. Only $1 a pop and made in Japan too. And above all else, reservoirs of curiosity, empathy and doubt.

What’s the one thing you wish you’d known when you were starting out as a writer?

As much as it’s about honing your craft, it’s also about running a small business, and all the tedious paperwork and admin required for that.

What do you read and how do you read as a writer?

Everything and anything. My bedside table is a happy mess – towers of books (half-read, completed, never touched) and copies of the Monthly, New Yorker and GQ. I’m one of the judges of the Stella Prize for 2017, so I’m tearing my way through some incredible books written by Australian women this year. I’ve no idea how we’re going to decide on the winner, because so many are so damn fine.

How do you overcome ‘writer’s block’?

Step away from the keyboard. Swim. Read or watch something else for a while.

What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Don’t wait for inspiration to strike. Get to the desk and write. The only people who get to write for a living – unsurprisingly enough – treat it like work. Hard work isn’t a guarantee of success, but it’s a prerequisite.♦

law_benBenjamin Law is a journalist, columnist, TV screenwriter and author of two books – The Family Law (2010) and Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East (2012). Both were nominated for Australian Book Industry Awards. The Family Law is now an AACTA-nominated TV series for SBS.

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