Working with Words: Monica Dux
Monica Dux is a writer, social commentator and co-author of The Great Feminist Denial. Her new book, *Things I Didn’t Expect (when I was expecting) will be published by MUP in March. Monica is deputy chair of The Stella Prize and a frequent guest on ABC radio.*
We spoke to Monica about the art of peeing while standing up, the painful journey towards getting your writing to work, and the importance of finding your voice as a writer.
What was the first piece of writing you had published?
I had numerous articles published in academic journals when I was a postgraduate studying history. At the time I was writing a PhD on the history of venereal disease so I suspect that these reached a maximum audience of about seven people.
When I finally decided to abandon my thesis I wrote a short piece about the art of peeing while standing up, a skill that I had perfected as a young lass. I sent it to the Age and they published it. It was thrilling seeing my words in print and getting paid for it, especially something that was all about urination.
What’s the worst part of your job?
Isolation, self-doubt, poor pay. The inevitable triumvirate of the neurotic writer’s life.
There is so much joy when your writing is working for you, and that’s partly what keeps me doing it, but the journey to get to that point is often fraught and painful.
What’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?
I’d been writing for a few years, and had co-authored the book The Great Feminist Denial, but I was starting to feel that I’d lost touch with my voice, and was becoming a bit earnest. So when I was pregnant with my second child I wrote an essay about my fear of doing a poo while in labour; something that I’d become quite passionate about. It was possibly the best 5000 words I’d ever written and it inspired me to set about writing my new book about pregnancy and motherhood. Clearly, bodily functions have provided me with considerable inspiration.
What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?
Best advice: I can’t remember if I was ever told this, but I would say, FIND YOUR VOICE. And then run with it.
Worst advice: ‘You really should take up writing.’
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself or your work?
Like most writers, I’ve been called many unsavory things over the years, and I’ve had my fair share of abuse and attacks over things I’ve written, particularly online. So the nasty stuff never shocks or surprises me anymore.
I do sometimes get surprised when I meet someone and they recognise my name from something I’ve written. Sometimes you forget that people are actually reading you. (Although I’m yet to meet anyone who recalls those learned articles I penned about VD.)
If you weren’t making your living by writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?
Modeling. Definitely modeling.
Other than that, I like to think I’d be working in some creative capacity. Either that or I’d be an incredibly bitter check-out chick. As a teenager I had the fastest scanning rate at the North Ryde Woolies, so I’m sure they would have taken me back if things hadn’t worked out. Perhaps there’s still an opening?
There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught – what’s your view?
I think talent needs to be cultivated, but I don’t believe that writing can be taught. However I do think that courses can help people to develop the discipline they need to put their words on the page. And, crucially, it’s a way for aspiring writers to find community and get a practical understanding of how the world of words works.
What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?
Just do it! (And try to avoid clichés).
Ask readers who you trust to look at your work. Work to your strengths. Don’t be disheartened by criticism. Don’t expect it to come together straight away. Good writing takes time, patience and hard work, no matter what genre it is, or how long the piece may be.
And all drafts are shit until the final one.
Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?
Both. I live literally around the corner from Readings in Carlton, yet in my lazier moments I’ve considered ordering books from them and having them delivered to my home. It’s only my fear of being outed has stopped me from doing this.
I love buying second-hand books online that I wouldn’t be able to source otherwise. Being able to do that had been a very useful research resource for me.
If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why? And what would you talk about?
Trixie Belden. I’d want to ask her why she gave her pony to Miss Trask. This has remained one of the great unanswered questions of my life since I was eight.
What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?
Possibly the Bible. I was brought up very Catholic, and all that Jesus-love certainly moulded by worldview, but unfortunately not in the way that the Church would have hoped. I think all those years of alleluia-ing gave me a healthy appreciation of the absurd.