Working with Words: Meg Watson
Meg Watson is an associate editor at Crikey and former editor of Junkee. She spoke with us about getting outside the literature bubble, discovering exciting new writing and assembling a panel to discuss '90s-era Leonardo DiCaprio.
What was the first piece of writing that made you laugh or cry?
Let’s be real, anyone around my age who doesn’t say Harry Potter here is a liar. The series was my first long-term relationship with written characters, rich world-building, and fandom. There’s a reason the franchise is so (almost annoyingly) pervasive to this day; people connected to the story, and I was definitely one of them.
Did you write during your childhood and during your teenage years? What did you write about?
In Year One, I was given an award from the principal for a story called The Pretty Princess which featured the word 'pretty' on every single page. Since then I guess I’ve been trying to do the exact opposite of that?
What day jobs have you held throughout your life, and how have those experiences influenced your writing?
Everyone should work in hospo or retail at some point in their life. We’d all be better for it.
I’ve been fortunate enough to work as a full-time writer/editor for the past four years, but before that I worked in hospitality. I worked at a Subway, a bakery, a café that underpaid and treated me terribly, and a pub.
These jobs definitely made me more disciplined – I balanced study, shift work and creative pursuits – but the biggest impact was the exposure it gave me to a wide cross-section of people. I think getting outside the arts/lit/media bubble is important to get perspective on your work, and insight into different types of people and experiences. Honestly, everyone should work in hospo or retail at some point in their life. We’d all be better for it.
If you weren’t writing and editing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?
Something in the art world! Maybe a teacher or curator. Visual art was my other passion when I was younger. I wish I made more time for it now.
What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing and/or editing?
The best advice I’ve had is to appreciate your natural voice and interest areas, and engage with your peers more.
On one of my first days of uni, my creative writing tutor (Ronnie Scott, founding editor of the Lifted Brow) asked the class what we liked to read and all the 18-year-olds (myself included) cited Penguin Classics and dead white men. Ronnie made a point of exposing us to the work of writers like Edith Zimmerman and Anna Krien – people who were still doing incredible things that connected to our own experiences – and encouraged unique, experimental forms.
I’ve tried to carry this on in my own work – writing what’s true to myself, and supporting the people around me doing exciting things. There’s nothing more frustrating than an amazing young writer who feels they have to confect the voice of a 60-year-old 'Literary Great'.
Have you ever kept a diary? Do you keep one now?
I’m a huge note-taker and never really take in any information if I don’t work it through with pen and paper. Though I don’t have a formal personal diary, I have a written calendar, a work notebook full of obsessive to-do lists and research, and an ideas journal for more creative work and doodles.
Do you have any strange writing habits, customs or superstitions?
Whenever I do an interview, I write the questions out at least three times and highlight the main points to cement them in my head. For phone interviews I also sometimes actually write down 'Hi, how are you' and basic conversation topics in fear of totally freezing. That’s not so much a superstition as much as it is actual anxiety though.
There’s nothing more frustrating than an amazing young writer who feels they have to confect the voice of a 60-year-old 'Literary Great'.
Have you written or published anything in the past that you now wish you could go back and change?
If I could go back to when I was 22 and use fewer clichés or do more research or challenge certain opinions more, sure! But any time you feel like beating yourself up, you should just use that as inspiration to do better in the future.
Publishing work early in your career is always going to come with risks, and you’re never going to love all of it when looking back. I’ve been lucky enough to have the support and expertise of amazing editors and colleagues though; and have always made a point to be there for others too. We’re all just doing our best.
Which artist, author or fictional character would you most like to have dinner with?
I’d have a dinner party with Nora Ephron, Frida Kahlo, Kanye West, Miranda July, Mallory Ortberg, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Rose (as an old lady) from Titanic. We’d talk about creativity, politics, gender, the best way to spend your life, what it’s like to smooch ‘90s-era Leonardo DiCaprio, and what happens after you die (if there’s time).