Working with Words: Andie Fox

Andie Fox is a writer with a background in economics who writes about motherhood from a feminist perspective. She currently writes a weekly column in Daily Life and regularly contributes to the Guardian. Andie is a contributor to several books, including The Good Mother Myth and blogs at Blue Milk.

We spoke about connecting with readers through your writing, why memoir-style writing is difficult to write well and safely, and why it’s good to pursue writing as a second career - and not just for the obvious monetary reasons.

What was the first piece of writing you had published?

Excluding academic journals, the first article I had published was in an American women’s magazine and the first piece I had published in Australia was a commissioned article for Fairfax.

What’s the best part of your job?

The best part of the writing job is the opportunity to initiate conversations on a broad scale with other writers and readers. Connecting with someone, not just listening to or being listened to, but that moment of mutual understanding when you’re flooded with insight and closeness to others, it’s what really excites me in all areas of life, including writing.

What’s the worst part of your job?

The worst part of the job is the anxiety that often comes with how public it all is. I am a fairly private person, though I have written a personal blog for years and weave personal anecdotes into even my political articles, so the very public nature of writing is frequently uncomfortable for me.

What’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?

The most significant moment in my writing career was probably the book reading that happened in New York recently to launch a creative non-fiction anthology I had a piece in. The book was The Good Mother Myth and there were actual celebrities attending and a queue for book signing and again, It Was In New York! I wasn’t actually there for ‘my most significant moment’. New York is not quite affordable for me right now. But I might have been there so the dream was thrillingly close.

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?

I sometimes write memoir-style essays and they can be very satisfying in that way where you are figuring something very personal out while also relating to something universal with readers. It can be an intoxicating kind of intimacy. But they are also the most difficult to write well and safely.

Everything Kiese Laymon has to say about this topic is worth reading because he’s both a very clever novelist and a gifted essay writer. He has the ability to swoop around very unwieldy social problems like racism while simultaneously diving into incredibly fragile moments in his own life. However, Laymon can be hard on himself about his compromises. It makes for very compelling writing and it’s also where some of the finest progressive thinking happens, when we hold ourselves to account like that. But importantly, he also advocates for not showing all your working and I think that’s critical advice for anyone wanting to do confessional writing. Be very honest with yourself; don’t think you have to reveal all to your audience though.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself or your work?

I am always surprised to learn that someone I admire likes my writing.

If you weren’t making your living by working with words, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

I have another career in economics that I also love. On its own that career wouldn’t quite keep me satisfied so having two jobs works for me. I would have gone into academia had a writing career not emerged.

There’s much debate on whether writing can be taught – what’s your view?

I don’t see why writing cannot be taught, I’m hugely envious of those who studied it, but I think introspection probably can’t be taught easily and writing eventually relies on having something to say.

What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?

It might be presumptuous of me to offer advice to anyone wanting to be a writer, but I will say the following from my experience. Don’t overlook the option of pursuing a writing career as a second venture. I mean, not just having a second job, but a second career … one you can find pleasure in outside of writing. There’s a lot to be said for having another income source, of not always writing with the pressure of coming up with 1,000 thought-provoking words right this very moment to pay the rent. Attaching intense financial stress to creative output is incredibly tough on a person. Having said that, obviously having a little pressure is motivating and I never write more efficiently than when I am fitting it in around sleeping children … but I’m always tired.

If you choose to make writing one of two careers in your life then you will have many moments where you watch writer friends being incredibly productive and you feel like everyone is publishing constantly and you’ve stopped doing anything. Remind yourself that your best writing comes when you have had the space to distil thoughts first. The reading, talking, arguing, playing with ideas that you do while you are pursuing another career and while you are attending to the obligations of your life can be very useful for your writing.

Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?

Both.

If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why? And what would you talk about?

Difficult question. The protagonist of Lily King’s Father of the Rain is someone I’d meet at a dinner party and want to be friends with by the end of the night. Daley Amory and I would have a lot to talk about. But I also like people who tell scandalous stories at dinner parties and this is a little obscure, but someone like Wolfi, that strange and brilliant philosophy student in Mark Henshaw’s Out of the Line of Fire would be an ideal dinner companion for me.

What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?

Rachel Cusk’s two memoirs, A Life’s Work and Aftermath, were breakthroughs for me with my writing. I was a new parent and she was the first writer I found interested in connecting her personal experiences of motherhood to the broader discussion of feminism and writing. Plus, Cusk has been prepared to go as dark as required with that pursuit. I didn’t find her books all that confronting, to be honest, but some readers did and it’s always very interesting when terribly human moments disturb people to that degree.

The other thing Cusk showed me is that you do not always have to start your conversation with readers at the beginning. Some pieces are written for beginner-level understanding – they’re extremely important — but it is perfectly acceptable to pitch other essays only to readers who are progressed on the issue. It is nice to see what your article provokes with them and to learn from their part in the conversation. (Although reading the comments on those articles where you didn’t start from the beginning and bring everyone with you might be a brutal experience).

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