Working with Words: Michelle Law

Michelle Law is a writer of fiction, non-fiction, theatre and film and TV. She is the co-author of Sh*t Asian Mothers Say, and her debut play, Single Asian Female, was staged at La Boite Theatre Company in 2017. Michelle spoke with us about freelance challenges, alternative careers in floristry and reading Jane Eyre as an isolated teen in regional Queensland.

What was the first piece of writing you had published?

Photograph of writer Michelle Law

It was a memoir essay in the anthology Growing Up Asian in Australia, edited by Alice Pung. The essay was about my childhood and coming to terms with being both Chinese and Australian.

What’s the best part of your job?

Being able to do what I already love – reading, and watching shows – and have it be considered a part of my job! I also love the feeling of excitement that comes with beginning new projects, as well as having the flexibility to make my own hours.

What’s the worst part of your job?

Waiting for invoices to be paid, and the flipside of making your own hours – never having designated weekends or holidays. You’re running your own business as a freelance writer, and the administration side of things can be pretty onerous.

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

Having my play, Single Asian Female, staged earlier this year. It was the first full-length project I’d written, and gave me a feeling of legitimacy as a writer.

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

The best piece of advice I’ve heard applies to all creative industries, and it’s about knowing when to say no. Laurie Anderson says you should only do a project if it fulfils two of these three things: it’s interesting, it’s fun, or it pays money.

I clung to this character, [Jane Eyre] who was also very lonely, independent, and had a strong sense of self.

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

I think being told that I’m a bigot and reverse racist. Twitter is a beautiful place.

If you weren’t writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

I’ve thought about this a lot, and I’ve narrowed it down to a veterinarian, florist, makeup artist or pastry chef. I can’t choose just one, because I would love them all. This is probably why I write in so many different mediums.

Photo of Actors Hsiao-Ling Tang and Alex Lee in a scene from Michelle Law’s play, Single Asian Female

Actors Hsiao-Ling Tang and Alex Lee in a scene from Michelle Law’s play, Single Asian Female, presented by La Boite Theatre. Photo — Dylan Evans

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

Writing skills can be taught, but the hard work and persistence required to write only comes with practice. I think there are also people who are naturally good at writing or have an innate sense for story, and studying creative writing is an excellent way to hone that talent.

The best piece of advice I’ve heard applies to all creative industries, and it’s about knowing when to say no.

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

Read. Go to writer’s festivals and book launches. Find a community of other writers. Do short courses or long courses if possible. Set yourself goals. And try to write every day, even if it’s just a paragraph.

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

I used to be a bookseller and love browsing in person, so I buy from physical bookshops. But I’ll buy online if I need something urgently or it’s tricky to find.

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

Lyra from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series. I’ve always looked up to her as an example of a loving, courageous and flawed female protagonist. I’d probably ask her about how she feels towards her parents, who her friends are and if she still visits her and Will’s bench.

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

Jane Eyre has had the most significant impact on my life, because it was the first piece of literature that I felt profoundly connected to. I read it in my final year of high school and, as someone who already felt like a fish out of water growing up as an Asian kid in regional Queensland, I clung to this character who was also very lonely, independent, and had a strong sense of self. I thought if I could make someone feel an ounce of that connection through my own work, writing was worth a shot.

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