Interview: Gabby McMillan, Writer

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Gabby McMillan is a force to be reckoned with. Successfully marrying her creative spirit with a lucrative writing and editing career, Gabby currently holds a coveted position as staff writer for Weight Watchers magazine, while dabbling in creative writing in her spare time. Aspiring writers, take note: Gabby is an inspiration for those of us who hope to make writing our full-time vocation. You can follow Gabby's career via her lovely blog, which showcases her eloquent prose and sparkling wit, and her uplifting tweets (@gabbymcmillan). Here is Gabby's delightfully unabridged interview with Doorways.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? Also, please describe your writing trajectory.*
My first piece was published in Pursuit magazine. Seeing my byline in print was spine-tinglingly delightful, so I bragged to friends and flapped copies of the publication in relatives’ faces. Did I mention the piece was a two-sentence book review? And I was in Year 8? And the magazine was about 10 pages long? Still, a girl has to start somewhere.

Fast-forward five years and I ended up knee-deep in a journalism and creative writing degree. Ever the teacher’s pet/gold star student/class geek, I flaunted my writerly wares around Canberra in search of a magazine that would publish an 18-year-old student with no experience (I’d realised my Year 8 byline wasn’t too crash-hot). I began writing for Canberra’s street press title, BMA. It was unbelievable, offering surreal moments like chatting on the phone with Regurgitator in my Ressies room while friends skulled beer bongs in the hallway. By the end of university, I had three years of writing for BMA under my belt – as well as contributions to Lip, Forte, Monitor Online, This Is Writing, All Write and Vive magazine.

After graduation, I nabbed a chief sub-editor job at two Disney tween titles. After two years of subbing features on Zac Efron’s latest haircut, I became the deputy chief sub-editor/health writer at DOLLY (where Zac’s hair still got attention). I also chased freelancing opportunities and was lucky to score commissions from Cosmopolitan and Weight Watchers Online.

A stint as the deputy editor of three parenting titles was a memorable rollercoaster ride. It reminded me of my true passion: writing. So, I moved away from managerial editorial roles in to my current – and more creative – position of Weight Watchers magazine’s staff writer, where I pen stories on everything from nutrition and fitness, to fashion and beauty. Upon seeing my first feature in print, the spine tingles started again.

(The wonderful Australian author Andrew Humphreys, who I was lucky enough to work with, told me successful careers don’t need to be a steep upward climb: they can have many ups and downs. I credit him for bringing me back a notch and encouraging me to do what makes me happy.)

I’m also a passionate creative writer, but I haven’t quite figured out how to balance fulltime magazine writing with working on my short film script, vignettes and novel ideas. I’m sure I’ll master it eventually but until that wonderful day comes, fulltime magazine writing is my priority and creative writing is my playtime.

* I bet you wish you asked for the abridged version. I’ll step off the soap box now, well, in a moment.

What is your writing routine?
It varies. I tend to save a methodical writing routine for my staff writer position – keeping to-do lists, beating deadlines, staying on track etc – while my creative writing is a whirlwind of 6am bursts of inspiration followed by days of nothingness, rounded off with four-hour marathon sessions. (Confession: I can’t write at home without my desk lamp and back pillow but there’s nothing sexy about that, is there?)

What inspires you?
The ridiculous. Walking. Eavesdropping. Fish-out-of-water scenarios. People in my life inspire snippets of stories every day... they just don’t know it yet. I adore meeting new people and finding what makes them tick. Brilliant writing also motivates – and terrifies – me (think: The Book Thief, Arrested Development, Breaking Bad, just to name a few).

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
My advice is simple: if you want to be a writer, write. Write, damn it, write. Get that pen out, turn on your laptop, use chalk for all I care – just write.

Now, I know it’s harder than it sounds, so allow me to share my creative writing confession: I often get ahead of myself – daydreaming about book tours and my short list of book cover illustrators – before I’ve even typed a sentence in Microsoft Word. Nuts. My best work is done when I stay in the moment, focusing no further than a chapter or two ahead, occasionally jotting down ideas for the ending. Once my brain drifts in to ‘Gabby accepting the Booker Prize’ dream sequences, I’m doomed. It means I’ve let the story get away from me and I’ve projected myself to the (unrealistic) end without enjoying the experience of writing.

My boyfriend, who also dabbles in creating writing, is patient with my mad-woman tendencies. He reminds me to let ‘Gabby the writer’ get the words down first, then let ‘Gabby the sub-editor’ fix them later. Until those words are down, ‘Gabby the sub-editor’ needs to be far away, caged in a basement if necessary. If I let her hang around for too long, she confuses matters with her ‘Is this sentence tight enough?’ and ‘I don’t think the intro works’ feedback. ‘Gabby the sub-editor’ is fantastic to have around for editing, but she’s a pain in the butt if she pokes her nose in beforehand. So, that’s it: write first, edit later. You can’t edit a blank page, folks.

Last but not least: enjoy what you’re writing. Good ol’ Robert Frost (and my boys from Boston Legal) once said ‘No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader’. Translation: If you’re not feeling it, no one else will. Take pleasure in words – they’re cheeky little buggers. Play with them. Show them a good time. Have fun.

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