I’m the Queensland ambassador for the first National Young Writers’ Month (NYWM), which runs June 1-30 2011. You can read all about what that entails here.
Below is an entry originally posted on the NYWM blog. It’s a response to the question, “Why do you write?”
Why I Write: Andrew McMillen
As National Young Writers’ Month approaches, guest writers will be joining us to share their perspectives on why they write. Today Andrew McMillen, our Queensland ambassador, talks us through his motivations.
As a journalist, I write because I want to be engaged with society. I want to contribute. I want to tap new veins of research. I want to speak with people who matter about the issues that concern them, and tell their stories to the widest audience possible. I want to be involved; to ask questions, to challenge preconceptions, to dig beneath the surface veneer. I am still quite new to this, as I can probably count on two hands the number of my published stories that have achieved these goals. But these are the goals, nonetheless.
That’s my stance on ‘why I write’ as of May 2011. It wasn’t always this way.
The first time I was ever published, in any sense of the word, was in 2002. I was an eager member of an online video game community, to put it lightly. I spent hours each day contributing to discussions about all manner of topics with people across the world. I started writing news for the site; a process which, essentially, involved rewriting press releases and summarising new information garnered from other websites. Totally unglamorous – and actually, kind of dirty now that I look back on it – but at the time, I loved it. I felt engaged. Empowered. People were reading my articles, and coming out the other end knowing things that they did not know before! It was a breakthrough. I was 14.
I didn’t uphold this (clearly unpaid) role for long, but I never forgot that first experience of being published. Of having people read my words, and react. Occasionally, throughout my teens, I’d find momentary inspiration in something. I’d sit down and put my mind to writing something outside of my high school assignments. A spirited defence of a friend’s band on a local message board. Over-earnest attempts at aping Tucker Max‘s style by recounting some drunken nights spent with friends. A live review of my favourite band, and how much it blew my mind. These stories never made it far, but it was the writing equivalent of flexing my muscles every once in a while. As with bodybuilding, if you don’t use the muscle, you’ll eventually lose it.
I moved to Brisbane from Bundaberg in 2006. I began studying Communication. I didn’t have a good reason for doing this. It essentially came down to my parents pressuring me to study something; anything. Communication seemed like the course that would suck the least. Ultimately, I was wrong in this assumption – though since I’ve never studied anything else, I can’t really compare their suckiness – but I finished my course and got the certificate.
That first year of university, I went to a few dozen live music shows. I liked music a lot, but I’d never really considered writing about it. Especially not for money. The concept seemed faintly ridiculous. Initially, it was something of an ethical dilemma: why should people get paid for writing about something that they love? (Sidenote: boy, has this view changed.) That year, I began avidly reading Brisbane’s street press – free newspapers, delivered weekly to record stores and venues across the city – as well as the handful of online music media sites that existed at the time. Eventually, I made the connection that the people reviewing shows in those pages, and on those websites, were doing so for free. They weren’t paying for tickets. And some of them weren’t great writers: their sentences were awkward, and their facts were wrong.
After reading one too many poor reviews of a show I’d paid to attend, I decided to throw my hat into the ring by writing my own review. And sending it to a couple of editors: one street press, one online. Both liked what I wrote, and assigned me more reviews. It was June 2007. Over the months, what began mostly as a cost-saving venture as a university student eventually became something about which I’m more passionate than ever: comprehensive, unique live music reviews.
Nowadays, I still review shows, but my attention has shifted toward meatier targets: namely, feature stories. Big, long, heavily-researched articles which require dozens of interviews in order to condense a wide range of viewpoints into a coherent narrative. This is way, way harder than going to watch a couple of bands and filing 300 words on how they performed – which was essentially the extent of the copy that I filed as a journalist (in the loosest sense of the word) between mid 2007 and early 2009.
Clearly, the goal has shifted from gaining free entry into concerts. It’s now about telling stories, starting dialogues. Challenging. Provoking. All that stuff I mentioned in the first paragraph. But without those experiences along the way – first, thanklessly rewriting press releases about new Nintendo games, then the equally thankless task of reviewing live music in Brisbane – I wouldn’t be where I am now. While both why and how I write have changed immensely in the last few years, my belief in – and dedication to – the craft of writing only strengthens with each passing day.
Andrew McMillen (@NiteShok) is a Brisbane-based freelance journalist for Rolling Stone, The Weekend Australian, The Courier-Mail and triple j mag, among others. He is also the Queensland ambassador for National Young Writers’ Month 2011. For more on Andrew, click here.
For more information about National Young Writers’ Month, visit the NYWM website. If you’re a young writer, register on the website, set a goal, and join the conversation. It’ll be fun.
If you’d like to contact me for an interview or to arrange media coverage of any of the above events, email me here.