What five words best describe you?
Playful, sincere, thoughtful, introverted, honest.
What is a typical writing day for you?
I usually start work by 9.00 AM, or earlier, often with a little music playing in the background, just to get me ‘in the zone’. But once the writing starts to flow, the music gets quieter and quieter until it’s finally off altogether.
I write for a few hours in the morning, then stop for lunch. I really enjoy getting out of the house for an hour at lunchtime and seeing what the rest of the world is up to.
At 1.00 or 2.00 I get back to work and keep going until about 5.00 when I stop and head into the kitchen to prepare dinner. (I really like cooking)
Throughout the day, I give my brain little breaks by spending a few minutes checking email and social media and doing quick chores. I think those pauses actually help the writing a lot. If I’m grappling with a difficult problem, stopping for a few minutes is often all it takes to find the solution. Sometimes stopping is the quickest way forward.
Is there any part of the writing process you don’t like?
There are rare times when I actually dislike the whole process, but that’s usually when I just can’t work out how to make some aspect of a story work, or I’m feeling burnt out.
When that happens it’s time for a longer break and perhaps spending more time feeding the cultural parts of my brain through books, movies, quality TV, plays, music, walking in nature, holidaying, talking to friends, etc. It doesn’t take long to rediscover my love for stories and language and the writing process.
In terms of the different stages of writing, I like the development phase best when ideas are flowing and anything could come of the story, and the polishing phase when you’ve done many drafts and it’s close to finished. It’s just all the stuff in between those phases that’s a bit more of a slog.
Are you a plotter or a panster? (Plotter =Plotting out your manuscript before you write it. / Panster = Putting pen to paper and plotting as you go along)
I’m a bit of both and not too much of either.
I usually plot a loose roadmap of my story, just some of the major turning points (which hopefully includes a glimpse of the ending), then I let myself discover the rest of the route as I go.
I think of it this way, if I’m going to a foreign city, I don’t explore the whole place on Street View first – I want to discover it by actually being there, being immersed in it. But before I commit to a long journey, I want to know that the destination is worth the effort. So I get a rough idea of where I’m going, just enough to know it’s going to be worth heading off, then I look forward to discovering the beautiful and surprising details while I’m there.
But that’s just my way and I really think any approach to plotting or panstering can work. So please just do it whatever way makes you happy.
If you could invite one author, dead or alive to dinner who would it be?
Charles Dickens. I think we’d share a lot of similar views and I could learn an enormous about writing from him.
Do you road test your ideas before you start your story?
Almost never. And I strongly suggest you don’t either! Sharing ideas when they’re raw can be disastrous for at least two reasons.
Firstly, raw ideas can fall flat when you share them, which can cause you to lose confidence in them. And that might not be because they’re bad ideas, it may simply be that you weren’t able to fully explain them at that point, or that the idea didn’t happen to capture one listener’s imagination, or that you’re talking to someone who sees you as a competitor, so isn’t all that keen to encourage you, or that while you can immediately understand the full implications of your idea, the listener can’t.
And secondly, it’s so easy for other creative friends to forget where an idea came from and actually ‘come up with it’ themselves. That has happened to me on several occasions and it was my mistake not theirs.
If you share your ideas too early, you’re taking a very big risk. So please keep them secret until they’re thoroughly locked up in a story. But once they’re at that stage, share them as widely and as often as you can, so you can really discover what you’ve got.
What’s the funniest thing a child has ever said to you during a read aloud session?
I’d just finished talking to a grade 2 class and was packing up my things when a girl who was about seven sidled up to me and quietly said, ‘You smell like … deodorant.’
What’s next from Michael Wagner?
Several picture books are in the pipeline at the moment, some with mainstream publishers and one or two which I’m publishing myself. I started up a self-publishing/micro-publishing venture called Billy Goat Books last year with the release of a first reader called Pig Dude: He Can Do ANYTHING! It’s kind of hobby publishing in that it’s given me a way of releasing some of my more quirky, off-beat stories, or the ones I really want to have greater creative control over. But it’s not how I plan to release all of my books. So I’m kind of doing one myself and one with a publisher at the moment, which is such a lovely and liberating mix.
In a couple of months Billy Goat Books will release it’s second title, a picture book called Family Hugs. I can’t wait. The illustrator, Adam Carruthers, has done such a beautiful job of it that it still give me goosebumps whenever I read it.