I’ve always loved words and stories. Another thing I loved growing up was putting jigsaw puzzles together and I think story writing is very similar. The writing process to me has always been like stumbling across a few intriguing pieces from a giant unknown jigsaw puzzle and then trying to find all the remaining bits in order to put them together and discover what the final picture is all about. That’s why I write. I love putting stories together. I love the thrill of discovering the missing pieces and working out just where they all fit and I love the satisfaction of seeing the completed picture. Of course finding the words to tell the story, is an equally challenging puzzle. But if you can find the right ones and put them together where they’re meant to go, it’s a little bit like magic.
How did you come to writing?
As I said, I always loved words and stories and the power of words and stories to take you to other places and make you feel real emotions. My first dream was to be a singer-songwriter like Bob Dylan so the first ‘serious’ things I wrote were song lyrics. Later on at university I wrote some poems for a poetry magazine and also a comedy sketch for a TV show. I didn’t have much belief in myself so when neither was accepted I more or less gave up. After completing a BA and a Dip Ed I became a secondary English teacher which is where my interest in YA developed. While I was teaching I always planned to write some short stories and send them off to see if I could get published. I never wrote them. The only thing I ever completed and sent off was a picture book but despite some kind comments from a few publishers it wasn’t accepted. Eventually after teaching for quite a while, one of those short stories that I’d been thinking about but hadn’t written, grew into a larger story in my head. In 2000 resigned from my teaching job to write it. It eventually became my first novel The Running Man.
What were your greatest obstacles starting out? How did you overcome them?
Because I was a full time English and Economics teacher when I started out, my greatest obstacle was just finding the time and the energy to write. Some people are able to combine raising a family or their paid working career with writing, but I couldn’t. In the end I was so desperate to have a go at writing the story that had been in my head for so long, that I quit my job halfway through a teaching year to at least get started. I was very lucky to even have the opportunity to do something like that. I doubt that I would ever have become a writer if it wasn’t for my wife who supported the family as a full-time teacher while I was able to just do short teaching contracts and then take the time off in between to concentrate on writing.
How do you keep yourself motivated and disciplined?
I’ll be the first to admit that I struggle and sometimes fail with motivation and discipline. People giving writing advice often say that you should write every day, but I can go months without writing a word or wanting to. I have to think about stories for a long time before I find the courage to press a single key and that’s what I’m usually doing if I’m not writing. Coming from a teaching background where my whole day was organised and regimented, working from home with nobody ringing a bell to tell what I should be doing, was certainly a challenge to my discipline! I think I’ve become a more disciplined writer over the years, because you need to be if you want to make a career out of writing. Once I get caught up in a story and the writing process, motivation and discipline tend not to be problems.
How do you manage your writing time with everything else you do? How has that changed from when you were starting out?
I’m a full time writer now and have been for almost ten years but as well as writing, I spend around 60 – 80 days each year doing school talks or presenting at Festivals. July, August and into September are often heavily booked but I try to keep the first three months and the last three months of the year fairly free for writing. Some people ask me where I find the time to write because they hear or read about the various school visits and festivals I do. My life does get a little hectic on occasions, but honestly, compared to the pressures and demands of full time teaching, it’s nothing and I really have ample time to write. The only problem is that the times when you have a pressing deadline or a burning need and/or desire to write, don’t always coincide with when you have those blank spaces on your calendar!
Where do you write? How do you arrange your working space?
I rarely write anywhere but at my home in Brisbane. Although I love the romantic idea of writing in cafes or on the beach or while listening to music, I find them all just too distracting. We have a study upstairs which I share with my wife and a small writing nook downstairs. I alternate between the two, usually depending on the temperature (it’s cooler downstairs). Neither space is very inspiring. Neither have a view. But they work for me. I ‘arrange’ my working space by pushing random items aside so that I have a clear access to my keyboard.
What are your essential writing tools?
A computer, the internet, solitude, a comfortable chair and occasional food and coffee.
What’s the one thing you wish you’d known when you were starting out as a writer?
That I actually had the ability to do it and that the thought of being a writer wasn’t just a ridiculous dream. Had I known that, I might have tried earlier
What do you read?
I tend to read realistic fiction and the majority of that would be classified as Young Adult novels. I read YA not just because it’s what I often write, but because I find the best of YA to be more enjoyable, better written and often more ‘adult’ than many adult novels. I do think there is a distinction however between books written mainly for teenagers and young adults, and books written about teenagers and young adults that have a more universal appeal. I tend to read the latter. If they were published today, I think books like To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye, and Lord of the Flies would all be categorised as Children’s or YA stories. Adults who never read YA are certainly missing out on great books and wonderful writers in my opinion.
How do you overcome ‘writer’s block’?
Well first of all, I don’t see ‘writer’s block’ as some sort of a condition you ‘suffer’ from. I think it’s just part of the natural process every writer goes through as they try to uncover a story. Some stories or parts of a story are hard to find and to figure out. It takes time and effort and a lot of thought to break through. The good thing is that those ‘difficult’ bits can often end up being the most important and powerful. As Tom Hanks says in A League of Their Own, ‘If it was easy everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great’. He’s talking about baseball but it applies just as much to writing.
But for a more practical answer to the question about overcoming writer’s block, my suggestion would be to get in the habit of going on long walks. Make it the same walk every time so you’re more or less on auto pilot. As you walk, let your mind mull over and play with whatever aspect of the story you are currently stuck on. I’d be willing to bet you’ll solve your problem or at the very least, make good progress with it. This is the only piece of writing advice I swear by.
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Apart from that last answer, it would be this: Don’t pay too much attention to all those ‘advice for aspiring writers’ suggestions! In the end you have to find what works for you as a writer and you have to write the story that only you can write. Always remember that you are your first and most important audience. So forget the story other people might want you to write and go on the writing journey you want to go on. Write the story that makes you laugh or cry or that says the things that you believe need to said. Write the story that moves and inspires you. If you can do that, there’s a good chance that what you end up creating will move and inspire others as well.
Michael Gerard Bauer’s first novel The Running Man was the 2004 CBCA Book of the Year. His other works include the popular Ishmael trilogy, Just a Dog and the Eric Vale series for younger readers illustrated by his son Joe Bauer. His latest YA novel is The Pain, My Mother, Sir Tiffy, Cyber Boy and Me. Michael’s books are currently sold in over forty countries and translated into twelve languages.