I’m a writer. Have been professionally since 1979.
To be precise, I’m a writer, author, editor, and photographer, which is a neat progression but doesn’t tell the whole story. For one thing, the timelines are all confused. I’ve been taking photographs most of my life. My first published photograph appeared in a local newspaper in my hometown of Sydney, Australia, when I was in my early teens but I didn’t get paid for it. The thrill was recompense enough.
The same for my early writing. Not too long after that first photograph was published (I still have the clipping; it was of a hot rod I’d photographed at a local shopping centre and I’d developed and printed it myself. Curiously, I developed an interest in old cars later in life. Small world as we may find out sometime in the future.), I had a short-lived column in the same suburban newspaper. Once again, I didn’t get paid for it; the thrill continued.
I left school early, worked in a menswear store, as a window dresser in a department store (in a large local mall that didn’t have windows so I spent much on my time teetering on high ladders hanging Sale signs), then moved out of the cosy cultural confines of suburbia for the inner city and had a wonderful time as a drink waiter in a fashionable disco (this was the mid- to late-1970s, the Golden Age of Disco, although there will be those musical purists who will insist that Golden Age and Disco should never be used in the same sentence. I disagree but more on that at some later time as well, I’m sure).
In 1979, I threw in the humid, smoky, sensuous existence of the nightclub life for the solitary life of a writer. That’s when I scored my first pay-check from writing. It mightn’t have paid as well as the nightclub, and the tips were nowhere near as good, but it felt like a noble calling. And, for someone who didn’t have a lot of other skills, there was something comforting about distilling facts into something a little easier to understand (my first few years were spent writing encyclopaedia entries).
I’m not sure whether it’s the same with all writers (that’s one question I’ve never asked) but I’ve always had voices in my head. Or, to be precise, one voice. My own.
He’s a chatty little chap. Sometimes he takes the place of my conscience, such as when he warns me against that third martini (in which case, I take it under advisement, as they say in courtroom dramas). Otherwise, he’s my narrator, my Boswell.
It could be that he’s that “inner voice” that is so discussed. It’s the same voice I hear when I read but it goes far beyond that – it narrates my existence, like one of those voiceovers in bad movies. Wherever I am, but most favourably in an airport, hotel lobby, bar or nightclub, I get this running commentary about the people around me, who they are, their relationships to each other, their back-stories.
Luckily, my inner voice – if I’m going to continue referring to it as such – is a benign inner voice. It’s never suggested I climb the nearest water tower and change the course of history (a vast relief as I’m scared of heights). And I’ve never felt obliged to wear a tinfoil helmet to block out alien communications.
Having said that, I recognise there’s a long and distinguished tradition of mental illness in the arts. Derangement seems to make the creative process bubble along quite merrily. It’s been responsible for some true and lasting, even immortal, works of art, whether it’s music, painting or literature.
That’s not my style although there have been times when I drove in that general direction, However I always turned back before the road got too dark. Uncharted territory disturbs me, as it should. I’m the sort of guy who likes a map, GPS, printed directions and at least one experienced navigator on board.
Writers spend an extraordinary amount of time inside their own heads so it’s entirely possible my experiences aren’t extraordinary. Maybe all writers have these voices. My inner voice tells me what to write. For the sake of brevity, I’ll now refer to it as the Voice, just so you know what I’m talking about in the future (but please don’t confused it with the television show of the same name).
The Voice serves some remarkable purposes. Aside from the running commentary, which isn’t loud enough that it drowns out everything else (as it’s currently overwhelmed by Frampton Comes Alive which is playing in the background), it writes my articles and stories for me. A fabulous phrase, a new way of using a particular word, a particularly colourful description. All this and more.
When working on a magazine article, I’ll wait for all the research I’ve gathered to filter through my subconscious, like bourbon slowly working its way through charcoal, removing the impurities, until it emerges at the other end.
When it’s ready, and only then because it’s never wise to hasten the process (using the bourbon analogy, it’s not wise to drink it too early), the first sentence or sometimes the opening paragraph will pop into my head. Unexpected and unbidden.
The Voice will whisper the honeyed phrases. And the article will unfurl, satisfying in its fluidity. Rarely will I need to revise. A light copy edit, change a word here or there. Rearrange a sentence or paragraph. But, on the whole, it’s fully formed and ready to go.
I have very few skills and none, aside from writing, would make me any money. I’m no handyman. On the rare occasions I visit hardware stores I have the same air of intense curiosity that archaeologists show towards vanished civilisations. I stand before tools and, while marvelling at their design, wonder how they’re used. I’m not technical in any way; when I first started using a computer, a friend attached a sign to the wall with very detailed instructions on how to turn it on.
For quite some years, I made a good living from writing. Then I didn’t. Then I couldn’t write, going through an extended and debilitating writer’s block. A blank computer screen goaded me in the worst possible way.
For quite some time, I was that cliché beloved of movies and television – the writer who couldn’t write. The universe, that eternal joker, was playing the worst prank of all. Then I found my way back. It’s a long and complicated story. I’ve shortened it considerably so you’ll stay awake.
I’m sure I’ll cover a lot more about my life in greater detail as the mood takes me. But just to recap: it was fun. Then it wasn’t. Now it’s starting to be again. And I’ve come to Bali to do it.
I’m writing a novel. My first five books were commissioned and published by major Australian publishers. All were non-fiction, with some aspect of Australian history – architecture, literature, music.
With the novels, I’m taking the self-publishing e-book route. The one I’m working on now is a horror novel, in the vein of Stephen King. Hopefully, it’ll be as successful although the odds are against it. Not because it will be bad, more likely it will fail to make much of an impression in spite of being good. That’s just the way the publishing industry is these days, especially with the advent of digital publishing and e-books.
That’s just the way things are. But I need to give this a try. And I’ve come to Bali for that reason, along with a couple of others. For one thing, the climate. And a cost of living that is considerably lower than my hometown.
Do I still have your attention?
Hope there’s something in all this you find interesting. Hang in there. We could start having fun anytime soon. Depending on your definition of fun.
© words David Latta 2014