This is the first in a series of interviews with creative types who are doing things a little differently to the norm, and I’m delighted that the first interview is with my friend Nine, who also happens to be one of my favourite writers. I asked her to introduce herself:
I’m a freelance editor, zinester, traveller, and member of the redundancy club. I work while I’m on the road, and avoid paying rent by finding house sitting assignments. My where-next shortlist changes weekly.
My zines are If Destroyed Still True (about stuff that happens to me) and Sex Industry Apologist (based on my years as a staff member at a support project for sex workers).
Abyssinia, Henry is my primary blog these days, documenting where I’m at, but my other one is called Everyone I Ever Kissed, which is exactly what it sounds like: it’s been on hiatus for a while, but I’ll get on with it eventually. I also used to edit the LGBT and subsequently Deviance sections of The Skinny magazine.
Did you always know what you wanted to do (creatively) or has it been a process of trial and error to get to the point you’re at now? If it’s the latter, how did you decide what to focus on?
I pretty much always wanted to be a writer, though when I was a kid I wrote short stories and now I’m all about non-fiction. I like to read fiction by others, but real life is too interesting for me to make things up.
In my mid- to late teens I wanted to be a music journalist, and worked on that quite a bit, but eventually I got really sick of it – I felt like I was bluffing my way through it. I guess my motivation was wrong: I wanted to write about music because I loved music (and I loved getting free stuff, and getting onto the guest list reduced my chances of getting ID’d), but not because I loved writing about music.
I gradually realised that I’d been trying to sound like some sort of all-knowing observer with no discernible personality. I was writing in this voice because I thought that was what you were supposed to do. Then I discovered zines, and got more into punk and DIY scenes, and that kind of changed everything.
A lot of the zines I read had that confessional/memoir thing going on, which appealed to me. And I saw that actually, I could create something just the way I wanted it – I didn’t need to follow anyone else’s formula for what constitutes ‘proper’ writing or ‘proper’ publishing or whatever, and I could have full control of how it looked and where it went.
So then I wound up largely focusing on my own life, though often incorporating the personal-is-political approach. It’s always felt completely natural to me – I’m just writing in my own voice rather than taking a step back and pretending I’m not really there. Although I’m aware that my life might not be all that conventional by some people’s standards, it’s not actually about accentuating (perceived) difference. There are universal experiences to talk about, and I want to strike a chord with people.
Have you organised your life in a certain way/made sacrifices in order to continue to be creative?
I haven’t worked full-time since 2001, and in my last job I was able to avoid most of the things that seem to be common in workplaces, such as corporatespeak, early mornings, dress codes and self-imposed swear filters. When I was finally made redundant, I couldn’t see myself going back into ‘normal’ work, so I decided to become self-employed instead.
I do copyediting and proofreading, and I can do that anywhere, at whatever time of day or night I feel like it. I’m still something of a cheapskate, because I’m not at the point yet where it’s guaranteed that I’ll have a steady stream of well-paying clients, but I can cautiously say that things are going okay and I don’t need to think about making changes for some time yet.
And the financial instability is worth it for now. I’m travelling indefinitely, which is an amazing thing to be able to do. I’m happy living this way, and by extension that helps with creativity.
How do you define success?
When I learn that something I wrote made someone laugh or helped them through a hard time or changed their point of view, that feels like success to me; so does getting my work accepted by a publisher or website that I admire. Writing is a notoriously difficult way to make money, so I don’t really dwell on that as an indicator of success.
What in your opinion are the positives and negatives of technology when it comes to both creating and promoting your work?
I pretty much live on the internet, and it’s obviously good for getting things out there, but on the other hand you can feel overwhelmed by just how much is going on, and wonder how to get people to notice you.
I think it offers many clever and innovative ways to promote your work, but I’d rather be actually writing something than spending time working out a marketing strategy and trying to solicit new Twitter followers.
Sometimes I think that I’m doomed to obscurity, but then I have to ask myself: how much do I really want to be noticed? Is it not okay that I have the readers I already do, and that they like my writing and want to read more? I know that I can’t really just sit back and wait for people to come to me, but on the other hand, I mostly feel uneasy about shameless self-promotion.
Maybe some people would say that I’m doing it wrong by not making bigger efforts to sell myself. Oh well: I guess I can live with that, then.
As for creating, other than printing out the odd document and using a photocopier I don’t really use technology in making my zines: I handwrite a lot of them, in part because I like it when people mistake it for a font, and in part because I secretly want to be Aaron Cometbus.
I’ve been asked by numerous people if I would scan my zines and make them available online in PDF format, but I won’t: I feel strongly about keeping (print) zines alive, and I want people to have something tangible to hold onto – I like to imagine they might value it more.
I’ve always found consistency difficult in terms of learning a craft and then practicing it regularly – is this something you’ve mastered and do you have any advice on how to maintain this?
Actually, if I’ve got writer’s block then I try not to push it. I try not to pressure myself with it, and acknowledge that the right words will come to me eventually – if I can give it enough space to evolve naturally, then all of a sudden I’ll come up with a new angle that works better.
This is probably one reason why I’m not set to make much money from writing – deadlines aren’t very compatible with that strategy. I think there is also a perceived pressure to keep on putting your stuff out there, because on the internet things are changing all the time and you need to keep up. You don’t!
If people like your writing that much, they can subscribe. They’ll check back. It’s better to publish things only once in a while, things you can actually be proud of, than bitty things every day or every week that you know aren’t quite up to scratch.
That said, I keep notes sometimes when I’m on the road; I write evening pages (I’m not a morning person), and they tend to feel pretty disposable at the time, but at a later date when I’m putting something together, useful things can be salvaged from them.
Being creative can mean lots of ups and downs – do you have any specific methods for staying healthy and sane?
Anne Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird, describes sitting down to write “with hideous conceit and low self-esteem in equal measure”. That’s pretty much how it works for me, although, to be fair, I don’t really have low self-esteem. Just crushing self-doubt once in a while.
I’ve been lucky in that I haven’t really received that much criticism, but I do think that I’m fairly thin-skinned, so when it happens I need to be able to deal with it and let logic override an overly emotional response: of course some people won’t like what I do, and that’s fine, but if they get mean about it rather than criticising in a constructive way, then obviously they are assholes.
I think my own approach to writing is quite good for staying sane: if I’m writing about difficult subjects, I’m examining my own response to them and trying to consider things from the reader’s point of view at the same time.
But although writing can be a form of therapy, if you’re having a bad time it’s not a good idea to publicly outline your angst in glorious technicolor detail – all the more so if you’re having issues with a particular person and want them to know about it.
Don’t use it to get a coded message out to someone. Give it time if you need to, and then write something that may be of value to others. That’s how you turn a bad experience into something positive.
I highly recommend checking out Nine’s zines, blogs and other writings at the links she gives above. You can also follow her on Twitter.
Want to say hello/ask a question or persuade Nine to market herself better? Why not leave a comment!