I write because my Dad is a writer and my Mum was a teacher. I was born a writer, or at the least a raconteur. My late Aunty Maurine Watson was a raconteur and actress and before she passed the Australia Council honoured her with a Red Ochre Award. I witnessed her open a conference for the government in a big hotel in Brisbane. Her poetry moved all of the ‘community’ women in the theatre to cheer and beg for more! From that moment I understood the simple complexities of writing. My Sister and I have both been presented with a David Unaipon Literary Award.
And now my 21yo son is frontman to an emerging heavy metal band.
I suppose we’re all driven in my family to engage with audiences.
How did you come to writing?
I was seriously introduced to creative writing during my last few years of primary school. I was for a time a below average student. Luckily a teacher bullied me into creativity and the keeping of a journal.
Dad had been working on a novel and one night he came home from work to find an acceptance letter from Penguin Australia…it was pretty-much one of our epic-in-the-kitchen-with- a black-family-crying-exercises.
At the end of high school Dad’s novel had made openings for him into literary worlds both at home and abroad. My first experience of a literary function was at ‘Warana Writers Week’ in Southbank.
“Wow…All these writers do is get together and drink imported beers?!”
I sold my first poem to Meanjin literary journal 12 months later; as my short stories were deplorable to read.
What were your greatest obstacles starting out? How did you overcome them?
My obstacles starting out were quite punitive. I was too keen and would get into a few people’s faces. You see, not everybody is really interested in what you want them to read; especially when you’re doing the hard-sell to put our work out there.
I learnt to work on my style, be a bit gracious and to listen, listen, listen.
How do you keep yourself motivated and disciplined?
For years I wrote on a typewriter. I now have computers and wifi which cuts down so much time. There was a period which I’d send out poems and short stories and have to wait weeks for a response. If I’m on my game it now only takes 2-3 days.
When commissions come to my inbox I can basically accept the job and start the ball-rolling immediately. The quickest turn-around I’ve undertaken is 30 minutes to start and finish a piece of writing. Perth Writers Festival put the money in my account the next morning.
But that is a rare and wonderful thing, resigning to the reality that it cannot, will-not, happen like that on a daily basis.
I probably aim for a good, solid thousand words a week apart from paid assignments and now and then I get lucky. Living in a creative household helps too. I can never start the writing day without making my bed…if I don’t make my bed, it plays on my mind.
How do you manage your writing time with everything else you do? How has that changed from when you were starting out?
I am too motivated. This tends to ruin so many good concepts, because I’m still not the writer I want to be as my style tends to slip back to my ‘old voice’. If I take a couple of days off it’s usually for family or relationship purposes, but I’ll always have a journal with me.
Sometimes when a big commission pays off I may not write for a couple of days as I’m paying bills and doing general housekeeping. And that’s not great discipline as there is actually no money coming in, or any exploration into making my writing style tighter.
I’m happy with what I’ve achieved thus far but before I die I wouldn’t mind completing a manuscript that is definitive of the last 25 years of haphazard writing.
Where do you write? How do you arrange your working space?
I share a 2 bedroom unit with my cousin and he’s a musician so the space is quite creative. If the weather is not stinky-stinky-hot I can venture into the backyard and set up with my laptop.
At the moment I sit in the living room amongst a graveyard of musical instruments and type out my copy.
Between 4am and 7am is my ‘happy’ time before Ipswich Road gets too loud and ambulances waltz their morose melodies.
What do you read and how do you read as a writer?
My reading time fluctuates between literary and quirky. I have a scar from an old brain injury and I don’t produce serotonin like a normal person…[I am an Abi-normal Aborigine] so my doctor has implored me to read more lying down to allow my body to position itself so the brain is relaxed and can work on producing good brain chemistry.
I will read anything. I won’t lie to you like some hipster academic and brag about the last time I was in Europe and met Mr Smarty-pants Laureate whose last novel tickled the judges of the Booker and I carry it with me to every coffee shop I haunt.
I’m a big fan of SBS On Demand, Showtime and HBO television. I have a healthy regime of watching something like ‘True Detective’ and then retire to a ‘Dark Horse’ comic/graphic novel before bed.
What’s the one thing you wish you’d known when you were starting out as a writer?
I wish that when I started out on a professional writing path that I didn’t have a mind to speak. Plain and simple. You achieve more by listening.
What are your essential writing tools?
My essential writing tools are my laptops, a desktop iMac, and notepads. Of course, a working wifi is ‘the bomb’, especially when communicating to clients and editors. I also carry a pair of $2 reference books; dictionary and thesaurus that I picked up in a second-hand shop. My iPhone is also a worthy tool.
Recently I purchased a pocket wifi from Vodafone and that seems to pack a punch when it’s needed and is about as big as a box of matches.
How do you overcome ‘writer’s block’?
I’ve never suffered ‘writers block’ because I’m still trying to find my voice. I tend to over-write, wane-upon and destroy concepts…and I’m damn good at it!
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?
MY ONE PIECE OF ADVICE…Writers are born and words choose the writer. Don’t TRY to write…let it come.
Samuel Wagan Watson is an award winning Brisbane-based poet. In 2005 he won the NSW Premier’s Literary Award for his poetry collection Smoke Encrypted Whispers. The collection has also been set to music by 23 Brisbane-based composers.