A Writers’ Other Jobs story by Kyran Wheatley
“This writing business. Pencils and what-not. Over-rated, if you ask me. Silly stuff. Nothing in it.” -Eeyore
This has been on my whiteboard for a while now. If I’m honest I wish it was a chalkboard – always seemed more… tangible? The point is I stumbled across it one day and wrote it up, not knowing why. I have always loved Eeyore but I think it’s just a nice bit of irony on my wall. My whiteboard is full of this kind of shit. Also, I’ve just counted them, I have 14 notebooks at the moment – including my phone. I should probably transfer it all to my phone to keep it neat but notebooks are just more… tangible.
I have shoeboxes full of newspaper clippings, old ideas on fading receipts and napkins covered in smudged ink, torn corners of magazines with scribbled lines usually out of context. Stacks of paper everywhere. Drafts, third drafts, final drafts with the word final crossed out. And one of my favourite pens in every room – a Bic 4 colour ballpoint. I wish I had a more impressive favourite pen but I don’t have a choice in any of this. This writing business is a complex.
It’s a fixation. An addiction from which there is no reprieve. If I’m not on this heroin I’m thinking about how to get back on it. Everything else is just a means to an end. I’m happiest sitting down with a pen in my arm and relaxing into some nice heroin (where heroin=writing). But one thing we can learn from real junkies is if heroin is all you do you will run out of money for more heroin. So I’ve taken other jobs to support this decade long writing jones.
If we wind the clock back to the start you’ll find me in a Hungry Jacks uniform graduating from burger flipping (not a thing that actually happens) to the till. Hungry Jacks always put their brightest young stars on the till. I learnt a lot about customer service at Hungry Jacks – mostly that it’s not for me.
My brother is a winemaker at a classy place in Margaret River. He makes the kind of wine that I can’t afford to drink re: the point of this article. But for a while there I used his contacts to get me work in one of the vineyards. I would park illegally in the national parks next door and sleep in the back of my 1988 Toyota Landcruiser so I didn’t have to spend too much on the astounding amount of diesel it would burn through. I’d hunt down brands of noodles that were cheaper than two dollars for lunch and dinner every night. I’d take soap into the ocean with me. And I’d write whenever I could.
Wind the clock a little further forward and you’ll find me literally sprinting through the rain with a coffee I probably didn’t have time for in one hand and an open plastic slip full of documents in the other. I found a job for a Settlement Agency as a gopher. Running all over the business district with other gophers trading rich peoples money for title deeds to very expensive houses and then returning to the hooker – L.J. Hooker in my case.
But this felt so commercial, like I’d sold out, like a pawn, like a the little car in someone else’s game of ‘The Game Of Life’. So I left. And one time I lost a title deed which the made the decision easier.Next I somehow swung a job as the graphic designer for Guide Dogs WA.
I didn’t have many skills in graphics design (still don’t) but Guide Dogs is a charity and were obviously feeling charitable. That or no actual graphic designer was willing to get paid so little. But after some time there, and perhaps from my succinct yet witty and informative emails, they realised I could write and I begun spending more time writing copy.
Unbelievable – I was (barely) getting paid to write. This was nice. It might have been mostly newsletter articles about how a Guide Dog puppy had learnt to sit, and usually to a sponsor so enamoured by the whole thing that had we got one of the dogs to piss on some paper and sent them that they would still be happy, perhaps even happier, but still – I was getting paid to write. Getting paid to pick up dog shit and write.
But my addiction was making me restless. It wasn’t enough, I needed a hit. And I couldn’t find a circuit breaker. So I created one. I quit, piled my belongings into my trusty old Landcruiser and drove around the country on the pretence it was for a website called 100 Suns on Highway 1 (which I’d recently created using the software at Guide Dogs WA). 100 days of blogging and podcasting.
Halfway I realised how much I was enjoying the podcasting as well as my writing. And apparently so were both of my listeners. And talking is easy. Maybe radio was the perfect day job?
Now I work for triple j. I’m a floater – which is an unfortunate job title but frequently how I feel so perhaps appropriate. I present when other people are sick or on holiday or in the case of next weekend getting married. It’s perfect. It’s like the muppets in there – everyone is trying to think of new ways to just have the best time possible. I’ve found the perfect profession to keep me happy between writing. I’m not helping someone get out of a crime. I’m not shifting dot points to balance someones tax (do you balance tax?). I’m not desperately trying to compliment someone on their bag before selling them a t-shirt. I’ve been at it 2 years now and I’m very rarely restless, something must be right. And sometimes I write dot points for what I’m going to say – does that count? Am I a writer yet Dad?
Actually my Dad, like some sort of bad motivational TAFE lecturer, always used to tell me to make income an outcome of my passion. He’d leave a suspenseful pause to make the next thing he said hold more gravitas and then say “income should be the outcome of your passion.” Mmm, imagine how happy a junkie would be if he got paid for doing heroin. I’ve been working to make that happen ever since. And I think I’m now as close as I’ve ever been.
Kyran Wheatley is (I am) a presenter at triple j when he isn’t (I’m not) doing other things. You can find him (me) on twitter @kyranwheatley or discover those ‘other things’ at www.kyranwheatley.com.au. Warm Regards, Kyran Wheatley (me).