In 2004, often still dressed as a Mormon from playing a gig the night before, I was making coffee for the sleeveless puffer vest pram pushers opposite the Farmer’s Market in Richmond. Occasionally I’d get asked to watch the counter of the sex shop across the road, selling toys, fluffing customers, and talking sex, despite still being a virgin. Being in charge of all that vibrated and jiggled and whipped got my creative rocks off. Once Paul or Dani or Simon had finished their pumpkin soup (it was always pumpkin soup, even in summer) and relieved me of my post, I’d rush back across the road, return to the coffee machine, and write notes for short stories on serviettes. Orders would come in and I’d multi-task: burn milk, stress the ristretto, frantically apologise, vomit into a bin if I was still hungover, and write. I’d get my stories down, bin them out of fear and watch my creative juices get chucked away at the end of each day, like a condom with a knot in it.
In 2006 - if you were one of the dozen people in Leeds who purchased over-priced homewares - I may have sold you a 59 Pound toilet brush. When I eventually got fired for passing off a wash basket as a doonah, I did a few shifts at Topman. But it’s unlikely I sold you anything there either, as I got glocked on my third day for demonstrating the old rollie-in-the-peehole trick on a ciggie break.
The small amount of money I saved in Leeds was put to good use in a 15-person bar in Paris. It was called ZeroZero, and without that money I wouldn’t have met the protagonist of the first story I ever submitted to, ah, anywhere. And it was shortlisted for a prize.
After that I grew more confident. I started writing and not binning, working then submitting. On the wall above my writing desk –which was above a rat infested Vietnamese joint – I wrote Take The Money, Go Home, And Write Your Novels. I’ve since Googled the phrase, and can’t find a source. I’m hoping I made it up, because it became somewhat of a mantra. A mantra that lost me my bond, but is hopefully still being enjoyed by the tenants of 363a Brunswick St.
I’ve taken money putting up scaffolding for a church without safety equipment; waiting on tables; washing dishes; picking up glasses and breaking them; tour managing bands and crashing tour vans; I even stripped at a house party in Sheffield for 20 Pound once. That was the same night Rod shat into a tea towel and threw it at me while I was sleeping. The night of my 20th birthday.
When work no longer satisfied me, sometime around 2008, I took to playing pool at The Lord Newry for my rent money. When I was forced to move to a cheaper room in North Melbourne – because my heartbreak (oh yeah, someone broke my heart blah blah) had led to depression which had led to substance abuse significant enough that my bank balance literally fucked itself - I challenged punters at Prudence to arm wrestles, and running races, and games of chess for cash. I rarely won, and would often have to borrow money from my best friend, Sam. Sammy, if you’re reading this, we’re square and you know why (kiss kiss, cuddle, rub etc, yeah?) During those 12 months the only things I wrote were notes to girls I was too afraid to engage in conversation. Despite what they say, you can’t tell if a person is crazy from their handwriting, read one, along with my number. “Weirdo,” she texted moments later. *Yes, I’d lost my virginity by this point. Not convincingly, but I’d lost it. Can one unconvincingly lose their virginity? Submit your answers to: firstname.lastname@example.org*.
But in 2009 I got into copywriting. I took the money, went home, and started writing my novels (read: heartbreak blog). I began documenting all the stories I’d banked during the chaos of my part-time jobs and full-time drinking. Advertising was good for me on many levels. Though it wasn’t until I got into magazine work that my writing improved. I landed myself a gig where I could write creatively, get paid and lead a relatively normal life at night. The job taught me structure – not evidenced in this piece – and how to write concisely. (I also met Penny Modra - still one of my heroes, and at the time, my editor).
Now that my drinking is largely under control, I’m engaged to a human. I wake up every day to a cat scratching my head and Kate’s round eyes and it’s like I’m mainlining endorphins. My new job also means I get annual leave. And with that annual leave I sometimes catch a plane and cover a coup in Thailand, or try my hand at novel-writing in Berlin. The point is, none of the words on serviettes, or emotional rubbish ever got ‘published’. And while I believed I needed chaos to write, I’ve never been more productive than right now – happy, taking a cheque and catching public transport twice a day to an office in the CBD.
I’m finally taking the money, going home, and writing my novels.
Robert F. Coleman is Publishing Director of George Patterson Y&R, and former Editorial Director of The Thousands – city guides for Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Hobart, London, Tokyo and Berlin. He has written for The New York Times, Tagesspiegel, Le Monde, Island and The Age. In 2010, Bret Easton Ellis was quoted as saying, “there’s something a little off about this guy – he’s not your usual journo”. Robert currently resides in a house with black mold and a female ginger cat called Henry Beans.
Sam van Zweden was Writers Bloc’s Online Editor from 2013 - 2015. A Melbourne-based writer and blogger, her work has appeared in The Big Issue, Voiceworks, Tincture Journal, Page seventeen, and others. She’s passionate about creative nonfiction and cross stitch. She tweets @samvanzweden.