HOW WE GET TO WHERE WE'RE GOING
I have been writing my whole life. But it has taken me a long time to say that; ‘I’m a writer.’
I’m close to 30 now and finally, I believe it.
I came from a humble home where we couldn’t afford high-end art, so we made it ourselves instead. Painting, poetry, sculpture, whatever. We had books, but not Penguin classics. My mother always encouraged us to read, took us to the library, urged us to follow our curiosity, even worked extra hours so she could send us to art classes after school. The only rule was that she would not force us to do anything – all our endeavours had to be self-motivated. That way, they were entirely our own. I think about this often.
I started writing professionally when I began working in advertising after I graduated uni. I fell into the industry unexpectedly while trying to figure out what I was good at, what I believed in and who I wanted to be.
I hustled a lot, skateboarding through the dark at 5 am each morning to get to work before the broadcast news went live, getting home in the evening and writing into the night. I cold emailed people I wanted to be like. Got coffee with whoever would listen to my ideas. Read articles on the internet about what networking was. Introduced myself to artists and asked them how they got there.
No one ever really had a straightforward answer. I guess that’s the whole concept of a ‘journey’; we each have to forge our own.
Around this time, I started my poetry website as a place for my writing to live and, as a big surprise to me, it got picked up by an independent publisher, and they offered me a book deal. I was 23 and straddling the two worlds of art and commerce, completely unsure of how to do either properly. Working with clients’ million-dollar budgets in the day and coming home to eat two-minute noodles at night, I quickly came to realise that one exists to sustain the other.
Each of these milestone moments in my life has been marked by these leaps of faith – someone taking a chance on me and me learning to believe my work is worth it. I need to constantly be feeling like I’m working towards these. Making work that will resonate with people. Getting better, going deeper. Believing in opportunities. Knowing they don’t come out of nowhere.
I continued in advertising for five years, working 9, 10, 12 hours a day. It was difficult and taxing, sometimes thrilling and rewarding, but most often it felt like I was depleting myself for a cause I didn’t believe in. Big brands buying out the IP of smaller independents, women being made redundant and missing out on managerial roles, coming up with new ways to tell the same stories wrapped in something artificially authentic.
I was living in a mockumentary of corporate life. As a woman who looks very young on the outside and feels a lot older within, I was constantly battling to be taken seriously. When all your energy is being taken up with trying to be considered worthy of being in the room, it’s difficult to have conviction behind your ideas. To truly believe in yourself. I burned out, trying to prove it. This became my turning point.
Three years ago, I made the leap to go fulltime freelancing, pulling together all the skills I had acquired along the way and making my own go of it. Now I write poetry commissions, copywrite, direct, script, produce, strategise - I do anything I can get my hands on. And at any moment it can all change. I have learned to keep riding that wave.
The thing that fuels this is my creative process. It’s emotional, fragmented and erratic, which is probably a result of the lifestyle I’ve lived for the last five years; packing up, moving, travelling to foreign places, working on trains, nestling into bunk beds, scrawling poems on the back of my hand or script lines in the dying moments of my phone battery.
But I have come to trust it. Respect it. To listen to its call. To wake myself up in the middle of the night so I can write something down. To play the song again and again so I can hear what the rhythm is trying to tell me. There are always moments where I question what I’m doing, what I’m worth, whether what I am making is good enough. I think it’s good never to be complacent. But it is a fine line between that and having enough conviction to keep going. I tell myself these things over and over again to make sure I truly believe them; Let things be bad. Messy. Imperfect. I often find things have to get to their ugliest point before the art of what I’m making begins to emerge. Don’t get caught up in the obsession with beauty. Be patient. Be impatient at the same time. Move. Make. Move again.
My creative mentor gave me this advice one night in passing, and I’ve never forgotten it; Keep making things; keep finishing things. Keep seeking validation. Keep believing. If you do, you are giving it every opportunity to come.
Annabel Hawkins is a New Zealand-based writer, director and digital strategist. She published her first poetry anthology, This must be the place when she was 23 and travels the world making work. Web: annabelhawkins.com