There's certainly a distinct look associated with modern writers.
They are often found sipping black coffee in cafés, looking forlornly out the window through glasses they probably don't need, with a dusty, yellowing paperback (literature, of course) sticking out from the pocket of the oversized coat they always wear. But is this what makes a writer? I spoke with Caitlin Low — occasional café dweller, full-time uni student, freelance writer, and Founding Editor of Eyebag Magazine — about what really makes a writer.
Caitlin is flattered by this romanticised image, but insists there is more to it than looking the part. "It's so easy to call yourself a writer nowadays — anyone can write. The hard part is consistently trying to produce quality work ."
Caitlin is more than familiar with producing quality work. In her final semester of a double degree in Law and Journalism, she launched Eyebag — an arts and literary publication about 'people and ideas to lose sleep over'. "It's something I've wanted to do for a long time," she says. "I wanted to graduate with a tangible product of my work, not just a piece of paper. I wanted to prove it to myself."
Caitlin's university career has been a six-year endeavour, but creating a magazine was a lifelong ambition. "Publishing a magazine has been my dream since I was 12, when I first got Photoshop and used all our home printer ink on a 40-page full-colour booklet of dog poems." She admits that Eyebag "is probably a bit better".
Starting a print magazine from scratch is no small feat, and it took the better part of four months from idea to printed proof. I couldn't help but wonder why anyone would embark on such a huge undertaking in their last semester of university.
"I think, after five years, I'm better at managing study. I can balance my time now, so I thought, why not add something else to stress me out?"
Eyebag is far from Caitlin's first foray into professional writing. She has written for a number of independent magazines over the last few years: "Mous Magazine, The Music, Scenestr, IZE Magazine, The Pulp Zine, Luna Magazine — which doesn't exist anymore — and I used to write copy for local start-ups."
Caitlin insists that writing for these publications helped hone her craft, but she had been writing for herself for a much longer period of time. "Whenever I'm feeling big emotions, the first thing I do is write it down," she says. "For me, writing is a far better form of communication than speaking. I find the whole process really cathartic."
Caitlin admits that formal training has been a big influence on her ability to write, but her passion for writing started at home. "My mum used to edit a few publications in Singapore, so spelling and grammar were drilled into me from a very young age."
Yet as a young child, there was one common writer's habit that Caitlin didn't adopt: reading.
"I wasn't really a bookworm. I wouldn't call myself an avid reader. Even now, I don't read much in terms of novels and fiction. But when I do find a book I really like — my favourites are Murakami's Norwegian Wood or Patti Smith's Just Kids — then, I will read it voraciously."
Instead, Caitlin found herself devouring the printed word in another form: magazines.
"As a kid, I had lots of magazines I would find around the house. So I would read short, current feature articles and interviews instead of books. I guess it makes more sense that I wanted to start a magazine instead of writing a novel. Magazines were better suited to my short attention span."
Caitlin's attention span has lengthened over the years. To keep up with the requirements of her double degree, Caitlin had to squeeze Eyebag production into every nook and cranny of her already limited spare time. "In the four months it took to put it all together, I would spend most of my nights writing or editing. I never really had a daily schedule, and had to fit Eyebag in wherever I could manage it."
This "whenever I could find the time" attitude is not dissimilar to best-selling Japanese author Haruki Murakami's writing strategy. Murakami — whose latest book, Killing Commendatore, sold 1.38 million copies in two weeks — wrote his first two novels at his kitchen table in the early hours of the morning after finishing work at the bar he owned. Those few hours before dawn were quite literally his only free time.
Eyebag is a labour of love for Caitlin, and it's a labour she hopes to maintain for as long as possible. When asked where she would like to see herself in 20 years' time Caitlin had this to say:
"I think I would like Eyebag — or whatever side projects I come up with in the future — to have become successful enough to make a sustainable living, although I'm not sure how realistic that is. I'd like to have a small team of writers in a warehouse office with an office dog. Sure, I'd also love to be on the top floor of a high-paying publishing house, but being able to feed myself comfortably and do what I enjoy with a team of talented people is closer to the dream."
With cuts to arts funding and a lack of faith in print media, it's a difficult time to be entering the creative arts industry in Australia. As such, there has never been a more important time for writers like Caitlin to be doing what they love, and for magazines like Eyebag to be in circulation.
The second issue of Eyebag — themed 'Would You Rather?' — was published in December 2017, and is available at Contra in Brisbane's CBD, Junky Comics and Avid Reader in West End, or online at eyebagmag.com.