Unlikely Teachers

3 Things Tattoos Taught Me About Writing

My wrist tattoo when it was first done. "Dream Big"
My wrist tattoo when it was first done. "Dream Big"

A tattoo is a huge decision. Unless you have a few thousand dollars sitting around for removal, it will be with you forever.  A few years ago, after a close friend passed away, I decided to get my first tattoo.  I designed it myself and  took about half a year to decide on the final design.  Was it painful? Moderately. Was it worth it? Definitely! Did I learn anything? Let’s find out.

 “Wait, isn’t that supposed to be sterilized?”

 Tattoo: You don’t just want anyone to tattoo you, you want someone reputable that will A) Do a good job and B) Use sterile equipment. The last thing you want is for your new body art to compromise your health.

 Lesson: Getting your work in print or made in to an e-book is a big accomplishment, but uneducated decisions can lead to big problems. Just like contaminated tattoo equipment can compromise your health, a bad publisher or agent can compromise the health of your writing career. Sometimes, even with research, unexpected and unfortunate things can happen, but by making sure that you are subbing your manuscript to reputable places, you have the best chance of staying out of trouble. A great place to start is CWIM and Guide to Literary Agents. I like to think of it like this: Time spent researching now saves lots of time and heartache in the future.

“Wait, what? My friend’s mother’s sister’s tattoo artist ALWAYS works with music on.”

 Tattoo: How tattoo artists like to work varies from artist to artist. Some are chatty, some like to work in silence, some like to work with music on etc.  

 Lesson: How you plan, how you execute and  how you revise your writing  isn’t going to be the same as everyone else. Never dismiss someone else’s creative process, it’s a great learning experience, but know that there isn’t just one way to write. For example some people like to write an extensive outline before they write, while others are pantsers. Find what works for you. It’s not the way you do it; it’s the fact that you’re doing it.

 “Ouch! #%*!”

 Tattoo: Everyone perceives the pain of getting a tattoo differently. Some say it feels like a small scrape, while others say it feels like a knife being dragged through the skin. If you are about to get a tattoo, you should expect some degree of pain. My tattoo did hurt, but the final result was definitely worth it.

 Lesson: This industry hurts. Sometimes like the small scrape and often like the knife. Writers and illustrators have to learn how to develop a thick skin. There are tough critiques, rejections and deals that fall through. The good news? If you can withstand the pain and keep striving to reach your goals, it will be worth it. I have never heard a published author or illustrator say that the hard journey wasn’t worth it. Have you?

 What have tattoos taught you?

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5 thoughts on “3 Things Tattoos Taught Me About Writing

  1. Tattoos have captured my imagination in that they can be appreciated in so many different ways. They are a very unique art form that express the human condition as no other art form does. Now that I’ve been studying them and doing multi perspective photography of amazing quality tattoos, I see things that are magical and unexpected. I see things that I didn’t expect – something gets revealed because of the dimensional space the tattoo occupies. A 3D multi perspective photograph of a life size tattoo is transcendent in that it reveals the human-ness bound within the artform. That you, in your blog post, also see lessons within tattoo art just furthers my interest in the belief and mythology and transcendence that exists. It is quite amazing!

  2. Tattoos haven’t taught me anything personally, because I’m too chicken to risk the pain! But I love your analogy to writing. Sounds as though they’ve taught you well!

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