Last week I got inked for the first time. The process reminded me of the arduous and painful road to publishing. Just like publishing my first novel, getting a tattoo had been on my wish list for many decades. It’s not something I rushed into. And it’s not something that didn’t require a lot of plotting, research, preparation and courage.
Firstly, I did a lot of on-line research into the pros and cons of being inked. Then I checked out styles of tattoos – there are many different types. I found watercolour tattoos appealing. Then I had to find an tattoo-artist specialising in this type of tattoo. This process was similar to all the hours I had spent researching the pros and cons of the different publishing pathways. Then, I chose self-publishing. Or, as we like to say in the biz – indie publishing.
Once I had located a tattooist with a strong portfolio in watercolour tattoos, and an arts background, the next step was dreaming up the design. Like a book, a tattoo tells a story. I have many stories I want told, so I needed to be specific; choose just one. There is nothing worse than a plot that is too complex or all over the place. I wanted to be inked with an autobiography. So I chose a raven to depict my Celtic/Anglo heritage, and a snake for my Aboriginal Australian background. This way, I also honour those that have gone before me. The snake, an earth creature, is grounding. It’s also representative of creation, life force and death. There is no life without death, no happiness without sorrow. I don’t see that many snakes around any more, but I’m always seeing Little Ravens on the side of country roads. Especially when I am tired, as if reminding me to be more conscious of where I am going. The bird is air energy, freedom and the arcane. The splash of colour is a magic spark; its inspiration and creativity, possibilities and playfulness. With a few stars thrown in, just for fun. All together, this image represents elements of me.
Conveying the picture from my imagination, and the story behind it, to the tattoo-artist was similar to the process of commissioning a cover for my first novel. I wanted to be clear, so as not to waste anyone’s time with too many drafts, whilst also not supplying an over abundance of information – to allow the artists’ own creativity to flow. I think this approach worked, because both my cover and tattoo needed only minor tweaks to the initial drafts. I think this came down to being clear on what I wanted, trusting the artists and being able to communicate changes in a constructive manner.
Design down, and research done (from horror stories to recovery tips), I should have been confident. Instead, I woke up full of doubt on the morning of getting the tattoo. What the hell was I thinking? A middle-age woman getting a tattoo? Was buying a motorbike and solo-travelling overseas not enough to quell the mid-life craziness? Did I really have to tick everything on my to-do list? To silence my inner nag, I packed a nana bag to take to the tattoo shop – water, e-reader, travel pillow, android phone and back up battery, Rescue Remedy and an emergency Protein Bomb. Walking in with my calico bag full of ‘what ifs’, when everyone else went in baggage free, I felt a bit silly. However the water, phone and Rescue Remedy did come in handy. Just like all the prep I did to ensure my manuscript was the best I could write at that point in time, and was ready for the pre-publishing process.
When I got to the studio, I read and signed the legal form. I made sure everything was explained to me, and threw in a couple of foolish questions. Knowing that the only foolish question is the one you didn’t ask. Big breath – it was time to break skin.
I won’t lie or act tough. That first cut was the deepest. Being on the bridge of my foot, it hurt. Nothing I couldn’t handle, though. What’s a flesh wound after birthing kids…walking on fire…operations…etc etc. More than anything, the pain was annoying. Except when it was over my ankle bone, or hit a nerve in my foot. That was particularly painful. Anyway, I had my phone for distraction. I micro-blogged the process for a while, via the twitter handle #TweetATattoo. Sure, there weren’t many people following, but it took my mind off the pain – sort of. There were a few people on Twitter who were curious about getting a tattoo of their own, people my age, so were interested in hearing how I went. This was similar to the pre-publishing stage. There is a very vibrant and supportive network of writers on social media. It was through a few on-line groups, meeting like-minded people on Google and Twitter, that I gained the confidence and information needed to self-publish. I could not have got through the pain of publishing, or getting a tattoo, without a few people willing to be my cheer squad. And now that I’ve published, I pass my hard-earned tips on to others.
Towards the end of getting inked, a friend from work popped in. Micro-blogging ceased (sorry everyone), and laughter began. Laughter is one of nature’s best pain killers. Even though I was getting a bit tired of the process, and the dull pain, having someone familiar to talk to made those last minutes fly. I was also appreciative to have a second opinion when the tattooist asked if it looked done. Just before I chose the final draft for the cover of my novel, from a choice of three diverse concepts, I asked friends and co-workers for their opinions. I ended up going with the one I liked at first sight, but felt confident it was the right one because of other people’s input. I shared the drafts of my tattoos too, and got some feedback that led to the final design being much more than what I had envisioned.
It’s now the end of day three, and so far the healing process has been easy. The swelling is hardly noticeable, and there is no redness, seeping or soreness. I have been taking care of it, though. Which might be contributing to the healing. Unlike publishing. After the pain of formatting and uploading a manuscript to on-line distributors (Indies will know that pain I speak of), the real work started. Marketing. Trying not to feel despondent when sales were just a trickle. Waiting for the first review.
As with my writing, this tattoo is still fresh. It might look good now, but I’ve still the scabbing and itching stage to get through. It’s all part of living with ink. I can prepare, lessen risks, but I can’t totally control the process. Once the first cut has occurred, and the ink is dried, a tattoo is forever. As is a novel. Once inked, you can never again have clean skin, or a blank page. No regrets – my story has been set free from my imagination.
I was inked by the talented and sure-handed Jess Hannigan – check out her website Little Miss Jess Tattoos I highly recommend Jess, especially if you are interested in watercolour tattoos. She is based in South Australia, but I believe she occasionally attends tattoo conventions in other states.