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Did you ever see that person who writes in the street on a typewriter? They sit with a sign that says “Poet for Hire” or “Stories While You Wait” and type a mirror made of prose for the passing public.

I have been that person. But I am not the girl with a typewriter on Frenchman St in New Orleans, or the boy offering letters of resignation on Southbank in London. I am not the man who is always impeccably turned-out as he writes poems in Austin, nor his similarly sartorial pal on the Highline in New York. I am not the lady who sits on the bridge with a typewriter in Granada, nor the long-haired boy who types poems in the parks in Berlin. I am not the Canadian lady offering to write personalised smut during Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival.

But these people exist. Over the past two and a half years I have set my typewriter alongside many of these courageous oddballs. There is not one person who types stories and poems in the street, there are many of us. And year on year more appear.

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Why do we do it? Why does any artist work in the street? Music and theatre have long histories of luminaries who honed their craft by playing in public. Why should the written wordsmith be kept to dusty studies? Before writing on the street I sold my skills to marketers and media organisations that paid me very little to create vacant diversions and confidence-curdling lies for the public. Writing on the street was the first way I found to make an honest living by my writing.

And it’s exciting. The street is a demanding place to write, prone to the opinions of every person who passes, each a potential inspiration. When some brave person gives a subject that they want writing about, it’s down to you to produce something right then that mirrors their feelings and might illuminate their situation. You need to ignore the stares of people passing, humour the children who want to press just one of the typewriter’s keys as you’re mid-flow, and shift your emotions to reflect the shape of your customer.

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What gets written is often read in front of you, and you’re able to see the effect that your words have on your audience first-hand. By writing on the street I have been asked to write things that I would not have done ordinarily, and met the sorts of people I had never imagined to exist. I’ve done freelance work for Cupid. I’ve gushed on behalf of Gaia. Street writing allows my writing to make others happy, and to do that, in a street situation, always stretches my writing to improve.  

Cyber-bullying first brought street writers to my attention. After a photo of him street writing on his typewriter went viral, Christopher Hermelin suffered horrific cyber-bullying. The image of Hermelin with his typewriter on the highline in New York was taken from an angle that obscured the details of his story writing service. Lacking that context of him busking, the internet fell over itself to be mean. I found it brave of him to have been out there. I wished I could make my living through writing like him. But I was comfortable selling my brain to the traditional industries. It was only when that work dried up, and the rent deadline loomed, that i was forced to find the courage necessary to go write in the street.

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What I found incredible when I first sat with a typewriter in public was people’s receptivity. Far away from the troll lands of the internet, human beings treated me with warmth and kindness. Far from being a faceless writer scribing for a giant corporation, I was able to use writing to connect with individuals and bring a sense of joy to us both. People in every type of situation stop and open up to me. Because I’m sat in the street being my weird self, flying a freak flag, people can be honest.

It’s never clear what you’re making or have made each day. The things you write go to live in a land beyond you. Occasional hints of how they’ve got on become treats. A mother writing to say her son with ADHD has bought a typewriter and can now write without being distracted for the first time. A couple travelling in Spain who find a story in an abandoned house that you wrote. A girl who reads a story you wrote at her parent’s wedding.

Luke Winter

 

People ask if you can make a living writing on the street. Yes you can. I know girls who pay their rent by writing poems on the street. That sentence astounds me. Some days you will earn less than the bus fare home, other days it will rain. On no day have I ever earnt as much as I would have done by sitting in an office. But by putting myself out there, I make connections with people who give me opportunities I’d never otherwise encounter. Writing on the street has created a space where life can surprise me. And it has, in ways that I could never expect.

Luke Winter has written stories in the street since 2014. He is the founder of streetwriters.org, which promotes street writing and distributes information on how to be a street writer. His first collection of street stories, Stories While They Waited, was self-published after a successful crowdfunding campaign. His website is: www.petitprance.com