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Advice to My 22-Year-Old Self: William Duignan

William Duignan
‘Advice to My 22-Year-Old Self’ welcomes the next contributor willing to mentor themselves. William Duignan’s new play WEiRdO ‘playfully reveals some deep truths about racial identity in Aotearoa’


Advice to My 22-Year-Old Self is The Big Idea’s way of connecting artists who are starting out with virtual mentors:

What would I tell 22 year of William about his career?

Hello 22-year-old William. Please pull yourself away from your high rotation of Barbara Streisand, Spring Awakening, and Grizzly Bear for a second; I have much to say.

It’s me: 29-year-old you! I’m the same young man, with the same hunger to make a difference, but with much less tolerance for being I.D.’d.

It’s not that I’m unhappy. In fact, I feel so excited about the life we’re living. We’ve got a great job, a beautiful fiancé, and a truly exciting collaboration (WEiRdO at Basement Theatre 17-21 April). But I do have some tips for you. In fact, I’ve got 10.

#10: Taxes

Did you know that our contemporaries annually make thousands of NZDs just for keeping GST receipts? It’s true. Now’s the time to join them. Get an accountant. Get one soon.

#9: Money

Actually, you’re generally a real egg with money! Did you need to buy that PlayStation Vita? No. A brand new queen bed? No. A top-of-the-line iMac? No! Just buy a cheap PC (it’s super easy!) and save the rest, man. Even better, invest the rest!

#8: Make theatre

All you really want to do is make theatre. Let’s be honest, you’re not going to be the next Stefan Sagmeister, or the next Keith Haring, or the next Bon Iver. You might one day be the next Tony Kushner if you quit taking design gigs and start writing plays, idiot.

#7: Read

For a writer, you’re not very well-read. You like movies, so start reading screenplays. But also, read more literature, it’s good for you.

#6: Body image

The advent of the skinny jean has done terrible things to your body image. Eat something. But not so much fast food. Cook fresh ingredients, and build a palette for colours other than brown and orange.

#5: Sex is good

It’s OK to have desires. And it’s OK to desire something the media doesn’t. Go to the gay bar, find yourself an older guy who will look after you, and have fun. But beware, gay men can be toxic men too.

#4: Quit graphic design

Some of the work you do is great, and you’re really proud of it. But more often than not, it’s half baked, and saps the life out of your young bones. You’re not letting anyone down by saying no. If you must, only work for people you know you’ll have fun with. Graphic design is just one more thing standing in your way.

#3: Wellington

Wellington changes your life. You have great friends in Christchurch, but your muse lives here. When you arrive, don’t spend your savings so fast. Wellington has many ways to make artists poor.

#2: Work smart

When your sister tells you to start temping, do it. Look: you can bust your ass doing three retail jobs if you want, but the easiest and most enjoyable way for you to keep the cash coming in while you're writing between theatre gigs, is to be a receptionist. It pays well, you’re good at it, and you love it.

Take a breath, make the best work you can, then make some more. 

#1: Love the “You” you are right now

I know that school left you with a pretty weird self-worth, and you think you need to prove yourself all the time. You don’t. Take a breath, make the best work you can, then make some more. Also, saying “Yes” to life is a great way to burn yourself out. Say no when it feels weird; people will forgive you.


William Duignan is a Writer/Singer/Actor/Designer, living and working in Wellington. In 2017, William graduated with a Master of Arts, from Victoria University’s IIML (International Institute of Modern Letters). As part of Double U Double U (with Waylon Edwards), William has written and performed in works of theatre for social change, including Boxed (2016) and WEiRdO (2017, 2018). William looks forward to writing the next great New Zealand play; something about legacy, queerness, and the post-Consumer New Zealand dream.

WEiRdO, a play about being out of play in the Rat Race, will be presented at Basement Theatre in Auckland from 17-21 April 2018. Tickets are available from

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

12 Apr 2018

The Big Idea Editor