I’ve been pretty busy. I’ve been working a lot, I’ve been writing a lot and, as a result, I haven’t been blogging so much because, well, I’m not a machine.
I don’t like it when I don’t have time to throw some words down on here. Writing this blog helps keep me in touch with whatever readership I’ve managed to build (HI MUM!) and it also keeps my thoughts in order.
When I haven’t written a post for a while I get nervous – that I’ll have forgotten how to do it, that my creative ability will have disappeared never to return, and that when I do write something, my readers will respond like a cat that’s been left alone for the day – dismissive, cold, and off out the back door to see what somebody more loyal has got to offer them before I’ve even had the chance to explain or pour out some milk.
But I guess this is an inevitable consequence of gradually getting more writing work and, aside from the unfortunate neglect of Nothing good rhymes with Charlotte enthusiasts, it’s something I’m starting to feel good about. Baby steps are still steps, dear friends.
You might remember that a few months ago I wrote a little piece about the things you have to do when starting out as a freelance writer. I stand by them all and now have even more lessons to add to the list.
1. Your egg timer is your best friend. No, really: We don’t go for cocktails together or discuss our boy problems, but my egg timer and I might as well, considering the amount of time we spend together. If I want to get anything done, I have to set my egg timer for 20 minutes, half an hour, or an hour to force me to concentrate. While that clock is ticking, I am not allowed to dick around on Twitter, feel inadequate whilst looking at Facebook, or scroll through Instagram and wonder why I fail to live my entire life against a perfect white backdrop. No, I have to work. And when the timer dings, I am allowed to go to the toilet, make a drink, and then sit the hell down and start again. This is what discipline looks like in the modern world and I don’t know what I’d do without it.
2. You have to do the work whenever it comes: As somebody who has spent almost every Sunday during the last five years strapped to a laptop, I am used to handing some of my weekend over to work. I have made a life choice which requires such behaviour. But as my writing work has very gradually started to grow, I’ve had to give up more than the occasional Sunday. You do the work whenever it needs to be done – whether that means the evening, early mornings, or an entire weekend. It’s a little tough to get your head around at first but when you’re trying to build something of your own, there’s really no other way to do it, especially when you still have a day job most of the week, as I do. But the fact that it belongs to you means you won’t really mind at all. You’ll just be a bit tired and consume more snacks than you ever thought possible.
3. Say yes and say it quickly: It’s extremely annoying when people tell you that success is often down to being in the right place at the right time. It’s even more annoying when they tell you that it’s also all about who you know. But they’re right. You’ve got to leap the moment you see something come up, otherwise somebody else will get in there first. You’ve got to tell the people you know what you’re trying to do so that maybe one day they’ll employ you to do it for them, or recommend you to somebody else. Just like when my mum told me that if I ate a whole bag of Cadbury’s chocolate buttons before I went to bed I’d get a stomach ache, it turns out people only say these things because they’re true.
4. …except to requests for you to write for free: Being asked to work for free is just part of the writing game these days unfortunately. When you’re at the very start of your career there is real value in taking all the opportunities that come your way – like any industry, everybody needs work experience – but then comes the moment when you realise you’ve done your time, you know what you’re doing, and you’re in this to make a living. Getting there felt bold but good and I won’t be turning back.
5. You have to be single-minded: I have to completely ignore my husband a lot of the time. He has become used to sitting in the house with a woman who speaks only to request a drink, ask if there are any Muller Crunch Corner yogurts left in the fridge, and to request that he please turn Better Call Saul down as she’s trying to concentrate. This was not included in our wedding vows. But then neither was the promise that being married to a lawyer would mean I could no longer enjoy legal dramas without constant reminders that they’re simply not realistic. We all have to make sacrifices. I am very grateful for the constant, unquestioning support I receive and without which attempting to follow my dreams would be a lot harder. From the looks of things, he is also grateful for the unlimited X-Box time that my pursuits enable him to incorporate into a weekend.
6. Repetitive strain happens: I reached peak First World Problem after a solid weekend of tapping away on my Mac when I realised I’d developed a repetitive strain injury throughout my right arm. My hand became a claw, my arm a solid block of ache, and my shoulders were so tight I think even the most skilled masseuse would have struggled to make a dent. I recommend learning how to operate a mouse with both your hands to avoid such injuries.
7. If you have to, buy yourself a rest: When you work for yourself and your house is your office, it can be a little tricky to switch off. Technically, you could always be doing some work, writing a pitch, or editing whatever nonsense made its way into your notebook that day. But that way lies exhaustion, tetchiness, and an all round rubbish house partner. You need to stop. And if that means paying to access your local spa, or for a train ticket to your mum’s house where she will speak to you like she used to when you tried to stay up beyond 10pm on a school night if you so much as look at a laptop screen, then so be it.
8. Telling somebody about an idea makes you feel accountable to them – and that’s a good thing: Like most people, I have lots of ideas every day. Some of them are creative and useful, and the rest could all be listed under the heading ‘Meals to which I could legitimately add cheese’. I’ve had a couple of ideas for longer form pieces of writing I’d like to do for a while but have been too scared to start. But then I told my husband and a couple of friends about them and now I feel like I have to give them a go because they’re going to ask me for an update and I do not like to let people down. If you don’t have a deadline created by an editor or an agent, I recommend making some up and getting people you like to hold you to them. If they’re real friends, they won’t stand for it when you try and use ‘being seriously behind with Coronation Street’ as an excuse for not having done any writing.
9. Rest assured, there is value in what you’re doing. As I’ve mentioned before, Wednesday is my most precious writing day. I experience a mix of emotions every week – sometimes I’m excited to get going on a project or to look around for work, and on others I sit staring out of the window and wonder what ever possessed me to spend my life in this way. This week started with a familiar bout of melancholy (not helped by having to dedicate half the day to filling in my tax return *twitches*) so I decided to start by listening to this recording of a speech by the author A.L Kennedy on the importance of the arts and writing and the difference it can make to people’s lives. It’s really quite amazing and gave me all the motivation I needed to get going. Because of course there is value in what we have to say and in expressing ourselves through our words.
Sometimes it helps to be reminded of that.