Feel Free: Becoming a Freelance Writer, Month One.


Queen – I Want to Break Free

I love to write – so much so, it seems that I now appear to be writing about writing.

The truth is, I always dreamed of being a writer. As soon as I could physically write words, I used to spend my Saturdays scribbling illustrated stories about rabbits that run away from their burrows to go on adventures, and little girls who flew into space at night and spoke to the planets.

At school, teachers encouraged me to consider a writing career. They even told me to send creative writing coursework to publishers, and start a school magazine. I never did, because I couldn’t work out why they were being so nice about me. What did I know about writing? I finished school, got a job at The Wine Society, and started attending King’s University in the hope at some point I’d feel like I knew what I was doing.

The truth is, it took a long time, and my first few paid writing gigs, to accept I must be okay at what I do. But still I stayed in my full-time job at The Wine Society for over six years.

Why? Well, why does anyone do that these days? Amazing colleagues, routine cashflow, lots of wine (duh), but most of all because this ball-ache of a recession means everyone keeps warning me how impossible it is to be a freelance writer.

I should be grateful I’m in work. I should wait until the economy recovers. Did I know that for every writing job, there are approximately twelvety million unemployed writers competing with me? They can smell my fear, and if I ever do succeed they will hunt me down and use their unused sharpened pencils to stab me in the face.
Basically, I can’t possibly try to do the thing that is the reason I spent three years and twenty grand doing an English degree. In the words of the almighty Izzard “Look, you’re British, so scale it down a bit, alright?”

I tried writing at night and at weekends, but it wasn’t enough. I tried cutting down to four days a week at the Society, but that wasn’t enough either – I had too much work, and too many opportunities to pursue.

Late last year, I plucked up the courage (and the savings) to take a two month sabbatical and wander around Europe. It took travelling a thousand miles to realise how much of the world at home I had yet to explore. So when I got back, I handed in my notice. On February 1st, I began my life as a freelancer.

Month One

It’s terrifying. Truth is, I probably picked the wrong month to leave my job. The month of my niece’s 3rd birthday, the month of my own *cough-cough*th birthday, the month The Boy decides to redecorate. So many reasons not to work when that is the very thing I desperately needed to do.

But, to be frank, a lot of this procrastination was because I suddenly felt very unsure of myself. How can I be a writer? Where do I start? Who is going to hire me?

It was at this point I remembered yet another Izzard quotation (sorry, but he is pretty splendid) from the film documentary Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story. At the start of his performance career he used to do an escape artist act, all tied up in chains in front of a crowd. One day, he couldn’t untie himself. He was utterly humiliated. And someone gave him the life-changing advice: “To escape, you have to believe you can escape.” He realised this went further. To be a stand up comic, you have to believe you can be a stand up comic.
To write, I have to believe I can write. Obv.

The procrastination-guilt built up until I decided to knuckle down properly. If you’re suffering from the same fear, my advice is to take a day to do all the little things you know you should do but don’t get around to:

Sign up to sites like JournoBiz, IdeasTap, LinkedIn * Ask around on Twitter and follow other writers * Look for jobs on these sites, and others like MediaNation, your local newspapers etc. * Get the Writers and Artists Yearbook 2013 * Look at competitions and opportunities in Writing Magazine * Set up a portfolio * Actually do some frickin’ writing, even if it’s just a blog* You have to start somewhere.

Since then, it’s been an exciting couple of weeks. But – crucially – my first few gigs have not been anything to do with me:

  • A pretty meaty copywriting gig, courtesy of The Boy’s kind and brilliant Dad.
  • My first piece of journalism published in print, courtesy of hugely encouraging ex-colleagues at The Wine Society, and two blogs about my vineyard experience last year have been posted on their blog for the same reason.
  • I’ve applied for three writing gigs, two of which I was told about by other people – which I didn’t get, but which did expand my portfolio.
  • I’ve been to an incredible writing event courtesy of IdeasTap, run by the editor of Domestic Sluttery (and my boss), Sian Meades – who also kindly took the time to encourage me to attend.

Basically, I’ve learnt one extremely important lesson: as soon as you make a leap into the unknown, you very quickly realise just how supportive and wonderful the people around you are. Never underestimate the brilliance of the people in your life.

They’ll be the ones that give you work initially. They’ll be the ones that put you in touch with good contacts. They’ll be the ones that make you believe (by telling you, lots) you’re a writer so you actually start writing.

So it turns out, I’m a writer now. Yay!