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!

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Day 14: Can You Tell What It Is Yet?

Day 14.

Basically, no one told me you’re supposed to write this bitch in order. As such, I’ve ended up writing a somewhat shoddy section of prose, then realising I had to add an entire new section to it smack bam in the middle, and then another paragraph just there, and then that section had to be bumped back to that page, etc.

In my head, this sounded fine. I imagined the finished product would be something along the lines of one of those sliding tile puzzles you did when you were eight: (I heart this one of SuBo)

You know, it starts out as a mess, but gradually all the pieces come together into a beautiful image (granted, the above example is not really the image I was going for.)

Instead, my novel has been chopped up into so many little pieces and folded into itself so much, it’s more like the Christmas pudding mixture my Mama makes every year (as far back as I can remember, she mixes all the ingredients together in the biggest bowl you’ve ever seen, then lets each of the children take it in turn to stir it and make a wish for the year ahead.) So, essentially, my novel is all a big mish mash, but it smells sort of nice, and I’m left standing over it with a spoon making a desperate wish that it turns into something vaguely readable at some point. Only, now I’ve gone and told you my wish so it won’t come true. Bollocks.

Complicated recipes are best left well away from me, as everything that can go wrong will. (Yes, I am keeping going with this cookery metaphor. Go with it.) As a result, I’m sure my plot has got holes in it, my characters might have curdled a bit, the story itself has gone a bit stringy and the overall look is nothing like the picture I had in my head. This is very scary: what do I do? Start again? Persevere? Sprinkle it with icing sugar and hope no one notices? Or radically change tack? If the latter – to what? Can’t you tell I’m clueless?! This is my first novel! (And breeeeeeeathe.)

Basically, it stands at around 6,000 words. I have no idea how many of these will remain in the finished version.

In other novel-related news, I’m still wondering how ‘together’ and clean this thing is supposed to sound? How do you make things sound like real life, when real life itself is so utterly, utterly random (if you want it to be)? I find myself all too often engaging in actions I feel people may find so bizarre that it would seem mental to assign them to any character I could create. Who else has heated debates with seven year olds they’ve only just met about Winnie the Pooh in Latin (and loses!)? Or finds herself walking along the Thames on a Saturday night while her friend reads out all the jokes on the back of a bag of Penguin bars? Or finds a ripe nectarine in their jewellery box while tidying up, with absolutely no idea how it got there?

All of these things have happened to me in the past week. And it’s these little moments of utter absurdity that get me through the day – they are my lifeblood. So, naturally, I want to write in a similar fashion, fully celebrating the fact that humanity can do absolutely bloody anything, and indeed it does. Life is so random, but that just means the possibilities for my book are endless. I want to learn how to get the balance right between a true-to-life level of invigorating daily randomness running throughout my book, and a convincing, solid story. Life should be anything but boring, and the same goes for writing. I’m just scared that means my book will be impossible to follow and latch on to so it can be fully enjoyed.

Oh, halp.

The Countdown Begins

I suppose this is quite an important post, really. Rather than being a selection of silly videos, or waxing lyrical about sweets, retro telephones or buttons, I appear to be announcing something a bit more… momentous. Probably equally as whimsical, though.

If you’ve visited this blog before, you’ll know I write things. Quite a lot, actually. It’s just no one else reads them yet (except the stuff I’ve already posted here – questionable quality I can tell you – and a few colleagues have had a gander at some bits and pieces. Oh, and a rather bitchy writing group I was part of for Uni, but let’s not go there. I may get a complex. Again.)

Well, now I’m writing something I’d quite like other people to read. Lots of other people, ideally. Turning pages and everything.

I’m beginning my first proper novel.

Don’t look so disappointed, regular readers – I know I’ve mentioned I’m doing this before, and therefore this ‘announcement’ may be falling somewhat flat, however the next part of this announcement is it is going to be finished by December 31st. I am submitting it to the Terry Pratchett Prize for debut novelists, and the end of this year is the lovely, scary, thrilling deadline to which I am hurtling. 117 days time, in fact. Crikey.

Before you ask – yes, I have an idea. I even have an opening. I have about 1500 words in total so far… so, I’m about 78,500 short. But the main thing is I have an idea. Gulp.

This blog is now sort of mutating a bit. I will probably still scoff and ramble to pass the time, but from now until the end of the year the content of this blog will predominantly focus on the completion of this novel (or lack thereof, depending if I can tear myself away from The X-Factor etc.)

Writing my first novel is quite a special idea for me, and I want to chronicle the inevitable ups and downs, writer’s blocks, lightning bolts of inspiration, paper-tearing and tea-drinking that will unfold before me over the next three months.

If you are a first time novelist, or even entering the competition as well, please let me know. You can reach me on ljvickers[at]googlemail.com, or via @LaRainbow on Twitter, or you can leave a comment at the bottom of any of my entries here and make me feel all scrumptious.

So….

Day One

Today, I coughed quite a bit. Starting a novel when on day eleven of a stinking cold does make things a little harder, but I remedied this by:

1. Watching Hitchcock’s The Birds for the first time, and laughing entirely too much (but it is marvellous, isn’t it?)
2. Listening to The Essential Louis Armstrong, and immediately wanting to buy a faux fur coat and a vintage radio.
3. Finding the most perfect place in the world: The Church Farm tearooms in Ardeley. I drank vanilla tea (I can still taste it at the back of my mouth and it makes me feel all cosy), discovered greengage icecream, and delighted at my Mama’s look of pride for having brought me to such a heavenly place.

I am going to be spending a lot of time at those tearooms over the coming months – I honestly can’t think of a more perfect place to spend an afternoon curled up writing my first book.

Image taken from John O’Nolan‘s photostream.

Birthday Cakes…(om nom nom)

This week, two important things are happening: 1. It’s my birthday on Friday. 2. I’m starting to write my dissertation. Therefore, being queen of procrastination, I decided to bake some cakes for work to celebrate my birthday in order to escape 10,000 words on medieval hagiography. (Which is lucky, as otherwise this blog may have been markedly more boring.)

Our boiler decided to go *esploded* this afternoon, so I did my baking in my dressing gown (added glamour.) Therefore, there will be no photos of me, but lots of photos of pretty cakes.

First, we went for a selection of vanilla cupcakes, with a ‘decorated by a five year old’ chic: (yes, those are flowers, duckies and butterflies)

Then, we got a bit more creative and decided to create something a little more special. Enter:

Chocolate and Vanilla Swirlycakes

Ingredients:

1. 4 eggs. Put them on a set of scales and work out how much they weigh. Then measure out the same weight in the following:

2. Sugar
3. Self-raising flower
4. Butter

and shove them all in a bowl/mixer.

Then add:

5. 2 heaped tsp of baking powder
6. A few drops of vanilla essence/paste.

Mix them up like crazy (we used a Kenwood mixer cos we’re massively lazy), and split the mixture into two bowls. To one of the bowls, add a tbsp or two of cocoa powder. Spoon a little of each mixture side by side into cake cases, and use something pointy (we used a skewer) to swirl the mixture together. Ours looked a little like this:

Chuck them in the oven for 12 minutes or so. If you have the same oven as us, then please feel free to spend the twelve minutes giggling like geeks at the ‘End Time’ button. We imagined pressing it and time actually ending. We watch too much Doctor Who.

Aaaaanyway, moving forward. We took the little beauties out of the oven and let them cool while going “Ooh” and “Ahh” at their prettiness. Look, swirly:

Then, we melted some milk and white chocolate. At first we sort of splodged it on top in an attempt to replicate the swirliness, but it sort of looked a tad messy:

So then we just went nuts and messed about with skewers again. And this is what we came up with:

‘Swallows’ Swirls

  • Spoon some white chocolate on and spread it neatly.
  • Put three dots of milk chocolate on top, spaced out at opposite corners of the cake.
  • Use the skewer to swirly the three dots so they  look like stars/flowers/swallows.

‘Seaweed’ Swirls

  • Spoon some white chocolate on and spread it neatly (again)
  • Use the skewer to lay four parallel vertical lines of milk chocolate across the white chocolate.
  • Use the end of the skewer to swish up and down the four lines (at a perpendicular angle) so you end up with a sort of uber-swirly lattice effect. It looks like seaweed, we thought.

So. There we have it. Super swirly, super chocolatey cakes. Om nom nom. Happy Birthday to moi.

A Blog for Nicola F…Bedecked

Good evening,

It has been another tiring day. Much as I obviously enjoy tiptoeing round icy London pavements visiting two libraries and also handing in my essays (and pulling off some smooth ninja moves attempting to remain an upright pedestrian), there are quite frankly better things I could have been doing.

Two things cheered me up today:

1) On the train home, I glanced out the window only to find a fox running alongside our carriage. I know they’re flea-ridden bin-pests, but I’ve always wanted to see a real wild fox (that hadn’t been plastered to a roadside) so I was quite a bit chuffed. I even waved.

2) The lovely @_ophelia showed me a wonderful craft-related website she found on this list. It is called Bedecked, and specialises in the finishing touches to haberdashery such as trim and buttons. That will literally sound like the saddest thing you’ve ever heard unless you are of a creative disposition and/or spend half your life on Etsy (or, like me, are both of the above.) But it really is quite gorgeous and I love it. Deal with it.

I’ve been wanting to get into creating my own accessories as part of my Etsy store (which is very much in the planning stages at the moment… ahem) for ages, and it’s sites like this that add fuel to my excitement to start creating cute designs.  If you are familiar with my previous posts you will know I am currently blaming my degree for the total lack of creativity in my life these days, but discoveries like these make me count down the days to graduating in the Spring.

A few of my favourite pieces:

1. Flower Print button – love the colours!

2. Porcelain Cat button – 10/10 for random. I’m not sure how I’d use it, but it is too kitsch for me to ignore.

3. Rose Print Satin Ribbon – just gorgeous.

4. Heart ribbon – I know this makes me “such a girl” but every girl loves a little bit of heart-print, right?

5. Elephant motif – yep, another one I only like because it’s a bit random. I just love bizarre prints.

6. Because I promised Nicola I’d mention it – there is a type of braid called Gimp. This is very funny. Yes, we’re mature.

I’ll just end saying: I can see lots of people are viewing this blog, and I would love for you to comment on any of the posts. I am very new to this whole malarkey, but I’d love to hear what you think!