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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Top Of The Mourning: Why Grief Isn’t A Contest

(Dionne Warwick – What The World Needs Now)

This week the world has had been rocked by wave upon wave of tragedy: parts of Somalia were declared to be in famine, an allegedly fundamentalist Christian bombed Oslo and shot 84 people dead at a youth camp in Norway, dozens of people died in China after two trains collided, and – yes, I’m going to put it in the same sentence for the sake of this blog – Amy Winehouse was found dead at her home, aged just 27, after losing her battle with drink and drugs.

All of these tragedies have been at the top of the headlines, with heads of state pledging help and support to the nations affected, and of course they have provoked widespread messages of shock and condolence on Twitter and Facebook. One of the reasons I love Social Networking so much is because you see so much humanity during the darkest hours: it is the united voice of these mediums that helped a little girl get her bucket list fulfilled a few weeks ago, and it was the united voice of these mediums that at least helped ensure the phone-hacking scandal has sparked some (hopefully) big changes to British Journalism. People reach out on Twitter and Facebook, do what they can, and if they can do nothing, they at least are a place for people to share messages of comfort and grief. That’s no bad thing, right?

Wrong. Apparently. Because, while the combined mourning of Norway, Somalia and China was of course permitted without question, as soon as Amy Winehouse’s death was announced Twitter and Facebook became a tasteless outlet for self-righteousness, ignorance and cynicism for anyone that didn’t care much for her, who then felt it was alright to judge and in some cases mock those who chose to voice their sadness at Amy’s passing.

In short, these people are idiots. But for clarity’s sake I’ll post their main beef with freedom of speech below:

  • “Forget Amy Winehouse – over 90 people just died in Oslo!”

Yes. We know. We can think of little else at the moment, and the horror of what that one disturbed individual committed is so vast I don’t think many people really know how to voice their sadness. We certainly can’t explain it, and most of us can’t even articulate condolences that even begin to cover the atrocity of what happened on Friday, and yet it was top of Twitter’s ‘trending topics’ for 24 hours after the attacks, so the suggestion that people weren’t talking about it as much as Amy Winehouse is fairly redundant anyway.

To suggest that people shouldn’t also mourn the death of Amy Winehouse in addition to the Norway massacre doesn’t even begin to make sense. There are still people fighting for their lives in Norway – if, heaven forbid, one of them doesn’t make it, bringing the death toll up by yet another life, and everyone tweeted condolences for them, would everyone rant about that, as if it somehow disregards all the previous murders that were committed on Friday? I’m pretty sure that’s a no. So why do the same when people take the time to pay their respects to Amy Winehouse?

It doesn’t mean those people have magically forgotten Norway, as @Rhodria pointed out:

I really fail to see how making this – in the words of @GarethAveyard – a “misery based pissing contest” is in any way helpful, or in any way comforts those still mourning what happened in Norway or any of the other global tragedies that occurred this week.

As to why, on Facebook at least, ‘RIP’ messages for Amy were so widespread in comparison to messages for those in Norway – that’s very simple. Facebook statuses are a very personal thing. People felt they had a personal connection to Amy through her music. Add this to the fact that people probably feel more qualified to remark upon Amy’s passing than they do to remark on the inexplicable massacre in Norway, and it’s not surprising. It doesn’t mean people care less.

  • “She deserved it – she was a junkie. Why should we care?”

Tell that to all the friends and relatives of anyone that’s ever died from their addiction. No really, do, because they’ll punch you in the face and quite frankly that’s just what you deserve.

To start with, yes, taking drugs is voluntary , but after that your body changes and you become physically dependent on them. As author and lifelong addict Hunter S Thompson describes it:

 “It makes you behave like the village drunkard in some early Irish novel… total loss of all basic motor skills: blurred vision, no balance, numb tongue- severance of all connection between the body and the brain. Which is interesting because you can actually watch yourself behaving in this terrible way, but you can’t control it.”
Even if you do manage to beat the addiction (something which takes amazing personal strength – not something Amy had a lot of judging by accounts of people who knew her), you’re never really clean. Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting, describes this:
It was a stupidity and a weakness. I’ve not touched it for years, but it’s in your vocabulary. If something bad happens in your life, it’s always there in the background, waiting for you to trip up.
(Both quotations taken from here.)

Besides all of this, anyone that thinks a junkie deserves to die forgets that they are in fact talking not about a label or a statistic, but a human being. One with a family, friends, and in this case millions of fans, all of whom do not want to see their loved one die. How anyone can think it’s alright to mock or openly deride people who are sad about someone’s death is beyond me, irrespective of the circumstances.

The people who make the remarks I mentioned above entirely miss the point of… well, just about everything. They are ignorant of so many things: the nature of addiction, the nature of grief, and the nature of social media, among other things. They also seem to miss the entire concept of mourning:

a. It’s personal, so telling people who they should and shouldn’t mourn for is pointless.
b. It’s not all-consuming, and so you are capable of being really sad about more than one thing concurrently without having to list out everything you’re sad about just to prove you haven’t forgotten anything important.
And on the most basic level c. It’s SAD, so DON’T use it as an opportunity to spit ill-conceived bile at people you supposedly care about when they’re actually feeling pretty unhappy about someone dying.

The world is a sad enough place at the moment. So before people continue with this bizarre grief-snobbery, it would be really nice if they could ask themselves “By saying this, who am I actually helping?”
My thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by the terrible events of the last few days.