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!

Day 27 + a Poem: “23.46”

Today, I wrote another 1,000 words or so, bringing this week’s total to a solid two thousand and something. Yay.

I say ‘today’, I actually mean at 2am, sat outside in the freezing black night air on a damp bench, ever aware of the fact I had to be up early for work but my mind wouldn’t let me sleep.

To say I’d had ‘a bit of a night of it’ would be an understatement, but you really don’t want to hear all that. Suffice to say my inability to sleep was not insomnia, but I decided to use the fire in my head for creativity rather than self-pity.

It actually felt quite good to write out in the cover of the dark (and aside from the faintest glow of a far-off street light, it really was dark) – you have to really let yourself go and detach yourself from the ‘worry’ part of your brain or you’d be forever startled by twig-snapping or hanging-basket-creaking, but doing this also allows you to write totally honestly, with no consideration of what people might think or whether you’re doing it ‘right.’

I managed my 1,000 words within half an hour, and then I went on to writing a poem in the dark:

“23.46”

I’ll take my bad habit in the dark,
embers spark like schoolgirl secret whispers,
dirty breath rising and circling, carries away
a private heart outpouring on a station platform.
I am bitter cold.

It will not burn forever.
The crackling lines will race distracted on.
A little more time would make this better,
Tick, tick, and boom.
Breathe in, the rush will come soon,
or it’s just another playlist in the making.
My feet are going numb.

Not sure the last drag will be enough
or be the last at all.
Badly enjoyed,
There’s life in this story yet
But life and hope look nasty similar in the blackness.
The night is shining,
I am newly dark,
A crushed stub now where heat once warmed my gums,
lays waiting for the passersby
to tut and tread the corpse.

***

I used the cigarette metaphor quite consistently throughout, and so tried to make the rhythm focus on breathing in and out, like the poem itself becomes this very dirty habit. (I feel I should point out, I am not what you would call a smoker!)

Your thoughts, as ever, give me cheap, wonderful kicks.

Day 24: Revving up

Well, I wrote 4,000 words last week. Good times. Then I thought everything I’d written so far is shit, especially after I spent an evening with the friend I’m partly basing my central character on, and realised I’d made some serious characterisation flaws that needed sharpening, pronto. Er, bad times?

Well, I suppose it wasn’t the nicest feeling in the world, but then I do now have some superior knowledge to the stuff I had in my brain a mere three days ago, and I can use this new-found wiseness to edit my novel for the better. It’s like a tactical chunder after a monster drinking session- not a very nice experience but better in the long-run.

The whole ‘write a bit every day’ thing is… well, let’s face it – it was never going to happen. But I have started writing for two or three weeknights as well as my marathon weekend outpourings, and it makes all the difference.

Sure enough, slowly but surely I am finding that it is getting easier to just pick up the pen and write  fairly decent stuff from the off (welllll, to my brain it’s decent). Basically, I am keeping my mind actively on the novel for more of the time, so I don’t need to ‘warm up’ quite so much.

I must say it feels pretty smashing – a whole lot more smashing than it felt last week, anyway.

Let me leave you with this song – I first heard it on Holby City of all places, and it struck an almighty chord with me. It’s a simple enough idea, but that doesn’t stop it from being beautiful.

I suppose it’s having a particular resonance for me as I go through a very transitiony period of my life. Adapting to not seeing some of my closest friends, either because I’m no longer at University or they are, can be hard. So can the prospect of moving out and not seeing my family quite as often as I’ve become accustomed to (more on that in the next couple of weeks, I imagine).
So, above all, can saying goodbye to a person I really don’t want to say goodbye to, but know I must.

My particular favourite part is the lines:

“If you keep your head up, the line you walk will be straight,
And your paths will meet again some day.”

Hope is a fragile, often ridiculous thing, but always present. I like to think this is for the better.

Photo from quisur‘s photostream. Merci beaucoup.

Day 16: The Daily Grind

Day 16.

After my slightly disappointing weekend, where my 5,000 word target fell 2,000 words short, and what I did have seemed to be screaming out for a good few whacks with the editing stick, I did what I’m sure all good writers do (ahem! Maybe?): I bitched and moaned about it. For AGES.

Thankfully, the pungent friend-in-need aroma I was emitting did not go unsmelled, and Luke – a friend of mine who is a lot closer to a novel than I am – slapped some sense into me:

My problem is I’m leaving writing to my days off i.e the weekend, and hoping I can somehow wring 5,000 words out of myself in 48 hours. Obviously, that’s a bit like expecting to be able to run a marathon when you haven’t been training: if you try and jump straight into it, you get tired very quickly. You’d need time to warm up. Instead, you should train all week as well, so your body is used to running.

I need to try and write every day – to keep my brain ticking, and make sure that when I do get slightly longer to write, I am all limbered up and ready to rock. Plus, that way my weekly word-count target of 5,000 will have a lovely chunk taken off it by the time it gets to the days when I do have that extra time. Even a couple of hundred words a day can make the difference.

So, with that in mind, I’ve been attempting to write this evening. I did a ridiculously pitiful 200 words, before spending an hour sitting there, sighing, twirling my hair and wondering where the hell all the thoughts in my head went. I am really struggling to focus on a strong plot, and so I don’t quite know where to start at times. I’m hoping this will improve once I get used to squeezing a few hundred words into the odd spare hour of my day.

But I tried. You get points for trying to write a novel, right?

Image taken from lululemon athletica‘s photostream.

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.

Sleep-writing…(a poem)

Happy February,

It’s been a busy week, but I have to admit I’ve not done anything interesting enough to grace these pages, so I’ve kept quiet.

I did go to a sparkly ball on Saturday, however, and wore this dress:

ASOS, £35.00

and these gloves:

John Lewis, £12.00

and I felt fantastic. It was an amazing night overall, and not one I will forget in a hurry. I could complain about one part of it that I felt was very unfair, but if I did you would all just tell me I’m being selfish, so I won’t. Let’s just say it was memorable in a bitter-sweet kind of way.

The day after, I was… well, somewhat woozy. After a day of recovering by mooching around feeling sleepy, my eyes were stinging and heavy and about midnight I gave in and went to bed. As I was falling into a deep sleep, I thought of a line I wanted to use for a poem, so I remember grabbing the notepad I keep by my bed for just such emergencies and scribbling down the line. I don’t remember anything after that.

This morning, I was tidying and came across the notepad. There is a full poem written there, (along with the line I scribbled down), a poem that I have no recollection of writing but seems familiar. I must have written it in my slumberous stupor, and as sleep-poems go I thought it was alright (interesting at least) so I’ve decided to share it:

“31/01/2010”

You take a piece and pass it on
Drink your hope and swallow
Be the game but don’t know the rules
Carve me til I’m hollow.
Yesterday’s rush, today’s regret,
and no one to blame but yourself
for not blaming him.

Search fruitlessly in others’ words
for signs of told-you-so’s.
A wry smile can flicker the ‘can it be?’
into darkness like a moth igniting on a weakly bulb.

Try not to think of maybes or
remember when – the rise has peaked now,
the hands are numb from too much in the cold.
Nothing, nothing at all to show for it.