Success Shouldn’t Hurt: New Plans Going Forward

MikeachimStorytelling32 Comments


OK, let’s try something a bit different…

There’s an old Tommy Cooper joke that goes something like this:

I went to the doctor, and I said “Doc – it hurts when I do this.”

And the doctor said “well – don’t do it.”

This last year has been a messy exercise in finding ways to stop doing things that don’t feel good. It’s been around 18 months since I quit my job to throw myself into a semi-nomadic existence, awash with uncertainty and lower-lip-chewing and stressing over income, grabbing any freelance work I can, learning so much my brain threatened to melt, cobbling things together haphazardly and experimentally – and while it has occasionally been as terrifying as it is for anyone choosing self-employment, it has worked out nicely so far.

By nicely, I of course mean “I am not yet dead” – which is what success looks like when you become a freelancer. (Still breathing? CROWD GOES WILD!).

When I started writing for a living, some things immediately felt bad. You won’t ever find sponsored copy (or “native advertising“) in my posts because I don’t want to squander the trust you put in me every time you click something on this blog. I’m running Amazon affiliate links and a little banner advertising, but I won’t be renewing the latter at year’s end, and then I’ll keep this blog ad-free unless I have an really exceptional working relationship with the advertiser and I’m falling over myself to recommend them.

Over the last couple of years I’ve seen many, many ways to make a living online. I deeply admire anyone who is managing to do so. Seriously – great job. It requires plenty of hard work amid a sea of distractions and pointless time-sucks. There are lots of ways to fritter away your time and energy, especially when you start using social media. To build an online business that makes a profit, you have to be really tough on yourself. If that’s you? My hat is seriously off.


If two years ago I had known what I know now, I would have done things differently – specifically, I’d have got a more traditional waged job to pay off some debts before throwing myself into this lark. Debt payments mean you have further to go to just break even every month. They hang onto your heels when you just want to run.

(And when you want to travel).

This is my advice for anyone planning to become a full-time writer with debts hanging over their head: reconsider. Find a way to pay those debts off as quick as you can by conventional means, and either pay them off first, or have a rock-solid system of paying them off running alongside your new writing business. Don’t tie your writing earnings to your debt payments unless you can function under a constant sense of existential dread.

In short: don’t do what I did.

But since I had been damn-fool enough to quit my job and try to bootstrap a career for myself from scratch, I decided I was damn-fool enough to see what happened if I just tried to do everything. I tinkered at the fringes of being a professional travel blogger, and found it didn’t help me tell good stories or make any decent money. I worked at the world’s no. 1 blogging company and found it was too much for me (and gained enormous respect for the folk who can handle the workload). I tried lots of things – some of them were fun, some were ok, and others made me wonder why I chose to do them instead of, say, professionally shoveling manure on a farm somewhere up north, or repeatedly running into a brick wall until I lost consciousness.

And earlier this year, I found some of them didn’t hurt at all. In fact, they actually felt great.

(Finding a job that feels great! It’s like someone inventing dehydrated water, I know, but it seems it can happen. My pessimistic English mind is blown).

To this end, I’ll have launched three new businesses by the end of this year.

Here’s the one I launched last week.


Remember when I said that blogger conferences would benefit from a more practical, hands-on focus? Both TBEX and TBU do this already with pre-conference workshops…but at the events themselves, it’s speakers and audiences and panels and discussions. Because that’s what conferences are, right? That’s how they work, and why they’re good at it.

With another writer as my partner in crime – Mark Richards of the blog Best Dad I Can Be –  I’m trying a different format, and it’s called WritingPadd. The first one is taking place next month in Scarborough for a small number of people at what we believe is a ridiculously cheap price – and it’s all about learning by doing.

It’s easy to sit in front of a lecture, agree with everything said, and forget 90% of what you’ve heard because you didn’t write notes.  The act of physically recording information is a powerful memory prompt – but it’s nothing compared with practicing. Musicians practice because they need the whole of their bodies to remember what to do. Writing may require less muscles, but you’re still running the same gauntlet of emotions – like the confidence you only acquire by proving to yourself you’re capable of the task at hand.

You can’t reason or bluff your way into having that self-confidence. You just need to have done something.

That’s why we’re running a workshop, not a mini-conference. It’s hands-on. It involves exercises, writing, discussion and a few deadlines. It’s modular, so attendees can choose to spend the bulk of their time on specific skills. It’s fun, because both Mark and I have problems taking life seriously. It’s in gorgeous surroundings (the library of Edith Sitwell). It’s a day and a half of intensely focused work, and it’s all about learning by doing.

Interested in attending, or know someone who might want to?

Here are the details.


And the other businesses I’m starting up? One tells stories – and the other is about how to tell stories, and why that’s a useful skill for just about everyone. Think of these (1, 2) as a taster.

They’re not ready for launch. It’ll be a month or so yet. But I’m thrilled – because they feel like answers to the question “Why did you quit your job last year, Mike?” They also feel like something useful that I can take into upper napkin-space and give something back to the world (apologies if that sounds trite – I can’t think of a less naff way of putting it right now).

Until they launch, I’ll be working with a small number of clients, helping them write & tell stories. I’ll be doing copywriting for people. I’ll be pitching for magazine articles. I’ll be speaking about storytelling at TBEX Europe in Dublin – and I’ll be writing regularly in this ‘ere blog once more, because there’s plenty to catch up on (like Scotland). All these things have helped keep me emotionally and financially upright this far, and I hope they’ll continue to do so…

And by “this ‘ere blog”, I also mean you. Part of the reason I’ve got to where I am right now – an exciting, often nerve-wracking but always rewarding place – is the wisdom of everyone I’ve connected with through this blog and across the Internet as a whole. If you’re reading this, you’re one of those people – and I’m very grateful indeed.

Thank you.

Images: Kieron Middleton, Nic McPhee and Images Money.

  • Congrats on the launches and soon to be launches! I think there is such a need for the story crafting and training you are moving toward and what an exciting time now that you have focused in on the type of work and business ventures that feel right for you! Excited to see where this leads m’dear!

    • Thanks, Shannon! As much as the term “storytelling” seems to be jumping the shark thanks to marketing buzzword overkill, the stuff behind it is timeless and incredibly useful – and I intend to have a lot of fun exploring it in a public-facing way. Thrilled to see where this is going to take me…

      And thank you for being a no doubt long-suffering sounding-board for some of my dotty plans that have got me here. Appreciate it, and always will.

  • Wow, exciting times! Congratulations on the business launches Mike. The WritingPadd sounds like a great idea, I really wish I was around for it but I’ll be away. Best of luck.

    • Thanks Monica! Overdue a catchup in London sometime soon…

  • This is quite refreshing, Mike. First of all, happy for you! Second of all, it is a post full of hope for people like me who feels some steps behind you on this road. Not to mention the inspiration given as well! I’m sorry to hear how you suffered due to debts, definitely not my case at this point. I have been thinking for a while and seems like conferences did something similar to myself. Lots of ideas, inspiration and most of all, positive thinking towards those dreams! I am having 2 projects in the oven right now as well, hoping they can boost the freelancer in me finally. In the meanwhile, physician part-time day job will make me go through the month for a couple more, maybe four, and hopefully not much more by when 2014 starts!

    I want to thank you for being part of my process. And I really hope your things keep moving on the right direction.

    The workshop sounds perfect! I wish I could be there by any means. Will look on it.


    • You aren’t behind me. We all walk our own path – so if I was trying to walk yours, I’d be way behind *you*. So the whole paths thing doesn’t work. We all walk together.

      We’ll be holding other workshops elsewhere, and may also do an online version, so I’ll let you know. In the meantime, Don George’s guide to travel writing is as good as a workshop. Hope you’re finding it useful. :)

      Are you at TBEX in Dublin?

  • FUN! I want to be there!

    • We’ll be holding others, and just might be putting together an online version at some point. But it’s not the same as being there in person. Wish you were coming!

      ps. I’m definitely using your “Candice grimaces at fish!” photo in my TBEX talk. Thanks.

  • This is great Mike! I sure wish I could attend, I do my best learning when knowledge is the mallet and I’m the tent peg. Sounds like my kind of weekend.

    Best of luck with the trident of businesses!

    • A camping metaphor for writing! I’m in heaven. (And heaven is a muddy field with stormclouds gathering overhead).

      Hope we’re having that beer sometime soon, sir.

  • Looking forward to catching up over a beer during TBEX :)

  • That sounds really interesting Mike, good work. I’ll be keen to hear the reviews from the first workshop. Good luck with it all.

  • Sharon Miro

    Who would want to trade this much fun for mind-deadening boredom. :) The biggest reward might be being able to call your own shots. If you want to sit in the “shed” for a day-you can. If you want to work AL NIGHT LONG, you can. And if you have the ready, you can take off and visit friends whenever.
    Some people only get to dream, you are dreaming AND doing.

    • Having the freedom to put things together your own way…it really does count for a lot. When I quit my p/t job in York last year, I did it because the uncertainty was a better prospect that the absolute certainty of things not improving. I still feel that way, even when times are tough. I’m not sure I believe in the whole “living the dream” thing (not yet anyway), but this is the right direction. I hit a fork in the road and this was the more interesting road to take. :)

      Thank you for being so supportive all this time, Sharon.

  • Brilliant news and brilliant work, Mike! Very pleased to hear about your new endeavors. Also agree 100% about not quitting one’s day job until they’ve got the debts paid off…. or even some money socked away. Boy, is freelancing hard to break into. Boy, is it even harder to make a real living at it. If I could do it over again, i’d never have given up my day job. But at the time, I didn’t have enough confidence in myself to do “something else” and write at the same time; I thought you had to do one or the other. Not so, as we’ve learned. That “something else” is what you do until you can truly write full-time.

    If I’m ever in Scarborough, you can bet your bippy I’m coming to learn from you. Can’t wait to hear about the other two ventures!

    • I kicked off a session on freelancing at TBEX with a 10 minute opinion-vomit, and the first thing I told everyone was “don’t go into it with any debt”. If everyone remembers that and nothing else about what I said, I’ll be happy.

      But yep, confidence is a by-product of taking risks and confidence is so damn useful. Except “confidence” is maybe not the right word. it’s more like…the knowledge that not taking the risk will hurt more. A kind of proactive self-interestedness, perhaps. Or…maybe it’s just madness. Maybe future generations, securely supported by the societies they live in, will look back at freelancers and conclude they’re idiots. In which case, we might as well take more risks and enjoy it because we’re already doomed!

      Bet you’re glad I answered your comment now.

  • Congrats on the launches! And, yes, I’m with you — freelancing is a different ballgame but it’s been fun learning how to become a writer.

    • Thanks, Akila!

      If you had to sum up the trickiest things to deal with in becoming a freelancer, what would you say?

  • Great stuff, Mike – I’m always a big fan of people doing something that’s not just the same ‘business’ model as everyone else, and this definitely falls into that camp. I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but… I actually wish I was going to be in the UK in mid-October. Not for the weather (obviously), the leaves on the line or the lukewarm cups of tea, but for your workshop.

    Given that it usually takes an extended team of wild horses to drag me back in that direction any time that’s not ‘summer’ (so, 11.5 months of the year), you may count this as a compliment. ;-)

    • Hm. My replies seem to have got mixed up. here’s my reply to YOUR comment, Dave:

      NOT GOOD ENOUGH! I kept a special place open for you at the workshop. There was a chair marked “Dave Dean” and a gadget charger and everything. We waited as long as we could, but we just had to start without you. POOR EFFORT.

      I could even have got hold of some of those cow brain tacos you’re always eating.

      Still, I’m sure you were doing something important instead. Sniff.

  • Likewise! Tho’ I’ll be aiming at the whskey, to see how it compares to whisky…

  • Tee

    Excellent news, good luck Mike and Mark!

    • Thanky. :) And thank you yet again for being part of why I started this online lark.

      Although I still miss Adventure Journalist. Just saying.

  • Great idea! Congrats on the new ventures, and see you at TBEX!

    • Hey Susan! How did you find the madness of TBEX?

  • Wow, great! Keep do it and good luck, Mike :)

    • Thanks! (And that’s the plan). :)

  • I quit my job so I could be a full time writer. It hasn’t killed me yet either. I’m enjoying it but some parts more than others. I like the fun writing but not the pennies it brings in and I tolerate the boring writing that brings in loads.

    I have a mortgage hanging over my head but a pretty house to show for it and I get to go on lots of pretty holidays.

    • Sounds like you have things balanced very nicely indeed…

      What did you find was the biggest challenge in getting this lifestyle to work for you?

  • Congrats on the launches and keep your head up. There’s something admirable about jumping into a dream (startup; writing; or otherwise) head first. You owe it to yourself to try!

    • Head first is a good way to go.

      If it’s a plunge into oblivion, well, at least your feet aren’t in the way so you can enjoy the view on the way down…


  • Many Congratulations Mike and thank you so much for your blog and tips about writing. I am very new to all this (just 3 weeks) and the blogging world has been very encouraging and in some places, quite funny!
    I think what attracted me to your blog was the madness of your outdoor projects and the fact that you kept pushing your boundaries and hanging in there.
    I also like your blunt honesty. Well done you!
    I am not able to come to your writing workshop right now but I’ll be looking out for you and of course your musings