I’ve decided this isn’t working out.
So – I quit.
Let’s talk about why.
Two Things They Don’t Tell You About Improving As A Writer
1. It never gets easier.
In fact, it gets more difficult. Luckily, it’s the kind of “difficult” that makes something deep within you roll up its sleeves and shout “YES! Let’s do this!” But it is never, ever easier. The reason is that while you master things you initially found hard, that process of mastering those things leads to the awareness of how you still suck at doing at least 2 other things. As time goes on, the number of things you want to know about grows, and the proportion of things you know vs. things you want to know…well, that slides in a really alarming direction. And this means you’re more demanding of yourself – more self-critical.
This is why the older the writer is, the crankier they get.
2. You probably won’t get any faster.
If your time is limited and you’re trying to tuck your dream job in behind a day at a cash till, your biggest enemy is time and its fickle sibling, energy. Sometimes you’ll have the time and you’ll be too pooped to do anything. Sometimes you’ll be raring to go, but a day at the office awaits. It’s a mess. You hack through it. For a while.
Oh, stop stop stop.
Let’s stop with the sweeping generalisations. Because this isn’t about all writers (for how would I know?) – this is about me.
I’ve been a part-time freelance writer, taxed and stamped, since 2009. I’ve written here, I’ve written there. You might have seen me at Mashable a few months ago. I snuck into the San Francisco Chronicle a while back. I’ve peppered numerous websites with my writing, and I’ve written a few things in here that have been popular enough on social media to force me to change web hosting packages. If you’ve followed my exploits online, you might have an idea of me as the archetypal English Web Writer – tweed mousemat, deerstalker hoodie, Windows desktop photo of the Queen, etc. And you might imagine me tapping away every day, living a carefree, semi-scholarly life.
Here’s one clue that this is a wobbling heap of giblets: the hours you see me online.
Sometimes, like last night, I stay up all night. When I was working for one particular website, I did this once a week. It was the only way I could get the work done, because I was working a full week in my dayjob. Both my writing, and my dayjob, suffered. When the dayjob decided not to renew my 6-month temping contract, citing reasons like “some mornings you could walk into a George A. Romero film and not require makeup” and “are you aware you actually speak in Wingdings?”, well, once the embarrassment and shame wore off…no, wait, they never have. Still makes me cringe. That website I was writing for? I quit writing for them, and a few months later I still burnt out. That was not a fun time.
Since then, I’ve worked part-time in York, across the city at the University. It hasn’t paid a great deal, but it’s allowed me to scrape by. I did this in the hope that I’d build up enough capital to nail my debts and allow me to travel, and I’d do that by building up my writing work. When? In the mornings, and evenings, and weekends. Whenever. The important thing, though, was the Rule That All Writers Should Obey:
Don’t Give Up Your Day Job.
This is a smart rule, on the whole. Let’s not poke holes here – it’s how you’re going to pay your bills. It’s how you’re going to make ends meet. Because you need to do that first, before engaging in any legacy work, personal development, wild flights of fancy into the magical pink sparkly realm of What If. You need to be practical. Especially if you have dependents, be they people, property, debts, pets…
I’m single, unpropertied and petless – but I do have personal debts. Let’s skip over my student loan debts for a second, they’re too scary. The debts that concern me are credit card overdrafts, and while they’re not monstrous, they’re persistent. They drain my income every month. They are some of the ends I need to meet – added to which there’s food, rent, utility bills, my subscription to Spearmint Rhino (note to self: edit this out, TMI dude). Put them together and get a figure. And my dayjob has just about cleared that figure, every month, for the last 18 months. Just about.
What it hasn’t done is allowed me to write much.
You know – that thing that actual writers do.
So, there I was at Christmas, with time to think. I’d just got lucky – securing a regular writing gig for a few months, and winning a runner-up prize in the Amadeus Bolder, Brighter, Better competition. Then the Inland Revenue gave me a tax rebate. I suddenly had some cash to play with. Was it enough to pay my debts? Not by a long shot. And as a sorta-kinda travel blogger, I should be using it to travel. Right?
But I was exhausted.
Then – this happened. My body was saying “look, are you some kind of idiot? You can’t do this any longer. WAKE UP”. And this time, I listened.
So, I decided to quit.
Firstly, I quit my dayjob. I told them a few weeks ago, and I leave there at the end of March.
Then I quit my rented accomodation. I told my landlords just last week. It’s official. I’m moving out, and leaving York, mid-April.
When I’m in the UK, I’m using my Mum’s house as a base of operations, over on the east coast of Yorkshire – but I intend to be on the move as much as my finances will allow, including trips to Germany, Jordan and hopefully Greece, and also to Italy, where I’m attending TBU Umbria and speaking on the importance of storytelling. (Expect lots of hand-waving. I get hand-wavey on this topic).
How is it all going to work, financially? I’m uncertain. But here’s the thing: that matters a lot less to me these days than it used to. A lot less. Because a far worse thing than uncertainty….is the certainty that you’re not getting anywhere. The rock-solid certainty of merely existing. But this way, I give myself an extra 35 hours a week to invest into my writing projects, to build that income in a way my dayjob would never allow – and thanks to a really great longterm employer, I currently have work to pay my bills (which will also be slashed by a third by moving away from York). No idea how long that will go on for, but it’s a little leeway while I get established.
I can do a lot with 35 hours a week. Just you watch.
Hello. My name’s Mike. And from April, I’m a full-time freelance writer.
(Oh, and I’m also for hire. Say hi).