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?
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.
Images: Kieron Middleton, Nic McPhee and Images Money.