This morning I woke up naturally, padded into the kitchen and watched the bristle of rain from the window while my tea brewed. The face of the church clock was obscured by silvered haze, the leaves and post-box red fruit of the apple tree glistened with damp: the first stirrings of autumn.
I paused to appreciate the shifting season, letting my mind drift to a mist-wreathed kingdom of seal-folk and ancient things.
A far cry from where I was a few months ago – stressed, frustrated and lost. Unable to slow down or appreciate my favourite time of day in my hurry to get out the door and to work on time.
As you may or may not know, at the end of February this year the contract for the job I was working at expired.
Instead of doing the sensible* thing of finding a new job I decided to finally put my savings to the use they were intended for: pursuing my dream of being a writer.
I say sensible, but the fact is that since I left university not one of my jobs has been reliable. We are navigating a very different job climate from our parents’ generation and there just isn’t the same security in traditional jobs. In my view there is equal risk to staying trapped in a job with insecure hours, low pay and zero fulfilment as it is to strike out on my own.
Six months on from that decision I thought this a good time to reflect on what has happened since I prioritised writing.
For a start, I am the happiest I have been in a long time. That’s not to say that this change in lifestyle doesn’t come without its stressful moments, but for the first time in many years I feel in control of who I am and where I’m heading. Surely that should be a major factor in making life decisions? Yet it’s so often the case that we prioritise people pleasing, social conventions and financial gain without considering if these things will bring joy long term.
Things get finished (or started). Back in March I set September 2nd as my deadline for completing the second draft of my novel. The second draft.
This time last year that seemed like the unattainable holy grail. Now I’m two scenes away from meeting my deadline this Sunday.
When I worked fulltime I was forever writing in the margins of my life, at weekends and the couple of hours before bed. Taking a break to rethink plot problems or develop characters properly seemed more like a luxury than a necessity. I am so grateful now that I can go for walks or take a weekend off to gain the perspective my work needs.
This gift of time has also enabled me to do other things that will benefit my writing long-term, such as starting a blog and a newsletter, keeping a regular writer’s notebook again and experimenting with short stories.
I’ve found my online creative kin. Before I left work I was too afraid to share my writing with anyone. I suppose I worried that what I wrote wouldn’t be taken seriously or seen as any good. But since I started sharing my writing online, specifically on Instagram, I’ve found a community of like-minded individuals who have accepted me as one of their own. I’ve befriended those I’ve long admired, folk who inspire and motivate. I’ve found a space that is free of judgement. A supportive, all-embracing, diverse community that I trust and cherish. I feel like I’ve found my online kin.
And if that wasn’t enough I’ve also met my writing partner. It’s a kind of magic that over 5,000 miles of distance poses no obstacle to friendship thanks to an app on my phone. We motivate each other through the tough writing days and celebrate our victories, big or small. Letters have been swapped and Christmas cards exchanged. But the best thing is having someone to talk to who understand the ups and downs of an aspiring novelist.
As a shy, introvert who could never pluck up the courage to take part in creative writing groups or classes, this is the kind of literary friendship I dreamed of!
However, there are downsides to my new life. Some I never expected. For example, I struggle with feeling guilty a lot. I am extremely fortunate now in that I can get up, make breakfast and go back to bed to write. Sometimes I glance out the window and see folk rushing to work in the rain, looking harassed or stolidly plodding towards the office to stare at a computer screen for hours on end. Even though I used to be one of them, and earned every penny I’m using to fund my dream, I sometimes feel guilty for spending all my hours doing something I love.
I think many of us are brought up with the mentality that work is just an unpleasant thing we have to do in order in pay the bills, and that you can’t expect work to bring financial security and creative freedom.
Treating my writing like a full-time job has not helped my time optimism either. I’ll often beat myself up about how little I’ve achieved in the past six months when I know that developing something worthwhile takes time.
So, I either feel guilty for spending too much time on my creativity or for not creating enough!
And when it comes to creativity, I find that I get out what I put in.
The more I draw, the more I write.
The more photographs I take the more stories I see.
The more poems I write the more ideas I get for photographs.
It’s an endless, self-nourishing cycle of creativity that continually tops up my creative well.
I’m still trying to make more room for these wee creative pursuits outside of novel writing - it’s hard to shake the ‘I don’t have time’ mindset of a full-time, stressed out office worker - but already I can see a positive impact. I’ve started drawing regularly again in my writer’s notebook and find that bits of dialogue or description pop into my head while I doodle.
(One of my biggest breakthroughs was discovering the name of my novel during an idle sketching session).
Creative days don’t always make for restful nights. In my old life I used to lie awake night after night worrying about how my life was slipping away in a sea of mediocrity. I was wasting what might be my one chance at life because I was too scared to go after what I wanted.
Now I lie awake night after night and worry about how to make money and if I even have the guts, talent or know-how to achieve the life of my dreams. Have I jumped the gun? Should I have saved more money? Developed my business a bit more? Is my work good enough?
Maybe I’m doomed to be a worry wart.
Perhaps when I’ve signed that multi-million pound book deal I’ll lie awake at night worrying about monsters under the bed (I’m certain they exist, I just don’t have the time to worry about them right now).
Finally, I think the biggest change is that I am starting to believe in my abilities. When I open up to friends, family and complete strangers about what I’m doing I’ve been met with surprise, interest and encouragement, but never the mockery I feared. No one has questioned my ability to achieve this dream.
The response from the online community has been overwhelming positive. I’ve been approached by several brands who want to work with me. I’m even asked for writing advice?!
These votes of confidence have led me to the conclusion that the only person holding me back is myself. A significant part of me still wishes for secrecy and solitude, the quiet comfort that comes from having a private retreat. Yet I know that I’m unlikely to grow by playing it safe.
Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.
So, in an attempt to put-off any future self-limiting behaviour I’m going to end with two not-so-small goals for the next six months:
- A complete third draft
- To have started earning money from my writing (the scarier goal of the two, if I'm honest)