Right from moment of my first poetry publication in 2008 I had this crazy notion that I wanted to write, I mean I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to write poetry and novels and plays, I wanted to create. I wanted to do this as my main job. I wanted to make a living as a creative. And that’s a goal that has never changed. Finding a way to do this, however, has been a real challenge. The reason creatives working in the arts are so heavily weighted towards the middle and upper classes has nothing to do with education, and everything to do with income and financial support. Of course, not all middle and upper class folk are financially stable with a nest egg to sit on while writing the novel, but there does tend to be more of that from slightly more privileged backgrounds. See also unpaid internships and having the finances for continued professional development etc. You do not make very much money as a writer unless you are extremely lucky and even less so with poetry, it is a constant fight to keep your head above water. Alas, I am not from middle class or upper class stock, and do not have the nest egg. I don’t really mind that, I think not having that background or that stability has given me the drive to push for what I want. But it does mean that I have had to find ways to reach my ambitions via other routes that involve a great deal of stress and fretting and not much actual writing.
I have now been self employed for seven years. I started working in the arts and working under the umbrella of ‘professional writer’ in 2017, four years ago, gradually moving through different jobs – writing abstracts for industry journals, proofing, writing content, freelance writing, writing articles for magazines, all while working on my own writing and slowly building a career as a creative writer alongside it. I was always stepping sideways, crab-like, away from the career at the hospital that I left behind, and heading towards that lofty goal of ‘writer’. I found my niche a few years ago, as a workshop facilitator, creative writing tutor, editor and mentor. I think I am good at creating safe places for people to experiment, and good at motivating other people, bringing out their self belief. These days I also run a magazine (new issue out now, follow this link: Spelt) .
The last year or so, the hard work has started to pay off. I made it to the tax paying threshold last year and I am almost, almost earning the same as I was earning at the point I left my job at the hospital seven years ago. It has been a long struggle, but a fun and exciting one, with continuous improvement year on year in every area, which I find hugely satisfying. However, I am also a chronic workaholic. I think partly this is because I’m working class and also because I’m self employed and THE FEAR is on me all the time, the fear of having a bad month, the fear of losing customers, the fear of losing an audience I worked so hard to build. If you’re self employed, if you work in the arts, you’ll know all about THE FEAR. I do too much work, take too much on, daren’t say no, and as a result, not only does it take me an age to get back to emails and messages and get work done because I can’t say no to new work, but I don’t get time to write. I am no longer a writer who also facilitates other people’s writing, I am a facilitator who sometimes writes.
I have been somewhere near to financially secure for a couple of years now, I guess. And by financially secure, I mean I can see what will work well, how much I’m likely to make from running courses for my own audience, running workshops for others, teaching at uni, all those things. There are no longer the massive swings and pits that were the mark of self employment in the earlier years.
When I started out all those years ago, I set myself goals, markers that would tell me when I had become ‘successful’ or when I would be nearing the place where I could trust that I would gain income from my creative writing. But I also have terrible imposter syndrome. It really is quite bad. Which means it is difficult to see myself and my writing, I guess you might say my ‘achievements’, the way that others looking in might. I can see it on my CV, when I write it all down, but mostly imposter syndrome stops me from having faith in myself as a writer, and this means that every opportunity I have to write, I tend to fill with facilitating other people’s work, in case people realise I am actually a fraud and all the publications and competition wins are just ‘people pitying me’. I have become extremely comfortable in this place of working too much yet being financially secure, moaning about not having time to write, yet not doing anything about giving myself time to write. I’ve made small moves towards it before, but always refilled any time I had with more work that wasn’t writing. It’s like a terrible compulsion to not give myself the chance to fail.
A couple of things changed recently, firstly I won the Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet award and it opened some doors. I started being invited to give readings for a fee, run paid workshops, do stuff that wasn’t teaching people how to find their own voice, but was entirely about myself and my own work. I also, amazingingly, won a bursary from the Stephen Joseph Theatre and Arcade an award which was offered to creatives local to Scarborough to help facilitate their own creative practice. I was awarded it to help me work on my novel. This is the novel which is an adaptation of the play I wrote which was cancelled due to lockdown. You can read an article about the bursary scheme here: article and hear me rambling through a five minute interview about the book: here at 3 hours 38.
What does the bursary mean? It means writing time, the much coveted writing time that I have been trying to carve out for such a long time. And a research trip. I’m taking the whole of September to work on the novel, just that, nothing else. Which is phenomenal and I am so very grateful for that time. But winning the bursary means much more than that, it means that someone has faith in me as a creative practitioner, as a writer. Someone thinks this is a good idea and that I have the skills and knowledge and talent to pull this off. There is a tiny voice in me that has been watered and fed by someone else having that faith, and it is growing. That voice says – I also believe I have the skill and talent and knowledge to pull this off, to make this really good, to make this something special.
What a strange and foreign notion that is; to think yourself good enough to do something you have always wanted to do. I’ve always looked for signs to tell me when I’m supposed to take the next step. I count magpies, I look for omens, I watch for hares in the fields. This time, I am choosing to take my own success as a sign that I should invest in myself, invest in the time that it will take to finish this and do a good job of it. I’ve taken the decision this week, to really cut the work back. I’ve removed a page off my website, I’ve (possibly temporarily) chopped a big chunk of my workload off, leaving only my current mentees, my online courses, teaching for York and running the magazine. Which still sounds like a lot of work, but believe me it is a good third less than I was trying to cram in. I am still open to doing readings, workshops, judging competitions etc., these are the things I have strived for as a writer and things that I love. But I’m making a pact with myself to trust myself as a creative practitioner, to trust that investing time in my writing now, will move my career forward in the longer run, and take me towards that place I have been climbing towards all this time. I need more time to write. Today I choose to believe in myself, and my writing.
That’s what I am trying to say. It seems such an easy concept, an easy action to believe in yourself, but the reality of it is exposing, it leaves you vulnerable. Today I choose to be vulnerable, to allow for people to perhaps mock me or think me silly and naive or all those imagined things that people might think or feel when I say I want to write, I want to be a writer. Today I choose to be vulnerable, I choose to have faith in myself, I choose to take the next step.
Thanks for reading. Until next time. Take care.