I’m a writer. It’s the only thing I ever really wanted to do (apart from when I was 8 and wanted to be a footballer) and it’s the only thing I’m any good at. It’s sort of a compulsion – something I’d do even if I didn’t get paid for it (and many times you don’t, just like this blog!) If you’re determined to make it in a creative field – whether it’s painting or photography or dancing or acting, I’m sure you’ll know this feeling. I don’t have an employer – people insist on saying ‘Are you freelance?’ and I just reply ‘Yes’ though I think it makes it all sound a bit businessy, which it very much isn’t. I write novels – in fact I started my first novel called Spinning Out of Control while I was in the Edward Boyle Library. My new one called The Wall in The Head features Leeds University as a location, mostly because I have such terrific, fond memories of being there.
And that’s another reason I’m always happy to help out with stuff like this. If you want to be a creative writer, it’s going to involve a hell of a lot of work at evenings and weekends (if you’re a writer – write, there’s no way around it) and very little money unless you hit the big time, which I haven’t yet and might never do. But never, ever give in. If you want it enough, you can make it happen. I was unemployed and skint after Uni for months and felt ‘outside’ the world of literature, comedy and the media. And I think this a common feeling if you’re not from a private school background or don’t have London connections. To earn a living I chose arts journalism as my ‘day’ job and it’s been a great ride – hearing incredible stories and travelling around the world is a fantastic privilege, and so is being able to tell those stories, to write for national papers and magazines.
Again though it’s no simple matter to get this work. I started off with a job on the free paper Metro (I’d applied for one job advertised in MediaGuardian, didn’t get it – they came back to me when another came up) and a lot of people like the stability of a regular job, though I find that lifestyle can stymie creativity. Whether you want a full time job or to be a freelance writer you’re going to need a ‘network’ because few jobs are advertised and if you’re freelance you need to know many people who’ll commission you. I’ve made myself part of a huge media/literary network in London and now people often email me saying ‘do you know anyone who could do this thing?’ – TV presenter, desk editor, online writer, doing a story about a particular place or thing etc. I wish I’d had emails like that when I was 21, knew no-one and was broke. I believe in the democratisation of these networks to get more of a plurality of voices in books and newspapers and to that end run an event called Off The Record with my friend Amy (we met at a ‘networking’ night – though again I don’t really like that word as it sounds a bit corporate and a bit lame, it doesn’t really get over the subtlety of the way this all works).
I guess you need to sell yourself a bit these days: get a website ( like mine) and a Twitter by all means, but be a bit careful about being too braggy and too direct. We live in a very narcissistic, very upfront age which even people in their 30s like me find quite shocking in some respects. I see younger writers boasting constantly on Facebook about their travels or their pieces or sometimes coming off a tad desperate in their plaintive pleas online for work or in communications where they’re after any job leads you might have heard of. Concentrate on getting good at writing as well as at selling yourself is something I’d say.
Anyway I hope you’ve enjoyed this. Crucially, however hard it seems – don’t give up!, though ultimately what do I or what does anyone else know? I’m just a hack with a few bonkers ideas. Now’s your chance to rewrite the rules, create something different. There’s a contact page on my website if you want to get in touch though. Best of luck on your journey.