4 March 2018

How I became a writer

Hello friends,

Earlier this week, I filmed a YouTube video about becoming a writer. YouTube is still a scary unknown world for me, so, I've reverted to my comfort zone and written a post to go with it. Watch the video, read the post, or if you’re super keen, do both! 

I wasn’t sure about hitting publish on this post.

The story of how I became a writer is one I’ve wanted to share for the longest time, but how do you talk about it without sounding incredibly arrogant?

Let’s clear something up: I’m not saying I have a perfect career. I certainly don’t think I have all the answers. And I don’t even think I made all the right decisions along the way. But what’s the point in making mistakes if you don’t share the lessons you learned?

Lesson 1: Find your passion 

Back in 2012, I was finishing a psychology degree. It was an interesting subject, but I realised I didn’t want to be a psychologist. Terrified by my impending graduation, I found solace in creative things: writing, drawing, painting, photography.

From there, it was just a short jump to starting my own blog.

My first blog wasn't good. At all. But it made me feel excited and happy, which was very welcome in an otherwise dreary, fear-filled year. I'd been imagining a grey future where I worked in a dull office building. And then it occurred to me: colourful, exciting creativity could be part of my everyday life.

After realising how much joy blogging brought me, I firmly decided that writing was my calling.

Lesson 2: Go window shopping 

The possibility of being a writer was unbelievably exciting.

You know when you browse ASOS even though you have no money? Or when you peruse Rightmove for flats even though you don’t have a deposit saved?

You can do the same with jobs – and it’s helpful. It’s a good idea to see what’s out there, find out exactly which skills recruiters are looking for, and work out how much experience you’ll need. So, I started shopping for my dream job.

Turns out, I’d need quite a few years of experience before it was worth applying.

Lesson 3: Seize those opportunities 

It’s a catch-22 situation: to get a job you need experience, but to get experience you need a job. For most of us, that means one thing: unpaid work.

I’m kind of torn on this issue.

After I graduated, I started working for an online fashion marketplace which ran a blog on the side. They published high-end Vogue-style fashion reports and I was recruited as a blogger. I didn’t mind not being paid, as I was a total novice.

But I got very into my ‘blogging job’. I just kept coming back, always eager to be the most published, or to get the best trends or fashion shows to write about (I had a lot of time on my hands). With every post, my writing got better and my determination doubled.

My Hermione Granger attitude paid off. After a few months and a meeting with the owner up in London (how fancy did 21-year-old me feel?), I was ‘promoted’ to blog coordinator. That meant getting to commission pieces, edit people’s work and run the social media. I went to London Fashion Week a couple of times. I interviewed designers.

It was all great experience. But still unpaid.

Lesson 4: Know your value 

I worked there for about a year and a half, which I think you’ll agree is a crazy amount of time to go without earning. (Don't worry, sometimes I had a part-time job on the side - more on this later.)

So, while unpaid work (like internships and volunteering) can be great for experience, know your value. Don’t let anyone take advantage of you.

I think the only reason I stayed with the company was because I kept getting new and potentially useful experience. If you hit a point where you're no longer learning, it's time to ditch it.

Lesson 5: Trust your gut and don’t give up 

Through the post-graduation years, a few friends and family members urged me to get a 'proper job' instead. To them, I was being crazy. I heard an awful lot of: 'Are you getting paid yet?' and 'I think you should just keep writing as a hobby'.

I do see why they said that. But I am SO glad I didn’t listen.

I couldn’t imagine being happy in any other career. And when I’ve set my mind to something, I’m painfully stubborn. You often hear: 'you regret the things you don't do', and I imagine spending 40 hours a week wishing you were in a different job is a pretty unpleasant experience.

If there's something you really want, keep trying. Don't give up.

Lesson 6: You don’t know what experience will come in handy 

After a few months of unpaid blogging work, I hit the end of my overdraft and realised I had food to buy and a phone bill to pay.

So, ugh, I had to get a job. After 5 months of half-heartedly applying for retail and admin positions at the behest of the Jobcentre (they didn’t take my writing ambitions at all seriously - ‘Oh? Well, here’s a costume shop looking for a cashier’), I got offered a position in a marketing department as an assistant to a couple of creative teams.

‘You were the office-bitch,’ my friend Jen helpfully reminds me about once a month. And not in a Miranda Priestly way. She means in a ‘girl who does the stuff no-one wants to do’ way. I think that's fairly standard for a 22-year-old entering the workplace, though.

I won’t lie, I was a bit resentful about the job. I really appreciated the money, but I was doubtful that it would help my career – plus it tore me away from my writing.

Guess what? I was wrong, it was pretty handy after all. And as Jen reminds me (after humbling me with my office-bitch origin story): 'We've all done shit jobs'.

Lesson 7: Be honest about what you want 

A couple of months in, I mentioned my blog and my writing ambitions. Before long, they offered a bit of copywriting work.

I didn’t see that coming at all. But it turns out, if you’re honest with people about what you want, they’ll probably try to help you.

It started with editing and uploading the odd research piece but by the end of the year, I was rewriting a microsite. This wasn’t part of my job description, but I was thrilled to be doing it.

My contract was coming to an end, so it was time to start job hunting. I wasn’t sure I’d have enough experience to get a proper writing job, but it was worth a shot, right?

Actually, I only applied for one job. It was for a charity. They wanted someone to help with their content. That meant writing. Actual paid writing.

Lesson 8: Surround yourself with good people 

After a nerve-wracking bus ride spent thumbing through the five pages of handwritten notes I’d all but memorised, I was there at the HQ for my interview. It went by in a blur. And the next morning, I was offered the job.

For several months, I walked home grinning to myself. I was incandescent with joy that I could officially call myself a writer.

That was three and a half years ago – and I’m still there!

It's super rewarding to feel like your 9–5 makes a difference and helps save lives. And I love the fantastically talented, hilarious, lovely human beings I'm surrounded by. I've learned so much from them.

My tip? If you’re not in the industry you want to be, try to make friends with people who are where you want to be (or share the interest with you). That’s where social networks (especially IG and Twitter) are really helpful. You can give each other ideas, do courses, go to events together, etc. It makes the whole business much more fun and motivating.

Lesson 9: Keep learning 

Nowadays, I’m an editor at the lovely charity. I’ve learned so much in the past few years, and I’m fully aware that the learning process will never stop. There will always be skills to boost and new things to learn. Plus, the way people communicate is constantly changing, so we have to adapt and change with them.

So, take a look at that eLearning course you’ve had your eye on. Sign up for those classes you’ve been meaning to take. Ask to shadow someone at work. Do some volunteering. Because you never know when it will come in handy! Remember when I sulked about working in the marketing role? I’m fairly sure that gave me an edge at my interview. And all that blogging I was told not to waste my time on? Incredibly useful. Without it, I absolutely wouldn’t have got the job. My life would be completely different.

Kind of scary, huh?

I hope this was interesting. It’s a bit strange to see the last 5 years of my life laid out like that. But it’s made me realise I’ve achieved an awful lot in a relatively short amount of time. I feel quite proud!


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