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?
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.
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.
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
That was three and a half years ago – and I’m still there!
Lesson 9: Keep learning
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!