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  • Alan Ward

How's it going so far? Five things I've learned since leaving my job to write

I left my job to write and everyone wants to know how it's going. Alright, not everyone, but a few very sweet and dedicated friends. It's a lovely question to be asked, but the hardest to answer.

I last worked a 'proper' day at 'proper' work on Friday 13 October, five weeks ago. The first week after that I was out of the country on a trip (as my Instagram followers will no doubt remember, since I'm still posting the photos), so I'm not counting that. Twenty-five working days have gone by, but taking away five of those for the trip, less another three when I went to visit my parents (long overdue), and another when I presented at a conference which had nothing to do with writing: that's sixteen days.

And that's including today, which hasn't really got started yet.

How's it going? Well, you won't be surprised to hear that there's only so much that can happen in sixteen days. I'm not finished with the novel yet, if that's what you're asking, but I am learning a thing or two about myself and writing. Specifically:

1) I drink more tea now.

I don't know if it's procrastination, but I've got really into my hot drinks. I hate to admit it here, but at work I was always (quite openly) behind on my tea round quota because I was just so busy. Now, when looking at the unchanging screen gets too much, diligently watching the kettle boil is very appealing.

2) So much of writing isn't actually writing.

It’s nice not having a rigid schedule and to be able to set my own agenda, but in my experience so far (and I might be doing something really wrong), a lot of time spent 'writing' isn’t about actually writing at all. It's about plotting, planning and replanning (especially when you’re dealing with a manuscript you’ve written in two hour slots over nearly a decade).

3) Searching for and submitting to opportunities takes forever.

Before I left my job I'd watch deadlines go by for opportunities (competitions, magazine submissions, all that stuff) and feel really guilty I hadn't found the time to send something off, particularly in cases where I knew I had something already written that fitted the brief. Now I can afford to be a bit more organised about this sort of thing, but I can tell you it's terribly labourious and not doing it is nothing to feel guilty about if you've got other things on your plate.

Even if you think you have something perfect for the brief, you dig it out and read it through to find it needs a bit of tweaking, or you realise it's only half-written, or you just imagined that it was semi-decent but actually it's awful and it's best to start again. Then there are the cover letters, and ensuring it's not currently submitted somewhere else or you haven't published it before, and making sure you're making the best selection of work for that particular opportunity (for example, is this something the judges would like or is their style totally different?). It takes inordinate time, and in most cases for little or no reward.

4) I spend a lot more time at writing than I thought I would.

A lot of these are coming down to how I manage my time, I realise.

I had grand visions of four hours a day of intensive writing and leisurely afternoon strolls, runs, swims, shops and bakes. Well, that's not happening. I get started a bit later than I would have done otherwise, but I can be working right through to the middle of the night and still waking up to jot ideas down when I’m supposed to be sleeping.

5) When you don’t commute, you have to make time to read.

I did not think this through before I quit my job. Half an hour twice a day of solid reading time on the Overground between Brockley and Highbury & Islington was well worth the price of my Zones 1 & 2 Travelcard. I keep a meticulous record of my literature consumption and actually it looks slightly up, and that's probably because if I'm taken by a book I can just spend a morning getting into it. It's not like I'm going to forget to read – I start to feel a bit unstable if I don't have a book on the go – but it's a funny thing to have to schedule in.


So, that's how things are going. If you've made it to the end of this one (I think it's my longest blog post yet), thank you. I really to appreciate you taking the time to read about my existence – I know you have much better things to do, so it really means a lot!

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