At the beginning of the month I resigned from my safe and generally sound publishing job. From 27 September I’ll be a freelance writer and editor, self-employed and of no fixed salary. The response from colleagues has been characteristically generous and well-wishing, but on the whole I’d rather not have been congratulated quite so much for bravely choosing an exciting future.
As it happens, it’s a familiar excitement. In 1998 I began a four-year stint as a more-or-less full-time freelance writer and editor. I’d recently emerged from a 12 month fixed-term contract with the Civil Service, which had been more interesting than enjoyable, and at the end of which the office manager had said ‘we’ve enjoyed having you, but please don’t stay; we think you’d be happier as a writer’. Shrewd advice, I thought, and so I worked as a waiter for the rest of the year, saving money and planning. I gently, very gently, tapped up my first client while waiting on her table.
My first commission was to work on the relaunch of a wholesale and retail wine merchant’s wine club. That was an amazing bit of luck, especially as it suited me better than I had any right to expect from a first job, and I went on to write features and sales copy for the bimonthly newsletter for some years. Other regular clients included a couple of software development companies and an environmental organisation, while I also worked with a graphic designer colleague on websites for various commercial clients. I expanded from writing and editing to search engine optimisation, marketing and the like, all in a small way. The bulk of my work was for a small number of repeat customers and tended towards cycles of feast and famine. Sometimes it wasn’t enough.
At one point I spent a lot of time working on a building site, at first (briefly) as a labourer and then as a paint and wallpaper stripper. My first day was spent ferrying liquid concrete in a wheelbarrow and then knocking out ceilings with a crowbar. I have what the optician’s staff helping me choose my last glasses described as a ‘scholarly’ appearance, and no one over the age of five would think of me as intimidatingly muscular; my efforts amused my fellow workers as much as they hurt me. I couldn’t fully straighten my arms for about a week after. Strange as it may seem, I enjoyed the mix of the sedentary and the active, and what’s more I had money to live on while I waited for my jobs to finish and payment to follow. Later I spent a summer working in a bookshop, passing the time by restocking their classics and modern classics sections.
For all the good parts, I never felt financially secure and found myself in my late twenties living with my parents again, in a small village far away from where I wanted to be. So I moved south from Cumbria in 2002 and without quite intending it to happen, my freelance work became a sideline that wasn’t much more than a hobby with a self-assessment tax form attached.
Now here I am chucking over a good job to return to it full-time; it’s not altogether surprising that people keep telling me I’m brave and that my future is exciting. What has changed to make this any sort of a good decision? That, my friends, is the question I shall address in my next post.