In which I try to persuade you that I’m not brave

BraveNewWorldThis is where I explain leaving my job to resume full-time freelance writing and editing after a break of a dozen years. Last week I wrote about being told how ‘brave’ I was (a chilling phrase), how I’d had a mixed bag of it last time as a freelance, and ended with the question, ‘What has changed to make this any sort of a good decision?’ Well now…

From late 2002 to mid-2008 I worked for Waterstones, or Waterstone’s as it was then. For the last period I was my store’s main buyer, and it being an academic branch recently (and temporarily) cut loose from the previous management hierarchy I had amazing latitude. I also wrote a good deal for the company, publishing scores of paid reviews in Books Quarterly and many more in the Christmas catalogue. Then there was a strapline for a national media advertising campaign, though that was an accident.

I particularly enjoyed the buying and made a lot of friends among the publishers I worked with. Rather than making me want to stay, however, it made me want to work in publishing. The final nudge came from the introduction of uniforms at Waterstones; much as I liked the place in many ways, there was no chance of me wearing one. In the end I took an administrative job at an academic publisher, a role that looked unpromising at first but was my ‘in’.

After around a year I became a Production Editor, and that’s where things took off. Having been largely self-taught previously, I now received formal training in editing and proofreading, and this with an unfamiliar focus. My earlier commercial experience was stiffened by academic rigour. I was also lucky to be trained by something of a genius; someone who was experienced and talented, but also visibly relished what he did; someone who could teach the technical skills, but also pass on those things that can’t be taught, only communicated—craft, enjoyment, attitude, the sense of an intellectual puzzle to be solved. It’s a rare combination.

Four good years followed. I was lucky to work on unusual projects, and to work with the genius (nicknamed ‘Oracle’, probably by me) on the Style Guide, supplier quality assurance and language/editing reference. For all that, in 2013 I began to realise that I wanted to be doing something different in five years’ time, and then I quickly discovered—now that I mentioned it—that I wanted to be doing something different in a year’s time, if not sooner.

Now here was a thing; what did I want to be doing in a year’s time and in five years’ time? It took me a while to remember what an easy question this was to answer. You see, it was like this: I worked out that I could return to being a freelance, and if I could, I must. Being a full-time freelance was the Holy Grail, and I’d half-forgotten about it, had left it tucked behind that old bottle of holiday-bought grappa.

I could do it because I now had much more complete technical knowledge, and just as important, experience, craft and contacts. Both Waterstones and IOP Publishing had served me well, almost as if that had been my plan all along, which perhaps it was.

If it was an easy decision in the end, it wasn’t easy to do. I moved house to help reduce outgoings, consolidated my finances and worked many an evening and weekend researching and preparing the way. I had to wait months, and meantime I was being contacted by recruitment agents encouraging me to ‘take the next step’ and apply for various juicy roles offering more money, me having sent out a few feelers earlier on. The only next step that made sense to me, though, was the one I was planning, and if that seems brave, it wasn’t, it was the opposite.

The brave thing to do would have been to take a chance on a new job, deferring my plans until I’d saved more money and looked after my CV for a while longer. There was some sense in that, but my fear was that I’d ‘miss my tide’, that I had this chance now and it may not come again, not so well. This wasn’t a brave and exciting plan, it was carefully formed, months in the execution and motivated partly by fear—that, and love of what I’ll be doing.

Paul Fishman (Bristol, October 2014)

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5 thoughts on “In which I try to persuade you that I’m not brave

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