Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Sunday, 29 April 2012

Making a choice

For many years I’ve worked as a journalist. I’ve been a freelance for a wide range of publications, been senior reporter on a local paper which was followed by time as a feature writer on a consumer magazine before returning to freelancing. I’ve always considered myself to be fortunate to earn my living working with words. Being downright nosy I love meeting all sorts of interesting people and being able to ask them questions about themselves, the work they do, the places they’ve been, the thoughts they think – then sharing what I’ve learned with readers. 


In between the writing for money work I’ve had poems published in a number of magazines and anthologies and published a non-fiction book and a novel. Over the last few years, though, I found I was doing less and less of what I consider to be ‘my’ writing and I hoped the move back to freelancing would free up more time for the poems, novels and the biography I want to write. Of course, it did no such thing. Being a freelance means never saying no to any work which is offered because there is always the fear it might not be offered again. Turn down one commission and it’s the person who accepted it who gets offered the next one.

There are also the relentless deadlines to meet and the pressure to be creative when I had a couple of free days. However pretentious and arty-farty it sounds, I have learned I cannot switch overnight from writing up an interview or a news story to working on a novel or short story. Maybe if I worked at something totally different – stacking supermarket shelves or typing in an office it would be easier for my brain to make the switch to creative writing? I have managed – just – to keep writing poems and my first full collection, Thousands Pass Here Every Day, will be published by Indigo Dreams in August. The biography I want to write, though, still needs further research before I can write it and the research needs fairly large block of time – time which, as a freelance (or staff) journalist I can never find.

A few months ago the Dumfries Writers’ Group invited Michael Malone to do a workshop with us. Part of it included taking a look at what we wanted to do in our writing lives and what was preventing us from achieving it. Well, I knew I wanted to continue the research for the biography I want to write and knew I wanted to write enough of the introduction and early chapters to be able to send it out to publishers. I also knew I didn’t have enough time. No matter how much I tried to manage my working life I still came up with an insurmountable time barrier. I have felt guilty about not somehow finding the time – lots of people hold down full time jobs, bring up families and find time to write, so why can’t I?

Michael’s session had been useful in clarifying my writing goals and I thought perhaps I could juggle work stuff around, use family holiday time to do some of the research, but it wasn’t really going to change very much. I was still going to drive friends up the wall by talking about a project which was going nowhere. Then Michael said something about us each having to make choices if we want to achieve our goals. It was one of those light bulb moments – and an extremely scary one at that.

I could choose not to be a journalist to give me the time I need for the biography. I thought about the implications for a while – loss of income, loss of a large part of my identity, learning to say no to commissions, missing out on meeting fascinating people – but I think I had already made the choice. So, once I have cleared my desk of the last few commitments I still need to honour I am, finally, going to get on with the research and writing of the biography. Wish me luck – and watch this space.

10 comments:

  1. Really good post, Mary.....and I wish you all the luck in the world now you have made your choice. I, too, have done a bit of journalism - about 50 articles on the arts (with a bit of alternative health practices and health and beauty in between). I've found, though, that the people I met and their stories and their homes and their art are sort of creeping into my fiction now - making it more real, more rounded.
    Have you set yourself a deadline for the biography?

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  2. Thanks, Linda. I'm sure there is a good chance some of the people I've met through journalism may appear in some fiction - suitably disguised.

    I haven't set a deadline for the biography but when Michael did the workshop we had to write down a goal and deadline and I - rather rashly I think - put July as the deadline for getting the intro, first two chapters and synopsis written.

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  3. What you talking aboot, Mary. July is still ages away. Seriously though, I'm delighted that my talk had a positive impact for you. Here's to your success.

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    1. Thank you Michael. Your workshop certainly had an impact, whether it was a positive one remains to be seen. Income is now greatly reduced which is pretty scary. Never really visualised myself as a writer starving in an attic. I'm looking forward to the moment I send in my last work committment and realise I'm now free to get on with what I want to do.

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  4. Wishing you lots and lots of luck, Mary. I'm one of the people who've heard a fair bit about the biography over the years and although I'm not at all bored by it I will be delighted to see it - finally - in print. And you will get there. This is one step nearer.

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    1. Gill, I'm sure you must be fed up hearing about this project for so long. When it is finally in print you shall have a complimentary copy! Thank you for your support.

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  5. Great post, Mary - I need Michael to come and talk to us here! I'm sure you've made the right choice and we'll soon be seeing even more of your work in print (but the kind you really want to write).

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    1. Do get Michael along, Rosemary. I can wholeheartedly recommend his workshop - but don't blame me if you find yourself turning your life around as a result! You could suddeny be an air pilot or something.

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  6. Big decisions are always scary. I had to make one myself recently and it caused me a lot of sleepless nights. Thanks to all of those who listened and encouraged (you know who you are!), I took it, and I know it was the right thing to do. Just make sure you seize the opportunity you have made for yourself, Mary.

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    1. Thanks, Jenny. I know you faced a major decision earlier this year. I think we know we have to make a choice but put it off - the devil you know syndrome, perhaps. Then there comes a point when you you have to jump or be stuck. I'm planning to finish off the last jobs I have to do then take a break and do something totally different like clearing out the attic - something transitional - then get down to working on the biography. And to reinforce the rightness of my decision I received a letter from my biography subject's daughter today. Coincidence? Fate?

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