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.