Open up my workbook from kindergarten, and my idle doodling reveals one thing again and again: since the age of 6, I have wanted to be a writer. I’m not sure how this idea first entered my head. All I know is that that is what I wanted to do. I adored books; my mother would read to me every night as a toddler, until I read for myself. Words were my comfort zone. I have no memories of a time when I wanted to do or be anything else, before writing (there have been other fanciful ideas since then, but nothing pre-dates it!).
Here’s the odd thing: despite that, I was basically petrified of the idea of writing anything serious. My dream was always the novel. And yet, I never wrote a word. The dream was so huge, so all encompassing, that I was entirely paralysed by it.
There were times where I was forced, by school or university, to produce writing of significant length. But outside of those times, I wrote almost nothing. A blog post here and there, but all of which died out after only a month or two. I’d go months and months at a time writing nothing at all. None of my projects ever went anywhere beyond the idea stage.
Now, I write every single day.
What changed? I finally found the honest answers to these questions:
Well, what do you actually value?
A big part of why I think I never wrote anything much at all pre-2016, is that I simply didn’t align what I valued internally (i.e. creativity and writing), with any externalised action. I kept my value dormant, and never acted on it. Why? Well, for one I was confused. It wasn’t clear to me that this value that I had was something I absolutely needed to explore. So I suppressed it; I was given the advice time and again, by parents, random adults, career advisers and teachers alike, that writing was not a career option. Therefore, I dismissed it. If I couldn’t be a writer, why write? This self-fulfilling cycle had me blinded for a long time.
Why aren’t you doing the thing you value?
It is a shame that this interest of mine was never particularly encouraged in a productive way. I never took part in workshops or lessons, and my school was far from encouraging. A lack of information and understanding meant that I didn’t realise how much I liked writing, or how important it was to me. That was definitely part of the problem.
I realised though, that I needed to write, by having a life meltdown in 2016, which is also when I decided I would pack in everything I was doing, quit my job, and try my hand at living off writing full time. This hardline approach isn’t for everyone, and going from zero to hero wasn’t exactly the outcome. But it did mean that I saw writing as not only viable but valuable, for the first time. It was also the first time I was forced to do the thing I valued, way more consistently.
In a nutshell, the answer was about fear. I wasn’t writing, because I was afraid. I was afraid that it wouldn’t work out, that it wasn’t really an option, that I wouldn’t be able to work and earn a living, that I would be going against the advice I’d been given time and again by adults I respected. Ignoring them all and doing whatever I wanted seemed awfully selfish and brattish, and I was not used to being such a hardline rule-bender. I’ve now realised that I have been a quiet rebel for a long time, and tapping into that part of myself gave me the courage to do exactly what I had always dreamed of doing.
What are you actually afraid of?
Knowing it was fear at the heart, I had to question myself a little further: what was it exactly that I was really afraid of? Several things came to mind. These were my fears, and how I answered them:
I was afraid my parents would disapprove
Particularly my father, who I had always feared would not approve of this decision, particularly after all my years of study. I was afraid because he’d always steered me in the direction of marketing or advertising or any of those things that seemed to involve writing, but weren’t actually about writing. I was worried he’d think I was kind of a fool.
We had a frank discussion, when I was at my worst and in a job I loathed, in which I confessed that I couldn’t see a future for myself. My days felt numbered. That was the level of darkness. After a long time, my father agreed that I had to do what was best for me. That was enough to get the ball rolling in the right direction.
I was afraid people would think I was a time waster/loser
At this point I’d already completed two different degrees, and tried all kinds of work. It seemed as though I was just the kind of person who couldn’t work consistently at something — I’d start and get fed up at the job I was doing, whatever it was. Maybe I was just a time waster, a loser. But at that point I was so depressed and confused, I felt I had little left to lose: might as well try my hand at writing. Years later, I am not at all sick of this path.
My fears about being a slacker felt insurmountable then, but from the moment I actually started committing to the writing, I realised that I really had just failed to find the right thing for me, until that moment. It is a fear that has taken a long time to shift. But by telling myself I could either be afraid of what people around me thought, or I could live the life I really wanted, I reframed that fear. I felt I was a loser, with nothing left to lose. What did the opinions matter, on top of that? I was already there in my own eyes. Might as well try for something better.
I was afraid I would end up broke
A legitimate fear at last; writing is not known for being the most lucrative career path. But here’s the thing: I’d been saving money since I was a kid. I had my first job at 16, and had managed to live careful and within my means in a foreign country for years. So I knew I wasn’t an idiot with money — I knew how to budget, how to save, how to make my money last. What I needed to do was to make some more sacrifices. And those were practical, actionable things — I traded in my nice apartment for a terrible one, because it was cheap. I gave up every subscription, eating out, extraneous purchases, etc.
I knew I would have to scrimp to give myself a chance, and because those were easily actionable compared to the internal turmoil I felt about the value of my life, I determined to do everything I could. I might have still ended up broke. But I didn’t because I didn’t stop doing literally everything I could think of, writing and applying for writing gigs continuously. Eventually, I found a full time job and have not been close to broke, since. Yes, it required the weathering of a very sad period. But was it worthwhile? Absolutely.
I was afraid of the uncertainty and instability I’d introduce into my life
Chucking in a full time job, even if you hate it, for the absolute uncertainty of freelance work and a totally new career path, is for most people completely insane. It’s such a huge degree of change and uncertainty. It’s about as destabilising as you can go with career choices.
The Ugly Truth About Going Freelance As A Writer
What nobody will tell you but you really ought to know before you take the plunge.
However, I did this because the ‘certainty’ I knew was making me utterly miserable. So I traded in certain misery, for the fear of the unknown. It remains a fairly unstable and uncertain path. But with time, I have grown used to it. I am at peace with the unknown, as much as it is possible for me to be. “At least you aren’t going to wake up and say ‘I gave my life to a job I hated’” — this is what I verbally tell myself, almost every day. At least that.
I was afraid I would suck
This is another really good fear. What if I was terrible, so terrible that nobody would hire me? What if I literally couldn’t string a sentence together? Writing is hard. Most people think they know how to write, which makes it easy to doubt the rarity and difficulty of the skill. And it’s not just about sentence structure, grammar or word choice; it’s ultimately about how clearly you can communicate an idea in words.
I wouldn’t know, I figured, until I tried. I pitched a dozen times a day and was rejected for most of the work I applied for. But one or two bits started to trickle in. My portfolio grew week by week. What was challenging, I worked harder to succeed at. I had a hunger to improve, a hunger to be good. I feel the same way about my fiction, as I do about my professional freelance work and all the other writing I do. I am happier knowing that I will do it day in and day out, than I am worried about whether or not the curtain will come down on my talent at some point.
Creativity quickly becomes a burden too great to carry, if the pressure placed on the work becomes about the perception of success — the perception of greatness. I am not interested in whether other people will find me ‘great’. Hate my writing all you want. I love doing it, and when I write is the only time I feel 100% happy. So, maybe I suck occasionally. But I am willing to work harder and longer to improve. Maybe there are people who wake up earlier, who go to bed later. But I know I can work super hard and even if I am not the best or the hardest worker, I will keep on going regardless. This became my motto.
And then I got to the big one:
Will you be okay to die wondering?
Ultimately, what will my life look like, when I look back on it? The idea that I might get old and die without having ever tried was more terrifying than any of my objections — than any other fear my mind could conjure up. I needed to write. I needed to try and to know my own currency.
I haven’t finished my novel — yet. I am not a published author, yet. But I am a published essayist, and a published blogger. I have written articles for all kinds of audiences, in several industries. I have studied journalism, I have taken up workshops. I have read books on my craft and I have engaged with my peers. I have hosted podcasts, written reviews and interviewed people to camera; I have written about some of the most fascinating people and productions in the arts industry in the UK.
All my writing, in every genre, has contributed to the whole. To my understanding and mastery of the word. I was not willing to die wondering what it might have been like to ignore my most genuine passion and interest. I wasn’t willing to wake up one day with that level of regret, because I can imagine just how devastating that will be. I refuse, and therefore, I rebel against those fears.
It’s not an easy road, and any creative act requires a degree of vulnerability that is intimidating. But we humans are good at adaptation. We adapt to uncertainty, we adapt to choices — we can learn a lot, we can learn quickly. We keep on growing. I have grown into my decision to commit. I never wrote a single word of anything that really mattered to me. But even if I never publish, I know now that I do exactly that — I write what matters to me.
I practice what I value every day. And I hope you will, too.