26 May 2008

In which I reveal all about my marvellous career

Blimey. I have been tagged by the fantastic Patroclus, and tasked with answering the burning question: 'What revelations have you had since taking up your writing career?'

I should point out that this is possibly the most exciting thing to actually happen during my writing career, so don't get your hopes up. I'm not one of those romantic novellists, languishing in a garret in Paris while writing my masterpiece, neither am I one of those irritating blog-type-people-with-publishing-deals (hello to all you publishers out there!) or one of those journalists who file exciting political stories from exotic locations while sipping mojitos at the poolside bar.

However, while my subject matter isn't remotely glamorous (in the last month it's been anything from wrought iron gates to leadership skills in HE), I do appear to be quite trendy by combining small child/working from home/mild guilt complex over state of house.


Right, I'm supposed to be giving you all the benefit of my deep and enduring wisdom on this career that I started way back in depths of 1996. I started off writing press releases about squirrels, and sometimes I think it's been all downhill from then on.

1. Freelancing is indeed marvellous. If you get remarkably bored remarkably quickly (sorry, all my previous employers - it was nothing personal), then working for yourself is one way of curing this. There's variety a go-go (see selection of random topics above), you get to drink proper coffee and eat proper cake in the comfort of your own home (or anywhere else you fancy), and nobody tells you what to do*. Have laptop, will freelance.

The fact that scheduling can be a nightmare, and you'll end up working like a maniac every hour that God sends to finish three projects that all arrived at the same time might just be me, or it might be one of the delightful downsides. Along with unpredictable income and the ability to spend hours procrastinating by writing blog posts, checking the internet, and eating toast.

2. It doesn't have to be all writing. Actually, one of the bits I like best about what I do is the editing - turning pages of gobbledegook into something that works is a real challenge. Especially if there's a word limit (although that might just be the masochist in me).

I also love proofreading, although that's best when you can get a red pen out and scribble all over a piece of paper. It's just not the same when you amend it on screen, although there's a certain amount of satisfaction in turning on the Markup toggle in Word, and seeing exactly how ruthless you've been.

3. Creative writing doesn't necessarily have to mean writing a novel, screenplay or poem. Trust me, you've got to be very creative when you're trying to write descriptions of wrought iron gates. And anyway, gates pay the mortgage and scary nursery fees, and occasionally lead to the odd handbag or nice cake.

Actually, I guess what I love most is words, and the process of creating something readable with them. Yes, it would be fantastic to write only the ones that I wanted, rather than those I'm asked to write about, but for me it's the process rather than the subject matter that's important.

And, as Patroclus points out rather better than I have, the chances of working on your own material and earning a decent living are limited - what you really need to do is pick a sector, become an expert in turning jargon-filled, complicated prose into plain, readable English, and away you go. As well as tech and finance, I think government and HE are good areas - much of what's produced is complicated, obscure and often written by people who are amazing at what they do, but not very good at expressing it. And who find word limits to be an alien concept.

4. Another alien concept is spelling. I love the fact that the English language is so complicated, and that spelling is tricky. Most people don't. Please don't ever write our language as we speak it, as I'll be out of a job by Christmas. And I'll have to throw away my thesaurus, dictionary and beloved Guardian style guide, which would be most upsetting.

There's probably more, but (sadly), I actually need to go and do some work. Boo hiss. This is the problem with freelancing - you go to France for a week and all hell breaks loose when you come back. I'll have a think and let you know if I come up with anything else.

And while you're waiting, I think Louche, the Woo and Miss Meep should get their thinking caps on...

*except clients who are always right, obv

UPDATE: the lovely Miss Meep has more about life as a writer, and the magical properties of salt and vinegar crisps. Go visit!

UPDATE 2: So have the Woo and Louche. Boy, this tagging lark is fun!


Dinky Dory said...

Wrought Iron Gates rule!! Not sure if it is more or less interesting than heating oil?!

patroclus said...

It must say something about my own workload that I find the idea of writing about wrought iron gates actually quite glamorous!

Thanks for doing this, it's always good to hear other people's experiences. Out of interest, how do you get your work? Mine generally comes through word of mouth, but that means I usually end up doing the same sort of jobs for the same sorts of companies in the same industry sector. I'd quite like to branch out a bit.

rach said...

Dinky Dory: Wrought iron gates do indeed rule. They were surprisingly fun to write about (and probably better than heating oil!).

Patroclus: It's mostly word of mouth, again, I'm afraid. Although I've had some success with pitching for projects from freelancers.net (see www.noagenciesplease.com) - one of my major clients came from there. As is usually the case, I started off on something small for them, which grew, and grew...and then you're the person they call when they've got all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff.

Mostly, it's all generally been HE/govt-related, as that's my background (I worked in universities as well as the Beeb before I went freelance). I do send out some spec stuff if there's interesting jobs advertised in other areas though - I'm a firm believer in allowing your cv to cross as many desks as possible.

I've also come across some interesting stuff that I've not had the time to do (allegedly I only work part-time) on places like www.journalism.co.uk and, as ever, the Guardian. Annoyingly, lots of things are still based on-site in London. Grr.

Sounds like we need a support group for writers in the sticks. I do belong to mediawomen uk (a yahoo groups email list), but sometimes it's (a) a bit metropolitan and (b) a bit fixated on generating case-studies for glossy mags.

I appear to have gone on a bit. Oops. Back to work.

Jurie said...

... Is 'HE' a sequel to H. Rider Haggard's 'SHE'? *confused*

rach said...

Jurie: Ah, sorry. That's one of the perils of working in one particular sector for too long - you start using the jargon. HE = higher education.

Louche said...

Thanks for that tag, that was really good fun. And yes, I have no idea why I'm up this early.