A Time to Write

How and why I decided to quit my job to write full-time in order to pursue my dream of becoming a published author.

The short version:

It’s my dream, so I’m doing it.

The long version:

I’d originally hoped to work part-time at my previous job, working as a tutor in an East London School. For months, this had been likely—I’d received an unofficial we’d love to—and I’d begun to anticipate this ideal future, which grew more and more attractive with each passing day: pursuing my dream (finally!) with the safety of a part-time job which had the bonus of regular lengthy holidays (= more time for writing).

When I would think about it, my veins would surge with light, and I would get that warm feeling you get when you feel too strongly about something. It’s safe to say I more than overflowed my basket with all my proverbial eggs.

However, things rarely go to plan.

The offer had always been unofficial. While this hadn’t stopped me from overburdening my egg basket, I tried not think too concretely about my future; not until I had a signed contract. (At the back of my mind, my basket was brimming.) As the academic year thinned from months to weeks, I became apprehensive and a demoralising feeling dawned: what if I couldn’t work part time? Then what would I do? What if I couldn’t follow my dream after all? What about my egg basket?!

I panicked. For quite a few days.

I sensed my fantasy future was just that. Fantasy.

A few days later, once I’d had a chance to calm myself, I was given the confirmation: working part-time was a no-go. I took the news casually, at least on the surface. Inside, I was crushed.

The egg basket had spilled. My poor eggs.

Due to budget cuts, I wouldn’t be able to work part-time. I could only continue full-time. I was left with four options.

One, remain at my job. It paid reasonably(ish) well, was often rewarding, offered excellent holidays, and I’d become experienced at it. However, it offered no career progression, other than teaching, which I knew I didn’t want to go into. (Mainly due to this silly idea of me wanting to become a published author.) I would also feel as if I was stagnating, and I would have the same amount of time to pursue my novel, which simply wasn’t enough.

Two, the most conventional option: quit my job and find another full-time position; something I would be interested in and that would excite me. It would almost certainly mean less time for my novel, as I’d be throwing myself into something new and consuming. Fortunately, being June, it was a good competitive time to be searching for a new job, especially with the recent graduate openings.

Three, I could quit my job and find something part-time. Though, it would be very difficult to get something degree-related that was also part-time. Not only that, both options Two and Three would be time-consuming and potentially counter productive, especially if I struggled to secure something quickly.

Four, the riskiest option: I quit my job. I support myself. I try and hope for the best.

Although it turned out that I would take Option Four, I very nearly didn’t.

My panic had proactively fired the job application process and the dreaded polishing of the CV. Despite the momentum with my notes and my ever-growing enthusiasm, I had quickly started to dissuade myself from pursuing Everborne any further.

Mum was the first person I spoke to and her reply was,

It would be a shame if you didn’t follow your writing.

A shame it would be. I also had to be realistic.

Writing full-time would be hard. Getting published would be even harder. I would have to rely on my savings to support myself. Could I sit down to my laptop for five days a week and write solidly? The reason I had liked the part-time idea, aside from the financial support, was I thought it would stop me being consumed by Everborne. This had happened to me several times on my course. Particularly, during my MA, I spent a solid three-weeks, writing ten hours a day. I became a hermit. I left the house only to walk the dogs. I didn’t see my friends, I barely wound down at night, and writing became exhausting. I spent New Year’s Eve yoked to my desktop.

When Everborne was still a single novel, I knew it was going to be long: a Stephen King doorstop of a novel, a stout thing of 800-900 pages. So I knew I needed time—and lots of it.

But most of all, the BIG question overshadowed me: What happens if you fail? Then what are you going to do?

Sure, it wouldn’t be a complete waste of time. But it would add to my CV a period of unemployment, potentially making getting my next job harder.

Not only that, I had begun to feel I needed more time to plan and that I wouldn’t be ready to write come September. (I had initially (read: naively) thought I could begin in the summer holidays.) With my Year 10 class, we’d recently read an extract about how J.K. Rowling spent five years planning the Harry Potter series, down to the last detail (apparently) before setting pen to page. Or finger to key. When, in my head, I was able to work part-time, this hadn’t been a problem. Time is infinite when you’re financially supported.

(I have come to realise that it would be impossible for me to plan everything in advance. Accepting this has made starting a lot easier.)

In short, I was making excuses. I was making excuses because of one simple fear: failure. If my dream failed, then what?

I began to search for jobs—anything degree related. I found half-a-dozen that sounded interesting as a potential new career, certainly as a filler before I started writing. I would say to myself, this sounds all right. This’ll do before I become an author. (Later, I realised how stupid this sounded: why the middle man?)

The next weekend, my brother, James, and I were driving to Dorset for the one-year anniversary of our Nan’s passing. I updated him on my job situation and told him my biggest concerns about not being prepared enough to begin writing come September. He told me,

You’ll never be able to call yourself a writer until you actually begin to write.

This didn’t bother me too much. Even now, I am writing, but I wouldn’t call myself a writer. James told me two more things that would begin to make me think differently about my future:

Terry Pratchett, who James is a huge fan of—every Christmas he’d devour the latest hardback—was a journalist before he became an author; the way he got things done was by setting himself deadlines and ensuring he met them. No ifs or buts.

James is only six years older than me but he said if he could choose to have more than anything it would be more time. Time, every time.

After Dorset, I drove to Chichester to spend the rest of the weekend with Emily. I spoke to her, her parents, her nan, and when I got back home, my parents again. Each person I spoke to gave me encouragement, confidence and the kindling of belief. Since my conversation with James, I had come to believe I was being given an opportunity; a gift far greater than any job offer: time. A time to write. (Yeaaaah, title!)

I still live with my parents. While I pay rent, it’s greatly reduced than what I would be paying elsewhere. Other than Emily, who still has a year left of her university course, I have few other commitments. The only thing stopping me was me.

I accepted my fear. My fear that if I started I could fail. That my dream might not work out and that it could remain just that. But my dream would remain just that if I never began. And why should another voice not tell me that if I started I could succeed? That my dream might work out and that it could become reality. Either way, why put it off?

I no longer saw the prospect of not having a job as a bad thing. After coming across apologetically to others when I spoke about Everborne, I soon became confident(ish) with my decision.

One of the best pieces of advice I have been given so far has been from Holly, Emily’s step-mum.

Take yourself seriously. Otherwise no one else will.

That’s what I started doing.

I refused to feel ashamed or embarrassed or even apologetic about not having a job. But I would have a job. OK, it doesn’t pay (yet—I hope) but I spend five days a week writing, totalling around thirty-five hours a week.

Having a part-time job would have meant I wouldn’t need to dig into my savings, but it would also have made me less focused and lazy: I’d already allowed the idea to push back my deadlines (because, subconsciously, if I started, it allowed the potential for failure). Everborne is something I think about everyday; it’s where most of my thoughts go. How could I afford to work part-time and not think about it when I wanted? I would have to cram all my writing into two days.

Time is finite when you’re not financially supported. (Actually, that’s stupid, really stupid; time is finite, regardless of your financial status.) So I set myself the deadline of September to begin writing. I would then give myself four months to give Everborne an honest shot. By Christmas, I could review my progress (or lack of) and decide whether to finish it (or know if I even could). Any time before September was devoted to planning, which incidentally became more focused, with the momentum increasing further.

Setting a deadline allowed me to learn the danger that is planning: it’s a great way to convince yourself you’ll never be ready. It’s the phase where your dream is still “just a dream” because you’re building towards it. The danger is you can just keep building, without ever finishing.

Success is never a solo effort. That’s especially evident with writing; many authors write acknowledgements thanking numerous people in the production of their book. I already have a lot of people to thank, for encouraging me to step onto this path and for saying, with sincerity, enthusiasm and encouragement, what a great idea they think this is.

And you know what? I don’t think they’re wrong.

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