Today’s guest post comes from Siân Rowland, who is Rocking in the Freelance World as a writer and education consultant (see how I’m putting the writer bit first, Siân?). Last year she…. no, wait, I’m just going to let her tell this story.
But I’d like to point out though that Siân is very modest about her achievements and though there were undoubtedly some lows in her year, I can count at least 3 things in here that would have me throwing cartwheels all the way round the garden and bathing in prosecco.
It was a snow day in 2010 and the local government office where I worked was shut. I was working from home at my computer dressed in warm, comfortable clothes, a cup of tea by my elbow and the radio on. Without the commute and the interruption of phonecalls, office gossip and school visits I managed to complete loads of admin and planning and had time to polish up a short story to submit to a competition. As I gazed at the snowy world outside (don’t worry, it’s all going to hit the fan any moment…) I mused on a perfect world where I would go to work on four days of the week and on the fifth day, like some literary deity, I’d be at home and Write Important Stuff. I wondered what my employer would say (in 3,2…)
I never found out because not long afterwards (…and 1) I was told that funding for my role had been cut. Compulsory redundancy…sorry…hand in your passcard and here’s your P45. Please don’t weep all over the furniture on your way out.
Be careful what you wish for as they say. I now had plenty of time to write but no job and no money coming in. At least not until the world discovered me and I was hailed as the new JK Rowling meets Hilary Mantell with a book advance to match. This has not happened. Yet.
I now have my own education consultancy business, run training for teachers and write and develop educational materials as a freelancer. It’s tough work and I’m always hustling for the next job and worrying about how to pay the bills but in between times (I think actors call it ‘resting’) I do now have time to write.
Like many putative writers, however, I’m a terrible procrastinator. I’m constantly pootling around Facebook and Twitter, checking out videos of cats doing oh-so-hilarious things, checking to see if the freezer has miraculously and magically filled itself with ice cream since I last looked five minutes ago or putting together a Spotify playlists. Hell, I’ll even clean the loo if it means I don’t have to knuckle down.
So when I came across Charlie’s 2013 Writing Year Planner (here’s the 2014 planner! It’s slightly shorter than the 2013 version) at the beginning of last year I stopped Gangnam Styling across the kitchen floor, sat at my laptop and printed it out. There’s something homework-y about a planner that really appeals to the teacher in me. The first task was reviewing the previous year: I had found a writing group I liked but hadn’t gone to many meetings. I had started a new blog but hadn’t written many posts. I had taken up an interim deputy headship in a large urban school which took up all my time and had recently been diagnosed with an auto-immune condition which left me tired and anxious. Could do better. See me after class.
I wrote down five big targets for 2013: finish writing and editing my young fiction book; send the book to five agents; go to my writers group regularly and at least two more writing events; broaden my circle of friends and colleagues to include more writers and creative people and spend 30% (I know. Get me!) of my work time on paid writing assignments. I broke these down into manageable chucks and in summarising wrote, ‘I will call myself a writer as writing will be part of how I make my living and how I see myself.’ This was a huge breakthrough. When I met new people and the, ‘so what do you do?’ question arose I answered with, ‘I’m an education consultant and trainer. And writer.’
Luckily most people get fixated on the first bit and wonder what the hell an education consultant is (for the record I train, advise and support teachers) so it soon felt natural to say, ‘I’m a writer too.’
And so on to the monthly planner and its theme. Commitment. It was the one topic that connected all my plans. I wrote it large and proud at the top of the sheet. I have to confess that I did it in pencil, just in case. But I pressed really hard.
It was important for me to hang out with more creative types to help me feel less of an oddball. Most of my friends are teachers and while it’s a very creative profession- you are actor, artist, author, comedian, juggler, plate-spinner and expert flying missile wrangler- our discussions tend to drift towards what we’ll do if we ever bump into Mr Gove in a dark alleyway where the CCTV is marked ‘out of order.’ While these discussions are cathartic and necessary I needed to mix with a wider circle of folk too. I wrote down tasks like, ‘have coffee with someone connected with writing’ and ‘attend an author event.’ By making this a focus I ended up meeting some amazing people. I went to a book launch, I was on the writer’s guest list of a radio recording, I hung out backstage at a West End show and wrote and performed a rap with a live band. Oh yes. It wasn’t always easy, I wasn’t always comfortable but I learnt such a lot and had fun too. I promised to blog twice a month and although I didn’t quite make it, I did blog more and committed to posting more often. I did make 30% of my earnings through writing assignments by writing educational materials for The Co-operative and John Lewis Partnership and although it’s not quite the creative writing dream it’s still practising the craft. I even got asked to write materials to go with the John Lewis Bear and Hare Christmas advert and saw the ad in their head office weeks before it went public.
I sent my book out to six agents in the end. I had rejections from three of them and heard nothing from the other three. One rejection was particularly brutal and I’m still a feeling a bit bruised by it, but I’m developing resilience and didn’t cry or check the freezer for magic consolation ice-cream.
And I had a bit of success. The confidence I gained in making the commitment to writing and in using the writing planner led me to attempting to write a comedy show. I wrote a short comic piece for my writing group and they liked it so on a whim I entered the Funny Women comedy writing awards in the summer. To cut a very long story short, I wrote a thirty minute sitcom pilot and it was longlisted. While I hadn’t won I had lots of positive feedback from the judges, was put on their ‘ones to watch’ list and can now say I was in the top twenty in a national competition. I sent the piece to a local theatre group who decided to put it on as a stage play with a professional cast and crew at Wimbledon Theatre Studios where it sold out. Seeing the characters that were so recently in my head brought to life on stage was an amazing and surreal experience and I got to hang out with a bunch of fascinating acting types. A friend reminded me that up until recently I had refused to share my writing at all and now here it was on a public stage.
I changed December’s task from ‘plan a new book’ to ‘plan a new play’ and wrote a half hour radio comedy instead.
So I stuck to some targets and went a little off track with others but looking back, I’ve made loads of progress and 2013 was definitely a year of commitment. Now I have to fill in my 2014 planner. But just in case, I’ll do it in pencil. You never know how things will turn out.