Knowing When to Quit – A Writers Tale

In what is becoming a monthly blog, apparently, I’ve decided to write something.

The reason why I’ve decided to write something comes as a bit of a shock to me and possibly a few others. It is partially a response to a BBC Writersroom blog by Sally Stott on how and when you decide if you should quit writing, if you even do at all. In a completely coincidental irony, before reading the blog, I was reading George Orwell’s “Down and Out in Paris and London” which follows the now famous writer in a time he was at most his most impoverished.

Money of course rules the world. According to the BBC I am unable to live where I currently live. In fact I’m about 30 miles closer to London than I can afford to be. The eternal debate between whether or not a writer should stop in order to earn money so that they can buy rice and canned tuna fish is something that runs through all of our heads. In fact I should change ‘writer’ in that to ‘artist’ as this affects pretty much anybody starting a creative industry endeavour.

Of course the issue is that I should work full time and write in my spare time. Which is right, in theory. Before life gets in the way and everything else comes before writing, like personal hygiene, effective nutrition and sewing those work trousers back together in the butt seam (as you refuse to buy new clothes for something you only see as temporary) thanks to ineffective nutrition.

Then of course there’s the bullish attitude that you should never quit and suffer the indignities of poor income, lack of any social standing and of sewing those jeans back together in the butt seam as your non-existent nutrition has rendered them well worn.

The trick though is getting a job writing, or in the same industry, right? Well… Not exactly, which is where my current experience comes in.

I have spent the past year after graduating University trying to get a job in the industry, to getting a semi related job in an industry followed by any job at all. This cycle has repeated several times and if you know me personally then this story is more worn than my jeans. However something has changed mentally in my approach to this.

I have worked actual jobs during my time out of University. Three in fact. Two of them temporary and one of them currently part-time semi freelance work writing. That’s right, I’ve actually achieved the dream of being paid for writing. I also offer my services to a gaming website where I thoroughly enjoy my work and what I write. Whether or not you consider it a portfolio builder or a hobby, whatever. I love the video gaming industry, I always have and it’s full of exciting and interesting people and propositions.

However, that hasn’t stopped me needing that demonic invention of the Mesopotamians and the Babylonians. And I realise that the pursuit of economic stability has become a very important, and practically unachieved, goal of my life to date.

Then I turned 30. Actually turned 30, three weeks ago. 30 didn’t even exist as a potential age before I was 25. Maybe it was immaturity on my part, or a weird reluctance to accept that my life was going nowhere when I was 25. But now, it’s here, it’s happened and a revelation or two made themselves known.

Firstly: That I was actually pretty good at this writing thing and I should realise that I have a paid and unpaid job doing it. However, I haven’t done enough of it. Along with my quite frankly pathetic and chemically influenced self-esteem (which all writers seem to have), I have found many distractions to avoid doing that, those being playing video games, diving into YouTube (something I still want to do more of and think I could do well with), and spending an entire year constantly applying for jobs that seem to be impossible to get.

The applying for jobs part of that is the most self destructive thing I’ve ever done. I’m no stranger to unemployment. I’ve been unemployed three times in my life, all voluntarily or due to study, which is technically voluntarily. But this past twelve months, especially riding on the crest of a wave of productivity and of self confidence in my ability, has destroyed every bit of positivity I’ve had. It saps all energy you have and you don’t want to write anything at all if you spend so long on individual things, only for them to amount to nothing. You just want to drink beer.

Secondly: The one thing I did write and ran with, a sitcom pilot, was well received by people who helped me work on it. It got through the first round of the last BBC Writersroom submissions of 2013 (see the earlier BBC blog link again). Of course there’s no feedback this way so I know nothing. But, I also sent it to Red Productions Company in Manchester, a company I have a lot of time for who created one of my favourite dramas, Casanova.

They did give me feedback with the rejection letter. They had read my script. I know the BBC did too but to have a physical letter in my hand that says they read it and enjoyed it (regardless of the ‘but’) is an incredible feeling for a new writer. The feedback was so incredibly positive that my confidence in my ability was reassured and my remembrance that I always need to learn was further instilled. So I applied to go on a playwriting course at RADA which I hope will tackle some of the issues I had and help in developing future projects.

The summary of these revelations, and I suppose a response to the BBC Writersroom blog, is that you need to know when to quit. Sanity is secondary to money and family support but all are essential. Get out of the fire for a bit if its burning. But there’s a more important and secondary proposition which is: knowing WHAT to quit. I’m in a lucky enough position that I’m able to live where I do, even though I can’t personally afford it. I am a good writer (don’t mistake that for ego, I’ll hate myself tomorrow no doubt). But more importantly, I should have the confidence in myself, and so should anyone else in this position, that I should just do what I’m good at … Writing.

All the jobs in the world will pay my bills and leave me no time doing what I wanted to do. How can I ever progress as a writer if I’m too busy concentrating on other things to actually produce any writing?

So, I’m quitting. I’m quitting what I’ve spent the past twelve months doing until I can’t ignore it anymore, which is basically economic procrastination. I’m with Aristotle on this one. My words are my barter… Remember that next time you think you should quit.

One comment

  1. thevegancookiefairy · April 23, 2014

    Best of luck 🙂 I’m a firm believer in doing what you love, things will eventually fall into place.

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