My most obvious option, given what I want to do, would be to just leave and go freelance. I could do a mixture of freelance editing and b2b writing, and tutoring, to pay my bills, while blogging and pitching stories. This would hopefully lead to stories getting accepted, commissions, and within a few months I could be a fully-functioning news journalist writing stories I’ve come up with myself.
But there are a host of little problems in the way, or not so little.
1. Freelancers need connections. I have none.
2. Freelancers need the kind of sources that enable them to see stories no-one else has seen. Right now, I don’t have those kind of sources. I could develop them, going to conferences and meetings and chatting to people, but it takes time – time when I wouldn’t be selling stories.
All these are issues I’d need to address – a bit at least – before leaving my current job. But it’s not easy to do any of this on top of my job; I’ve been trying. I don’t want to resolve to stay as long as it takes to publish a couple of freelance pieces, and find I’m still there in a year.
I do sometimes wonder if I’m cut out for freelancing at all. I’m an experienced feature writer, but I’ve never done news reporting. I already have problems in my current job thinking in terms of gripping stories and not just analysis. Could I really find interesting enough ideas to get editors’ attention? Nerdy old me? Deep down, don’t I just want to make boring reports for think tanks?
Also, a freelancer can never really relax – he should always be working on a story. At least with a salaried job, once you go home, you can relax. But then, if I’m trying to do general pieces on top of a job, I can’t relax in the evenings at all – that’s a bit like the last few years, where I’ve always been at least theoretically ‘working on something’ in the background.
But assuming I do want to become a freelancer, I also see various reasons why it might not be the best time to do it now.
1. Money. Money is of course the primary reason I’ve stayed in my current job so long; I had to pay off the personal loan I took out to sort out my credit cards and loans. Even now, I still have a £2000 overdraft. Fine if I have a salary. But going freelance would involve probably earning very little for the first few months. I need really not just to be out of debt, but to have some savings.
2. I need to learn to drive. This is a prerequisite for all sorts of journalism work. But, it costs money (see 1).
3. I kind of want some stuff. I know that may seem a little silly. But I’ve only been earning a reasonable amount since I paid off my big loan last year, and I haven’t had a chance yet to actually have cool stuff. You know, an iPhone. An iPad, for god’s sake. Some new clothes. As a freelancer I could be scrimping on everything for another year or two.
4. I need to get a mortgage. A salary could be useful with that.
What all this is leading to is that I think I may have to play a long game, and get another job in business journalism. Another year or so of salaried work will help me improve the financial situation, and teach me some useful reporting skills. Then I could aim to move to a newspaper’s business desk, and then ultimately out to broader reporting.
But I don’t want to wake up at 40 and find I’m a business journalist. It’s miles away from what I wanted to be a journalist for.
I need to think about this some more.
I had a blazing row with my boss last Friday. I’ve been working till ten most evenings, coming in at 8.30, trying to get our latest issue finished. Then he told me off for not fixing a problem I’d brought to his attention a couple of months ago. Apparently, I should have demanded more forcefully that he fix it.
I was tired and irritable. But still, I just had to stand up for myself. For several weeks, ever since I started working four days a week, he’s been hyper-critical. He clearly thinks I’m halfway out the door and not working hard. The truth is I’ve had just as much work to do in less time, so I’m working my ass off.
I don’t really know, looking back, why I’ve stayed in this job so long. I’ve hated it for a long time. There’s just always been a reason not to move on. The central problem is that I’ve wanted to move on from business journalism to news, which isn’t an easy journey to make. It requires me to produce material in my spare time, which I’ve basically been failing to do for four years. That was why I went four days a week in the first place.
I feel now, though, for the first time, that my current job has reached such an impasse that it would be worth leaving even to go to another business journalism job. That sounds very defeatist; but it’s not, strangely. It’s more that before, I was idly thinking about jobs I’d like to move to but not in any realistic way. Now I’m trying to really get to grips with it.
1. Remember, once you quit smoking you can concentrate on weight. Quitting smoking is PART OF THE PROCESS of losing weight.
2. Try everything. If lozenges and microtabs don’t work, try Champix. If that doesn’t work, try hypnotherapy.
3. This is MORE IMPORTANT than anything else, including a new job. This will win you twenty extra years to fulfil your dreams – perhaps more.
4. Remember how it felt not to be able to breathe.
5. If you really have to, eat shit rather than smoke a cigarette.
6. If you buy cigarettes, don’t open them. If you open them, don’t light one. If you light one, take just one drag. If you smoke it all, throw the rest away. YOU WILL CRACK SOMETIMES; Don’t let it stop you.
I can’t believe this isn’t already in my goals list. This has been a goal of mine since I was 18, only a few years after I started smoking. I don’t think I ever really felt OK with smoking. How could I? It’s disgusting, it’s expensive, and it kills you.
And it’s that last which is really beginning to eat away at me. I lost my mother to cancer, and though that wasn’t because of smoking, it let me see first-hand just how agonising that disease is. I’ll be 30 in a few weeks, and I’m beginning to realise, cliche though it is, how short life is. I’m already so behind schedule in achieving the things I want to in life – how can I keep doing something which could shorten my life by years, or decades? My father died when he was less than twice my age: he smoked, and was overweight, and both contributed to his death.
I’m putting aside my primary rationalisation: that stopping smoking will cause me to put on even more weight. It might. But stopping will free me to focus on my weight, and give me more energy for exercise. And if – when – I succeed, it’ll be a tremendous confidence boost.
My methods? Mostly, I only crave smoking in certain situations. One is late at night, at home. My smoking flatmate has agreed not to give me cigarettes or tobacco when I ask for them, and to keep the living room free of smoking materials. And the other is social. I’m fully prepared to dial down my social life for a while, if that’s what it takes. I’ll use nicotine lozenges, microtabs, and whatever else works to handle cravings. If they don’t work, I’ll try pills or hypnosis. I’m fully prepared to spend money, if that’s what it takes. And, if I sometimes need to stuff down a cream cake so as not to smoke, I will.
It won’t be easy. But people who smoke 20 a day manage it. How can I not manage it, when I only smoke once or twice a week? Most crucially, I have to get back on the wagon if I fall off: if I smoke one cigarette, throw away the rest of the packet. I can’t tell myself that’s a waste of money: smoking is a waste of life.