Personal Development: The Road to Writing


Personal Development: In the first of two essays, Gemma Rose charts her winding and probably interminable road to writing for a living.

I am first and foremost a writer. But I hear that writing doesn’t pay, especially for a freelancer. I’ve met many a freelance journalist, in London and in Brussels, warning me of the perils of journalism, the end of print publishing, the competition, the lower rates, the internet democratizing writing but also driving down revenues and income streams. I’ve chatted with journalists who’ve downsized because money was tight or that they have to work on the dining table, whilst their kids are doing homework, instead of having the privilege of a study, or at least one’s own desk.

I’ve heard this story before: the low rates, the high competition. “Crime doesn’t pay,” was a very common adage when I was trying (and failing) to become a barrister in London. Due to the cuts in legal aid, which concerned the type of law I wanted to practice, my peers were barely earning the minimum wage. After getting bogged down by their horror stories, a couple of questions started to resurface: “If things are so bad, why am I up against between 500 to1,000 people for one job?” I asked myself. Or “Why are barristers complaining about the low pay but are showing up for work, managing togo on holiday and pay the rent, instead of quitting?”

These may have been too simple questions, but 10 years on I’ve come down to two conclusions: that meaning in one’s job is probably more important than the salary; and that if someone really finds their job meaningful, they will always find a way to live.
A less charitable part of me wonders if thesebarristers just didn’t want other people enteringtheir profession and taking their work.

To the horror of my husband, I’ve spent the last two years threatening to quit my day job and become a freelance writer. “Show me your business plan! Talk to other freelance writers! Save!” he pleads in desperation. He is of a different nature than I. He believes in life-long security, of routine and a pension. I’m a dreamer, I crave diversity, I can’t stand being stuck in an office all day and as for a pension, well who’s to say I’ll still be around in 30 years? I hope so but one just never knows.

Since I’m in a partnership, I agreed. I spoke to freelance and employed writers, I researched the internet, I even managed to find this book on how writers make money
called Scratch: Writers, Money and the Art of Making a Living (Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2017).

In my research, I found quite a bit of “do as I say, but not as I do” type of advice, the primary being writers advising me not to quit the day job and go freelance when they themselves quit their jobs and went freelance or were always freelance. There’s also lot of side-hustling in writing – many writers or journalists were also copywriters, communication specialists, editors, proof-readers, tutors and translators to help pay the bills. I realized soon enough that I wasn’t ready to quit my job and go freelance, and yet at the same time, full-time work left me too tired to spare my evenings and weekends to honing my craft. There was another middle way: going part-time.

I work in a big organisation with lots of procedures and regulations, which made requesting for part-time work very daunting. But as a result of a set of circumstances, my department agreed to letting me work three days a week for one year. I decided to spend the other two days onwriting, a bit of resting and inspiration. Before going part-time I had lots of plans: joining a co-working space and a writers’ group, hanging out with other arty types in cool cafés, launching my website, pitching articles and stories, applying for editorial internships or jobs and meeting writers. The plan was that in a year’s time, I’d have done all the ground work so that I could quit the day job and start my new career.

Except that, unsurprisingly, it didn’t end up like that. I did pitch but I got rejections, the co-working space just seemed like a waste of money as did the hanging out in cool cafés, when I could just work at home and have as many cups of teas as I like, for free. I never did find the time to build a new website. To top it all off, I spent quite a bit of my precious part-time straying off into completely different directions. One being how to run a food truck business…

To be continued!