“If something burns your soul with passion and desire, it’s your duty to be reduced to ashes by it. Any other form of existence will be yet another dull book in the library of life.” Charles Bukowski
A year can be defined by many things: days, weeks, months, lifestyle changes, and zodiac animals. To the Chinese, 2015 is the year of the Goat; a time of peacefulness and reconciliation. While current affairs certainly don’t support this idea, it’s a nice one.
For me, 2015 has been a year of writing. Writing has been a huge part of my life for over ten years now. (Fourteen, to be precise. I still have that first short story, in a drawer under my bed.) In this time writing has meant a number of different things to me: hobby, therapy, university module, publishing venture, friend in the dark. It still does mean all these things, depending on what and for whom I’m writing. As of 2015, I can also add ‘job’ to this list.
Writing for Zest
Back in January I was fortunate enough to notice a vacancy for a content marketing role with a local digital marketing agency. I loved the sound of the job. I loved the look and feel of the company. Better still, the vacancy described me. After nearly five years in retail, I was eager to apply my writing in a professional capacity. I knew after the first interview, waiting at the bus stop for my Thames Travel chariot, that I wanted the role.
It was the best part of two weeks between my second interview and Alex’s response. Every day saw me more and more anxious. I was in the bath when I received the confirmation email. I’ll never forget the words.
“I’d like to offer you something.”
I started in March. My mornings are spent answering emails over fat mugs of tea or coffee. Throughout the day I might compose blog posts, articles, press releases or website copy for any of our various clients. The job role has already changed a huge amount from the position initially advertised, but I am still writing. I am still practising creativity on a daily basis. And I am still loving it.
2014-2015 was also the first year of my PhD. Around twenty months ago I enrolled on a postgraduate creative writing course at the University of Southampton. I have grown up with the university, completing both my BA and MA there, so it seemed like the natural choice. I love the city, and the department is strong.
Learning is crucial to growth and development, and writing is no exception. I blogged about it in an article for Zest, ‘Sculpting Success: Learning And Self-Improvement’. My thesis is a short story collection, informed by a critical commentary helping to explain my research. It might not be the same kind of copy I am producing for Zest, but this is no bad thing. Writing is adaptive, and it is responsive, and it benefits from practice, no matter what form this takes.
Writing for me
When not drafting commercial copy, or academic writing, I still write for pleasure. I think I will always write, and there are certainly overlaps.
Every so often the Zest team release my shackles, splash me with coffee, and let me loose on the Zest blog. It has fast become my favourite part of the job; where for a few hundred words I can write about anything and everything that I think matters when it comes to content, creativity and self-expression. We all have our little niches, and these are mine.
Outside of work, I continue to write fiction. It is my constant. The shittiest day can inspire the brightest writing. The darkest writing can help to make sense of the shittiest days. Tom Waits says something along these lines, I think: “bad writing reduces the quality of our suffering”. I make no excuses for the territories my writing strays into; themes of horror and angst have always seemed an intrinsic part of creative writing for me; the bones of my stories, clothed in fictitious flesh.
“This is an exquisitely written novel; deft, poised, and with a writer’s ear for the rhythms of the world around us. Featherbones does the always-difficult job of making the strange familiar, while asking us to attend again to the things we think we know.” William May, author
Throughout 2015 I have put the finishing touches on my second book. I spent the best part of eighteen months writing it. It’s not long and it’s not a conventional read but it’s straight from the heart and I can’t ask for anything more from a piece of writing. FEATHERBONES touches on themes of identity, mental health, the city, the sea, birds and angels. It is a book about people, and dreams, and modern life. I hope someone finds it moving.
There was a time, not so long ago, when ‘writer’ as a label felt incredibly strange to me. To be introduced as a writer remains an uncomfortable moment; the term implies a whole host of stereotypes and assumptions that I don’t associate myself with. I am always reserved when it comes to labelling someone something. And yet, as of March I am officially a writer. If Zest has done one thing this year, if the move into writing for a living has done one thing, it is this; to give me more confidence in what I do, and who I am.
Writing still feels lonely. The blank page is still terrifying. There are times when I ask myself, “why?” The answer, I think, is that we are what we repeatedly do, and I can’t seem to stop.
I read a little more about the year of the Goat. It’s also a year for creativity, for mindfulness and dependability. Perhaps there is something to this zodiac business. Perhaps not. I’ll keep writing, regardless. You should, too.