During the day, at least when Berlitz is busy, I’m and English teacher. It’s a pretty intense job – I walk into class expected to markedly improve a businessperson’s ability to communicate in the course of a few hours, covering everything from the specifics of their own job (meaning background reading galore) to the real finer details of English language grammar and language structure, which can be a mind-boggling area. That’s not a complaint – I love the job, and as tempting as full time freelance writing occasionally becomes, I wouldn’t want to give up the human contact, the feeling of contribution and the stable salary that come with it. The mix is often perfect for me, but there are times when it really isn’t. The last few months, arguably, have been an example of that.
I came into writing with a really energetic, ‘do anything’ philosophy. When you start out, opportunities to be published are pretty few and far between, and you have to take what you can get, push forward a profile and make sure that next time you have a little more to show for yourself. It’s a hard attitude to shake. Five years after having my first article in print, I still sometimes find it difficult to turn down relatively insignificant work, for the simple reason that having a published article is better than not having a published article, even if only a few dozen people see it. Sometimes – no, strike that, regularly – I feel like I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, and find myself getting in from a full day’s work, sitting up for three, four, five or even six hours and putting serious time into getting some decent copy to an editor in time for deadlines. As far as I feel I’ve come, a notable percentage of my work – largely work for editors whom I feel helped but me in this position, so I owe, or for outlets that offer some kind of other incentive that I want just a little bit too much to turn down the work – is still unpaid. I’m starting to feel, for the first time, that I’m probably not quite picky enough.
On the other hand, it is starting to pay off. I stopped to think for five minutes yesterday and realized how far forward the past three months have brought me. For the past year, I’ve been a regular contributor to AU Magazine, a Belfast based music mag that I feel is a wonderful education. I’ve picked up some fantastic editorial titbits from the editor Chris, who has that wonderful editorial asset of actually striving to develop his writers, as well as simply publishing them (believe me, it’s worth its weight in gold), and now find myself essentially running a lot of what happens in terms of live coverage down in Dublin. I love it, and it’s given me a real ‘in’ with a lot of other music publications. Most recently, I’ve picked up fairly regular (if tiny) commission from The Fly (it still frightens me looking at their circulation – a whopping 105,00 a month, making them the highest circulation music mag in the UK), The Irish Sun and a temporary position blogging for the Guardian Music Website. The latter probably won’t lead to anything, but I’m still hugely flattered. The thing that scares me, looking to the future, is how I’m going to balance it all.
As a writer, you can’t give up your regular things. For a start, it’s important to show commitment to the people who’ve got you where you are. I think that’s a general life rule, too, and I don’t find the idea of stepping on people to get where you want to go very palatable, especially when those people often took a gamble on me that others might not have. These people also tend to be the most reliable income I have, too, which is obviously not a small consideration. Taking that ‘show faith’ stance and adding in the new, bigger projects is leading to nothing more than a steady increase in the number of hours I’m spending constructing articles: it’s either that, or a drop in quality, and a combination of the two, if I’m being honest, is a distinct possibility.
It’s a conundrum, and one that I haven’t yet found a balance to, or at least not one that I think will work for me in the long run. If I’m going to continue improving, something’s got to give. It can’t be the teaching: I’m not at an income level from writing just yet that would make me comfortable trying the freelance road again (and also, writing all day is not conducive to good quality articles), and at some point it’s going to have to stop being my preciously limited free time, and time with my gorgeous new wife.
I’ve always worked fairly hard, at least since my 18 months in South Korea instilled a ‘all hours are working hours’ ethos in my week-day brain, but if I’m going to keep moving up – and I certainly hope I am – establishing this essential balance is going to prove to be one of 2012’s biggest challenges, and is already one of the main things I’m pondering heading into the New Year.