You Write With Style And Elegance

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I'm crippled with self doubt over my writing ability, a huge cliche I know, but it's the perfect way to explain how disabling low self esteem can be to a professional career. I earn my living writing (amongst other things, like event organising and consulting to brands about influencers, but mostly copywriting, article writing and social media posting), and therefore I should call myself a professional writer, but I still see myself as someone who wants to be a writer. I have wanted this since I was a child, and have a callus on my right middle finger to prove it – it's what's known as a 'writer's flaw' or 'writer's bump' from years spent writing stories and plays, making magazines, and even comic strips as a kid. I did my school work experience at Mizz Magazine, and one of my secondary school English teachers took me aside and encouraged me to enter writing competitions. I should have been bold and made more of an effort to make my living from writing earlier on, I just thought it was something that happened to other people. 

At university I took a feminist theatre class, led by one of the most feared tutors in the drama department. She took a no-nonsense approach to the next level, and if you gave a stupid answer, or were slow in giving any answer, you bloody well got a dressing down. There was a rumour about her that she wrote feedback on a girl's essay saying something along the lines of "you're not even trying, if you're not going to bother why don't you just leave and become a greengrocer." Looking back, it's laughable that we all believed this strangely specific insult, but it tells you something about the tutor's stringent style that made this story a possibility in our collective minds. There were definitely some students she tolerated more than others, and I managed to be one of them by complete fluke – just because I'd been the first one to get up and have a go at fixing a faulty lighting desk during a practical session, and from then on she saw me as 'the tech person' and a woman who wasn't afraid to fix things (trust me I was afraid. My hands were shaking and I had to give myself a silent pep talk – "you can DO this, Sarah" – as she bellowed across the drama studio "is it fixed yet!"). We were weeks into the course when we had to submit our first piece of written work, and the greengrocer slay was on everyone's minds when we went to collect our marked essays, this was going to be brutal. I still remember the shock of reading my feedback, and I'm slightly ashamed to say I kept it for a long time. It was really good, and the line that stood out was "you write well, with style and elegance that's rare for a student." I'd had supportive school teachers telling me I write well, but this was the first time a bona fide published, distinguished person was telling me I could write. No offence to the teachers, because I ended up as one of those instead of being a writer, and I know what's it like for people to see you as someone who's not a 'real' professional or expert. 

So, despite being boosted by this, I still didn't pursue a writing career, and I became the kind of teacher who encourages talented pupils to enter writing competitions. I also wrote plays for kids to perform, and would get good feedback from parents and colleagues. I started my blog because I felt like I should write somewhere, even if I remained a teacher. I started to feel regret and longing, and wished I'd gone to work at a magazine after graduating, I didn't realise at the time how competitive magazine work experience placements are, and that my teenage Mizz stint would have been something good to go on. I also won an essay writing competition with the Guardian newspaper whilst I was at university, and this, along with my feedback from scary drama tutor made me think I was better suited to academic writing over journalism or fiction writing, so I went back to uni to do an MA, and now I'm working on a PhD. Being in London and immersing myself in classes, workshops, events, festivals, and networking with creative people has made me realise that getting something made or staged or screened or published is not just something that happens to other people, you have to go after it and make it happen yourself. Plus, there's no point in regretting things you didn't do, and who knows, maybe the path I've taken to being a writer is better for me than a career in magazine journalism might have been. I wouldn't have become someone who thrives on creating events, helping creatives and influencers make connections with brands and with each other, and I wouldn't have sharpened my business and marketing skills.

I now also realise that you don't have to pigeon hole yourself as one type of writer, yes I love academic writing, and really want to get published in an academic journal, but now I've been published in magazines and written copy for brand websites, I've got the confidence to also start submitting fiction to literary agents. I've submitted once, and had a rejection. They didn't tell me to give up and become a greengrocer, and it wasn't the end of the world to be told politely my work wasn't for them. I still feel scared about putting my writing out there, even at university I cringe having to present my thoughts to others, I'm not going to become super confident overnight. I am becoming less afraid about writing for others to read, and trying to push myself to stop being that person who's surprised and in disbelief about being told they write well, with style and elegance. 

 

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1 Comment

  1. July 5, 2016 / 10:56 am

    My goodness, that tutor sounds terrifying – but the best ones often are, right?

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