For as long as I can remember I’ve been a reader and a writer. While my sister was out playing football and enjoying the many benefits of fresh air, I was inside with my head in a book. I kept diaries haphazardly and watched a lot of TV, consuming as many stories as I could in any format.
I achieved a 2:1 BAhons in English and Creative Writing from Birmingham City University where I also wrote for the student magazine, expecting to go into journalism. That was until I undertook two weeks of work experience at The Birmingham Mail, and realised that journalism was definitely not the career for me.
I spent a few years in different job roles, unsure where to go with my writing until I was offered a job as a writer at a digital marketing agency. It felt like a dream come true!
Why it definitely wasn’t a dream come true
My writing was very heavily critiqued and it chipped away at my self-esteem. While I am now able to take constructive criticism well, back then it shattered me. Writing was all I did. Aside from reading, it was my only hobby. It was my identity. The feedback was done kindly, to help me improve. But I couldn’t see it for what it was in the moment. I just saw the negatives.
It didn’t help that I had moved quite far away for my job and struggled to form solid friendships. I saw an opportunity to make more money in the SEO department and thought it would be easier to take any necessary criticism in a role I didn’t love with all my heart and soul.
Fast-forward two years and I had moved to a different company where I worked in all aspects of digital marketing. Unfortunately, the agency outsourced all of their copywriting, but even if they didn’t, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to write.
I wasn’t even writing for pleasure. I had completely given up the craft.
And that was when I met Katie.
A chance meeting that changed my life
Katie is a kind-hearted and warm sweetheart of a person who worked in the same building as me. After learning that we shared a love of books, she invited me to an event hosted by Waterstones. She told me all about how her hobby – writing!
I told her how I used to write but hadn’t done anything in years and she asked if I wanted to start meeting up with her for coffee to write. I was a little tentative. Writing had broken my heart. But, there was a little niggle when I thought of picking up my pen again, something that told me to be brave and give it a go.
She also told me about a yearly event called NaNoWriMo, where you write an entire novel throughout November.
We decided to do it together. I would know within one month whether I could start writing again or whether it would be too hard.
We created a spreadsheet that highlighted how many words we had to write each day to hit the 50,000 minimum word limit to complete NaNoWriMo and got to writing. Within one month I had my first novel drafted.
The beauty of NaNoWriMo is you don’t slow down the process by getting too bogged down with the how and the why of the process. If you missed your daily target you would have to write more the following day. So, even though there were scenes that really stunk, I had to keep going so I didn’t miss the deadline of 50,000 words in 30 days. There were weekends where I would spend most of the day writing to catch up. While the event is certainly not easy, it’s a brilliant way to get a novel drafted.
And I loved every minute of it.
You all know that feeling you get when characters and worlds appear out of nowhere. When you discover hidden treasures that take your story to a whole new level.
The only problem was, the draft absolutely stank!
But that’s OK. That’s kinda the point of NaNoWriMo. To just get something on the page and fix it later.
Since then, I have completely rewritten the story and I adore it. It’s far from finished but it is worlds better than my first attempt. The experience taught me how to write consistently, to keep going even when things get rough and to believe in my ability.
I’ve gone from writing in secret to talking about it openly. There are still niggles of self-doubt, but much more self-belief.
Katie will never know the impact she had on my life. Not only did she believe that I could write something brilliant if I put my mind to it, she actively helped me do it. We would discuss each other’s novels, work through particularly difficult chapters and be each other’s cheerleaders. If this novel ever gets published, it will be largely because of her belief in me.
As you fellow writers will no doubt agree, it is a craft that runs through your blood. Not to write is to deny a part of who you are. And thanks to Katie, I now own that I am a writer. While there are still days and chapters that make me feel like I am doing the writing community a disservice, there are others where writing makes me feel happier than ever.