A JOB OFFER AND AN ITALIAN WINDOW

I have just returned from a short vacation where I was originally hoping to carve out some time to write this post earlier. But the tourist bug caught fast and my days were mostly spent touring temples and seeing the sights in the wonderful city that is Seoul.

My head was full of trying to navigate my way around the capital of South Korea and nail some of the basics of the language, so I was grateful that the day before leaving I had made a decision about what to do about an offer presented to me a few weeks ago.

I said no.

No to the offer of a role that could have shifted me in a whole new direction that of a website developer and contributor.

My reasons for declining were built on a multitude of factors, but my main recurring thought was that I wasn’t hungry for it. To be more specific, hungry for that particular position at this point in time.

Fear did play a large part in my decision, but not in the perhaps obvious reason that I was scared to take a chance on something unknown to me. But rather it was the fear that was in my gut of ignoring what I truly feel inspired doing – writing that has meaning to me. There is a strong possibility of sounding arrogant here, as though my writing is ‘better’ than the website I could have been writing for. But this couldn’t be further from reality. Having taken the time to consider the offer actually made me acknowledge the cold hard truth, I have been skirting around what I enjoy doing for some years now.

AN ITALIAN ADVENTURE

A little under ten years ago I went on holiday to Italy and spent nearly three weeks touring some of its great cities such as Rome and Florence and then switching to a car for a journey through the magnificent countryside of Umbria and Tuscany. The trip left a lasting effect on me in more ways than one; it certainly affirmed my love of Italian food, art and culture. Those were given. But it was when I was staying in a relatively remote village near Perugia, Umbria where I would say that I received one of the loudest calls to arms I have ever received in terms of inspiration. Through the haze of my long-term memory, I’ll paint the scene:

I am sat leaning over a circular wooden table with what was a cumbersome and impractical laptop. It was heavy, bulky, and took up the vast majority of my day rucksack, but I had been determined to bring it with me on my travels.

I was doing some work for my relatively new teaching position (only one month before I had completed my teaching training and I was due to begin my first job in the forthcoming September). Academic books were spread out around me like a fan, covering the table and chairs and I was dipping between them trying desperately to focus on one thing and failing miserably, I had a great deal of work to prepare. Initial visits to the school had been exciting, I had met new colleagues and seen what was to be the classroom where I would spend most of my day. But I was also left with a large ball of anxiety in my stomach; brand new courses needed to be planned, existing resources needed updating and I couldn’t shake the feeling that perhaps I was in a little over my head. I was keen to be prepared or least to obtain a degree of preparedness, hence the reason my laptop had originally come on holiday with me.

At one point, I stood frustrated and decided to take a short break. White-washed walls gave the kitchen the illusion of space, but in truth it was tiny. Adjacent to a metal sink and drainer was a tall corner cupboard that was in turn next to the only window. I went to grab myself a drink and when normally, well at least for the past few hours I would have gone to sit straight back down this time, I took the few steps to look outside. The image was a mirage of green rolling into the distance, the colour varying in intensity as fields were divided by roads and cultivated land. The scene was occasionally interspersed with buildings with some obscured by trees and the hills beyond.

It was as I stood here, that I felt like my brain had been struck with a burst of energy that I had never experienced before. The image that I was looking at was also somewhere else. I was still standing in that kitchen but the scene that played out in front of me and the sensation of standing there conjured a vivid scene in my mind. A male, a boy, an explorer, lost? They were the first things then; adventure, a family member could have gone missing? His father perhaps? As I write those words, they appear abstract and but loose threads of an idea. But for me at the time, as cliche as it may sound, it was as though I was seeing the world around me with eyes that possessed a whole new vibrancy. For the next couple of days, I was lost in a world of my own with a view out of that window writing furiously on my laptop.

The Italian countryside was the inspiration for what came to be my first book. Now I say ‘first book’, as though I am a published author. I am most definitely not (for the moment at least) and I would say that I am also very far away from being anywhere near that. But that feeling of inspiration made me realise that I absolutely LOVED writing stories and in turn, it also made me hungry for more of those moments of absolute clarity and conviction over my creative thinking.

So the offer presented to me a few weeks ago, as amazing in its own ways as it could have been, ultimately deep down wasn’t right for me. I had to sift through a lot of my mental clutter to find the answers, but I knew I had made the right decision when I thought of how much of my time would have been spent doing the job, whilst also working full-time and therefore sacrificing precious time to write for myself. The hunger and the drive both weren’t there in the same way that writing fiction is for me or even the feelings created when I write posts for this blog.

So it was a no for now for a small career shift, but a big step in reminding myself of what I want to do in the long-term.

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WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS…

So this isn’t a post about Beyonce and her recent album, Lemonade (although my favourite track is Hold Up). And this is probably the only time that I will ever be able to make a link (and a tenuous one at that) to the lady herself, in that I have received a few lemons recently and I am a bit unsure about what to do with them next.

Following the ongoing mission with the careers course that has required me to reach out to people of interest; I was really pleased with the initial response. Some people replied within a few hours and some individuals higher up in the connecting tier asked for some questions to be emailed to them, or said that they would get back to me. It was a promising start.

So back to the lemons; what are they and what am I unsure about?

A couple of months ago (before the mission was originally set), I replied to an advertisement that was reaching out for writers to contribute to a new online lifestyle magazine. I was asked to provide some links to some of my work and say a little about myself. When I heard nothing back within a week or so, I assumed that perhaps I wasn’t what they were looking for.

Whilst I was still visiting family in Europe, I received an email from John* who ran the website asking to set up a meeting. I pretty much got up and danced around the room; I was ecstatic! I mean, why wouldn’t I be? This was I was hoping for, to be offered a chance of some sort, any sort of having my work published. A meeting was swiftly arranged for the following week.

THE RESEARCH

Although it wasn’t a formal interview, I wanted to treat it as though it was to an extent, so beforehand I conducted some research on the website to establish more of a feel of what, and importantly who I might be working with:

  • Was there a sense of a brand of some sort? What made the site stand out?
  • Was there a message that the site wished to convey?
  • Finally, what was the sites position? Who was it aimed at?

Although the questions posed above perhaps seem rigorous for this early stage; I still wanted to know, how could I add value to the site with my work? And will the site work for me?

My initial impressions were mixed. Before I continue, I need to hold my hands up and admit that I am not a website designer and nor am I qualified in marketing. But, I do know what I like in terms of design and like any other human, we often make snap decisions based on our first impressions. However this is not to say that these judgements necessarily stick or are warranted.

To summarise, the site covered a large range of topics from fashion, lifestyle, food, relationships, improving skills in the workplace and so on, and employed a minimalist theme incorporating a simple colour palette of black, white and red for the header and various menus.

So far, so good. Yet the main issue I found was that the site was incredibly ‘busy.’

The sheer number of menus and articles on the homepage meant that it was difficult to cut through it all and find something that you might want to read, and it prevented me from wanting to delve further. To add to that, I felt bombarded with pop-ups asking me to register to the weekly newsletter and to the various forms of social media.

This could be more about personal taste than anything more objective or more sophisticated in terms of design and marketing. But isn’t that partly what they are both about? Although many organisations may wish to appeal to the vast majority of the population to encourage sales (or hits in this case), not everyone is going to be wowed by particular campaigns.

By the time the meeting came around, I decided to put those ideas to the back of my mind. Who was I to be commenting and effectively criticising (albeit internally), an opportunity before it had truly presented itself?

THE MEETING

To say that John was enthusiastic would be underestimating it, he was a ball of energy. He raced through the website’s origins, his background and his list of other projects, of which there were many. I just about managed to interject with some of my questions about what he wanted from contributors in terms of content, style, approximate word count and so on. However, his energy was infectious, the gremlins of doubt and pessimism were quietened and I began to feel that buzz of adrenaline that you experience around those who are truly passionate about their work.

Then he threw me a curveball or a lemon if you will… he offered a position on the team. It transpired that, aside from some of the contributors that he had sourced through Facebook and other free creative source sites, he was doing everything else himself – from the website creation to its development.

The offer appeared so straightforward; I would join the team as a website editor and contributor. I would ensure that the existing contributors submit their work on time (chasing these up where appropriate), search for new writers, contribute my own pieces, and I would also get a commission based on the revenue earned from advertisements. It’s got to be a yes… right?

But this is where the gremlins have slowly latched back onto my thinking, and I don’t think that their concerns are entirely unjustified.

John estimated that I would need to spend at least eight hours a week on the role. That doesn’t sound like a huge amount, I could set aside time on my weekends and some evenings to do this. If I was really organised, I could even use some of my breaks at work in my day job.

Also, one of the bigger concerns I had was that despite hearing that he was working 15 hour days on the project as it currently stood, he was also trying to set up two other websites aimed at entirely different markets. Two! Where did he find the time? And what did this mean for the site he was asking me to come on board with?

Thankfully, John accepted my request and need for a period of reflection. I have therefore spent the time subsequently making more lists that compare and contrast the option of accepting and of not accepting, of reminding myself that there is something to be gained here in editorial experience, and to have my work published on a new platform. But there is another voice, albeit a quieter and more reflective one, that has also spoken up during this time and has asked me: am I just side-stepping or even avoiding what I truly desire – to use my imagination to write stories, specifically fiction. Since the thought came to my mind, I haven’t been able to shake it.

So this is where I find myself, do I accept the role and make something that resembles lemonade for the type of experience that it can offer, or do I make the kind of lemonade I want?

*The name has been changed.

SPARKS

So I have sat down to write.

I have no formal plans (i.e., I am definitely not at work today), no social engagements, nothing that could and should distract me. I have even turned off the internet so that I don’t feel the urge to check Facebook, the news or my email. Yet, after an hour or so I am tinkering with the structure of sentences rather than actually writing anything new; flicking between ideas for some blog posts and then a couple of other fiction pieces.

In effect, I am procrastinating.

I don’t want this to happen. I want to be productive.

I have lots of things that I want to be doing. I want to complete the plan for a story idea that I have. I want to make a proper start on the story that I had months ago that I have completed a plan for.

I don’t want to be sitting here wasting time.

I feel a familiar sense of frustration bubble away inside of me, but the bubbling never reaches boiling point. Time to write and to be with your thoughts is so precious that I want to make the most of it, savour every little second.

I get up and make a drink, perhaps that will help. I wait for the kettle to boil and wipe around the kitchen surface, noticing specks of dust. I should really give the kitchen a thorough clean. One where each room is disemboweled of objects and scrubbed clean of dirt and grime. I have all the cleaning products ready to go… then the kettle boils and I tell myself to sit at the desk.

It’s as though the ideas could burst out of me sometimes, and I cannot write fast enough or for long enough. It’s these times that I try and focus upon when I’m struggling, praying for a window of inspiration.

But then writing isn’t always about the inspiration, those sparks; instead, it’s reminding yourself that you are letting yourself be one with the words forming in your mind. The images conjured need to be instructed to pause for a moment so that they become clearer, tangible.

The sentences, the grammar don’t always make a whole heap of sense at first, certainly not to others if they were to read them. More often than I wish, sentences are left dangling in mid-air, unfinished or not started. But I can’t bring myself to hit delete, in case they form something more coherent later on, so I hit return and push them further down the page out of sight. For now.

Sometimes when a spark does strike and I am writing fast and loose, I find that a part of my mind wants me to become distracted. It dares me to stop, to check my email or just to take a break. Because doing this, listening to that part of myself, the doubt, allows the insecurities that I have about what I want to say take precedence.

I sit back and allow myself to daydream and for my mind to wander, the cooling tea in my hands.

The sparks will come, I know it. I’m ready for them.