I had a really bad day yesterday. The kind of day where you find yourself looking thoughtfully out the window, trapped in self-inflicted prison of crippling apathy. I wanted to write about it, but I couldn’t fathom the enthusiasm to do so. So I stared. I stared out the window and I stared at the ceiling. I looked seemingly vacantly at the bare walls, whilst worryingly incessantly about what had transpired earlier that day.
So I suppose you’re wondering right about now, what on earth happened to cause me so much despair? Well, to put it simply, I fucked up. And of course, I’m not so conceited as to not be able to admit that this happens often. It doesn’t help that I’m slightly neurotic, but I suppose that all writers tend to be, well, just a tad bit strange. You have to be to want to break into an industry as fickle as journalism.
So the rather cliche story is, I’m trying to become a professional writer, and unsurprisingly, it’s not particularly easy. At least not with a bad degree from a midrange university. Nobody ever said it wouldn’t be tough considering circumstances, and I never thought otherwise. But still, the occasional unforeseen hiccup on the bumpy road ahead can set you back a bit more than you’d hoped.
I was reading Siraj Dat9o’s post on WannabeHacks the other day , and it got me thinking about all the collective mistakes I’ve made on my journey so far. None yet as grandiose as a fake bomb prank gone horribly wrong, but one time I did tell an interviewer that anxiety was one of my key skills. You can’t help but wonder about such past misjudgements.
This is all opportunity to learn of course. So what have I learned so far? Well to be quite frank, I don’t really want to patronise you my dear reader, with the whole list of useless hints and tips that are so prevalent on the internet. What I’m saying is, this isn’t wiki how – there is no set way to how things are done when it comes to writing. Also as an amatuer myself, I must confess I really don’t have a bloody clue yet. I suppose like many of you, I’m feeling my way along, tentatively creeping along this seemingly perilous path ahead. What I’m getting at is, I think you will learn your lessons in your own way, as I have learned mine so far.
Saying this however, one subject that I am an unquestionable expert at, is being a bit shit. Contrary to regular posters on Wannabe Hacks, my list of of success to date is rather lacking. While admittedly I’m still at the beginning of this journey, I’ve already made quite a few mistakes in launching my career in Journalism so far. I guess what you could say is, I’ve learned a lot about what not to do, and I feel rather compelled to share these lessons with you, irrespective of if you should wish to follow them. So without any further introduction, here is my not-so-list like list of things NOT to do. I know this because, I was stupid enough to do them all.
THINGS NOT TO DO IF YOU WANT TO BE A JOURNALIST
Lesson number one – don’t be lazy. The famous Mathematician and Philosopher Bertrand Russell once proclaimed, “I think that there is far too much work done in this world.” This was, until earlier this year, a statement I stood by wholeheartedly. Which is unsurprising, considering my aptitude at ineptitude. 23 years of combined idleness and laziness has stuck to me like a bogey on a wall. It’s been a struggle breaking many years of bad habit. But If I could give you one tip, from personal experience, it is this – do stuff. Be proactive. If you’re an artist, you must paint. If you are a dancer, you must dance. And if you’re a writer, you MUST write. Russell argued for the “organised diminution of work”, because he thought this would allow “every person possessed of scientific curiosity” to “be able to indulge it, and every painter…able to paint without starving.” The unfortunate reality is, you have to work to survive. And there are no two ways around it – you have to work hard. Pull up them socks and get to typing friends.
Lesson number two – don’t be (too) reckless. Everybody loves a risk taker There’s something enchanting about someone going up against the odds. And I myself have frequently thrown caution to the wind, and sadly also, my future prospects. It’s not surprising I got a 2:2 on my dissertation, considering I was drunk whilst writing half of it. In hindsight, perhaps a foolish thing to do. Maybe I should of also revised for longer than a fortnight for my finals. Most certainly I think, this would’ve been wise. I guess as writers we value creativity, but it’s nothing without conscientiousness. While it might sound foolish, now I know it’s a lot easier to write when sober. I now know that it’s lot easier to do things when you plan ahead. Whilst I concede that these seem like rather common sense things to say, I cannot stress enough the importance of balance. It is a lesson hard learnt for me, but worth it in the end. I still think you should be willing to take risks and enjoy yourself, but be warned, all play and no work means you will suffer in the long run. What I’m getting at is simply plan, prepare and most importantly, study. You won’t regret it.
Lesson number three – By far my most important lesson, never be afraid to admit that you’re wrong. I remember reading a NYT article a while back, claiming that a big reason why people argue, is to simply win the argument, and not find any objective truth. I think I see this a lot in others as well as myself. When we receive criticism, it’s easy to blame someone else. It’s even easier to berate yourself over failure. But when we fail or come short, it’s a chance to look at ourselves critically. I argued in a blog post last week, that writers need self delusion to succeed. And while I still stand by this claim in part, I can admit I was partly wrong also. Because sometimes its useful to be knocked down a peg or two. It’s always good to be humbled. If you can’t be self critical, you’re never going to achieve any real lasting success in life. That’s what I think anyway’s.
The way I look at it is like this – whenever I should get something wrong, whenever I should make a mistake, “I do not fail”, but “I succeed in finding out what does not work.” So while it may be difficult not to feel despair or even resentment whenever you do bollocks something up – try be cheerful instead. Because at least now you know not what to do.
It’s a long journey, and I suspect there will be many more obstacles to face ahead. So good luck to you my friend, and always remember to stay humble, thoughtful and most importantly, optimistic.