How I Became a Writer
I've been meaning to write this for a while now, inspired by a similar piece written by my friend Siobhan. I'm always getting asked how I got into my freelance writing work, and many of my readers probably don't realise that I used to work in the fashion industry for over a decade. When I first started blogging, back in 2008 when the blogging scene was a very different space, I ran a blog predominantly dedicated to catwalk trends and street style. It's fair to say that my interests have changed dramatically since then, and my career has evolved with them. So for anyone interested, here is my story.
When I was growing up, I always had my head in a book. Above anything else, I loved to read and immersed myself in fiction, devouring everything from classic children's stories to trashy young adult books. Not content with just one book on the go at once, I'd often be half way through three or four at a time, dipping in and out of them. I visited the library a couple of times a week, maxing out the maximum borrowing allowance each time. Needless to say, I've always been absorbed with the written word.
I also had a little bit of an obsession with interiors as a child. I remember buying interior design magazines, cutting them up and making them into collages. I would draw out fantastical house plans on A3 sheets of paper, planning in secret passages, hidden rooms and slides to get from one floor to another. Around the same time, I also loved cutting up my Barbie's clothes and playing with dolls with paper outfits. Both of these early interests in interiors and in fashion would come to influence my career choices.
All the way through school I excelled at English. I loved to read and write, filling my notebooks with imaginative stories and reading everything that I could get my hands on.. Then, at college, I failed English Language miserably, ending my first year with an E in the subject. My teacher had been incredibly dull and I'd been overwhelmed with the freedom that we had. Given no other choice, I dropped out of the subject and didn't think about writing again for a long time.
I didn't know what I wanted to study at university, but I knew that I wanted to do something creative. Academic subjects weren't for me and I knew that I wanted to create. I thought long and hard about my options, but looking back I don't think the support was available to help me make an informed decision about what I wanted to study and what I wanted to be. Mainly because I wanted to move to Manchester and didn't fancy an art foundation year, I decided to study Fashion Buying.
What followed were three incredibly dull years of monotonous lectures and a complete lack of creativity. I learned about marketing techniques that have never had any practical application in my subsequent jobs and balance sheets that make me feel dizzy just to think about. I wouldn't go as far to say that university was a complete waste of time as I'm glad I made the move to Manchester and I think that you learn valuable life skills no matter what you study, but I definitely came out of my degree incredibly unemployable. If you're thinking of studying Fashion Buying or Marketing at Manchester Metropolitan, please don't let me put you off. This was back in 2003 and the course was brand new, so I can't pass any judgement on what it is like today. But I honestly felt like everything we studied was a waste of time and not applicable in the real world. There was no support and we were dumped in the real world with no practical experience.
Immediately after university, I went travelling around Australia and New Zealand for three months. I worked at Topshop for six months to add to the money I'd already saved up for the trip, refusing to think about what I wanted to do as a career until I returned home. When I did return, I easily fell back into my job on the shop floor and picked up bar work to supplement my income. I then spent three miserable years working at Topshop, eventually securing myself a position on the Visual Merchandising team. I loved the work, but the unsociable hours (early starts and regular night shifts) and low pay really wore me down. I was in my mid-twenties and earning the same hourly wage as teenagers. Something had to change.
So I took a leap of faith and left my secure but unfulfilling job for a one day a week unpaid internship at an independent retailer selling luxury brands. I lucked out and almost straight away found temporary paid work the other four days a week in the customer service department. For three months I spent four days replying to emails and answering the phones, looking forward to Fridays when I got to help out in the Marketing department. Looking back, I realise how huge a risk this was and it might not have paid off. Luckily, we got an extra lodger into our house at the time, meaning that I didn't have to worry about paying rent or bills, otherwise this wouldn't have been possible.
Following my three months of temporary customer service work, I was offered a full time position as the E-commerce Assistant. This involved editing images, uploading products onto the website, writing content for the website and managing the company's blog and Instagram account. I worked in this role for two years, receiving a promotion to Senior E-Commerce Assistant after a year and a half. I was then promoted to my dream role of Content Coordinator and everything went downhill.
This was the position I'd been pushing for the entire time I was with the company. I managed the content plan for all of the content on the website, blog, social channels and newsletters, writing and editing content for all of these channels. I worked closely with the Graphic Designer, creating graphics for the homepage and newsletters, organised editorial photo shoots, attended London Fashion Week and ran weekly content meetings. Unfortunately, mere weeks after I accepted the role, a large discount sports brand bought half of the business and shipped our entire team off to an office in the middle of nowhere. For no extra money or compensation, I spent two years commuting for up to six hours a day for a job that became increasingly miserable. Everyone steadily began to leave and I became more and more miserable, even suffering from an inflammatory condition (that eventually landed me in hospital unable to walk) that was put down to stress. I hated my job, I hated the commute, and I hated how little money I was being paid. I was constantly being told that hundreds of girls would do my job for free and spending my lunch breaks hidden in the toilets crying. I applied for many, many jobs and had many, many interviews but nothing worked out - until I attended a very informal interview for a vintage-inspired fashion brand that was relocating to Manchester.
Adamant that I wanted to stay working within the fashion industry and that I'd just been unlucky up until now, I accepted a sketchy job offer and handed in my notice. From day one, I sensed that things weren't quite right with this new role. I had been hired as their Social Media Manager but the only other members of the team were two head designers working on the range itself. Our offices weren't ready to move into so we spent the first couple of weeks working from a temporary space before moving in. Rather than getting stuck into the role, I had to spend most of my time recruiting an entire team of people, despite having no prior experience in this. Still, I managed to find the time to arrange and attend photo shoots, start work on tidying up their social channels and relaunch their blog. The office was a great environment to work in and the team were all friendly and passionate; it felt like everything was falling into place.
What happened next was an absolute joke, and was enough to completely put me off ever wanting to work in the fashion industry again. In some ways, it was a blessing in disguise as I'm now happier than I've ever been, but at the time it was absolutely devastating. Without going into too many details, I was fired by a woman that had been hired to come to Manchester for the sole purpose of firing me, acting on the instructions of the company owners (who refused to speak to me personally) and a man who I had helped hire to work alongside me. There were no clear reasons given as to why I was losing my job and any questions I asked are still unanswered. Luckily, I kept my wits about me and managed to secure a pay-off that supported me while I got back on my feet, but the entire experience was horrific. I later found out that the same thing slowly happened to every other member of staff. Not a place you would want to work for.
So, what next? I was just about to turn 30 and I was unemployed. I started applying for jobs in the fashion industry, but my heart wasn’t in it. The thought of going back to another role where I’d be stuck in an office all week, feeling unappreciated, working long hours for a ridiculously low wage surprisingly did not appeal. I wanted to do something where I had more time to myself and was actually happy with my work, so I started to think of alternatives.
I can’t remember exactly how the idea of writing came to me, but I started looking into how I could perhaps make money by doing the thing that I loved the most. My search led me to a now-defunct website called Elance that matched up freelancers with clients. I registered my profile and cited my personal blog and the various company blogs that I had managed as my experience. I then applied for several jobs and held my breath.
Within the first month of looking for work this way, I had two regular jobs that required me to write weekly content. One was writing lifestyle content for an up-and-coming brand (that are now huge!) and the other was writing travel content for a site that I still write for today. I was soon making enough money to justify not having to look for a full-time job and started thinking about part-time options.
Out of the blue, the interiors company that I work part-time for today contacted me over Linked In. Following a phone interview for a Social Media Manager position, I visited their office and secured a two-day-a-week position. Everything was falling into place. I started the role, fell completely in love with my new job and was soon offered three days a week. I was initially worried about the transition from fashion into interiors, but soon realised what a nicer environment I was surrounding myself with. The interiors industry seemed to be miles away from fashion and my role offered me much more freedom and creativity than any of my fashion jobs had ever done. My responsibilities quickly grew from just social media and the blog to cover planning and styling photoshoots, assisting with buying collections and styling the new showroom. After a year in the role, my title changed to Creative Content & Partnerships Manager, an umbrella that covered all of the different elements of my job.
Alongside this new role, I continued to write. On the two weekdays that I had free, I would get up as if I was going to work and settle down at my desk or on the sofa with my laptop and notebook. Two and a half years later that is still my routine most of the time, although I do sometimes work in the evenings instead of the mornings or spend my days sat in a café. You can read more about my thoughts on freelancing here.
My career path has been a long, winding journey and it is a journey that I still consider myself to be on. I am completely happy with my current set-up, but I’m also thinking about other ways that I could make money and I am now trying to leave low-paid writing jobs behind in favour of the work that I really want to be doing. I’ve built up a large portfolio of work and learned exactly what I want to write about and for who I wish to write.
Looking back on all of my experience and also at my childhood, it’s strange to notice parallels. I’ve always loved to write and I’ve always had an interest in interiors, and these are the two fields that I now find myself in. Perhaps if I’d had a little clearer guidance or more self-awareness at an earlier age, I would have identified these as areas that I wished to work in rather than simply hobbies. If I could go back in time, it would be to make completely different decisions when it came to selecting subjects for college and university. Keeping up to date with my blog (my previous fashion blog and this blog that I launched in 2016) throughout my turbulent career journey has definitely helped to keep writing at the forefront of my interests and a constant feature in my life. I often wonder where I would be at without it; perhaps I would never have fallen into my writing career.
There’s much, much more that I could talk about on this subject, and if you have any questions I would love to answer them. I think I’ve rambled on enough though, so I’ll leave it at this for now. To offer one final piece of advice: do what you love, not what you think that you should do.