If someone had told me this time last year that I would be getting 6 months off work and be paid for it, I would have been thrilled. Imagine all the things I can do, I’d have thought with glee, smoothing out a fresh page in my journal and lining up my mildliners in anticipation. Instead, when my editor called me to deliver the news that I was being furloughed indefinitely, I panicked. I won’t go into all the reasons why again, because I wrote about it here once I’d got over the shock, but the thought of all those empty days stretching ahead of me filled me with dread.
After a few days/weeks of moping around feeling sorry for myself, I realised that being furloughed really wasn’t the end of the world. Yes, there was the added complication of a global pandemic, but everyone else was also having to adjust to this too, and many certainly had it a lot worse. I could very easily have lost my job, so I was grateful that I was one of the lucky ones.
Influenced by every man and his dog on social media, I decided to do a free online creative writing course to see if it would inspire me to start the novel I’d always fantisised about writing one day. I soon got bored of the course (classic), but it did its job and I started writing. It was exciting, knowing I was being paid by work but also had the time to spend every day working on this project. Over the next few months, I wrote more words than I ever have in my life and spent the rest of my time in the bubble of my novel, grateful for the escape from the outside world.
But then I realised that I was unlikely to finish a first draft by the time I went back to work. My daily word count gradually tapered off as the ideas started to dry up. I felt as though sitting at my kitchen table day in day out wasn’t doing much to inspire me, especially as the entire concept for the novel had been created during lockdown. It all felt quite insular and stiffled. Without really consciously deciding to, I took a break, feeling quite deflated but pleased to have got a good chunk of words down on the page for the future.
Yet, I felt like a bit of a failure. I’ve always thought I’ll write a novel ‘when I have time’. Now I had the time, but I didn’t write a novel.
Alongside the creative writing, I’d also been sending the odd pitch to magazines, but I didn’t really know what I was doing so rarely heard anything back. Once I’d stopped writing my novel, I decided I needed to fully commit and get some paid commissions. I learnt how to pitch properly and how to find editors on Twitter, meaning that I could compile a decent list of email addresses and publications (I’m planning on writing a whole blog post about pitching for anyone who is interested).
Over the next few months, I sent around 60 different pitches out, some to multiple publications. Most of the time, I didn’t get a response and if I did it was usually a rejection. I felt demoralised and wondered how anyone ever managed to make any money as a freelance journalist, but I kept at it because the buzz of getting the occasional yes was worth the heartache. Eventually, I had a handful of new bylines under my belt, only a few of which were paid. But again, I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. I could literally commit weeks to this thing, rather than a few snatched hours at the weekend, but I was still barely getting anywhere.
I lurched between feeling proud of myself for the things that I was doing and feeling disheartened about my entire career path. I rarely remembered that a global pandemic is hardly conducive to creativity and productivity, instead beating myself up for only sending 60 pitches rather than 100, for deciding to relax and see people at the weekend rather than work.
But actually, now that my furlough has come to an end (I go back to work on Monday), I feel a bit better about things. While I haven’t just done nothing for 6 months, I also feel like I’ve had a break. I’ve spent time working on relationships and my mental health, neither of which necessarily result in a tangible product, but both of which tend to suffer when I get too busy and stressed with work.
It’s a bit of a cliché at this point, but perhaps I needed someone (or something) else to press the pause button, as I certainly wasn’t going to press it myself.
Do I feel completely rested and raring to go? No. I’ve barely slept in the last two weeks and I’m full of all sorts of anxieties, but I think I’m probably in a better position than I would have been had I not been furloughed. I’ve had to accept that I can’t always play the ‘I’m too busy’ card. Sometimes I will have the time to do X project, but it still won’t happen. And that’s okay. Instead, I might be doing something that is actually much more worthwhile, but which won’t leave me with something to show for it.
My portfolio may not be as extensive as I’d have hoped and I may not have 90k words ready for a publisher, but I survived the worst of a global pandemic. Even if I had done nothing else at all, that would have been enough.
Did you feel pressure to achieve a lot under lockdown or on furlough? How have you managed to come to terms with the things you did do?