Facing fears

Before becoming a writer, I had a number of worries about what taking such a big step might mean. Almost eight months in, I’ve been reflecting on some of those concerns and how things have panned out so far.

  1. What if I become a badly dressed hermit?

I loved dressing up to go into the City for work. A fitted dress and a pair of killer heels made me feel special, powerful, confident. I enjoyed entertaining clients in fancy restaurants on the firm’s tab and team drinks were always fun, especially when held in bars with a minimum spend, where the budget stretched further than the needs of our conservative colleagues and we were left to use it up by drinking champagne that was far beyond our own means. Don’t get me wrong, mostly we were sat in little offices tapping away at keyboards until there was only enough time for a piece of toast and a curtailed sleep before turning around to head back again, but there were little bursts of glamour and excitement that made it feel worthwhile.

I was worried about becoming drab and mundane, trudging the daily school run in whatever comfy mismatched and ill-fitting garments were to hand, losing my sense of freedom and identity, no longer going to the latest restaurants and sipping unpronounceable cocktails in rooftop bars. I didn’t want to lose my social life or the opportunity to eat lobster-sized crayfish and try a glass of Cristal. I pictured myself walking past chic dresses in search of comfy jeans and I cringed at the thought.

Turns out that my fear of missing out has simply evaporated. Yes, I sometimes grab yesterday’s cut offs and t-shirt to take the kids to school and yes I wear pumps or trainers, but I hated tights with a vengeance and heels are far less fun when you’re carrying a 28 month old three miles a day in a sling. I still dress up for weddings but otherwise I have no need to – the people I see aren’t judging me on my appearance (and if they are, I feel no need to impress them) and I no longer need to make myself feel good with clothes. When I worked in the City I needed those moments of feeling like Cinderella at the ball because my job made me feel like Cinderella waiting on her step-family. Now I’m into my happily ever after, I can wear clothes that let me run and play and write without getting in my way; they’re just background. Maybe people see me and think I’ve let myself go, but my skin has a healthy glow from all the time I spend outside and I rarely have those moments of deep stress or anxiety that used to etch themselves onto my face. I don’t have access to a fancy gym but I go to local zumba and aerobics classes. I don’t often eat out but our home cooking has evolved and, despite my heavy-handedness with cheese, is far healthier than restaurant food as well as being delicious (I cheat here by being married to an amazing cook).

As for my social life, I am definitely far more of a hermit than I was, but instead of going to drinks that have been in my diary for a month, I now have an impromptu glass of wine at a friend’s house or sip Pimms in the garden because the sun is out. I can be spontaneous and I have more time to socialise with the people I really want to see, not just the people who are working nearby. I do miss the camaraderie of being part of a team and I was lucky to have been spoiled with amazing colleagues and clients, but I love managing my own time now and having the freedom to simply be myself, not the representative of someone else’s brand. I go out less, but I laugh more. I talk to fewer people, but my conversations have more meaning. It is the opposite of drab; my life is in full technicolour.

  1. What if people think less of me?

This raises the interesting question of whether we define one another by what we do, rather than who we are. If pressed on the point, most of us feel uncomfortable with the idea of the former, but it is incredibly convenient to be able to categorise people quickly when we meet them so we know roughly who we’re dealing with. There was great comfort in being defined as a City professional, it sounds sensible, well-educated, reliable. Being a ‘writer’ is far more amorphous and alarming; after all a writer might start spouting poetry or dangerously liberal views at any moment and cause an awkward scene or, worse still, might simply turn out to be someone unemployable who has angst, considers themselves creative and is breaching that tipping point between quirky and just plain objectionable. Combine that with being a mother (because hysteria and an inability to scroll past a post you disagree with on an internet thread are, of course, delivered straight after the placenta) and I feared people would be instantly dismissive and possibly patronising.

This worry has also mostly dissipated. Turns out if you don’t fit neatly in a box, you end up having much more interesting conversations. Also turns out that the other humans don’t much like lawyers.

  1. What if the book fails?

This was a big one; giving up an interesting career and a decent income to expend a lot of time and energy writing a book that might never leave my laptop. The statistics don’t make pretty reading and even those who defy them often find themselves earning less than minimum wage based on the time they put in.

Failure is still a distinct possibility; the novel is almost 100,000 words long now and I’m excited about it but that’s no guarantee that anyone else will be. I remain very nervous and a bit clueless about next steps once I’ve finished whipping it into shape, but it’s mine and I love it unconditionally and I’m glad I’m writing it, even if only for my own kids to enjoy. I finally understand why some people do jobs they love even though they could find something much better paid; it’s genuinely a reward in itself to be writing and I know I’m incredibly privileged to be able to give it a go. No regrets; however life turns out, sometimes you just have to go for it.

  1. As a writer, I’ll look a complete tit if I haven’t read the classics or if I use a word incorrectly or spell it wrong

Some people care about grammar and spelling, others don’t. It would be embarrassing to proclaim oneself a writer and then demonstrate failures in basic literacy, but it’s unrealistic to expect perfection from anyone. I have found I have a lot more time now to explore the nuance and origin of words and I get a genuine thrill when I find just the word I needed or learn a new one. I’ve stopped clenching up about language now that I play with it so much and I’ve accepted that sometimes making mistakes is the best way to learn. Also, nothing could be more embarrassing than the time I was describing my tendency to talk too much to a group of colleagues and accidentally described myself as having anal (rather than verbal) diarrhoea. There’s really no coming back from that with any dignity.

I love books, but I also have other interests and I simply haven’t read everything. I’ve learned not to apologise when I don’t know what someone is talking about; now I simply ask them my many questions with enthusiasm. I’ve also discovered that most people, on hearing you haven’t read a book that they’re referring to, will become hugely evangelistic about it and sometimes even look you out a copy. This is a fantastic way to discover new books and somebody using a reference I don’t get is now something I look forward to rather than dreading. When you admit to not having read a particular book, there will of course always be people who look at you as if you’ve just announced you have anal diarrhoea. I think they mostly like to feel cleverer, more cultured or better educated than me and I’ve come to realise that’s not actually about me at all.

  1. What if my brain atrophies?

I was concerned that I would miss the intellectual challenge of work, the academic rigour and the commercial practicality of practising law. In the office I was surrounded by bright, busy, hard-working people I could bounce ideas off, debate with and learn from. I pictured myself sat at home, hunched in front of a laptop and isolated from the world and feared running out of inspiration and drive.

I think colleagues are definitely what I miss most about my job, but now that I’m not working, all the headspace and energy that was spent on clients is now freed up for reading, for researching, for writing and for living. I don’t miss the work because now I can turn my mind to whatever I want; I can challenge myself and learn new things because I want to, rather than renting my brain out. And although a book might be something everyone believes they have somewhere inside them, not everyone can get that book out; I certainly don’t find myself underemployed or lacking a challenge.

  1. What if it changes me?

Change is not something that I look forward to; I generally adapt to it pretty well when it comes, although I find the anticipation of it pretty unsettling. But challenging myself has always helped me to grow, even if that has been in ways I hadn’t expected. Becoming a writer has definitely changed me, but it has felt like growth and has been gradual, subtle, gentle. Life does not always follow the path I anticipate and I don’t have any idea where I’m heading, but I’m finally living for the moment and loving where I am right now. I’ve never had a coherent five year plan, but for the first time that doesn’t worry me at all.