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  • Writer's pictureSophie Lou Wilson

You will invariably become it

Career instability, creative freedom and not knowing what comes next


Sometimes I sit in the pub and I think we sound so old. We keep talking about the importance of moderation and finding balance. But most of the time I feel like I have whiplash from the opposing forces in my life. And I’m not sure that’s balance, but something more exhausting. 


I feel less certain about the future than I ever have done. Plenty has been written – or tweeted – about the death of journalism as a viable career path and most of it depresses me. Journalism feels more like a hobby than a job now, even when I make money from it. It feels immature and self-indulgent, less like a real job than what most of my friends do.


Last year, I couldn't stop thinking about the Oscar Wilde quote where he said that your punishment for knowing what you want to be is that you become it. I knew I wanted to work for a magazine when I was still in primary school. I was made fun of and praised for my determination, but mostly made fun of which only made me want to double down and prove everyone wrong. It was only when I got older that I realised it is quite weird to know the career you want to pursue aged 9 and stick with it. 



Now though, the people I know who have achieved some version of my teenage dream job are mostly burnt out, underpaid and depressed, that’s if they haven’t been laid off. So, what comes next? I would like to write a book, but it's hard to find time outside of my 9 til 6 social media job that sometimes extends into the evenings and weekends as well as the infrequent freelance pieces I’m trying to keep up with. I keep writing down random lines in my journal then realising it’s 11pm and I have to go to sleep if I’m going to get up for work in time. I know this isn’t a unique experience and most writers have to find slithers of time where they can write outside of their full-time jobs – this Lit Hub essay that came out recently sums it up well. 


Most of the places I used to freelance for have either folded, are on hiatus or all the editors I know have left, often without being replaced. If I were to go freelance again now, I’m not sure who I would even write for. In December I wrote two pieces for a magazine. Only one was ever published and I still haven’t been paid for either of them. It's one of the usual culprits and I've been in this situation before, but there are so few magazines to write for now that I keep going back anyway.


I had a nice balance when I started out as a journalist and got lucky with a high paying copywriting gig, so I had the time and mental space to write pieces I was passionate about. I’m prouder of them than any of the freelance pieces I wrote last year. I can’t tell if my writing is getting worse or I just have less time and a larger capacity for self-criticism. But there is a real possibility that I might never experience the balance I had at the start of my career again, although that is the goal.


So, you give in. You adapt. You enjoy it, for the most part. I work in social media now, which is still journalism even though admittedly I used to not think of it that way and always wanted to be a writer more than I wanted to be a journalist anyway. But you have to pivot and 'diversify your skillset' and become agile and no one’s ever going to be paid for writing poetry so I get paid to make TikToks. One of my favourite things about it is that, ironically, it’s taken journalism back to how it used to be. I’m travelling and meeting people more, rather than just doing Zoom interviews from my bedroom. 


But I still miss writing. I’ve been writing lots of poems this year instead. Probably because they take the least amount of time to write. I think how most of them will probably never be read by anyone else and there’s a quiet triumph in making something just for me. It’s why I like running. It’s something that I get to be completely selfish about. 


I went to another poetry night last month, and this one was better than the last. When I got home, I wrote a short story. Then I reread it in the morning and it felt spat out and so bleak I almost wondered how it had come out of me. I’ve been writing a few different stories at once, mostly short, weird, bitter tales of self-harm or masturbation. 


Some days I want to move countries and make new friends and fill all my spare time working on a novel and others I just want someone to shake me and tell me to slow down. It’ll work out ok anyway. I thought moving to Brighton would make me less busy, but now I think I could find a way to be busy in the middle of the countryside or on a desert island. It’s more of a compulsion than a symptom of my London life. 


Most of my friends are making decisions about their futures as couples, something I’ve never had to consider in my twenties, but now I don’t know what to do with all this freedom. It should be light, but it feels heavy. I could and should be doing everything. I’ll probably move back to London next winter. I’ve been taking more French classes and thinking about moving to Paris again.


I’m more comfortable with opposing extremes than with life as a flat line. Part of the reason I left London was because I didn’t want to feel that the rest of my life was already mapped out. I moved to Brighton for no solid reason and it made me realise that I could move anywhere, but really I just want to be close to my friends. Becoming what you want to be sometimes feels like a punishment, but it’s still a privilege. As I spend my weekends either going to gigs and festivals for work or running along the seafront and baking bread, I’m realising there’s not just one way to live. Perhaps I can live all the lives I want all at once.


***


Here's one of the poems I've written this year that I do want to share. I don't like it when people overexplain their poetry, but this one's about Brighton Rock, friends' birthday parties and talking about the past.


Permanence


If you must know anything, 

know that everything is permanent. 

So I shovel sentences I’ll never say

back inside my mouth, chew on the rocks

of my desire until my cheeks bleed.


I taste the rust of seafront hotels. 

Purple sky and we’re back in time. 

You can con me and I’ll be the teenage fool.

We’ve done the bad thing and now 

we’re damned to dance in empty rooms

and never know where the good party is.


She talks of years passing as you cross

The Old Steine, how time stalls and splutters

like a train pulling in from London, but

it never stops, so we sit chewing rock

and trace each day into memory. 




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