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Writing in the Dark: Employing Writing Skills Through Unemployment

/by Andy Bottomley/

The trouble with many articles written about unemployment is that they are often produced by in-house writers who cannot help but see the world through the lens of a pay cheque. Often without the benefit of experience, and with little or no concept of the spectrum of emotions that will befall someone who finds themselves out of work, they list with ‘expert’ intent the Ten Best Ways to find employment.

This article is written by someone who is unemployed, who has made applications for positions up and down this Sceptered Isle and who knows what it is like to sit on the Green Mile of job searches as the steel door of redundancy closes in.

Being unemployed is life changing. Often it is a change that is forced upon you. Suddenly a work shaped hole appears.  A hole that if not filled can become a Black Hole sucking anything and everything into its centre. Being unemployed very often is about isolation. You against the world. It is about traipsing the internet, researching jobs, making applications, sending off CVs. There is no office banter, no gossip, no gatherings around the photocopier. Now it’s about waiting for the kettle to boil, another cup of coffee and a look through the job ads… on your own.

Unemployment, in a nutshell, is very much like writing.

Many of the skills and attributes required for writing are the same as those required for job applications and both are very often are works of fiction tinged with reality! Writers often complain that they have insufficient time to write. For the unemployed the complaint is often that they have too much time to fill.

However, a period of redundancy can be a time of great opportunity. I’m not about to whitewash the enormity of being redundant, or deny that unemployment is very often an uphill struggle against emotions. However in a rather perverse way there are genuine opportunities for allowing ones feelings, cynicisms and insight to flow. It may even open up new avenues into genres that have previously been overlooked.

Being ‘between jobs’ is not easy but you do have everything you need to be productive on the writing front. Keyboard, brain and ideas, with the keyboard being optional!

So you’re unemployed, and now filling your days with writing. That’s all well and good but what effect has the current economic climate and unemployment had on writers, writing and the publishing industry?

The short answer is, a big one, for suddenly everyone is a writer. The supply of ‘writers’ is growing while at the same time magazine publishers are producing more articles ‘in-house’ and less magazines. There is also less editorial space because advertisers are being more selective in the space that they buy and so magazines are becoming slimmer as costs are trimmed. It is quite simply Keynesian economics in practice. Demand and supply.

The good news lies in the short story market which is blooming in big way. Fictions Specials are a regular feature on newsagents shelves each containing twenty or so short stories. Again competition to find oneself included within these pages is stiff but ‘the cream will rise’.

This recession has a kind of permafrost feel about it but that does not mean that as writers we are doomed to the frozen wastes of editorial slush piles. 

Okay so your tale of the axe wielding homicidal manic didn’t make it into People’s Friend but that doesn’t have to be the end of it. Nowadays we all have the opportunity to e-self publish through Kindle. It is not complicated to do, it costs practically nothing to produce and it can do wonders to boost morale and confidence as sales start to clock up. It’s also a great way for writers to get known in the literary world. And you never know what will catch the eye of the internet browsing public.

Online writers’ sites, like ShortbreadStories, present an excellent opportunity to have your work ‘published’, read and constructively commented on by fellow writers, and can be a welcoming companion during the lonely days of redundancey.

Unemployment takes place against an often bleak and isolated backdrop. Joining an online community of writers adds colour to that backdrop. There is a sense of achievement as stories get published and confidence grows.

This short article gives, I hope, a little insight and a few pointers to what opportunities there are.  Remember that ‘the cream will rise’ – just ask JK Rowling who found herself without work writing in a coffee shop…

Have a look at Andy’s blog at Girrus: Taking Steps in the Right Direction.

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3 thoughts on “Writing in the Dark: Employing Writing Skills Through Unemployment

  1. Great advice here. Thanks Andy.

  2. What a very well balanced and well articulated account. I only had one brief period when I was actively searching for employment and being successful but know from other members of my family and my friends just how soul destroying it can become. To be able to produce anything of worth in such circumstances can, I feel, only be beneficial and as the writer states at the end of the post – look at JK Rowling. At the very least while writing you are I suppose giving yourself cause to hope. I am a great fan of e-publishing, of course there will be much that is published that would never have made it in the “old days” for very good reason but there is also work out there that would have been lost in the slush piles simply because of bad luck and now it can see the light of day and readers are the richer for it.

  3. Thanks Andy. You’re right, Shortbread is giving us all a great opportunity to have our work read and critiqued at a time when less and less short stories are being published in magazines.

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