I remember when this blogging world was all fields – lovely, hazy meadows with skinny wild flowers waving their heads gently in the breeze. We would all skip along holding hands, telling each other nice things and thinking about kittens. We were friendly, is what I’m saying, and it was a rosy little place full of mostly good intentions – everyone did it because they loved cooking and sharing recipes with other people. There certainly wasn’t any money in it.
Twice a week we’d tappy tap out a recipe on the keyboard and post some just-about-acceptable photos to go with it, then sit and wait eagerly for comments. People used to comment a lot more. They were eager to chat, to let you know they were reading, to just say hello or start a conversation about a recipe.
The world of blogging now, in certain corners, is toxic. Self-promotion is important for a successful blog but it seems like it’s all that people care about. Motivations do not come from the same sunny place and I feel like those of us who started doing it for the love are constantly being advanced on by a dark army of idiots with giant SLRs.
So there are the ones who make us all look bad, the blogs that are just free advertising space, then at the darkest end of the spectrum, there is the clean eating brigade, who are either dangerously narcissistic or just not very well. That’s how this little world of ours has evolved. How sad.
I’ve been thinking, while all this has been happening, about how much my life has changed since I first started this blog. That was ten years ago now, and what began as a hobby has become my full-time job. I split my days between freelance food/recipe and travel writing, my role as food and drink editor at Londonist, and the occasional sponsored content on here.
I am very happy, but I’ve made a shitload of mistakes along the way and since I’ve now been doing it for a good while I thought it might be helpful or interesting to share a few things I’ve learned, particularly about lifestyle and how to look after your mental health.
One of the biggest changes for me has been making the jump from working 9-5 in an office to working from home. Oh, how I used to dream of this when I was chained to a desk. Imagine the possibilities! Cooking whatever you like for lunch, popping out to see a friend perhaps, making your own work schedule, even just having time to do all the domestic shit like put a wash on. And yes, all those things can happen but guess what? Uh huh – it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I’ll start with some basic advice for bloggers or indeed any writers who are thinking about going full time.
Oh and I’ve illustrated this post almost entirely with photos of cats. Soz.
Get showered and dressed
Seems like something you’d always do, right? It’s amazing how quickly you become really lazy. When I first started working from home it could be 11am before I showered. Don’t do it. Getting up and ready as normal makes you feel like you’re actually doing a job which is good because guess what? You are.
Make a proper work space
Again, this seems obvious but now your office is your home, you’ll need somewhere you can call a work space – somewhere you can shut the door on if you want to switch off because trust me, switching off is going to be a problem.
This is something I’ve found really helpful. Who knew, eh? Being a food writer can make you fat and that is what happened to me. I became very unhappy and the combination of being upset about my weight and working in isolation was a dangerous thing. I now train with someone 4 or 5 times a week. Is it expensive? Yep. To me, though, it’s a non-negotiable expense. It gets me up, gets me moving for the day and finally the weight is coming off. I’m so much happier now, and you can’t put a price on that.
Remember to leave the house
Another reason why the exercise is helpful. Just getting out and walking, clearing your head and looking at something other than your computer screen is really important for your mental health. You don’t realise how much even the journey to work, stressful as it may be, performs that important function.
Be strict about your working hours
I am still bad at this. Working for yourself is so scary in many ways that it’s really quite hard to switch off. You’re worried all the time that no one will ever want you to work for them again so you constantly push push push to make sure everything is done. The result for me on many occasions has been that I’ve taken on more work than I reasonably have time to do.
The e-mails are always there and because you never actually leave the office, you can always just start working again before you even know what you’re doing. E-mails are a menace and I can easily spend 4 hours a day on them alone. Be ruthless – when work is over it’s over. Like I said, though, I still haven’t managed this myself.
Get some accounting software
Boring but important. I use Wave. You’ll also need to put money aside to pay your tax bill. YAWN.
Keep an eye on your mental state
Okay, now we’re getting into the meaty stuff. Working from home, alone, can drive you a bit loopy. I’ve had some quite difficult periods where I’ve struggled to cope. One of the main issues, for me, is the fact that there’s no longer anyone else to bounce ideas or problems off. When I worked in an office all I could think about was finally getting away from the bullshit office politics, and then I realised working alone came with its own set of problems.
It’s very easy to become extremely stressed out because things can get out of perspective quickly. What is, in fact, a tiny problem can become a big one because there’s no one at the next desk to give you any perspective, there’s no office full of people with their own problems to give you points of reference. It’s hard and as someone who constantly feels guilty about things anyway for no reason at all, it’s something I really have to keep an eye on.
Think carefully about which opportunities are worth taking
I get approached by brands and PRs constantly. It’s part of my job and I no longer see them as the enemy, as many bloggers do. When something’s a hobby, PR contact is quite annoying, but now I do actually have to read every press release. Anyway, the point here is about being selective. As I said before it’s scary working for yourself because you feel constantly scared that you’ll run out of opportunities so you might end up taking offers that deep down, you don’t really want to do. This can play havoc with your image and also with your emotions, so be careful. What I do now is ask myself this question: would I write about this if I wasn’t being paid money to do it? That usually makes the decision quite simple. You might make mistakes, though, and that’s okay.
You might make some mistakes
And here’s the biggie. Oh man, have I made some whoppers. There are a couple of jobs I’ve taken on in the past which I definitely shouldn’t have done. It was a combination of pressure from people I was working with to do them, desperation to make the writing work and, frankly the fact that I needed the money. We were in financial shit at the time and I did a couple of things that I felt I had to, to survive. Biggest regrets of my career as a writer so far.
It took me about two years to get over the emotional trauma of making those mistakes (I told you they were big) and I’m still upset about them now – the difference is that I know it’s not the end of the world. It happens. I’ve had conversations with people since who’ve done similar things and I’ve had to put it down to experience. It’s easy to think everyone else’s path to success is perfect when you see artfully styled selfies on Instagram, all the trendies beaming out of a photo at someone’s book launch. Well, you know what? Their lives aren’t perfect either – the difference is they just pretend they are.
That was all a bit emotional so here are some final thoughts on a more light-hearted note.
You need to be prepared for your house to turn into a Royal Mail delivery depot. I live in a block of 40 flats and am often one of the only people at home during the day.
Consider getting a giant padlock for your fridge and lobbing away the key because that bastard is right down the hall and it’s going to be a problem. See also: exercise.
Tea will take on a level of importance you never thought possible. Some people do it with coffee, I believe.
Don’t buy a TV or download any gaming apps on your phone – ever. If you start a box set be prepared to lose two full weekdays.
Don’t kid yourself about hangovers. Yeah, so you can get up a little later maybe, and no one else really knows where you are, but it’s just too anxiety provoking when you get behind with work. Not worth the guilt or hassle. Be professional.
Don’t do a PhD at the same time. Really dumb. They’re hard enough when people do them full-time, APPARENTLY.
Finally, there will be a time when you neglect your blog – it’s inevitable. People are paying you to write and so you must prioritise that work. I’ve started posting on here regularly again because I love it, and also because I can write what I damn well like. I really didn’t realise what a wonderful thing that is until people started giving me job specs and editing my work. It’s about freedom and creativity and it’s my own little happy corner of the internet. I fully intend to keep it that way.