At the beginning of the year I set myself a to do list. Naturally I am somewhat behind on nearly all fronts, but some progress is being made. I have indeed begun learning French and some digital stuff, mostly Photoshop. Both seem unreasonably complicated (I just don’t understand how I am supposed to remember the grammatical gender of a tomato), but it is nice to feel the old cogs in my brain start to whir again. I have even been wasting a little less time by just reading and reading and reading. I keep finding fantastic writers and then reading everything they’ve ever written; my latest obsession is Kathryn Schulz, whose New Yorker piece from last year, ‘The Really Big One‘, is guaranteed to knock your socks off.
But actually most of my time has been spent dealing with emails and making or waiting for phone calls. I have concluded that this, rather than the freedom to make your own decisions or the ability to vote, is the defining state of adulthood. Like school, it is very dull and has delayed results. But, finally, all the arrangements have been made and I am starting a month of work experience at the BBC on Monday! I am very excited to be spending time across four teams at the iconic Broadcasting House: Newshour and Newshour Extra, which are the World Service’s in depth news programmes, BBC2’s Victoria Derbyshire Show and Newsnight, where basically all my favourite journalists work. To say I am looking forward to it would be a laughable understatement.
In preparation, I have become very good friends with iPlayer, listening to all the recent episodes of the programmes I will be working on. In particular, I have really enjoyed Newshour Extra – I rarely have the radio on when it is broadcast so it wasn’t a programme I had listened to before, but the format makes it highly informative. Last week’s episode on Libya and where it could go from here was some of the best coverage I’ve heard of a country which most of the world has forgotten about.
So things are moving forward. I still don’t write enough and I haven’t got much further in finding an actual real job (not withstanding getting through to the test stage of the civil service Fast Stream application). I still don’t know anything about coding or the French past tense. But going into work for the next four weeks is just what I need, and I hope it’ll take me on to other things as I learn more about broadcasting. Now I’d better post this and go back to searching Guardian Jobs and listening to Newshour.
It’s two weeks into 2017 and things are starting to come together. After a bumpy end to last year, I finally have full-time care sorted out (hurrah!) and some idea about where I am going with life. I am carving out a new existence back in London, at home for now but with plans to be a real adult in my own place sometime soon-ish. I have a couple of job interviews coming up and I am excited about the schemes I am applying for. I am feeling very 22.
Still, being unemployed and living with my parents is not ideal. So I need to make the next few months as fun and productive as possible – resisting the lure of doing nothing but completing job applications and watching Netflix. In a bid to force myself to do things, I am holding myself accountable by making myself accountable to you as well. Here’s a list of things I want to do before I get a job and move out – a last hurrah of growing up, if you like. Please, please make sure I do them.
- Read interesting books and keep learning. One of the few real joys of leaving full-time education after a long 17 years is being unshackled from reading lists. I can officially read what I want! This is very exciting. Recently I have enjoyed some good history and am looking to expand into the genres of memoir and philosophy; so much more enjoyable in their popular rather than academic forms.
- Cultivate a proper journalist’s Twitter profile. Share pieces that I like and connect with other writers. Write a quick message when a thought strikes me. Develop a following and a real presence.
- Learn some digital skills. I have signed up to CodeAcademy to get up to speed on HTML and CSS, the core components for building web pages. I started this a while ago and haven’t stuck with it but now that my days have more structure I am determined to do a little, often. The same is true of Photoshop. I know being able to use this programme will really help me in media jobs, so I have signed up to an online course. Once I have the basics down, I will move on to InDesign, the journalism staple.
- Write more. I say this all the time, but I really want to up my game here and stop feeling life a fraud when I call myself a writer. So here’s the deal: I am going to write twice a week. I am going to stop feeling like blogging doesn’t count or matter and I am going to stop telling myself the idea isn’t worth pursuing. I am going to stop finding excuses. So be prepared for some random blog posts and lots of rambling about what I’m up to.
- Pitch. Until I have a job, my only source of income will be freelancing, so I’d better do more of it. More importantly, I want to build up my portfolio, especially by writing different types of pieces for different publications. As much as I wish it were so, I probably can’t make a career out of 700-word comment pieces for the Guardian. The challenge here, of course, isn’t so much in the writing as it is in the having an idea in the first place. Hopefully the aforementioned reading will help, but I think it’s a bit like everything else: the more I do it the easier it’ll get. Watch this space.
- Write a long read. This is the biggest challenge on this list, but also the most exciting. Recently I have found myself buried in long reads – in the Guardian, New Yorker, Atlantic and more (Ta-Nehisi Coates’ recent Atlantic piece, ‘My President was Black’ is a must-read) – and now I want to try this extraordinary kind of journalism for myself. I have been further inspired by the Longform podcast, which I listen to every night as I fall asleep, in which incredible writers discuss their stories and methods with other incredible writers. It’s journalist heaven but I am also extremely jealous of the exciting work they do. I want to jump on the longform bandwagon, especially as it’s a form which is actually thriving in the digital age. To this end, I have just read Storycraft: the Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Non-fiction by Jack Hart, which is absolutely r ammed with tips and examples, and now I am raring to go. For practical reasons, I am going to try my hand at some personal essays first before one day attempting some reported narrative. This is hard stuff and completely outside my writing comfort zone. Wish me luck.
- Learn French (a bit). This is something I’ve wanted to do for a while but I really didn’t like the way languages were taught at school (agh worksheets, my nemesis). So now I have left formal education it’s time to give this a decent go, especially as the lack of a second language feels like a glaring hole in my CV. I’m still working out how best to approach this (classes? books? online?) but by 2018 I hope to be nodding less and speaking more when I cross the Channel.
- Not have a nervous breakdown about global politics. The less said about this the better.
- Stop wasting time. I have accepted that procrastinating is just an essential part of my nature, just like wobbling and bitter sarcasm, so the aim is to make the procrastination worthwhile. This essentially translates to: get off Facebook, read a book.
Some of this is fairly ambitious, some of it I should have done years ago (French, I’m looking at you here). But having written this list, I can say that everything on it is achievable. Feel free to pester me about it; I’m just hoping a job comes along and lets me off the hook!