Giving up the Day Job: From School Principal to Indie Writer

There’s a bridge in Nelson, near where we live. Every summer, the locals go there to leap off into the pure, cold river below. It’s a long drop — and half the fun lies in steeling your nerves, anticipating the leap. Then, comes that awful, gut-wrenching, sense of terror blended with sheer delight — it’s precisely how I’m feeling now, as I plunge into a new career as an Indie writer. 

I don’t think it’s just me who feels terrified at the prospect of jumping into business as a creative. Writers, and creatives generally, have to overcome a whole world of negativity and obstacles if they are to make the leap. Some of the most disabling anxieties are rooted in societal norms, while others are wholly self-inflicted. Who do you think you are? What makes you think you can do this? How dare you presume to be good enough? What will you do for money? And, for me personally: why on earth would an experienced educational leader, who ‘made it’ all the way to principal, want to give up her day job? 

A pertinent question. Here’s another: did she jump or was she pushed? Well, I have to admit that there has been a fair degree of ‘push’ in my decision. Sadly, over the past few years I’ve had to come to terms with my growing unhappiness as a teaching professional. Despite the fact that my passion for education has never waned, and I’ve always felt valued by students, parents and colleagues, I was becoming increasingly miserable and disillusioned — lacking in my confidence to really make a difference in the current educational context. I didn’t want to become ‘that teacher’ — who brings everyone else down because they don’t recognise when it’s time to walk away. However, and I know many teachers will understand this, walking away from twenty years’ personal investment in education is an extraordinarily emotional and difficult choice.

On the face of it, the identity shift from a teacher/educational leader to Indie writer is quite profound. Teachers are supposedly sensible people with authority: role models who make decisions, implement curriculum, uphold good citizenship and generally serve the establishment. With writers and creatives, however; well, there’s always the suspicion that they might be just a bit loopy, anti-establishment perhaps, self-indulgent at best or just plain frivolous at worst – the sort of people who might squander their savings on cover designs and editing services. Of course, both of these are stereotypes, only given credence by how much we buy into and perpetuate the myths. Yet, there is no doubt that becoming a writer feels more than a little bit naughty. The gatekeepers seem to arch their eyebrows: Who said you could do this? Have you got approval? In fact, to give up, or refuse, any professional career in order to create art, of any kind, seems a wilful act of rebellion. In my case it’s undoubtedly a joyful rebellion, accompanied by a deep sense of relief as I turn my back on bells, other people’s schedules and demands, and a ludicrous workload. But it’s also quite frightening, especially moving from a work community comprising hundreds of colleagues, students and parents to a community of one.

Furthermore, the waters of Indie publishing are a dynamic and turbulent place, where everything seems to be in flux. Every day I find myself drowning in an alien discourse as I try to get my head around algorithms and acronyms, E-platforms and distributors, copyright and royalties. No longer the experienced practitioner, I’m an absolute beginner again, and it feels a lot like learning to swim for the first time. I fully expect that, like the first time, it won’t be very elegant. No doubt I’ll spend a lot of time floundering about, gasping for air, choking, and spluttering like an idiot. And my first ‘dive in’ with my debut novel could prove an embarrassing belly-flop. But that’s okay. I’m here — at last, proudly taking the plunge. So, am I terrified as I launch Taelstone into the world? Yes! Absolutely! But I am also deeply excited and overjoyed to be embarking upon this exhilarating new adventure.