As part of our new ‘World of Work’ series, our in-house writer Holly Pigache interviews members of the EdTech Lobby community to find out about different professional pathways. Here, she interviews freelance Editor, Content Creator and Writer, Natalie Thomas.
What was the path to you becoming an editor, content creator and writer?
You know, I was pretty stuffed. I was a suddenly single-mum with two degrees – one a conservatoire training in acting and one an English degree – and no experience in a professional setting outside of the acting industry.
A close friend of mine, an editor, suggested I might enjoy proofreading. I mentioned I was interested in proofreading to an acquaintance at a slightly lairy kids’ birthday party and she offered to put my name into a freelance pool at the place where she worked. It’s one of the best things that ever happened to me and I owe that lady an awful lot.
But oh, my days – one English degree does not a proof-reader make. The first job they offered me, someone had let them down and they wanted the document back THE NEXT DAY. I didn’t even have Word on my old stumbling Mac – something I only found out after I’d said yes to the job and they’d sent me the paper, in Word. 60 pages of tiny type with tables and charts on every other page. I looked at it and wept. That’s not hyperbole – I really did cry.
But I did it. I purchased, downloaded and learned how to use Word by about 8pm. Then I learned how to proofread while I worked through the night. I was up until 5am. And they liked what I did! I was shocked, knackered and elated.
I was writing, at the same time, poems, bits of fiction, songs. I did The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and learned how to be excited – and not daunted – by the blank page. I started making a theatre show with my best friend and super-smart theatre-maker Vic Briggs. All the time I was gaining qualifications in proofreading, while working as a proof-reader, and winging it with new forms of content writing jobs that fell in my lap. I said yes to as much as I could while mindful of the fact that I was – and still am – raising a small child.
This all makes me sound quite kickass I realise. It wasn’t like that. It was horrible a lot of the time. I often overdid it and said yes to too much and got really ill. There were months when no work whatsoever came in. It’s still like that sometimes. I try to be realistic about what I can do and, at the same time, brave and optimistic about my capabilities and the future. A doublethink worthy of Orwell. I’ve also been fortunate to have a supportive ex and family. I don’t know if it’s possible to become a freelancer when you’re on the breadline.
I’ve got a relatively stable balance now between a part-time job in a school, a growing freelance writing/editing business, a little boy who is smart, funny and loved and a rough idea of where I’d like things to be by the time he moves out. But who knows what will happen?
What is the most interesting part of your job?
I just love making things. It terrifies me too. You have to create all the right conditions – whatever they are for you – and then have faith something will come. Those conditions are pretty simple for me – and I suspect somewhat universal. I need to be relaxed and feel good about myself. I need space and time. I need to have researched and know what the frame for the work is. Then something does always come. You have to trust that it will. Again, Julia Cameron taught me that. I’m also grateful to Brene Brown and to Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk on ‘Your Elusive Creative Genius’.
I also love working with people so much. I miss that from the acting industry – being thrown into a room with a group of talented, intuitive artists with a clear end goal and bags of protected space and time. I’m beginning to get that in my writing life now and it’s great. I love to work on my own, and I love to step into artistic collaboration – it’s the balance that makes me a happy lady.
What is something that surprises you about your work?
A fairly regular critique I’ve received (from teachers, friends, etc) has been that I need to ‘let go’. It’s well intentioned, but if you’re the kind of person who needs that advice it is never going to do the trick. It is only ever going to make you hold on harder.
I didn’t understand what it meant to ‘let go’. I pushed so hard for everything. It’s not a bad thing to be tenacious and implacable but the thing that has surprised me most is how exciting and interesting work – and life – can be when you do let go. When you allow for possibilities you can’t see. When you trust in yourself and your abilities.
Ever since I started looking at writing and editing it has felt easy and right. I didn’t know work could be that way. I can’t see far ahead but I can always see the next step – career wise but also with each individual piece of work I do. I couldn’t have foreseen that.
Have there been any key turning points in determining your career progression?
The day someone passed my name onto a PR company. I’d only ever done proofreading and suddenly I had an email asking me if I could write a promotional email – something called an EDM. I googled EDM and said yes! It started me down the path of content writing which in turn has led to me becoming a developmental editor and narrative creator. I love writing stories and helping others to tell theirs. I may not have even known this career existed if someone hadn’t recommended me.
Describe your career journey in three words.
Unexpected. Optimistic. Natural.
Do you have an ultimate career goal? If so, what is it?
I’m going to write a novel. There now I’ve said it I have to do it. Or maybe a full-time writer/editor, but Covid has made me wonder whether full-time freelance is something I want in my life. I’ve been so grateful for the stability my school job offers – not just financially. I’m just going to follow my instincts and go towards things I like and move away from things that make me unhappy. I know there are roles out there that I can’t imagine.
Would you do anything differently if you could start your career again?
No. Here is good enough.
If you could do any job in the world, what would it be?
This has been the hardest question to answer! I’m researching epidemics at the moment so being an epidemiologist looks like a cool (if harrowing) job. If I were reading up on diving I suspect I’d be searching eBay for a Victorian Diving Bell.
What’s the main piece of advice you would give to someone hoping to be an editor and a content creator?
You know what you’re doing.