Don't Wreck Yourself


I can pinpoint the weekend where I realised that perhaps I had wrecked myself, because I had watched Veronica Mars for 12 hours straight. Not that there’s anything wrong with bingeing on excellent television but, my viewing session including intermittent crying during scenes that wouldn’t usually elicit a strong emotional response. My body was dealing with so much anxiety that my arms started to ache.I only moved to retrieve food from delivery people at the door or to stumble to bed, back under the covers as soon as possible.

I had cancelled all social engagements for the week, and not one of my deadlines had been met. Any time I tried to work I ended up either blankly staring at the screen or getting anxious about all the work I wasn’t doing. The stories I had pitched the week before all seemed awful, and I missed multiple job application deadlines because the thought of writing another cover letter made me want to vomit.  

Painting by  Anna Valdes

Painting by Anna Valdes

Perhaps I should back it up and give you a little bit of context. I had been working as a freelance writer for just over two years, which meant that my days were spent pitching, writing essays and articles, making contacts, doing copywriting and social media gigs, and always searching for the next piece of work. It was a bad month, and the debt I’d accrued was steadily rising. Leaving the house had become a rare treat that I often couldn’t force myself to do.   

I had spent an entire year applying for part-time arts, media and communications jobs in Melbourne, smiled through a few interviews here and there, been told I was overqualified and underqualified in equal measures. I can’t tell you how much of my day was taken up staring at job listings, checking my emails, or writing goddamn answers to selection criteria, but I can tell you that it was not a fun time.    

I started to think that maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a writer; that maybe every editor who had ever published me was just having a slow content day. That the jobs I’d had as a journalist were just a fluke, and it was probably time to do something else. I’d lost a few clients at the start of the year, a number of significant invoices hadn’t been paid, and quite frankly, it felt like everything was a bit shit.

But I got through that week, and the weeks before, and after it with the help of people around me. My partner and my family, who kept asking me how I was even when I told them everything was fine. The incredibly kind editors who told me to take my time and push work as much as I needed. A great therapist. My friends and the writing community on Twitter, who told me it was okay to go and stare at my plants.

I can look back on that week now - and the months leading up to it - and tell you a story about it, because that’s not the space I’m in anymore. But at the time, all I felt was terrified and useless. I wish I could tell you that this is an uncommon story, but unfortunately most writers I know have experienced that state of mind - or something close to it - at some point in their careers. This industry is a fickle beast, and whether you’re just starting out or an old hand, it can throw you big old curveballs at any time.

So, want to know how to keep hold of your creativity when it seems like you’ve run out? Need to figure out how to manage your finances, or how to find your community? No idea how to pitch? Wondering if you’ll ever get a job, or how to navigate the one you have? Thinking about a course or a degree? Whether you are an emerging writer, journalist, editor, or just playing with the idea of making words your business, I’ve been there, done that, and I’ve got your back. Writing is an incredible career; but it can get lonely out there - so go on, hit that button and ask me the tough stuff.   

Chloe Papas is a writer, journalist and editor based in Victoria via Perth. She spent a few years working as a journalist for the ABC before turning to the freelance life. Her work has been featured in publications like SBS, Overland, Kill Your Darlings, Daily Life, Vice and Junkee.