This week I am proud to welcome writer Mark O’Loughlin to the Meet The Artist series.
In the interview below Mark tells us how he transitioned from a full-time job, which didn’t allow him much creative time, to part-time work. Mark now has a great balance of day job and writing time. He is a published poet and one of his short stories was in the top 10 on the Good News Shared website for 2017.
He also tells us how his current day job prepares him for the rejection you inevitably face as a writer.
Over to Mark…
Give a brief description of your day job and your artistic activities
I’m currently a part-time (3 days a week) fundraising executive at a type 1 diabetes charity in London. It’s a great cause, the people are lovely and I’m learning more about medical research and diabetes. I particularly enjoy working part-time as it leaves me time to work on my own writing. At the moment my focus is on writing poetry but I’ve also written a novel, short stories and non-fiction.
Last year, two of my poems were published in an anthology for the Hillingdon Literary Festival and I had a poem published on the Dog Ear Magazine website. I’ve also written non-fiction stories for the Good News Shared website and I had my 10th story published last summer. One of my stories was one of their top ten most read in 2017.
How much time in a day or week do you spend creating? How do you go about your creative practice?
Thursdays and Fridays are officially my days for writing but then I often write poems on my phone as I commute to work on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays or write before I go to bed. Or, if I have a deadline, I might work on something at the weekend. My schedule varies and I enjoy the flexibility.
How do you manage your time and energy so that you have enough left for creative activities?
I’m really lucky to be in a position where I can work part-time. When my children were young, and I worked full-time, I found it really difficult to work on my own creative projects as I had little spare time. It was frustrating. Now, I have more free time generally and that enables me to be more creative.
I’ve discovered that I get more energy from doing things I enjoy (not just writing but meeting up with friends, going to see bands, films or exhibitions) and that helps to fuel my creativity. It gives me new ideas and opportunities to explore my interests further.
What made you decide to start or resume artistic activities? What was the catalyst?
Hitting my forties made me rethink what I was doing and why. A number of books were influential such as The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, Screw Work Let’s Play by John Williams and Working Identity by Herminia Ibarra.
I went to see an excellent careers coach and started to slowly but steadily make adjustments to my working life (I was then working full-time in a marketing role) to make time for my creativity. For example, I knew I wanted to write a book so I signed up for the Faber Academy 6-month ‘writing a novel’ course and wrote my first novel ‘Dad Died in Vegas.’ I even persuaded my employer at the time to help fund me to do the course.
I then reduced my working hours from full-time to 4 days a week. This helped me to change career to charity fundraising as I could volunteer one day a week. The evolving plan has been to take action and test doing what I want to do rather than just talk about it.
What challenges do you face in your creative activities? How do you overcome them?
It’s a challenge to keep creating when no one else cares really if you do or not. I know that I’m a happier person when I’m creating. I enjoy the process. But it does feel self-indulgent sometimes. As a part-time worker I often get asked by colleagues ‘So, what do you do when you’re not here?’ And I usually say that I write but that’s not the whole truth. Yes, I do write but I also read, talk to my wife and children, listen to podcasts and music, do the washing, walk the dog and go shopping.
As an introvert, I know that I need time on my own and I make sense of the world and express myself through writing. I found it difficult, although not impossible, to do that while working full-time.
If you lived in an ideal world where all the money you need was taken care of, how would you like to be creative?
I would keep doing what I’m doing. I would have more time to do it. I would keep writing poetry. I would resurrect my novel. I would write more non-fiction. I would write more short stories. I would keep following my interests and keep on writing. If I didn’t have to worry about money the only change would be that I would have more time to devote to writing.
What one thing would make a difference now to how you go about your creativity?
I was part of a writing group when I was writing my novel and that was really helpful in getting it finished. It gave me deadlines, a sense of being part of a community, support and advice. Unfortunately, while I still see my fellow writers socially we don’t meet as a working writers group anymore. I expect I would be more productive if I was part of a group again.
How do you motivate yourself to create when you don’t feel like it or your creative work isn’t going well?
I have a stack of self-help books that I refer to on a regular basis. I also look at the work I’ve done in the past as non-critically as possible. I try to speak to myself kindly and supportively rather than beat myself up. Also, I’m less afraid to give up on something if I feel that it’s not working. I try to move onto the next thing as quickly as possible.
How do you cope with criticism and rejection?
I try not to take rejection personally. Rejection is a regular occurrence in my life as a charity fundraiser. I write to charitable trusts and foundations and they either agree to fund a project or not. If the project doesn’t meet their criteria or they don’t have the money or the trustees would rather fund something they believe would be more valuable – that’s fine.
Writing and submitting my own work is a similar process. It might not be what they are looking for and that’s the way it is. But I try not to let it get me down. I just keep on submitting my work. Hopefully my writing will get better. The more I do it, the more likely it is that I will be successful.
How do you overcome doubts in your creative abilities and do it anyway?
If I no longer enjoyed writing I would stop doing it. It’s important to me to follow my interests and instincts and to keep going. But it should be fun and if it’s not why do it? When we are children we play all the time, we write, we draw, we aren’t self-conscious – we just do it. Then we get older and we start to compare ourselves with others. That stops many of us from creating at all and I think that is a shame. If I get published – that’s great – but even if I don’t I will still keep writing. It is what I do. It is who I am.
Find out more about Mark
Now I’d love to hear from you
How have you adapted your day job to allow you creative time? What are the barriers (internal or external) that stop you from doing this?
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