Matt Parker knows not to take himself too seriously and has accepted that writing is a skill that needs ongoing development. He has grown his freelancing work through diligent communication, self-awareness and respect for others.
What do you love most about being a writer?
The finished product! I fully confess to being in the Dorothy Parker category where I love having written, but I hate the writing process. Some people are great at just going for it and editing later, but I’m a slow-starter. I’ve become comfortable with the fact that my over-planning and effort upfront rewards me with strong ideation and less editing, so I get there in the end. I know I’m not alone. Many writers are on my end of the spectrum. You can be the tortoise or the hare…but you still find the finish line.
What’s the most challenging part of the writing process?
For me, it’s choosing between competing ideas, and finding the one that’s the best fit. Fifty percent of the time (maybe more) the idea closest to your heart is not the best choice for an audience, so your inner editor needs to be ruthless at times. I still go through the silly exercise a professor taught me where you pretend that you’ve left your writing at a bus stop and someone picks it up… will they even bother to keep reading it?
How do you overcome writer’s block?
This will be different for everyone, but my trick is to break down the writing into attainable tasks and goals. Something is better than nothing.. Break the deadlock and turn a 1500-word assignment into an 800-word one. It’s usually a case of “you’re better than you think”, and you just need to dispel the intimidation factor.
This definitely works with content writing and especially with writing to deadlines. For creative writing, I get away from the computer and write by hand, and I’ve brought this into planning my freelance stuff too. It makes a formal assignment feel more playful.
What would you say are the keys to success when working in the freelance space?
Diligent communication, self-awareness and respect for others. The hallmark of a writer who has become professional is that they are always mindful of other people and their time. Remote work has been a learning curve for me because life gets in the way sometimes.
Working on Quill Cloud doesn’t make the work any less real, though, and it requires paying extra attention to communication – any delays or difficulties on your side will affect the people after you in the chain. This means you need to be pragmatic about communicating with your team members and take continued responsibility for your involvement.
"The hallmark of a writer who has become professional is that they are always mindful of other people and their time."
If you could go back to when you started as a writer, what advice would you give yourself?
Get over yourself! I used to be so serious, and I hope that I’m less so now. Creative writing isn’t alchemy, it’s so trial and error—a comedy of errors at times—so it’s important to see it as a craft and as a skill you’re always working on. At some point, we’ve all written bad poetry.
How do you maintain a good work/life balance?
I find reasonable, everyday things that take my mind off work. Number one for me is cooking—I love it, and zone right out when I can listen to music in the kitchen with a glass of wine. You have to eat, so make it fun when you can. I also love live theatre, and I’m jealous of Londoners having access to Donmar Warehouse… my favourite theatre in the world.