I’m delighted to hit publish on this guest blog for you!
Back in October, I had the absolute pleasure to chat with Susan Earlam – a freelance blogger, writer and creator. I’ve followed Susan for a number of years, but we really connected last year over on Instagram in conversations about chronic health, writing and career pivots.
When Susan agreed to speak to me – originally for the podcast – more on why the podcast is no more coming soon – I was thrilled.
Susan has successfully pivoted – we talk about her career as in perpetual pivot – from the early social influencer industry to a published fiction author. You can read her fiction here.
So, here we go – the highlights of our conversation on all things career pivot and writing. There is some fantastic advice in here about how to relocate and listen to your inner voice and some tips on getting the writing done!
Vik: To start off with, can you tell me about your pivot or pivots? How and why did they come about?
Susan: Well, which pivot?! I feel like my whole life has just been pivot after pivot after pivot! I’m just one of these people who thrives on change. If my heart is not in it, I just don’t want to carry on with it – it just feels really inauthentic. So, my most recent one would be going from an interiors and lifestyle blogger to writing a novel, which is on a totally different subject– it’s dystopian sci-fi. Peoples’ reaction to that change was interesting – quite mixed! Although I did have a lot of support. But even before that – I went from being a teacher at high school to a full-time stay-at-home mum and I count that as a pivot too – you are changing your lifestyle, your daily habits. And before that, I studied fine art and had all those grand ideas about living in London, but became a make-up artist and then a teacher. But I’ve never been that kind of person who wanted to be 25 years in the same job. I do thrive on routine, but I like being my own boss as much as possible!
Vik: It’s so good to hear that mindset – that it’s ok to change. I think that there is a lot of pressure on women to settle, or once you get a career, to be grateful. There is a fear of changing – it can feel like such a risk.
Susan: Change is not a walk in the park! It takes a lot – it’s like you are a volcano rumbling underneath – it might look dormant, but there’s stuff going on, but you need to get to that tipping point where you think, I’ve got more to lose if I stay here than if I risk it and change.
Vik: Yes! That’s how got here – all the things I thought were good and had kept me in the job were actually no longer really there.
So, your shift to novel writing – can you tell us how that came about?
Susan: I had some coaching with my friend was retraining as a coach and needed guinea pigs and I thought yes! I was doing my old blog, but I felt like something had to change – I was not feeling as driven or excited to write a blog post. Everything started to feel really consumerist. To be honest I’m not the kind of person who is always going to be doing up rooms to put on Instagram! So, that side of it all started feeling a bit icky. I had been asking myself whether I really wanted to do this – to shout about all these new things; to encourage people to buy. I just started to feel uncomfortable being this ‘influencer’ – it started to feel wrong and I’d been distancing myself from it for a while. I felt like I needed to create something that was more than the blog – that was beyond it. I’d seen my contemporaries starting to write e-books and offer courses and I thought maybe I should do that. But I wasn’t sure, and the coaching helped me to dig deeper. Coaching really helped unpick that and the bottom line – ‘what do you want?’ – came down to wanting to go into a bookshop and pick my book off the shelf! It would be a fictional novel. I got to the bottom of what I was excited about; writing a novel meant I could create a world, characters, I was not answering to anyone. The rebel inside me was like ‘I don’t want to do blogging work for other people anymore’!
Vik: It does seem like an interesting moment– there seems to be a bit of a sea change coming – that Instagram might be getting back to a space for connection rather than consumption?
Susan: Instagram is such a task mistress! It can be such a big distraction. I’ve deleted it off my phone so many times.
Vik: Yes! I use it for inspiration versus comparison and pressure! It’s fine to have social media, but so long as we are intentional about it.
Can you tell us what your biggest learning curve from all of your pivots has been?
Susan: This might sound really cheesy! But I think you always have it inside you. You always do know what the right thing for you is; what the right time for you to make the change is. Often you are looking for that external verification. Sometimes that can help, but sometimes if you keep looking elsewhere you can stop listening to yourself. That’s why coaching helped – it was so specific about me – just me – and I’d never had that conversation about myself before. That focus let me listen to that inner voice. I feel that since then I can hear myself a bit more. It’s added a bit of strength to what I think I want to do – and some compassion towards myself too.
Vik: Yes! Being kinder and focussing on what you can do can be so transformative!
Susan: And I think that when you are a parent or have lots of other responsibilities, there is such a pull on your time – both your mind and physically – from all these other voices. The space inside your head for yourself just gets slimmer – you have to fight to pull that back and fight for yourself. Coaching helped me get there a bit quicker.
Vik: Absolutely – having someone there listening to you think not only about what you want to do, but how you are going to do it, is so useful. Coaching was also fundamental to me planning my exit and making this pivot.
Susan: Yes – hearing yourself say out loud what you really want to someone else is such a good thing.
Vik: So, have you ever felt the fear of change and it has stopped you doing something?
Susan: When I was changing to my real name on my blog – that took about 2 years to do. I toyed with it for ages and it was partly fear – that my page ranks, domain authority etc would go down that delayed it. But over time that became less and less important because I didn’t want to do that kind of work with brands anymore! But it did take me some time to do it properly. I wanted to make sure it was a a celebration of the change and me. The coaching helped me get over that. It was like, ‘What’s the worst that can happen’? You keep doing the thing you don’t want to do anymore to keep followers, but what’s the value?
Vik: Yes, and although academia seems like a very different kind of space, that focus on metrics and external validation – it feels like a pretty similar pressure! But actually, if you want to have a progressive influence and make change, you need to actually be engaging!
Susan: Yes! That was one of the reasons I was getting really disenchanted with the whole social media influencer thing because it was no longer a level playing field and people were gaming the system. But it was not built on genuine engagement. I found it all uninspiring!
Vik: There are just so many parallels with all organisations!
I really like this way of talking about pivots as longer term processes – you might know you want to change, but it takes time and that’s ok.
Susan: Yes – because you have other things going on in your life too! If you are a parent and then your kids go to school – that’s another pivot. Your days and routines change again. There’s just other stuff going on! You can’t just drop everything and change.
Vik: Yes! We definitely need to be realistic and kind – knowing how long change can take – and what it will take to change is so crucial. For me, my kids going to school was a big factor – I could start to see the time I make this change actually work!
Susan: Yes! and you become focussed like a laser when you know you have less time!
Vik: Do you have a piece of advice you have been given that has worked for you in deciding how to make change, or a lesson you would like to share?
Susan: Actually, it was from my husband; he would say ‘if it feels wrong, then it probably is wrong’. If you are presented with an opportunity, but you are not jumping at it, it’s not necessarily right. It’s maybe not to do with fear, but it might be ethical or moral reservations. Most people have a good compass about that –the opportunity will feel weird. Part of you will think about it – it’s logical to consider the offers – but if it feels weird, it probably is not for you.
Vik: This is so valuable! I think it will also resonate with readers – that you can say no to things that are not right for you. Opportunities that do work for you will come along again. If it feels wrong at the beginning, it’s unlikely to get better as it progresses!
Susan: And that goes back to listening to your instincts or inner voice – but if you can’t hear it then it’s harder to see. You can convince yourself that its fear stopping you and just go for it, but it might be that it’s really wrong for you!
Vik: So, can you tell us a bit more about how you do manage your writing routine – you said you are a rebel, but you like routine –how does that work? What is your daily writing routine like?
Susan: Have you heard of Gretchin Rubin and the 4 tendencies? Rubin says to get a rebel to do anything, you have to set up choices for them because if anything sounds like a rule, whether internally or externally set, a rebel, will rebel! So, I give myself a ‘choice’, for example, I say to myself ‘you don’t have to sit and write for an hour, but if you don’t then you won’t be any closer to that book deal’. That works better for me than if I set a routine and said ‘I write for 2 hours every day’ – that is just too much like a rule, that I’d want to break! Reading that helped me so much to get here with the novel. I’m now on the third draft and almost ready to send it off to an agent. You just have to find a way to keep the momentum going– even if it is just writing in a notepad to keep your mind in it a little. I tend to use the main part of the day on editing or writing short stories to submit –those are satisfying because they are ‘done’ – and now I’m beginning to get some of these published, so that keeps me going on the bigger project.
Vik: I love this about the personalities! It might be really interesting to readers to revisit – I get so many questions about ‘procrastination’. But I wonder if it might just be about finding out how to give yourself the right choices to work better!
So, can you tell us what is next for you?
Susan: I have my colour-coded spreadsheet of all the agents that I want to send it too! I’m at the stage now where I would just like to send it off and see. I am already thinking about book number two – I’ve got a Pinterest board ready for it and I just want to do it!
Vik: That’s the key question! How do we complete projects when we have so many ideas & love all the new things! But – your strategy sounds like it is working!
Are there things you do say no to when you are writing to buy you time?
Susan: I just take bits of time when there is a lull in ‘everyday life’!. I mean no one has time to sit an ‘write a novel’ – unless you are an established author with someone doing all their housework and cooking their meals!
Vik: Totally! No one really has those uninterrupted days!
Susan: And on the rare day you do have time, I never get more done!
Vik: So, most times, you just have to sit and do it!
Susan: Yeah – if the writing is not on the page, you can’t edit the words!
Susan writes a Newsletter and I cannot recommend it enough if you want insightful and thoughtful perspectives on how to live a creative life.
You can read more about Susan’s words for 2020 – resilience and revolution – which, I think we can all agree to – over on her Instagram.
You can also read Susan’s blog and here are links to some of the posts I think you will particularly love:
Other useful links from the interview:
Natasha Dennes Coaching:
Gretchen Rubin Rebel Tendency:
You can also sign up to my weekly newsletter containing regular prompts and tips on all things writing and working well.