Behind the Business: Beth McColl
What exactly do you do for work?
I’m a freelance writer and a part time nanny in West London. I finished writing my first book earlier this year, which is a non-fiction mental health manual for anyone navigating a crisis or trying to learn more about their own (or a loved ones) emotional and mental wellbeing. I also have a Patreon where I write a weekly advice column focusing mainly on love and dating.
When did you find the work you love?
I started writing when I was 22, just after I left University. So about 3 years ago. I’ve worked a lot of other temporary jobs during that time while I found my feet with writing and got to a place where it’s actually making me money that I can (almost) live on.
How did you get to where you are now? What was your journey?
It really all started with social media. I used to write silly jokes on Twitter, which got me a small following. And then my tweets were being featured on websites like Buzzfeed and Playboy, and on the back of that a few editors got in touch and asked if I wanted to write articles for them. I’d moved back to my hometown and was still figuring out exactly what I was going to do, so I said yes. And after that people kept asking and I kept saying yes. There were huge learning curves of course, and not everything I wrote was perfect. But I’ve been very lucky.
Looking back, what advice would you give yourself when you were starting out? Don’t work for free. Someone else is making money for your labor and no amount of exposure or publicity is worth it. It’s easy as a young person trying to make a career in writing to consider yourself in training and think that you’re “not quite a writer”, but if you’re getting published or if someone else wants your words then you’re a writer. Start acting like it’s your job and other people will follow suit.
How do you stay feeling creative and inspired?
I go outside. That’s a very contrived answer, but it’s true. I work partly from home so I spent a lot of time indoors, sat at my computer. That sends me a little crazy after a while, and some fresh air and time in the world seems to be the antidote for that. I also make sure to be actively kind and reassuring to myself if inspiration doesn’t arrive. These things come in waves and they come in seasons, and I’m not always going to be able to sit down and write something that’s publishable. When this happens I write anyway. Either the cobwebs will clear or they won’t, and I can just delete what doesn’t work later.
What does a good work-life balance look like for you? And how do you maintain it?
Admittedly this is something I’m still working on. My life tends to tip heavily in one way or the other, and I’d like this year to be one where I manage not to either burn out or drop the ball on any big projects. Being able to have some time between waking up and going to sleep where I’m not at work or writing or replying to emails feels like a win at the moment. If I stop finding time to cook or walk or see my friends, I feel it.
How does being a woman affect your work?
A lot of my work depends on my ability to navigate social media. If I can successfully promote a piece of writing on Twitter and Instagram, then I know I’m more likely to get hired again or contacted by other editors. Unfortunately, social media is not a very kind or safe space for women. A day doesn’t go by where someone doesn’t call me a bitch or a whore or some other gendered insult. That doesn’t bother me at all anymore, but the threats get a little tiring.
How do you stay motivated when work and life get tough?
I consider where else I could be, and what else I could be doing. It’s hard work to be a freelance writer and it’s hard work juggling more than one job. But I’d always choose this. Always.
How do you ensure you practice self care?
Maintaining my mental health means not dropping the ball on life-admin or domestic chores. It’s not as enjoyable as a bubble-bath, sure, but it’s the way that I best look after myself. I also put down my phone. Social media is less fun when you’re using it for work, and lately I’ve been catching myself getting sucked into dead-ended online arguments or discussions. So I tap out from that and try to be present in the world for a while instead.
What does money mean to you?
It means the absence of that deep, niggling worry that things could fall apart at any moment. It’s knowing that I’m probably going to have enough for rent and bills without going into my overdraft or asking for a loan. It means freeing up time and energy to do things and experience things. It means a potential safety net if anything happens.
What one piece of money advice would you give to your younger self?
Consider each purchase before you make it. Rather than spending small chunks of money across the month on clothes you won’t still be wearing in six months, put that money aside and do something real with it. Also start a safety net fund. Life is unpredictable. If my computer breaks, or if there’s any other kind of emergency, then having money already set aside would be game-changing.
What’s next for you?
My first book is coming out in April, which is terrifying and exciting. I’m fighting a lot of urges to write a second one straight away, but I first I think I should go back to where I started and pick up doing some articles and maybe a new column. I’m going to be expanding my Patreon into videos and maybe a podcast about mental health too. I want to do this forever, so there’s no rush. If I get better at writing, then I can follow it further.