Kasey Symons on how in the world of writing you really can have too much of a good thing. 

“This sounds like you’re writing a sales pitch.” He scrunched up his nose at me. “You need to start being honest. What do you really think?”

My face fell into my hands. I wasn’t upset at the criticism. I was frustrated with myself for not seeing it when it should have been so clear – even without the red circles he’d marked around every second sentence on the page.

I had been working at the Australian Football League for almost three years at that point while completing my honours degree part time – writing a thesis on female football fans. I thought I was living the dream – writing on football and working in football, the sport I had grown up adoring. Misguidedly, I thought that the experience of working in football would add to my academic career. Not or a minute did I think that the corporate copywriting would impact on my creative prose in a negative way.

For writers who need to subsidise their writing work with some extra income landing a gig that is paying you to write is somewhat ideal. It may not be the writing that you really want to be doing but it beats manning the checkout or cleaning tables. You can at least flex your writing muscles while earning some cash and you don’t feel like you’re stepping too far away from the integrity of being a writer to do it.

I have always wanted to be a sports writer and it’s my dream to write a novel based on my experiences as a female footy fan. My plan has always been to do this through completing a PhD via creative project. When a job came up at AFL House, the little girl inside who wore her dad’s footy jumper while running around ovals was ecstatic. The head office of footy!

Corporate dribble and sports clichés seeped through my pages leaving stains that revealed themselves only when my supervisor circled them in red.

I took the job straight away, and after a year of working in a commercial communications role where I was writing content to sell memberships and match day dining packages, I went back to study and completed my honours as the required stepping stone towards my goal of doing a PhD. I had been out of the regular creative writing habit for twelve months and I was rusty. Very rusty.

I set about my course work and planned my thesis meticulously – however when it came to the writing, I was struggling. My back was up against the wall.

My supervisor picked up on it immediately. My constant corporate-style copywriting was interfering with my creative process, but the worst part was, I couldn’t see it while I was writing it. My eye wasn’t on the ball.

I was meant to be writing about my experience of football as a female fan but I was re-writing the party lines and membership sales campaigns that I had been regurgitating between the hours of 9am-5pm.

Corporate dribble and sports clichés seeped through my pages leaving stains that revealed themselves only when my supervisor circled them in red.

I was going to be caught in an endless cycle and my dream of completing my novel was drifting away.

Finishing that thesis was painful as my supervisor demanded re-write after re-write trying to eradicate the evidence of my day job. I was happy with the end result as the final mark gave me the grade I needed to be accepted into a PhD program, however when I re-read it now I cringe.

Football has the capacity to bring our community together. Our teams may divide us but our passion unites us.

I wrote it like it was going to be the tag line to a ticket sales ad.

After a few years I moved on from the AFL to work for a football club which was a much less corporate environment than the league’s head office. Shortly after the change in scenery, I enrolled to start my PhD part-time, certain that now I was aware of the dangers of work-writing creeping into my creative writing. I had it under control.

But the same issues kept arising – the only difference was that now I could see it too. The constant copy writing I was doing day-in and day-out at the office was not only creeping into my writing, it had now become second nature.

Frustratingly, I saw no answer to this problem. I needed a job. I had bills and rent and needed to live. If I went and got another job, it would be the same problem. I was going to be caught in an endless cycle and my dream of completing my novel was drifting away.

In desperation, I applied for a scholarship through my university. I had applied before but was unsuccessful. At the time I convinced myself that it was ok, I didn’t need it as I was working at a football club, what a dream. This time though, I really needed this, I needed to get away and if this didn’t’ work out I didn’t know what I was going to do.

To my immense relief, this time around I was successful. I could write my thesis and novel full time, commencing this year. While I was so grateful to receive the offer, the amount was not equivalent to the pay I had grown used to working full-time. I had convinced myself that a scholarship was the answer to my problem but now faced with it – the financial side of things brought doubt.

I had a choice. To say no, keep working and earning a ‘decent living’, while continuing to doubt my capacity to write and regretting another body of work. Or, I could throw myself into an uncertain life with a bit of fear that financially, it was going to be a bit harder, but my at least my writing could be fearless.

I handed in my resignation at the end of 2016 and now here I am, writing full-time.

It sounds ridiculous when I tell people that working in football while writing about football wasn’t a match made in heaven. Even sometimes I shake my head at myself and wonder if I made the right choice.

I think it’s the same conflict for any writer who takes a writing job. When you are not paid to write your opinion or tell your story, it can not only change your natural writing but your unique writer’s voice. Whether it’s writing a company newsletter, advertising campaign, speech or a style guide, after a while it becomes harder to get that noise out of your head and hear yourself.

I know not all writers have this luxury and need to continue pursue writing work that will pay the bills – and I will too, though now I know how to compartmentalise that outside noise and to be cautious.  I am very fortunate that my university is supporting me and I had the choice to step back from the corporate life that was affecting my writing and also, ultimately, my love for the game. Now I can love footy like I used to as a fan in the stands and my writing is getting back to an honest place where I can hear my voice in it clearly.

Picture credits:
Banner image by Irene
Main image by photosteve101
Kasey Symons's picture

Kasey Symons

Kasey Symons is a freelance writer based in Melbourne, writing predominantly on AFL and AFLW. She is a contributing writer to changehergame.com and writes for the Footy Almanac. She is currently completing a PhD at Victoria University on issues of gender performance in female fans of elite male sports and writing her first novel as a companion to her research.