It has been exactly a year (to the day) since I last blogged, which means I’ve been busy and that I’m currently less busy (the rationale behind this blog). I know that I repeat this frequently, but I don’t think we can say too often that freelancing can be feast or famine. I have been chatting to my self-employed friends and they all say the same thing, which is reassuring. The extremes range from taking work on holiday, not taking enough planned holiday, and working at weekends and on bank holidays, to being ‘workless’ for a week, or more, when you hadn’t planned to be workless (apparently this is a word). If only we could learn to really relax in the down times so that we have more energy for the crazy times. Hindsight is a marvellous beast.
There is, however, a genuine reason for finding the rollercoaster alarming. Leaving aside the stress of the really busy periods, if being workless were not inextricably linked to being ‘income-less’, it would be far less scary. But the fact is that when we are not working, we aren’t earning money, which is why so many freelancers find it hard not to work long hours when work is available. I have been reflecting on all of this while waiting for my projects to arrive. These are my thoughts on the matter.
If we work hard (ideally not to the point of exhaustion) when the work is there, we can build a cushion for the quiet times, sickness, holidays and unforeseen events (the authors of How to Succeed as a Freelancer in Publishing say that you should try to have around 6 months of wages in your work bank account at all times). It is also totally acceptable for freelancers to build into their hourly rates a small percentage “to allow for costs that an employee does not have to pay but are paid for by their employer, such as holidays and sickness absence, National Insurance, pension provision, continuing professional development (CPD), office space and utility bills, software and subscriptions, and business equipment and supplies” (Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading).
Also, if we don’t step back from the minutiae of the work that we do, we don’t get that all-important overview of our business, our skill set and, yes, all things creative. It can feel routine and mechanical – if we are overworked and tired – checking language, writing invoices, updating spreadsheets. It is easy to forget what a privilege it is to be paid to work with words and to help people use language to express themselves. Going further, those of us who choose to learn other languages can see linguistic patterns across groups of languages (in my case, French, Italian, Spanish, English, Latin), which makes editing English so much easier, more exciting and universal. If we really want to take this to extremes, we can liken working with words to other art forms: pictures, sculptures, films, books, dancing, music and beautiful words are all forms of art. And the quiet times offer us the space to see all of this and to find renewed enthusiasm and love for what we do as freelance editors.
As I type, a couple of nice projects have come in, which means that the list I came up with (training in academic referencing, Plain English, commas and punctuation, editing fiction) will go on hold for now. At least I can tick one item off my list: writing a long-overdue blog! Actually, two things: I have been rewatching the heavenly My Brilliant Friend (L’amica geniale), by Elena Ferrante, in preparation for the third series. Now, that’s someone who knows about the power of words! “Words: with them you can do and undo as you please.”