Category Archives: Freelancing

Should Freelancers Get Disability and Fracture Insurance?

Should freelance editors and writers obtain disability and fracture insurance? Especially if you’re young, healthy, and apparently invincible, you may feel these types of insurance are just not worth spending your hard-earned dollars on. After all, you’re hardly likely to injure yourself while you’re typing at your computer, and what are the odds you’ll be in a car accident or have a serious slip and fall that will prevent you from working?  Most of us assume that the odds of suffering a serious injury are remote. But what would you do if you couldn’t work for a period of time? Would you have enough money in the bank to tide you over for a few weeks, months, or even longer?

Getting disability and fracture insurance made enormous sense to me, and here’s why. Over the years I’ve broken a total of four bones, torn two ligaments, and concussed myself once.  As a friend of mine joked, some people get all the breaks. Here’s the rundown of injuries. I fractured my tibia and tore two ligaments in my knee when I was twenty-nine from a fall on the ice while walking a dog.  My second break was at age forty, when I stepped off a cobblestone curb in Montreal and fractured my fifth metatarsal (the plane ride home was loads of fun). Almost exactly a year later, while I was preparing to hold a contents sale, I dropped a sliding door on my big toe, breaking it too (I finished the sale, though).  Break number four occurred on January 7th of this year, when I broke my left wrist after another fall on the ice while walking another dog.  I’m now 51. What made this fall especially nasty was that I hit my head and concussed myself, resulting in several weeks of post-concussion syndrome (PCS). For those who don’t know, PCS results in severe fatigue, weakness, poor balance, difficulty concentrating, extreme sensitivity to stimuli, nausea, and lousy sleep (and this list of symptoms is by no means exhaustive). Resting your brain in a quiet, dark environment is one of the most important things you can do to aid your own healing.

 

My bejewelled wrist cast in January
My bejewelled cast in January.

 

I emphasize that I was not engaging in anything resembling risky behaviour when these accidents occurred, and that I am not a senior citizen and do not have osteoporosis. I am just extraordinarily accident-prone.  You probably aren’t an expert in bone-breaking and head-knocking the way I am, but you could still suffer an accident, and one that could put you out of commission for some time.

Between the broken wrist and the concussion, I was unable to work at all for seven weeks. Over the past month and a half, I have gradually increased the amount of time I can work at the computer and am approaching pre-accident levels. But when my fall first occurred, I lost clients who were unable to wait for me to get better (I also kept some who could). Fortunately, I had been approved for two types of insurance, disability and fracture, just five weeks before my fall, and the benefits I received kept me afloat.

How did I know which insurance company to choose and which level of coverage I needed? I had a meeting with my financial advisor of fourteen years; he shopped around for an appropriate policy for me. I note here that these types of insurance are easy for freelance editors and writers to obtain because our work is sedentary, involving little physical risk. And acceptance doesn’t depend on being robustly healthy to begin with; anyone in any sort of physical condition can have an accident. We explored my options for disability insurance, which would partially replace lost income monthly should I have an accident. How much money would I need to cover my expenses each month (I decided to opt for a maximum benefit of $1,500), and what could I afford in terms of monthly premiums? Fracture insurance was an add-on to the disability insurance and available at two levels of coverage. I decided to choose the one that would pay out a higher lump sum if I broke something. Total monthly premium for both disability and fracture insurance: $67.25.

After making a claim, I promptly received a lump sum payment for the fracture plus a monthly disability benefit. The initial disability payment worked out to 75 percent of my average monthly income over the past year. When I notified my case manager of my increased work hours, the monthly payment was adjusted downward.

Disability and fracture insurance has allowed me to recover from my injuries without having to fret unduly about paying my bills. It also allowed me the luxury of things like taxi rides to the fracture clinic and other medical appointments, as well as laser treatments and physiotherapy. Frankly, I don’t think I can afford to be without it.

 

Five Years of Freelancing

It dawned on me yesterday that it’s been exactly five years since I left my full-time job as an appraiser and cataloguer (and default catalogue editor) for a Toronto auction house. I remember the day very well: after enjoying a hearty Indian lunch with all the staff, I made the rounds to say my goodbyes. When I’d exhausted my words and there was nothing left to be said, I headed out the door and waited for the King Street streetcar. It was a sunny Friday afternoon, and a barely perceptible hint of fall in the air heralded changes to come. As I boarded the streetcar and watched my workplace recede from view, I rode out of my old life and into a new one. I was bombarded with a mixture of emotions unlike anything I’d ever known: elation about the new possibilities that were unfolding before me and the freedom that I would have being my own boss; fear that I was entering an unknown realm and would find myself out of my depth; and sadness that I was leaving behind both my safe zone and all the friends I had known there. It was my choice to become a freelance editor, but that didn’t mean that the tears didn’t flow on that ride home.

As with any new venture, it took me a while to find my feet. In the beginning, I found it almost impossible to establish a daily routine, as I was so accustomed to going to an office every day where things would just fall into my lap, demanding to be dealt with. Now I had to generate work for myself, which was not something I’d ever had to do before. I did feel that I was cut out to be an editor. I’d always had the required persnicketiness–everyone said so. But I was worried: I didn’t know if I honestly possessed anything resembling entrepreneurial smarts or good business sense. And I certainly missed being surrounded by other people; now it was just me sitting in front of the computer, trying to drum up work when I was a complete unknown in the field. How utterly alone I felt.

What saved me both personally and professionally was meeting other editors. I joined the Editors’ Association of Canada (EAC), attending both monthly meetings and seminars so I could listen to speakers, sharpen my skills, and network in my rather introverted way with other editors. Gradually, I began to find my tribe: a group of editors I could trade stories with about the delights, frustrations, and occasional horrors of working in our field. Through these editors, I began learning more and more about the business of being an editor, which was something they don’t teach you much about in night-school editing courses. Furthermore, I began to find real work opportunities through my contacts–even more so when I joined Facebook and found not only the editors I’d met at Toronto branch meetings and seminars, but also EAC members scattered across the country. The important message I’ve taken away from all this is that you just can’t get anywhere without developing a network. You need your tribe.

Five years after that streetcar ride, I find myself in a pretty good place. The work is steady, and I feel confident in my abilities as both an editor and a businessperson. I enjoy my clients, some of whom have become friends, and they seem to genuinely appreciate what I do for them. Most of all, after five years, I have finally become that person I was meant to be.

Rattled: When the Home Office Becomes a Construction Zone

Until recently, I’ve always loved working at home because it’s so blissfully quiet here. Our apartment backs onto a ravine, so we don’t hear much more than the birds singing and the wind gently rustling the leaves.( It’s a far cry from living next to a nightclub and enduring the rants of belligerent drunks, which we did for a couple of years.) My office window looks out on the rest of our building, a beige-brick low-rise built in 1956. It’s the kind of building a friend calls “a granny building” since the residents stay for decades. The only excitement to be had is the occasional neighbour coming out to water the plants on a balcony, or birds flying back and forth to feeders. It’s an ideal set-up for happy productivity–at least it was until balcony reconstruction began the other day.

I don’t particularly mind strange men on the balcony, and I can tolerate the sounds of sawing through metal railings. But I cannot bear the jackhammers. The men started drilling through the concrete last Thursday, and as soon as they began, I thought I would fragment right then and there. It was not just the noise, but also the vibrations, which were enough to send a glass bottle flying out of a cabinet (I have since moved my glass and pottery collection to safer realms). The noise and vibrations combined threatened to reduce me to a useless, incoherent, quivering mass of jelly. And our rescue dog Trinka, who has always greeted disturbing noises such as fireworks and thunderstorms with equanimity, was whimpering in distress. I grabbed her leash and whisked her away to the safety of the nearest dog park.

Now, I certainly don’t mind whiling away an hour or so in the dog park on a nice summer day, but not in the middle of an extreme heat alert. Temperatures were soaring to 34 degrees C with a “real feel” of about ten degrees more. Fortunately, we found refuge in that rarest of establishments, a Toronto cafe that allows you to take your dog indoors, Williams at PawsWay. From there we visited family in a nursing home. Mercifully, the following day was cooler, so I spent more time honing my lady-of-leisure skills by lounging at both the park and on the patio at Starbucks, where in a fit of nervous tension, Miss Trinka chewed through her harness. I could hardly blame her, as I felt like gnawing on something myself.

What I really should have been doing instead of drinking lots of green tea was working, but the construction nixed any chance of being productive. Unfortunately, I’m incapable of working in cafes or even libraries, since I get distracted by just about anything; as my concentration suffers, my frustration level rises accordingly. Since I am already at the mercy of the strange men on the balcony, I have decided to work around their Monday-to-Friday, roughly nine-to-five schedule. I start work at 7 a.m. so that I have a solid two hours before they begin their daily assault on my senses (although today they began early, which made me want to bark at them, just as Trinka did). When they finish sometime between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., I can work again. It’s possible to get in about four to five hours of editing each day by following this schedule. And then I work on the weekends to make up for additional lost time.

As I write, the men are working late, and there are chunks of concrete literally raining down from the third floor onto what remains of our balcony. I keep imagining one of the chunks whizzing right through the window, and although the jackhammering is now further away than it was last week, my ears are buzzing and my nerves feel not just frayed, but shredded. It’s definitely going to be a long, hot, most aggravating summer.

Fear Not the Drear

Here in Toronto, it’s the time of year I like to call the drear–that period in late autumn when the leaves are off the trees but the snow has not yet begun to fly. The drear feels like a limbo state between autumn and winter and is characterized by days and days of unrelenting overcast skies, rain, and mud. Last year’s drear was mercifully short because the snow arrived early, but this year, we’ve been subjected to what seems like an extraordinarily long drear–long enough to test the fortitude of even the most diehard optimist.

One thing I should say before I continue is that drear is actually a literary adjective that dates to 1629. It’s the sort of word that makes me think of a 19th-century poet wandering lonely o’er a dank and drear moor pining for his lady love, who has either spurned the poor poet or succumbed to consumption. Drear has Gothic literary connotations for me. Editors could legitimately take issue with my use of it as a noun, since the Canadian Oxford Dictionary regards it as an adjective only.

Noun or adjective, drear captures both the prevailing weather and how it affects me perfectly. As a freelancer who works at home, I find the drear particularly difficult to cope with. As far as I know, I don’t suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), yet if I allow it to, the drear will sneak into my home office, robbing me of energy and taking energy’s close relatives, motivation and inspiration, with it as it flies out the door (I imagine it uttering a diabolical laugh as it flees). Perhaps if you work at home and spend many hours alone writing, editing, or doing whatever else you do, you’re finding that the drear is affecting you too. What to do?

I’m not normally the sort of person who needs to give myself rewards to motivate myself to get a job done unless that job is so challenging that it’s threatening my sanity. However, I do find that rewarding myself helps me combat the drear. My accomplishments needn’t be immense and the corresponding rewards needn’t be elaborate–something modest like “When I finish editing this chapter, I’ll get up and have a cup of tea (something fruity and caffeinated like blackcurrant) and some dark chocolate (70 percent)” works just fine for me. Of course, finishing an entire project is cause for celebration, meaning a much splashier reward awaits. Keeping that reward on the front burner of my mind as I’m working certainly keeps my momentum going. If I intend to splurge on a sweater, I keep looking at it online to remind me that it will be my present to myself for both achieving my goal and surviving the drear.

Exercise and fresh air are also essential to coping with the drear. Fortunately, I have the 50-pound mutt to take me out for walks every day, usually just when I desperately need to stretch my limbs and get the oxygen flowing to my brain so the synapses will start doing what they’re supposed to again. The daily dog walk has many benefits, both physical and psychological. Watching my dog wrestle with her best friend (an Airedale) and fly around the park–outrunning most of the other dogs with superlative ease and grace, I might add–lifts my spirits and makes me smile. And there are inevitably other dog owners to talk to. When you spend much of your day in front of a computer screen, the joy of talking to human beings face to face should never be underestimated. After an outing to the dog park, the score is once again in my favour: Caroline 1, Drear 0.

Dangling rewards before myself and doing the mutt promenade are two things I do when the drear threatens to turn me into an unproductive, useless lump. But I have to ask: What do you do to fight the drear?