Tag Archives: freelancing

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.

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?