Freelance: A Day in the Life
As I wrote the title for this hub, I naturally started singing The Beatle's "A Day in the Life", so I felt compelled to share it for anyone else whose mind went immediately in that direction.
As many of us here on HubPages are freelance writers, I didn't feel a need to write a "How To" or Tip post about freelancing. I merely wanted to reflect on the experience of being a freelance writer and hope to encourage some conversation to learn about other writer's experiences and emotions concerning our particular "professional" choice.
I put "professional" in quotes because I don't like the word. As a writer, I think words are powerful and meaningful, and I don't like the generally accepted meaning behind the word "professional". I think it carries with it a lot of social expectations that weigh us down.
While I was in college, I went through the usual panic modes, asking myself what I was going to do with my life, where I was going to work, what industry I was going to be a part of, how I was going to make my money. Being an English major, I was asked these questions by others and myself quite often, and usually in a way that indicated concern for my future.
When I graduated from college, I still had no idea what I was going to do for money, but I started grad school for English, and I love it. It challenges me, but I fell in love with the people and professors who were equally as passionate as I was, which was a nice change of pace from undergraduate classes.
I needed money, so I looked into freelancing. I came across about 200 freelance sites, each more shady-seeming than the last. I settled upon Elance (as many of you likely have). I completed a few transcribing, editing, and blog writing jobs, but they were few and far between. I couldn't afford to pay for the services that would allow my applications for jobs to be seen, and I was being washed out by thousands of other users applying for the same few jobs.
My need to pay bills took me to other jobs; child care, dog walking, retail etc. While I love dogs and kids, I felt discouraged. After countless emails and applications that went un-replied to, I began to lose hope that I would ever acquire a job in the literary field. I was still in grad school, but I couldn't even land an entry-level job.
I was working in a small kitchen-ware boutique in Philadelphia during my first year of grad school, and I offered to do the social media posting for the store. Social media was not my dream channel for writing, but at least it required creativity and originality. I started to learn what was effective and what was not, and I started to learn what brought people in to the store and what did not. From here, I started to look into social media jobs on Elance. I found one very quickly with a company called The Social Co. I've now worked for The Social Co. as an independent contractor for over a year.
The Social Co., based in NYC, is a creative agency that specializes in social media strategy and quality content, as well as influencer events. It's ultimate aim, in short, is to help brands better connect with their audience. While this type of work was not necessarily on my radar, it quickly became a passion.
As a freelance social media manager/brand ambassador/anything else you'd like to call it, I started to realize how happy I was doing different things every day. I realized one day that I had stopped applying for full-time 9-5 office jobs. I was still endlessly searching for jobs, but my scope had broadened, and I was reaching out to companies, offering my writing services in the form of social media posting, website content, email copy, blog writing etc. Strangely enough, it's been working.
My "Career" as a Freelance Fill-in-the-Blank
"Career" is another word like "professional" that I've grown to dislike. Both create an image of a box in my mind that we are then limited to for years, or even a lifetime.
In the past year, my jobs have grown to include a variety of different regular blog writing, editing, graphic design and marketing. Every day brings something new, and there is nothing more motivating, in my opinion, than this kind of work.
I am constantly struggling to label myself as something for the practical purposes of business cards and resumes, and it's a task with which I have yet to be successful.
In a culture that demands you have a title, a position, a "place of employment", career goals, business cards, LinkedIn profiles, references, connections etc. etc. etc., it can be particularly stifling to creative individuals. I've learned that there is quite a large gap between creative industries and other professional industries, and I've personally been enjoying the freedom that comes with the former.
Am I a freelance writer, a freelance designer, blogger, digital marketing manager, social media manager? It changes daily, and often hourly. There are positive and negatives here.
Inspiration for Writing
Some positives that come with being a freelance creativity agent as I'll so forth call it:
- Excitement: Every day brings something new; new projects, new goals, new challenges, new perspectives, new opportunities, learning.
- People: You get to meet and work with so many different people from different fields and industries. A law firm needs writers, designers, and other such creators as much as an art gallery or a coffee shop needs writers, designers and other such creators. Language unites us all, and those who are able to use it well benefit from this.
- Experience: Maintaining a job in the creative industry allows for a constantly-evolving skill set. I am adding new things to my resume regularly as I learn new things with each job I stumble upon and can manage to secure. Your experience and skill set is not limited to Excel spreadsheets or even to Photoshop or InDesign. Your experiences will be varied and unique.
- Inspiration: While I of course do not speak for everyone when I say this, I personally find it difficult to stay inspired and motivated when I am obligated to do the same things day in and day out; the idea of the same office, the same desk chair, the same views, the same people, and the same work make me feel claustrophobic and stagnant. The world of freelancing, while stressful allows for regular positive change and inspiration.
- Flexibility: This is not to say you will not be working your tail off. What freelancing does allow is the ability to choose when and where you complete your massive amount of work. Monday through Friday, nine to five, is the perfect situation for many people. For others, like myself, there are times I'm feeling motivated at midnight, and I'll need to write, read or sketch. Of course there are deadlines, but there is no time card, no clock to punch in on. For those with families, freelancing allows the possibility to work around children's schedules unlike other situations that require sitters or day care.
- Do. What. You. Love: To me, this is the most important part. Those who choose to be freelancers are choosing it because they love to write or create. There are many others who have passions that have to take a back seat to their professional careers. I personally don't want my passions to ever take a back seat. There will of course be times in my life when stability is needed. I do not have children yet but hope to some day, and that may require something new, but I will always try to do what I love, and I hope and wish that is something everyone tries to do.
Inspiration for Writing
While I personally believe that the positives outweigh the negatives, there are still a couple down sides to be accounted for when it comes to freelancing. There are two big ones that can't be ignored.
- Finding work: The big one. Much of freelance work involves actually finding work. Envision you have a writing project. You finish your 10,000-word article on hydroponic herb gardening, you close your laptop, take a big sigh of relief at your project's completion... then you get another cup of coffee, reopen your laptop, and it's back to the job hunt. Freelancing requires endless searching for more freelancing. Of course many people are able to find regular work and projects, but for many the job search is never-ending and relentless.
- Instability: While it is very possible, and common, to fully support yourself and your family with freelance writing, editing, designing, etc., rarely is it a stable, reliable source of income. The website you regularly write for could be overpowered by a newer similar website, taking away all traffic. The blog you write could simply fall out of favor with the ever-shifiting pop culture audience. There is risk involved with freelancing that we all know is there. Freelancing doesn't come with a 401K or health insurance. It doesn't pay for you to get your Masters degree or provide a company credit card. There aren't many three, five, or ten year contracts with freelancing. You just have to continue to push forward, remembering the reasons on the plus side list above that made you choose this "career" path.
- Creativity shortcomings: As a creative freelancer I like to think I am always up for the next challenge, the next design project, the next article or blog piece, the next book chapter. As a human though, I realized very quickly that is not the case. There are times when the words are just not coming, the mental images are just not there, and the ideas are just not flowing. For some, bad work days just means you come into the office the next morning and start over. For freelancers, those second chances aren't always available to us. When we have a deadline and our creativity has temporarily abandoned us, we're basically SOL. I think of this as a "creativity blackhole", the place where all freelancer's creativity, inspiration and originality goes to die. It happens to the best of us, and we just need to find ways to reboot.
A Little Advice
I want to make it clear that this advice is not coming from a seasoned freelance veteran. I'm still young, and I'm still learning, but here are a couple things I've learned so far:
- Be open-minded. A lot of jobs will come your way if you're willing to at least give them a shot. Don't assume you won't be good at a certain job. Give it a try. Each attempt at a new opportunity allows for a new learning experience.
- Don't burn bridges. Some jobs won't work out. Maybe you completely botched a blog piece or an infographic. That doesn't mean you delete that job and the person who hired you from your contacts forever. Simply apologize, suggest assisting with a future project that may be more up your alley, and wish them well. Follow up down the line. Stay on the radar.
- Relocate. Freelancing gives you the opportunity and the flexibility to work from different places. Take advantage of this. Work from bed on rainy days. Work in the kitchen, on the couch, in a Starbucks, a sandwich shop, a park. When you change your surroundings, you invite new creativity, inspiration and perspective into your work, and your work will benefit from this. It's easy to fall into what I referred to in the last section as a "creativity blackhole". The best way to pull yourself out of it is a change in scenery and a step back. Do some yoga, have a cup of coffee, read a book, take a walk. Sitting in front of the same screen in the same location day in and day out is bound to dry up your creativity quickly.
- Get back to the basics. I personally have a desk with two computer monitors, a cell phone and a tablet. Like most other people, most of my work is done via technology, and there are plenty of benefits to that. But when it comes to creative work, there are times when it is best to get back to the basics. Take out a notebook and pen. Sketch an idea on paper before you attempt it on Photoshop. Write out content on lined paper before you type it out. Read a book, not a Kindle. Whatever your creative medium, there is always a way to go back to the basics. Don't forget to reconnect with those basics once in a while. It'll be refreshing.
Words of Wisdom from John Keating
Like I said, the purpose of this post was simply to express my thoughts and feelings on the career path I've happily chosen. I'd love to hear other's experiences and thoughts on the matter.
While I acknowledge the cliche nature of these final words, I wanted to end on my favorite quote from my favorite (fictional) teacher...
© 2015 Nicole Quaste