The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Friday, June 10, 2016


Yesterday was National Freelancers Day in the UK and it got me thinking about the pros and cons of working for myself. So here are four things I love and hate most about freelancing:

1 I first went freelance back in 2000 primarily because it allows me to manage a chronic pain condition that makes it almost impossible for me to hold down a 9-to-5 job. That 'management' involves rubbish stuff like not having to be bright and perky on days when my pains are really bad or when I'm suffering from a 'painkiller hangover'. But it also involves fun stuff like finding ways to avoid long, unbroken stretches at my desk and making sure I move about as much as possible. At a MaWSIG event back in January, Antonia Clare mentioned my 'dance breaks' - where I get up from my desk for 5 mins and dance round my office to my favourite tunes. Well, these have now been replaced by hula-hooping breaks (thanks to Karen White), which take place in my back garden and also involve being very silly to dodgy dance tracks!

2 Being able to manage my own time has other advantages too. Rather than having to do things at the same time as nine-to-fivers, I can go for a swim, do a bit of shopping or get my haircut at those quiet times in the middle of the day. And no, it's not just slacking ... I still have to put in the hours to get paid, I just have the flexibility to shuffle them around a bit without having to get anyone's permission.

3 One of the great things about being freelance is not being tied to a job title. In my time as a freelancer, I've worked as a lexicographer, a materials' writer (on a massive range of different materials), as an editor, academic proofreader, reviewer, corpus researcher, teacher, teacher trainer, conference presenter ... who knows what I'll try next if it crops up!

Although I spend a large chunk of my time alone at my desk, I still come into contact with an amazing variety of lovely people. There are the people I work with on writing projects, both in-house and fellow freelancers. When I do training or give talks, I get to meet teachers and other colleagues from all over the world. And don't even get me started on all my fabulous network of folks I communicate with through social media and meet up with in person at conferences and events.

1 My biggest bugbear about being freelance is uneven workflow. However hard I try to plan my schedule so I can tick along happily with a reasonable number of hours per week that will allow me to control my pain, it never seems to work out. Projects that I've planned to fit in perfectly get delayed starting then either they have to be done in half the time or they crash into something else I've agreed to and suddenly I'm working all hours and my pains are building up and I know I should ease off, but deadlines are looming. Then other times I find myself twiddling my thumbs, especially when planned projects are delayed or fall through, and I'm worrying about how I'm going to pay the bills.
2 Which brings me onto the irregular income. Somehow in 16 years I've always managed to make a living from freelancing, but my income's varied wildly - from a low of about £11,000 to around £30,000 in a good year. Sometimes the money comes in in little dribs and drabs, sometimes on a long project, I have months with nothing coming in then a big chunk at the end. I spent a whole year working on one royalties-based project living on just £5000 ... and as yet, I've made absolutely nothing back in royalties.
3 No sick pay, no holiday pay, no IT support ...
4 When you have a job, there's generally a fairly clear career progression; promotions to apply for, a ladder to climb. As a freelancer, it's much more difficult to see how you're going to progress. Over time, I've consciously developed new skills and specialisms, I've worked hard to build my profile and reputation (I'd like to think with some success), but that doesn't necessarily come with a pay rise. Rather depressingly, I often find myself being offered much the same rate of pay now as I was 16 years ago. I know that's probably more of a reflection on the state of the industry than on how much my skills are valued ... but it doesn't always feel that way.

So is it worth it? Well, when I was making my lists, I initially jotted down six 'loves' and could easily have kept going with more, but I struggled to come up with more than four 'hates' .... which I think says it all. #lovefreelancing

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