The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

2017 Part 1: Decisions, decisions ...

This time last year, I was getting stuck into the first assignments of an MA in Forensic Linguistics and, to be honest, I was ready to turn my back on ELT for a new career in language and the law. A few months on though and I realized that maybe the career path towards being a forensic linguist wasn’t the right one for me (for all kinds of reasons) and so, after lots of thought and a very intense week in Porto grilling as many forensic linguists as I could manage to collar, I decided to cut my losses and left the course.

This left me feeling slightly broke and at somewhat of a professional loose end. At around about the same time, my partner was also made redundant from his job of 10 years, so we decided to take the opportunity to have a good long break and do a bit of travelling. We headed off for a month travelling first to Belize where we trekked through unspoilt rainforest, tried to stay cool in 40°C heat and I found myself shooing tarantulas out the bathroom! Then it was onto Mexico to explore ancient Mayan ruins and marvel at the noise and colour of Mexico City. It provided the perfect antidote to worrying about work and career for a few weeks and gave me a chance to properly recharge my batteries.

I came back to a flurry of new (ELT writing) work – projects I’d managed to put off ‘until I get back’, but which then suddenly turned out to be way too much to fit into my schedule! In many ways, it was a good thing, because my bank balance seriously needed topping up and while I was busy working towards one deadline after another, I didn’t have time to dwell on the big “what next?” question.

After 7 months of working flat-out, long hours, weekends, lots of negotiating of new schedules and extended deadlines because there just weren’t enough hours in the day or days in the week, I was absolutely shattered! So last week, I took some time off and went away for a ‘reading retreat’; a week in a country cottage, holed up with a pile of ELT stuff to read. It was also a chance to step back and think about where I want to go next.

So, I guess the first question to deal with is why I wanted to move away from ELT in the first place. I’ve been working in the field for some 25 years now and for the past 17 as a freelance writer.  Being freelance has given me the freedom to explore different areas – lexicography, writing, editing, corpus research, vocab, EAP, teacher training. As a freelancer though, while my career has morphed and changed, and along the way, I’ve achieved several goals (authoring a number of books, travelling to various countries, giving a plenary at a conference, etc.), there’s no formalized career progression. I feel that I’ve moved on enormously over the years, my knowledge, experience and expertise have continued to grow, but the work I often find myself doing – and the rates I get paid for it – don’t necessarily reflect that. 

Recently, I’ve started to feel frustrated and undervalued, not so much by the ELT world in general, but specifically by the people I work for. Of course, there have always been good projects and less good projects, editors who make you feel valued and those who just drive you round the bend. In general though, my sense is that I’m spending more and more of my time haggling over fees, being asked to work to unfeasible schedules, being messed around with delays and uncertainty, having briefs changed halfway through projects and, as I mentioned in a recent post, getting less and less creative control. I’m sure a lot of that is down to me getting older and wiser and having higher expectations, but I don’t think it’s just me. The whole industry seems to be going through a difficult time, readjusting to new realities and not always managing to do so very smoothly. And I’m well aware that it’s not just the freelancers who are feeling the strain. Many of the big publishers have undergone restructuring and job losses in the past few years, so I know that many of the people I’m working with in-house have been having a rough time of it too.

So what’s the answer? Where do I go next? Do I look for another alternative career? Do I just plod on and hope that things improve? Or is there a way that I can stay within ELT, but steer my career down a more satisfying path?

The first option probably isn’t going to happen. After my foray into Forensic Linguistics, I’ve realized that at this stage in my life, I can’t really afford to make a completely fresh start, either financially or in terms of time … although if the right inspiration or opportunity came along, I’m not totally ruling it out!

The second option just isn’t in my nature, at least not in the long term.

Which leaves me looking for new inspiration in ELT … a topic which will have to spill over into another post …

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Blogger Tyson Seburn said...

While I really love reflective posts, I hope you find what you want and feel able to do for positive change. I'm at a bit of a professional and personal crossroads myself, trying to figure out new plans and what I want. Cheers to good directions for 2018, Julie. :)

2:16 pm  
Blogger The Toblerone Twins said...

Thanks, Tyson. And look out for part 2 for a few tentative ideas about possible options ...

2:28 pm  
Blogger Sandy said...

Good luck! Looking forward to hearing about the options.

5:50 pm  

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