It only takes stepping into your spare bedroom-turned-office on your first day as a freelance to realise that there’s more to it than working in your pyjamas. In fact, the emotional impact of going it alone can be as great as the financial impact of finding the mortgage repayments.
If you’ve had it with office politics, long commutes and begging editors for a day’s holiday, freelancing is the way to go. That doesn’t mean, though, that the journey is an easy one. Suddenly there’s the deafening silence of an empty house rather than the buzz of a busy newsroom, and a pile of languidly read newspapers where there should be a busting in-tray. Just as common as feeling in control, excited or satisfied with your work are feelings of loneliness, boredom and rejection through working alone.
‘Mostly, being a freelance is great,’explains one London-based journalist, un-named by request. ‘However, the freedom to catch a matinee is also freedom to not do anything. I’ve found myself spending a month in bed, crippled by lack of motivation and pushing back my deadlines until I’m sick with worry over getting my work done.”
It’s no wonder that said journalist wants to remain anonymous, because it’s a rare freelance who publicly admits to such feelings at all. That’s hardly surprising in a profession known for being hard-nosed. It’s even less surprising if freelancing was a long-held dream. Who wants to confess that it’s not always what it’s cracked up to be?
‘I’m used to the silence, but occasionally miss having real people around me,’admits Cardiff-based freelance writer Helen Kaut. ‘Starting out was the worst because I felt isolated. I can also have downers when I’ve been rejected or ignored.’
So, how do you withstand the emotional rigours of being everything from the boss to the social secretary? Luckily Kaut braces herself for the bad days by celebrating successes, making contact with other freelances, and has a cat to stave off loneliness.
‘Remember that these feelings are cyclical and tomorrow will probably be different,’advises Catherine Cooper, a London-based freelance. ‘I use my quiet times productively by pitching or doing accounts, and if I don’t feel like working I do something different, like going to the gym, and come back to it later on.”
Sound advice, because the best way to tackle the yips is to be prepared for them. Start by creating your own support system. Yes, it’s all very Oprah sounding, but meeting other freelances, joining a relevant internet forum, building relationships with supportive editors and useful PRs, and staying in touch with friends offers you human contact. And don’t rely on emails as your main source of communication. Phone conversations put you back in the land of the living.
‘Make time for groups and events that make you feel good,’says freelance journalist and writers’ coach Eve Menezes Cunningham. ‘You get further when you have people in your corner rooting for you to succeed.”
Cunningham also believes that freelances would do well to work at improving disheartening situations rather than feeling downcast by them. She cautions, ‘Being a ‘tortured artist’ who wallows won’t get you results. Take control of the elements you can impact, such as your own productivity, rather than editors’ responses. You’ll instantly feel more empowered and positive.’And that shouldn’t be hard to achieve, particularly if you’re ballsy enough to go it alone in the first place.
Luckily, though, freelances usually agree that even the stickiest sticky patch as your own boss is better than a great day as an employee, and that’s what helps you stay positive. As Catherine Cooper enthuses, ‘I never miss the office. I absolutely hated it, and because I have no work today that doesn’t mean it’ll be the same story tomorrow.’Anyway, when else do you ever get the chance to work in your pyjamas?