It’s been a little over a year since I started to write enough that I could balls out call it my profession. Aside from two books (the second of which is due for release this September), the bulk of the work I’ve had the opportunity to undertake has been freelance assignments from the folks at FutureUS, chiefly, Mac|Life, Maximum PC and Maximum Tech magazines. They’re a great bunch of people to work for, and I consider the time I’ve spent plugging away for them, some of the best, most rewarding work of my career.
That said, this freelancing business is frigging stressful in a way I’ve never encountered before.
In the past, I’ve held jobs that lent themselves to seeing me stabbed, threatened with various firearms and covered in blood and vomit that was not my own. There was a lot of stress there, no doubt about it. I still wake up in a cold sweat over some of the things I’ve seen and done for a paycheque in the past. The stress I felt while under the threat of violence was quick, sure and intense. There was no build up to it. Often, a bit of unpleasantness could unfold in a matter of seconds: Turn the wrong corner, say the wrong thing to the wrong person, and danger was there. By the end of your shift or patrol, however, something that was ugly only hours before was often something to laugh about before resigning for the night.
Now, as a freelancer who focuses on tech journalism and teaching folks how to turn their PCs on, the biggest threat to my health that I face is a dire lack of exercise. Even still, I find that my stress level has reaches a fever-pitch on a regular basis. Why? Because when you work as a contractor who writes for money, it’s always famine or feast. There is no in between.
When I started down this path, it was decided that I’d give it a go for a full year, to see how it went. I left my desk job in Vancouver for a smaller desk here in Victoria. I was doing a bit of magazine work, and was under contract to re-write an utter train-wreck of a how-to book. This gave me enough cash to survive on, but certainly not enough to thrive; and survival was only possible when the cheques I was expecting had the courtesy to arrive on time. As I proved myself to be dependable to my employers, they rewarded me with more work. Based on the work now had under my belt, six months into running my own wordsmithing adventure, I was fortunate enough to begin working for a few more publications. I was amazed and giddy to find that I was pulling in enough work that it was necessary to once again start scheduling the course of my days. Things were good.
And then, the massive amounts of stress that I recall as having been a part of an earlier part of my life returned.
As it stands, I’m now making more money than I did with my last vocation (when the cheques come in on time) and have so much work that I have to decline assignments as there are simply not enough hours in the day. Most days, I work from the time that I wake until a few hours before heading off to bed. Going outside must be forced, as the whole time that I am away from my computer, I am worrying about the work that waits for me when I return. Earlier today, an acquaintance who works for Wired and a few other awesome publications tweeted that she was suffering under the weight of a massive amount of deadlines. I responded, saying that she was “preaching to the choir. I’ve never felt better about my career… Or more exhausted.” The excellent writer that she is, my friend responded that she felt “…great and terrible at the same time”.
I think that may well be the best description of working for yourself I have ever heard the tell of.
There’s a great amount of personal freedom in knowing at the end of the day, that whether you succeed or fail; get up early or sleep the whole day through is entirely up to you. As a freelancer, you owe no one a single thing that you haven’t agreed to. The flip side of such freedom is that failure, destitution, and all else is your responsibility alone. If you don’t work, you don’t get paid (when the cheques comes in). There is no vacation time. There is no health plan. There is nothing but that which you push hard to provide. Even for those of us fortunate enough to work for ourselves in a vocation that we adore, this can be a singular and crushing responsibility.
You want to experience stress? Try taking on a job where there’s no one to blame for a clusterfuck but you. Nothing wears worse than personal failure.