NON FICTION: 5 things I’ve learned about freelancing

Photo credit: Keith Page

Photo credit: Keith Page

The other day, I attended a writer’s briefing for an online news site. “People’s attention spans are getting shorter,” the editor said. “You need to constantly provide them with links and pictures so as not to lose them.”

The proposed format wasn’t something I was used to writing, but I had to agree that social media patrons outnumber bibliophiles a gazillion-to-one in this day and age. With this demographic, catering to the masses means shortening the prose and making everything else pop to keep the readers’ attention. It’s like hairdressing in a way, where you’d have to forgo your personal tastes to cater to the majority of the clients’ needs.

Pompadour making headlines? Better learn how to shave that fade. Hate colouring appointments? Too bad because chemical work brings in the cash. Client adamant on a mullet? Just remind them not to mention your name. Of course, it also means establishing who you are as a stylist and how many customers you’re willing to piss off by not giving them what they want, but I digress.

So I thought I’d try something different this week, just to try out other forms of writing (read: because I can).

1. Time flows differently when you finally have it

When I had a day job, I squeezed any inkling of time I had on personal quests. I’d spend my time commuting in the jam coming up with plots for my stories, schedule my gym sessions at ungodly hours before work, and read during lunchtime. Now that I have the whole day to write, I spend it asking Google what tools famous authors use, or looking for Macklemore track samples to freestyle to. Mind you, this is after plucking some riffs on the guitar and rearranging my bookshelf for the seventh time.

I remember a time I used to think to myself, “If I had just three months of free time. Three months and I’ll be done writing my novel.” Half a year in, I realise how naive I’ve been. Well, being a huge procrastinator still beats the fact that…

2. People think you’re jobless

I remember an encounter I had with a friend after I left my nine-to-five. I told her how I took the leap from being an office dweller to becoming a starving artist. I tried romanticising the writer’s life more than I’d give it credit for, but she just nodded her head and said: “So you’re jobless.”

“No, no. I mean, I don’t need to go to an office, but, I still write stuff for people. I still get paid, but not as regularly.”

“Yeah, mm. Okay.”

“I’m not jobless!”

Despite having the wind taken out of my sails of enthusiasm, we continued talking for a bit before broaching on the subject of travelling.

“Well,” she said. “I guess you can travel more now since you’re jobless.”

Yeah, that meeting didn’t last long after that. And this point also conveniently carries over to…

3. You’re always the go-to person, because you’re “jobless”

The moment someone hears that you’re freelancing, they immediately think that you have all the time in the world to cater to any whims or desires they may have. They also think that your daily routine involves starting work at eleven, and clocking out during lunch. You know those advertisements that promise you $5,782 working a few hours from home each day? Yeah, they’re fake. And so is my income if I don’t put in the hours. Here is an example of this happening:

Ring ring.
Me: Hello?
Friend: Hey! Let’s have lunch.
Me: I can’t, I’m busy.
Friend: Busy doing what? You’re jobless.
Me: I’m not jobl—I hate you. Bye.
Friend: No seriou—click

4. You’re not your own boss, in fact, you increase your boss-count

You think catering to one boss’ mood swings is bad? Try doing it every time you have a new client. What worked for one will definitely not work on another. Reminds me of the whole pick up artist shebang, really, because apparently, a fixed set of techniques works on every other female in the world. Oh how I wish it worked that way, but I’ve come to realise that some editors love short sentences, and some like it long. Some like visual stimulation, while others put emphasis on the flow. I swear this isn’t a euphemism for sex. It really does happen this way.

5. It’s bloody scary

When I pulled the trigger, I knew that it was going to be an uncomfortable transition, but I didn’t know it would be this scary. Every night I go to bed wondering what I’d do if the car broke down, or how much it’ll cost if I had to extract my wisdom tooth, or if it was wise splurging on that new laptop I ‘needed for work.’

I find myself stashing my crumbs of payments the way a squirrel does with his acorns, but instead of having a set plan to adhere to—a squirrel knows when winter’s coming at least—I have no idea what’s lurking beyond the next sunrise. I’ve been blessed with a consistent trickle of work since I quit my job, but that’s about it. It’s not something I can apply a loan off, which means I subsist on a very minimalistic life (which fortunately, is up my alley).

While writing this piece, a debate about whether or not RM2,500 is enough for fresh grads made headlines. One thing I’d have to add is the fact that going freelance means having a steady fresh grad’s pay would be pretty awesome for me, and that’s a depressing fact to know, seeing how I’m already a decade beyond those years.

Either way, I’m glad to say that I’ve found the answer to a question many people go through life not finding the answer to: what I want to do for a living. As much as that means living off ramen for an unspecified amount of time in the future, I think it’s worth it, and I wouldn’t ever change a thing.

P/S: This list post is in conjunction with my foray into online publication. Do give it a read and share it if you liked it. Don’t worry, you won’t find any shameless promotional postscripts there.

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