Reflections on My First Year of Freelancing

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I feel more in control, and able to enjoy the unpredictable merry-go-round of freelance writing

Photo by Yannick Pulver on Unsplash

At the beginning of this year I had a 9–5 job I enjoyed, but was ready to let go of. I wanted to have more control over my days, and freedom to do the one thing I can see myself doing forever — writing.

So I quit my job in May this year, and immediately spent all my savings to go traveling around Europe for a month. Obviously, it was incredible, but after weeks of sleeping in hostel dorms and eating at restaurants (something no one tells you you’ll get tired of) I was just about ready to go home and start the next adventure: becoming a freelance writer.

Six months later, I’ve survived — but it certainly hasn’t been without its ups and downs. Here are some lessons I’ve learned during the first run of my hopefully long-term freelance journey.

1. Enjoy the downtime

It’s one of cliches of freelancing that it comes with a feast-or-famine cycle — you’re either swamped with work, or stressed about having no client work in sight. There are definitely ways of escaping these cycles, though I haven’t quite worked them out yet!

But I have learned to enjoy them. When I don’t have any work lined up, rather than stressing out, I try to just see it as a reward for the times I’m run off my feet.

That means, once I’ve sent off some pitches, I don’t waste my time scouring Upwork for scraps — I channel my creative energy into work that pays nothing, but makes my life fuller. In the past few months I’ve been busy rehearsing a play, taking action against climate change, working on short stories, learning Spanish, and weightlifting.

All of these things are important to me, and what would be the point in being self-employed if I wasn’t able to enjoy them? By making the most of my free time, I feel more in control, and able to enjoy the unpredictable merry-go-round of freelancing.

2. Find the meaning

When I started freelancing, I chose to specialise in the sustainability field. Fighting climate change is critical, and something I want to focus my energy on every day. I naturally keep up with the news agenda, love turning over new ideas, and my passion shows in my work.

Because I know that — in the tiniest of ways !— I’m helping move the dial towards a greener future with my work, I’m so much happier and more motivated than I would be if my niche was, say, business or SaaS.

But! Whatever your field is, you can find meaning in the same way. Maybe it’s a personal interest. Maybe you just love the satisfaction of writing a fucking great sentence. Whatever your reason for what you do — beyond the money, of course — keeping it in the back of your mind will help you get through the long days of seemingly endless edits.

3. Get out more

At my old job, I was working remotely — without the company of coworkers, but still tied to my desk for seven hours a day. That was the worst of both worlds. Now, while I can choose my own hours, freelancing can still be lonely and I’m not sure yet how to get around that.

So far, I’ve been balancing out the quietness of my days with bustling, social evenings — making the most of the energy I wouldn’t have if I’d been commuting and in an office all day. I’ve also found that — shockingly — working around other people, like in a library or cafe, can make a world of difference, even if you’re not talking to anyone.

The next six months

The winter scares me. Beyond the freezing cold mornings and endless dark evenings, I’m worried that my work will dry up, that I’ll run out of money.

But at the same time, I’m excited to see where I’ll be next spring. I want to write for clients I believe in, do my best work, keep chipping away at my own projects. And, of course, raise my rates.

Here’s to the next six months!