by Laura Meehan, Associate Editor, Indigo
When people hear I’m a freelancer, they almost always say something like, “Oh, that’s awesome! You can watch your kids and work at the same time!” Other people are wont to claim, “If I had your job, I’d just watch TV all day.” Some people say they wish they could work in their pajamas.
Those of you who are part-time or full-time freelancers are probably laughing at this point. Some are probably even saying, “I do love working in my pajamas!” Truth is, every freelancer is different. But for those considering making it a lifestyle, here are four ways I’ve made it work for me over these past six or so years and seventy (or more?) book projects.
- Being a mother has made it more obvious how necessary self-discipline is for me as a freelancer. I do not waste precious child care hours watching TV, because then I would have to get all my work done while my kids are with me—which is exceedingly difficult. But no matter what your marital status is or what your family is like, you do need self-discipline. If you waste your precious prime-mental-energy hours watching TV or surfing the web, it will be harder to succeed.
- Family life has also taught me the importance of maintaining boundaries in my freelance career. I have very specific business hours, family hours, and resting hours. I don’t answer personal calls while I’m working, and I don’t ignore my kids so I can send work emails (okay, I try not to do that). I remind myself that I can’t do very good quality work if I am exhausted.
- College and grad school taught me not to procrastinate. I realized early on that if I had an essay due in a month, I could spend the month trying to have fun but feel stressed all the while, or I could just write the essay on day one and then enjoy my month. Maybe you are a less anxious person than I am. But I just don’t relax well if I have tasks hanging over me.
- Freelance life itself has taught me to be honest and say no, even if it disappoints people. Related to the procrastination point, if I say I’ll do something more quickly than I can comfortably do it, or take on too many projects, I will have a terrible month. And that’s a long time to feel stressed. It is also difficult to produce your best work if you are trying to work too many hours or too fast. If I am having a hard time fitting it all in, I tell people early on that it may take me awhile to get back to them. Most people are pretty reasonable if they are not unpleasantly surprised at the last minute.
The good news? If you follow all of my advice to the letter—or more likely, if you find your own practices and disciplines that work for you—you can enjoy some of the perks of freelancing. I am going to work hard during my working hours this school year so that I can take one morning off a month and be the art docent in my daughter’s class. I won’t be stressed while I’m there, because I won’t have promised anything I can’t deliver. And I’m telling you this so that I will commit to it.
Succeeding at freelancing obviously takes discipline, but hey, it’s worth it to get to work in your pajamas.
Associate Editor Laura Meehan has edited New York Times bestselling authors and supports her family of five primarily on a freelancer’s income. All the while, she remembers to laugh, especially when her son throws all her daughter’s hair bows in the toilet, and to help her kids with their spelling words.