I have been a freelance journalist for 15 months now (you can check my website here), having worked full time at GLAMOUR for four years before. At GLAMOUR, I was the deputy chief sub-editor, which I loved, but I left to focus more on my writing – specifically on health, fitness, wellbeing and relationships.
Having worked in the magazine industry since 2006, I felt confident that I would get work. I knew enough people, and had enough experience and trust in my abilities that I thought I might just be OK.
So far, the jump hasn’t proved too bumpy, thankfully.
Taking the leap to go freelance can feel pretty scary – it is going against all the voices in your head that tell you to stick with stability, a dependable income, reliable work, a sociable workplace. It is the opposite of ‘going for a job’ – it is jumping into the unknown.
But I knew I had to go freelance when I couldn’t stop thinking about it – I kept thinking, ‘If not now, when?’ I really wanted to see what I could do on my own, so once the conditions all came together to make that jump – I realised I had mentally (and financially) created a little parachute to help glide me along.
Being freelance means being responsible for *everything* – because if you don’t do something, it won’t happen magically on its own.
From finding work to actually doing it (a huge topic in itself that can’t be summarised in a few words!), to dealing with tax and accounts (not my strong point), creating a website, being active on social media and building up contacts in real life and online, you are responsible for it all.
As a journalist, staying informed and connected to the world is essential – so finding out what people are worrying about, talking about, being angry about is all part of the job, too.
It’s cliche to say, but there is no typical day.
For me, it all depends on what commissions I have (or what I don’t have). Some days, I’ll be writing solidly, charging through a piece as the deadline looms and I realise it’s 4.37pm and I’m still in my PJs, having walked straight from bed to desk to get the damn thing done. Some days, it will involve interviewing someone, reading journals and academic papers and finding experts for quotes.
Some days, it will be back and forth with an editor as we tweak an article and make edits.
Some days, I will do copywriting for companies, blog posts for businesses and consultancy for ad agencies. Then there are those days when I will be pitching stories, working on ideas that I hope someone might like to commission (this doesn’t always have a happy ending though – welcome to freelance life).
I go to a lot of events, which can happen any time throughout the day (the 7am ones, though good for fitting into your schedule, do tend to make my eyes water a bit).
As I mainly write about health and wellbeing, this might mean trying out a new fitness class, attending a discussion on mental health, going for a run to test out some new trainers, moderating a panel on body confidence at a conference.
So for all the isolation of freelance life, where it’s just you, your head and a laptop, my interest in health means I’m actually out quite a lot meeting and talking to people, which I really enjoy.
Fitness does play a part in my daily life too, where possible.
Going for a run or hitting the gym is filed under essential, rather than a luxury. Not least because writing about fitness is a lot of what I do, particularly on Instagram. Of course, some days I don’t make it to the gym, and that’s OK, but I do consider exercise – in any capacity – a huge benefit for creativity, better mental health, relaxation and energy – all things needed for a freelance career.
In terms of start and end times, there’s no typical hour when I ‘down tools’.
I try to wake up at a similar time each day, but I’m definitely not one of those people who springs out of bed at 5am, grinning like a sunbeam. I’m more of a night owl, so can easily work until 2am, and often I work throughout my evenings when I’m at home. I guess I’m lucky that I like my job, so devoting time to it doesn’t feel like a chore. I genuinely feel really grateful that this is my life right now. It’s unpredictable, there can be huge expanses of time where I have no idea what I’ll be doing, but somehow, it all ends up OK.
The work arrives, the events pile up, the to-do list grows longer, the inbox more unmanageable! It’s a thrilling ride.
It’s pretty rocking in my local coffee shop, I must say!
Some freelancers probably create much more structure than I do (I think I am still learning, in a way), but my ‘office’ varies – it can either be working from my kitchen table at home, or a number of local coffee shops. Sometimes I go into town – Timberyard is great – and my gym also has space to work, which is helpful.
Having worked in an office for ten years, the shift away from it has been quite significant – I have had to learn fast how to work on my own and not lose myself or my focus. Magazine offices are brilliant places with great personalities and ideas bouncing about all over the place, so I do miss it at times.
However, occasionally, I work in-house at some magazines for the odd editing shift, so I do still get a little fix every now and again. But ultimately, over this past year, I’ve discovered how much I like working on my own and how much I appreciate the space to develop ideas.
I don’t really take a structured lunch break – I just eat when I’m hungry, but usually keep working while I’m eating. However, I would say I have plenty of ‘breaks’ that I also consider work – such as reading newspapers and magazines and seeing what’s happening on Twitter, etc.
Sometimes I’m working until I go to bed, but as I mentioned, I enjoy exercising, so that’s an essential un-winder.
I also go to the theatre a lot, I read books, I meet friends for dinner, I might catch up on something on Netflix (though I rarely watch TV), or I might spend a night reading articles online.
The older I get, the less guilty I feel for time off.
Rest and recovery helps us work better and feel happier, so if I need a night off doing nothing, so be it. I also value the time spent talking to my brilliant friends and loved ones, who constantly inspire me in so many ways.
What’s to prepare for the next day?
No day starts afresh – there’s always something to finish, follow-up, respond to, work on, so I usually just make a note of what is a priority for first thing. Often, I’ll also get my gym kit ready the night before as it’s likely I’ll have a class or run to do. However, some days I just freestyle it too.
There’s a notion that we’re all meant to be super-efficient machines who make the most of every single second, but I do think that life often reveals itself in the pauses. Space and time to think is essential, so occasionally there will be days that might take a few hours to find their pace, but that’s really OK.
This year, I want to work on a book, so having the time to develop ideas is crucial.
I think we all put so much pressure on ourselves to be constantly busy – we wear it like a badge of honour.
But I want to make sure I am busy with the *right* work, which means, sometimes counterintuitively, saying no to things that might get in the way.
I’m constantly learning how to navigate freelance life, I certainly haven’t got all the answers, but I do know that trusting your instincts and listening to what makes your heart sing is vital.
Even if things don’t work out, at least you will know you tried, truthfully.