Harmonizing the Romantic and Unromantic Side of Freelance
Today I am sitting on a covered deck of an Airbnb in Ithaca, New York. Beyond the deck concaved behind me and the computer screen in front of me, I only see green, florescent from the sun’s touch. A delicate breeze connects with my forearms and my hairs raise as if it’s a familiar, loving touch. My dog is collapsed beneath my chair seeking shade, recuperating from her morning exercise of pursuing a tennis ball with the tenacity and joy of Serena Williams. I have a small cup of coffee topped with a second round of whip cream (no doubt there will be a third). I sip it when my mind pauses. It is beautiful June day. I have time to enjoy it. It is romantic. I freeze this day in words to be thawed later.
I switched careers at 27. That’s is not accurate. I started the switch the spring of 27. I made the switch five days before I turned 32. I became a writer. To counter-argue myself, I have always been a writer. I can argue I became one the day I put in my two weeks for my sports marketing job in Philadelphia. It was the first step, after all to working toward this new title. I was a writer throughout the four years of retail I worked while scheming how to support myself writing. For the categorized timeline of my life, however, I mark September 18th, 2017 as the day I officially took on the title. It was the first time my financial status depended on writing.
The first day jitters were similar to the first day of school or a corporate job. I was nervous. I was energetic. I had been working toward this day for three and a half years. I refused to the let my fear outperform my enthusiasm. The high lasted a couple of weeks. I had freelance jobs lined up immediately leaving my retail job. Looking back now, having financial opportunities out of the gate gave me a false sense of job availability. Looking back now, I am utterly grateful for those opportunities.
Once the jobs were complete, once the dust cleared from all the initial outpour of congratulations, once it hit a few weeks after reaching my initial objective, I had to face the day-to-day of what I set out to do. The everyday is hard. It is constant. It is often mundane. I have no one telling me what to do. It is a privilege, for sure. I did not realize how much of my time was dictated by my job, until my job was no longer under someone’s else supervision. This ownership of time can be dangerous. It can be scarred with unproductivity. With no safeguard of a job outline and someone to enforce it, time flies if you don’t manage it. A coffee date with a friend or running errands midday to escape the rat race on the weekends soaks in time like a 100% cotton t-shirt on a humid day. Soon, the day is half spent and I have no tangible work to show. The guilt then comes. I counterbalance this feeling by puffing my chest and reassuring myself I earned this. I finish this thought with a sharp head nod. I worked hard for this flexibility. I should be allowed the pleasures of freelance. Yet, the guilt still sets in after engaging in a perk of my career. Why didn’t I experience this guilt during life in the corporate world?
I am hard on my time. I am still weaning off the eight to ten-hour work day. In my mind, this is the amount of time I need to work to feel accomplished in my day. When I had corporate jobs, these hours were not all work. There were team lunches which ran late and a viral video commanding a crowd around the youngest employee’s desk. There were texts and personal emails. There were days of constant work. Long, grueling days. But to sit here and declare I worked constantly for those eight to ten hours, every day I was at the office, would be a lie. Still this amount of time lingers as the threshold for a productive day’s work. I am slowly retraining my brain. I am redefining what work means to me. What type of work makes me feel productive? Does my writing have to be assigned and paid to be gratifying? Does productive work fall within the constraints of a time limit or can it be fluid? Can one hour of work feel more productive than eight? If yes, then can I be satisfied with one hour of work in a day’s work?
Questions taunt me daily as I lay the groundwork for my career. Questions scare me. They imply uncertainty. They imply I have no idea what the hell I am doing. Nonetheless, they are there, and I cannot shake them. Discovering what I loved and building it into a career is a hard marriage. I am marrying the activity I love most with tasks I do not fancy. I write almost every day. I write by candlelight at my desk and it is romantic. There are even days like today where I feel like Henry David Thoreau, cast from the population with only my thoughts. There are days (sometimes the same day) where idea after idea is rejected. My pitches are not compelling. The words do not come. My next paycheck is not on the books.
I am privileged. I have a safety net. I have a husband who works, and we share income. Savings from previous opportunities allowed me the financial freedom to try writing. We do not live an extravagant life. Our spending has changed drastically over the last four years, but we have what we need. The concept of irregular financial support is new to me, however. I went from being the breadwinner for myself to the breadwinner for my family to barely bringing any bread home. My role has shifted in my family from a financial perspective. It is hard for me to cope. A baby on the way adds to the pressure I place on myself. The petty feminist in me wants to make more money than my husband. The wife in me feels grateful for a partner who sees all money as our money.
I know my skills deserved to be paid. I am learning the avenues which are lucrative, while maintaining my writing integrity. The learning curve has been larger than expected. It feels constant because I am not receiving payment while I learn. Even once an avenue is studied, pay doesn’t always follow as quickly as I would like. Should I have learned more viable ways to outsource my writing when I was working retail? Did I leave my job too early? The flood gates open. These unromantic question marks creep in when tangible validation, such as money, are nowhere in sight.
It is uncomfortable to experiment with a career I choose. I am walking on a tightrope not sure of the skills needed to balance. This is freelance. Freelance is a constant experiment, and I will need to find my way of embracing it.
Today is romantic. I am spending the majority of the day writing freely and deleting thoughtfully. I am not receiving money for this writing. These words will not pay the bills today. My time still feels well spent. I will cling to this feeling. Freeze it. These moments offer a breath of security. I can saturate in this romanticism because of the heartbreak. Without the questioning and ordinary day-to-day, without the stress time and money can inflict, there is no appreciation when a pitch is accepted or when a beautiful day at a remote cabin is your office. Romantic moments live in a taxing harmony with unromantic ones. Freeze it to thaw later when I forget. It is now time for that third round of whip cream.
If your travels take you near Ithaca, I highly recommend staying at the quaint
Canaan Country Cottage. Michael and Raylene, the hosts, were a delight and the writing atmosphere was picturesque.