The Seven Deadly Freelance Sins

As a (lapsed) Catholic, I’m obviously quite interested in sin. As a year-in freelancer, I’m also interested in how to make this style of employment work for me. Um…that’s the only link I can come up with for this post.

As I’ve said before, I’ve found freelancing to be harder than I had expected. There is a definite art, and I haven’t yet mastered it. I’m working more hours for less money (though I enjoy it much more), and I’m constantly struggling to find the right balance for my day, where I feel I’ve done enough work (I never do) without being hunched over my laptop at 11pm (as I am currently). Maybe as freelancers we need a code to keep us on the straight and narrow. Or better yet, the terror of eternal damnation? Making people fear for their immortal soul is a tried and tested way of getting them to break bad habits, after all. So here’s what I’ve found to be my seven deadly freelancing sins.

Greed – I don’t know many freelancers who are greedy for money. If anything, we have the opposite problem- not thinking about it enough. This is because we tend to be doing the job for love, and the money at first can seem like a bonus. Among the writers I know, talking about money is almost taboo. The first rule of advance club – we don’t talk about the advance. Maybe this is because we do genuinely love it so much we’d do it for nothing –we can’t stop ourselves – or because we don’t want to seem avaricious. There’s also not wanting to be pushy or ungrateful, so we’re not keen to ask for more money, or to be paid for things like writing articles or doing events. Because, in most cases, we’re grateful for any chance to talk about work. But I wonder if all this reticence means some of us are ending up seriously out of pocket. Can a touch of greed be good?

Pride – this is one that can go either way. When you’re starting out with whatever it is you’d like to do for a living, you have no objective feedback on how good you are. Maybe your mum said you were a genius, but she has to, doesn’t she? Then someone tells you, in the cold light of day with the cold harsh ink drying on the cheque, that you are, in fact, talented. At least enough to get paid for what you’re doing. It’s after that the trouble starts. I currently have absolutely no idea if I have any talent at all. I’ll go in one day from thinking, ‘yes, this is brilliant stuff’, to thinking ‘God, it’s awful, I’ll have to get a job in B&Q’ (and I know nothing about cladding). Pride is often seen as a sin, but as Mr Darcy says, ‘Pride, where there is real superiority, pride can never be a weakness.’ Not that we should necessarily agree with the standoffish Mr D, but maybe if we see it as taking pride in our work, doing a good job, it’s not a negative.

Gluttony – Again, this goes both ways. Some days when freelancing it’s ‘eat all the biscuits in the world and consider having lunch at 11am’. Some days it’s ‘oh, it’s 3.30pm and I forgot to have lunch, and the dog’s licked my breakfast. Again.’  Generally, I find it quite difficult to make sure I take care of myself– exercise, sleep, drinking enough water, that sort of thing. Often, the world seems to shrink to the size of my laptop screen (it’s quite a big one, but still). But if the good side of gluttony is making time for our own needs – those lunch breaks and holidays you get built in when you have a contracted job – it’s no bad thing either.

Sloth – Some days: can’t seem to stop working, forget to have breaks, can’t sleep for thinking about work, have to answer just one more email. Other days: get up too late, spend several hours reading spurious blogs (you can read this one if you’re lacking in distraction), get into various Twitter chats about cults, hairstyles, and sandwiches (and that was just today).  Maybe we could all do with emulating the three-toed sloth from time to time, and just hang around. Also, they glow in the dark, which is pretty cool.

Lust – Doesn’t tend to be much of an issue in its usual form- we don’t have any colleagues to flirt with in the stationery cupboard. Or a stationery cupboard, for that matter. But what about the lust, or passion, for what you used to love? Does it drain away when you try to make a living from it? Does it become a source of stress, or even unhappiness? It’s only now that I feel able to go into bookshops again without fear. At the moment I know with 90% certainty my book won’t be in there, and I’ll have to make my peace with it, but for a while there one of my favourite spaces had become somewhat fraught. The flipside is too much lust for what you do. We all have to have this in order to make a living from it in the first place, the obsession that lets you spend hours and hours learning your craft. So do you let it consume you, take over all your thoughts? Passion fuels all the great art in the world, but only when it’s funnelled and directed. Otherwise it can run amok and before you know it the dinner’s burnt, your friends only keep up with you on Twitter, and the dog is moving out with a handkie on a stick over its shoulder.

Rage-Many people in publishing are extremely nice. Polite, delicate, sensitive. I imagine it’s the same for other freelancers. You need to cultivate an impression of helpful, easy-going professionalism. But is it possible to be too nice? What about when invoices are months outstanding, or our emails go unanswered, or we’re getting screwed over – then perhaps it’s time to let loose a little righteous anger. But the opposite is also true. Working on your own, with no colleagues to rant to in the pub after work, it’s easy for a simmering discontent to reach boiling point. Then we can lose perspective, become exercised by trivia, and forget how things work in the real world. Assertiveness, not anger, is a very difficult line to draw, and I think we often err on the side of over-niceness.

Envy – It’s rarely talked about, but nowadays social media makes it all too easy to see how everyone else is doing. While it would be nice to be the kind of zen-like person who’s totally at peace with their own progress and that of others, in reality it’s very difficult (and who wants to drink that much green tea anyway?) From painful experience, this is a deadly sin with no real flipside. If you’re already working as hard as you can, envy won’t help you do better, it will just make you unhappy. I’m not sure what the solution is (I hate yoga too). Develop tunnel vision where you only look to what’s ahead? Move into a shack with no internet that’s miles from any bookshops? Chant a mantra of ‘Their-success-does-not-diminish-me’ as you read the review pages? I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

Bless me father, for I have sinned. But let those without sin cast the first freelancing stone…

One Comment Add yours

  1. This is so true… Alarmingly true. Are you living in my house perhaps Claire?

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