I reached my tenth anniversary of freelancing almost without noticing. It would be nice to say that the precise cast of the light at this time of the year alerted me to it, evoking all those heady feelings of freedom, but actually someone happened to congratulate me on LinkedIn. Otherwise it might well have passed me by.
I was going to write some really cheesy post about ten things I’d learned in ten years, but to be honest, most of my epiphanies haven’t been about editing. (Building Lego space shuttles is really absorbing even in your forties. The countryside is much stranger than the city. The school gates really are as terrifying as everyone says. Come to think of it, I do believe in ghosts. That kind of thing.)
But there have also been some gradual realisations related to editing. Here are a few.
Working for myself entails a permanent state of anxiety
This sounds bad, I know. As I write this, I’m knocking back a stiff camomile tea to try and chill out. But I’ve come to terms with the anxiety now. In fact, it’s helpful. If I ever didn’t need to worry about paying the bills, chances are I’d grind to a halt. I might not have lasted ten years without the wolf at my door. And there are ways of managing the anxiety. Camomile tea helps, and so does being proactive about finding the kind of work I want to do more of, and nice people to do it with. Going for a walk. Getting enough sleep. Not trying to do too much. It’s work in progress, especially the last one.
My relationship with money is permanently changed
For several years at the beginning, I was too obsessed with filling my time with paid work. I don’t like admitting it, but it gave me a thrill to be able to put more time in and get more money out – it’s a revelation when you’ve been drawing a salary for ten years, especially if it wasn’t a very large one. More recently I’ve aimed to put less time in and get more money out, but that’s a whole other blog post. My point here is that I’ve learned how important it is for my mental wellbeing to find time to do things that aren’t measured by how much money they make (which I know is a privilege).
I accept that I’m expendable
As an employee, I once got so riled with being described as ‘resource’ by a manager that I left a job. Now I know full well that I really am completely replaceable, and I’m OK with that (although I’d still prefer not to be described as resource within earshot). Freelancing is sustainable if you cultivate good relationships with people, and enjoy working with them, yet are simultaneously comfortable with being let go by even the best clients at a moment’s notice, or sometimes no notice at all. Sadly that’s just the way the cookie crumbles, and the only way to cope with it is to have plenty of other things lying around to munch on.
I don’t know what will happen next
When I started out, I had no idea what would happen. I woke up with a hangover, handed in my notice on impulse and thought I’d see how things went. Ten years later, I still have a business, it’s been really interesting and I’ve managed to make a decent living. I still sometimes work with people I knew when I worked in-house, but I’ve gathered a range of other clients along the way, in sectors outside book publishing. I’ve been a director of the SfEP (between 2013 and 2015) and still work for them as a proofreading and copy-editing mentor. Now I’m working as hard on the editing as ever, but have also gone back to university part-time to study for an MA in Creative Writing, which is fun. I also find time to build Lego … and I can’t wait to see what happens next. At least within the cosy confines of the editing world. Sometimes it really is better to focus on the details than worry about the bigger picture …
Liz Jones has worked as an editor in the publishing industry since 1998, and has been freelancing so long she would no longer know how to handle a communal fridge.