A letter to my freelance self from the comfort of my own home.
By Raven Smith
Illustration by Jean-Philippe Delhomme
At the beginning of last year, I took the plunge and went freelance. Like Thelma and Louise driving off the cliff, I left behind the security of paid vacation, regular working hours, sick days, and office cake. I started playing a different ballgame.
I spent nearly eight years as commissioning director at Nowness, a role that entailed a range of skills besides actually commissioning films. No need for a mini CV here, let’s just say that I entered freelance life offering brands and channels a smorgasbord of roles and rates. I promised myself I’d say yes to all the work that came my way and then do a stocktake and decide what was working and what wasn’t. So, a year in, how does it feel? I’ve replied ‘fine’ to so many emails asking how freelancing is that I’ve had to right-click synonyms for fine. For the record, the freelance life is currently tolerable-adequate-moderate.
Here are eight things I’ve learned over the past year.
1. Freelance life comes with a host of ups and downs. You go from altitudes so high there’s not enough oxygen to the depths of the ocean where there’s no light. The sun does shine, of course, but there’s never quite the time to catch a tan. I’ve taken on jobs out of fear of there being no work and then ended up smashed to smithereens juggling way more than I expected. Every time I talk about this, I know it’s a massive humble brag. You can get addicted to being busy. I went through a bout of hyperactivity last summer and complained the whole time.
2. There’s no such thing as a money job. Everything you say yes to takes up your time, energy and focus. Money jobs tend to end up being absolute eye-bleeds, because your ultimate takeaway is profit not product. Better to stick to stuff that’s worthy of your attention.
3. The freedom of freelancing that you think will be liberating is actually like a sheer drop from a cliff face. The fall is exciting, but your mortgage is following you down at exactly the same rate.
4. Your time is flexible. This is the biggest lolsob of all. You can spend all morning dicking about on Twitter and then have to stay up all night working. I thought I’d be watching Loose Women all day, but eventually the work needs doing. Delaying it is foolish and Loose Women is absolutely awful. Also, you will never finish way ahead of a deadline and feel satisfied. People who work like that are weird. Part of the thrill of creation is the impending deadline.
5. Food can be a distraction. The dull hum of the fridge can be like a siren luring me onto the rocks of cheese. I can spend a full hour making a sandwich; I think perhaps there’s a work avenue in that. I even thought I could become Delia Smith, erotically spreading homemade hummus, until I discovered you have to boil the chickpeas for 90 minutes.
6. You can get too comfy at home. Your outfits swerve from meeting-ready to just-woke-up-tramp-slob. I now have the most amazing freelance pants: they’re comfy and the seat has worn away to nearly nothing. I live in a pair of house clogs. When I do have to leave the house my normal clothes from normal brands are starting to feel incredibly special and glamorous. Oh, look at me in a shirt and I’ve moisturized! Fancy!
7. Your pets become your family. My relationship with my cat has morphed from parent-child to sibling rivals. We’re standoffish all day and then vie for my husband’s attention when he gets home. When the cat’s with me, I ignore him, but I search for him when he’s out of eyesight. The pussy co-dependency has come as quite a shock to us both. Despite the cat’s company, there remain moments of crippling loneliness, of talking to yourself, of laughing at your own jokes.
8. Some days, you’re writing and mid-sentence, you think you’re the next Sylvia Plath or Shakespeare or the voice of your generation. Most of the time, however, the freelance life seems to mean typing into a void and incrementally morphing into your mother.
In System No. 11. Click to buy.