This proofreading life: 5 ups - 5 downs
As someone plagued with innate insecurities, reasonable and unreasonable anxieties, and not a lot of money in the pot to fall back on, becoming a freelance may seem an odd work choice. So, let me pull back slightly and give you the fuller picture: I don’t see it as a work choice – more of a lifestyle decision.
Many years ago, when my two children were small and I was bringing them up singlehandedly, what I needed from a job above all (apart from the obvious living wage) was flexibility. All the more so as my son has autism, dyspraxia and epilepsy. When you’re factoring in regular hospital visits, it’s tricky to commit to being anywhere else other than at home, ready for the emergencies when they happen. My son is an adult now but the situation remains the same – I need the flexibility to be at home when he needs me to be there. Consequently, that’s where my work has to be. That’s why I’m a freelance.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s in no way a sacrifice. I love it. And I count myself fortunate to be someone who adores dealing in words because that’s given me a business. But all the love in the world doesn’t make it easy. Here are 10 reasons why, for me, being a freelance proofreader can be an upper as well as a downer …
1 To proofread, copy edit or write, you need peace and quiet. You need (at least, I need) to be able to focus without distraction. That can mean working alone for much of the time, which tends to be a bit isolating – although far less so these days, with so many online communities out there. I’m lucky. I love working by myself.
2 Set-up and running costs are low. Another reason I love my job.
3 The work can be so varied. I can be proofreading a novel by an independent author one day, checking business documents another, and going through a student essay on feminist ideology in Victorian times on yet another. (I don’t think I’ve ever actually read an essay on Victorian feminist ideology, but you know what I’m saying. There’s a great mix.)
4 The flexibility side is still a huge bonus. Yes, I have to work every day, including weekends when the need arises, so in a sense, I’m still tied to a job. But I don’t have to ask for time off. I don’t have to plan when to take a holiday months in advance. I don’t have to worry that I may not be allowed leave for an emergency at home. I make my own schedule. It’s hectic but, to a large extent, I can adapt it to the particular needs of the moment.
5 I have to be creative and adventurous in order to build my own workflow – which I find immensely fulfilling.
6 However, a little more on that – building my own workflow is also hugely stressful when my inbox sits empty; when a few weeks go by with no new leads, no fresh approaches, promised work just doesn’t appear, and there’s an ominous silence from current clients. I won’t say that’s when I hate being freelance. Hate’s too strong a word. But it is a downer that really bites.
7 Then there are the deadlines. Sometimes they can be painfully tight, but when you need the work, you have to meet them – even if that means working late into the night or getting up with the dawn chorus to finish.
8 It’s a challenge too when projects collide. They shouldn’t collide because I try to programme quite carefully. But stuff happens. Things get delayed. All of a sudden, there are at least three time-consuming jobs all needing to be turned around by the same time on the same day – causing a massive spike in stress levels (not to mention under-eye baggage).
9 There’s professional development to take account of as well. It’s a mistake to assume that anyone can be a proofreader if they enjoy reading. Proofreading is a skill. The world of publishing is a constantly shifting platform. There are different ways to mark up copy, using different tools, and there are often new developments. I’m more and more aware of the need to be bang up to date with the latest editorial technologies. However, to undertake training involves cost. There’s a time implication too. Another couple of challenges to juggle.
10 The work can be immensely pressurised, as can finding new clients and maintaining the workflow. It’s hard graft and tiring, but concentration still needs to be top-notch. Working when you’re tired isn’t good for anyone, whether freelance or not. But a deadline is a deadline and, however you’re feeling, it needs to be met with a high-quality service. Otherwise there’s the risk that the client will go elsewhere next time. To be honest, finding new clients is too much of a challenge to let them go again so easily.
So – is it possible to be enthusiastic about your work 100 per cent of the time? Is it realistic to think you can wake up every morning shouting, ‘Yeah! Let me at it!’? Well, after more than ten years of doing it myself and making it up as I go along, despite the drawbacks and financial stresses, I still seem to have more than enough ‘let me at it’ days to keep on going; to keep pushing through the tough times. I certainly can’t imagine what else I could do that would fit – and give me quite such a buzz.