11 April 2011

My week as a freelancer part II (Colin's week)

After reading my post on Friday, friend and fellow freelancer Colin Stuart (you may know him as @skyponderer) felt compelled to write something in response. I promised to publish it, so here it is. He's gone for a full on blow-by-blow account of his week, which I think perfectly communicates the hectic (but varied and often fun-filled) lifestyle of a freelancer. And for the record, I don't eat *that* many biscuits... cake, though, that's a different question.

Freelancing can be interesting. Let me say outright though that I don't eat as many biscuits as Hayley but I am happy to bet I drink as much tea and my Where's Wally pyjamas can definitely rival her Dangermouse ones.

So I too often get approached to say that I must be living the dream as a freelancer and like Hayley I have never really known another way having taken the leap straight out of uni.

First things first, there are many things to distract you: I am only writing this because I was crowd-sourcing on Facebook (for that read procrastinating) when I saw a link to her blog post on being freelance. I then felt I too could/should write something. Bottom line: you've got to be disciplined(ish).

So, let's get down to it. My week as a freelancer*:

Monday - had the morning off so I could travel back from parent's house having cooked my Mum a lovely Mother's Day dinner night before. NB Being freelance means you can take time off whenever you want, e.g. to be a good Son. Win. Also means you don't earn as much money, or you have to work extra to cover it. Fail. Monday afternoon I had given over to writing my entry for the 2011 Association of British Science Writers Awards. Being freelance means any opportunity for shameless promotion needs to be taken, sometimes at the cost of not doing paid work. Monday = happy Mother, potential for awards victory, zero money made.

Tuesday – It is a rare day that as a freelancer I have a need to get suited and booted. It is either aforementioned Where's Wally pyjama bottoms, or at best black jeans and a shirt. Today was different: today I was going to the House of Lords. Not before a meeting in Central London mind. During meeting another editor emails (seen on my indispensable iPhone) to say he has story for me, am I interested? Whilst still paying attention to the meeting, I reply in the affirmative. He is paying, of course I am. Meeting finishes. Whilst grabbing a quick lunch, read paper editor had emailed over, email lead author to set up phone interview for next day. Rack brains for independent researcher in same field, send email to ask same. Jump on Tube and head to Westminster. Hour and half chatting about new project I am the writer for, as well as the obligatory networking. As a freelancer you never know who you might meet and which purse strings they may be in control of. Two pints in pub with fellow science writer and then home for a lie down.

Wednesday – Also on Tuesday in between meetings, emails to editors/experts and eating scones in the House of Lords, Royal Observatory emailed to say they needed me to cover a planetarium shift on Wednesday morning. Again, they are paying so yes please. Go in and talk to ~150 people about life, the Universe and everything and then racing home for phone interview with lead scientist from yesterday's commission. Oh yeah a kid vomited in the planetarium. Interview lead author of paper and independent expert. Feeling in the writing groove (a rarity when you actually need to write) so bash out two thirds of the news article by 6:30. Buy beer. Watch Champions League.

Thursday – Up early to finish off news article. Words flow surprisingly easily again, copy filed by 10:30am. Had received 2 CD's in the post containing manuscripts for 12 kids science books on the Solar System I had agreed to fact check. Fact check and write corrections for 2 books. Re-read article I had sent, even though I'd sent it and there was nothing I could change now. Sit down on sofa for lunch, watch a bit of TV. Get so distracted by TV and internet that I don't actually move from the sofa for the rest of the afternoon; Jeremy Kyle often robs me of working time. Bastard. Head out to meet girlfriend for night of art galleries and cocktails. NB We're not really that pretentious.

Friday – Girlfriend's alarm goes off at 6:30am because she has a 'proper' job. I have a meeting in Central London at 11am and I am a freelancer, so I set the alarm for 9am and go back to bed. Get up and trek back from North London (she'll come round to South East London one day) to meeting. 90 minutes meeting. Jump back on public transport back to my flat. Write up the minutes of the meeting along with Tuesday's meeting. Get bored. Check Facebook/Twitter. Read Hayley's article. Decide to splurge this out in 15 minutes. Think I should show geek credentials by adding a graph. Whilst making graph, see tweet that my article has gone live. Shamelessly RT. Decide I can't be arsed with graph.***

So there it is. My week in words. Freelancing is definitely a lifestyle choice. There are many things that didn't feature this week that are big parts of the gig. Chasing invoices, never having a proper pay day, weekends not being sacred. Oh and if you get sick you are screwed and giving yourself holiday is tough. But don't let that scare you off. There are many brilliant aspects and if I am honest I wouldn't swap it for the world. For starters the commute from bed, to kettle, to desk is the easiest and cheapest in London. Throw in the fact I am earning more money than I would if I wasn't freelance, that I am in charge of my life (most of the time) and no week is ever the same, I couldn't even been to imagine what I would be doing if I hadn't stumbled into this amazing, if slightly chaotic, existence.

*No wallplanners were harmed in the making of this blog post.
** I take no responsibility for splling or gramatical erors. After all I am not being paid for this.
*** Edit 12/04: Late addition. Some of your uber-geeks out there (*cough* @lewis_dartnell *cough*) did actually want the graph after all. And who I am to deprive them. So here it is: my normalised earnings for the past three years. No prizes for spotting my week's holiday to Greece and when I disappeared to Australia for an entire month!

8 April 2011

My week as a freelancer

I've been getting quite a few enquiries lately from people interested in becoming writers, journalists, science comms people and what have you. Not all of them want to become freelancers straight away, but that does often seem to be the long-term aim. The Dream, if you like.

So I thought I'd put together a quick post describing my week, primarily as a link I can send to the people making those enquiries, therefore saving some of my precious freelance time - you know, for sitting around in my Dangermouse pyjamas and stuff - and secondly, to see if people are any more or less interested in becoming freelance once they've heard some real-life details.

Now, first appreciate that I am writing this in a hurry. It's not paid-for so doesn't (can't) take priority. And to add to that, I have a hankering for biscuits so am aiming to finish this in the next ten minutes so that I can run out to Co-op.

As I told one colleague earlier this week, I am currently scheduled to within an inch of my life. Staring at the bit of paper covered in blue highlighter pen constituting my wall planner, I have one "free" day on the 19th April, which I plan to use for overspill. (I am already way behind on three different projects). Also, because I'm getting married in less than a month, all sorts of jobs to do with flowers and fascinators - that I guess other people get on with in their office jobs when they think no one is looking - have been designated to me because I'm freelance and therefore don't have anything really useful to be getting on with...

So, a recap of my week so far. Monday I spent writing a feature article for Chemistry World, and scouring the internet for entomologists who could act as independent experts for a news article I'm writing - sort of in my spare time, because there's no slot for that on my wall planner...

On Tuesday, I had a deadline for an environmental policy article I had written ahead of schedule, on Friday last week. Still, when opening the article for one last check, I couldn't resist doing another full scale edit. That, as well as the coffee I popped out for mid-afternoon, took another hour out of the time I was scheduled to be writing study guides for an environmental health course. Of course, I made up the time later.

Meanwhile, during my evenings, I'd been trying to stitch a seat cover for a chair. On Monday night, after four hours painstakingly pinning, measuring around foam pads, tacking and swearing at my sewing machine, I realised I'd sewn one of the segments on in the wrong place. I won't go into all the detail of how complicated it was to fix this but on Tuesday morning at 8am I decided (after shunning the gym) to finish the thing just so I could stop dwelling on it. Needless to say it took longer than expected and thus another reason I had to work late on Tuesday. But hey, priveleges of being a freelancer - you get to sew seat covers until 10am if you want to. Just don't expect to be able to do so without feeling guilty.

Anyway, Wednesday, I spent writing my study guides. This was, obviously, punctuated by incessant emails about various other writing/communication projects I'm involved with, invoices left, right and centre, and more of the wedding kerfuffle. Still, by Wednesday evening, I was rather pleased with the amount I had achieved and congratulated myself and Mr Hayley with an inspired dinner of pork wrapped in bacon, mash and apple sauce.

Yesterday, I spent all day writing emails to artists involved with Einstein's Garden at Green Man Festival, for which I am the manager of the Solar Stage (a stage powered by the Sun - in Wales... I know!). Oh and at some point I had a nice conversation with science writer Stuart Clark about a new space-based track he's written with his band the Neutron Stars. (Yes, he writes books, he writes songs, he's soooo prolific). We'll be releasing it on the next Geek Pop podcast, which I'll be co-hosting with fellow freelance sci commer Jim next week. That's not on my wall planner either.

And what about today? Well, I did actually go to the gym. I typed up a transcript for an interview before 9am. I wrote a news article - the unscheduled one - and I just finished this blog post. All by midday! Hoorah! Now for those biscuits...