Writing, editing and legal directories advice

Tag Archives: work-life balance

Dealing with downtime – and more adventures in print

While there are many upsides to being a freelancer – I am writing this in my living room, with the sunshine pouring through open balcony doors, so I don’t expect anyone to be crying salty tears on my behalf – the downside is that, when you’re not busy, it’s easy to give into The Fear that you will never be busy again, that this lull in your schedule is only the first in many, and you will soon find yourself struggling to pay bills. It’s particularly pernicious at this time of year, when you know that you could, if you wanted, treat any downtime as a holiday – after all, it’s summer! Everyone deserves a holiday! But then the Fear reminds you that when you are being bombarded with images of your friends gallivanting off to glamorous locations, they are still getting paid while they do so.

My own business – tied as it is to the deadlines of the legal directories – is particularly susceptible to the summer lull. Last year I barely noticed, since I was full in the throes of my Year From Hell, and my attention was tied up with sorting out my mother’s estate and the endless red tape that involved, and finding somewhere to stay from one week to the next while I was house hunting. Since the one upside of having nowhere to live is you don’t pay any rent, I was able to survive on whatever work I could squeeze in around these two exhausting responsibilities, and even managed to use my time creatively, resulting in my last book, the novella / long short story A Vampire in Edinburgh.

This year, when I actually do have to pay rent and can’t just rely on the other people’s larders for my food, the summer slump seems a far more terrifying prospect, but it’s also one I am determined to utilise properly. I’ve built up my repertoire over the past year, and expanded my client base, so am planning to use the summer to see if I can build on both my range of products and expand my international client base, so that I can balance my schedule more throughout the year. I am continuing my project of getting my books into print (A Vampire in Edinburgh and Other Stories is now available in paperback), I have another novel coming out over the summer and I have a Dark Dates sequel in the works. But I’m also trying to accept that my chosen career will always have fallow seasons, and I need to work with that, not rail against it. I’ve always been terrible at taking holidays – even when I worked in an office, I found it impossible to switch off my BlackBerry. Now, though, I have realised that while that most elusive of things, ‘work-life balance’ is impossible to achieve on a day-to-day basis in my life (when I am busy, I am 10-12 hours a day, 7 days a week busy), I can balance out that hectic period with a calmer, more restful season, when instead of fretting about what isn’t happening, I should be taking advantage of the slower pace to tend to all those things that necessarily get pushed aside when work is at full tilt.

Last year, I spent months trying to get my home by the sea – and now I have one, maybe this is the summer I learn to enjoy it.

You can buy A Vampire In Edinburgh and Other Stories here.


Freelancing: Is work-life balance the great freelancing lie?

As I head into my second year of freelancing, I am belatedly realising just how foolish any attempt at creating a work-life balance is. The work I do is highly cyclical in nature, and the deadlines almost entirely not dictated by me (or generally even by my clients); take, for example, the last few months, which have included Chambers UK deadlines (mid-December and mid-February), Legal 500 UK deadlines (mid-February, mid-March, with the deadline for paid profiles the week after the submission deadline), Chambers Europe/Global (first deadline late February), Middle East (start of March) and Asia (start of March/start of April). If all this sounds confusing, trust me it is: I have spent the last few weeks working 10-12 hour days, 7 days a week across time zones to try and accommodate all my clients.

But of course when you have a portfolio career, just because one part of your business gets busy, it doesn’t mean the rest of it slows down. I can’t tell my other, non-legal clients that I am putting their work on hold because I have other deadlines – the fact that I have a weekly quota of web copy to get through for one client, and a batch of magazine articles due in the same day as the Legal 500 is, frankly, my tough luck. Likewise, your personal life doesn’t stop: I’m currently in the middle of moving house, and am dealing with family health crises that consume a lot of my time and energy. You’ll understand, then, if I give people short shrift when they keep telling me how relaxing it is to work from home.

I’m not in any way claiming that I actually work any harder than office-based employees – I have plenty of friends working insane, full on hours in office jobs – just that the perception tends to be that, if you work from home, you spend great swathes of your time swanning around drinking coffee and reading magazines (this seems particularly to be true if you’re a woman working from home – I blame Sex and the City for perpetuating the myth that freelancing for women means a few minutes at your laptop, the rest of the time in cocktail bars).  I’m also not complaining about my workload. I feel remarkably blessed to be in such demand.  I spent much of last year fretting about building up my business, and it’s rewarding in the extreme to see it starting to grow, and to get repeat work from satisfied clients. More than that, I genuinly enjoy what I do – even at its most frustrating, it’s something I feel passionately about, and I want to keep doing. If I have to work my socks off to make it a success, I’m happy to do that. Working for myself still gives me a flexibility I enjoy and can use to my benefit – if I want to get up at 4am and work I can, likewise if I feel I need an extra hour in bed one day, there’s no boss to shout at me for not being at my desk at 9am sharp. But I’m realising that, at least in my chosen career, work-life balance is not a day-to-day thing: it’s a long-term haul. There simply will be weeks and months when I do nothing, nothing at all, but work, times when every other thing in my life has to be fitted in around deadlines and demands. There will, similarly, be weeks when the workload is light and if I want to I can skive off and spend the afternoon wandering around the shops or a gallery. This also of course has financial implications – I need to keep reminding myself that this is my lucrative time of year, so the money I earn now needs to be banked as a buffer against future lean times (and to pay the tax man – something which came as a bit of a jolt last year!).

It’s not a way of working that suits everyone, and it’s certainly not the fantasy of self-employment that many people dream of. Personally, I love it – I find it liberating beyond measure to be able to set my own hours and to work to my own, often eccentric, internal clock. But it has made me recognise that the one thing you need, more than anything, when you start freelancing, is realistic expectations: if you go into it thinking it’s an easier way of working, it might come as a bit of a shock. I think that, whatever your chosen field, the first year of doing it freelance is likely to be the steepest learning curve of your life – so, like all great adventures, you need to embark on it well-prepared for the journey.

[And, because I really like making things difficult for myself, I put my new book out this week… Wolf Night is available now from Amazon.]