Thursday, June 08, 2006

Freelancing pitfalls

When I started freelancing, I was told it would be difficult to abandon the comforts of a routine and manage my time in the best way possible. For the first few months of "self-employment", this wasn't much of a problem – my schedule was so packed that the question of what to do with free time never arose (there wasn't any). But in recent weeks, having cut down on assignments (and thus scaled my workload more or less back to the level where it was when I was a regular employee), I find new psychological barriers to be overcome.

The weekday-weekend divide, for instance. In my first job in journalism, I regularly worked Sundays (including graveyard shifts from Saturday night-Sunday morning) and quite enjoyed it. And after that, even when I wasn't officially working on weekends, I managed some of my most relaxed, productive writing on Sundays. This attitude seemed to fit in with the requirements of freelancing, where the line between weekdays and weekends either completely disappears or blurs significantly. Depending on my deadlines, the way I schedule my assignments and my other plans for the week, it's theoretically possible to spend most of Saturday and Sunday working and then take it easy on Monday and Tuesday.

But that's theoretically. In practice, this is what happens: an atavistic voice in my brain whispers, "It's Monday afternoon, how can you not be working?!" Even if I stay up till past 3 AM writing (which I often do, the world and its Pomeranians being asleep at that hour), then rise at 7 AM to go swimming and then put in another session of work between 10 AM-1 PM, my reptile brain rebels against the idea of even a short afternoon nap to compensate for lack of night sleep.

So one frets instead. And snaps angrily when friends calls up, hear the dispirited "Hello" and go "Oh sorry, were you sleeping? I keep forgetting that you no longer work." No longer work! Like a toy bunny without a Duracell in its belly.

And if it's a weekday afternoon and nothing demands my immediate attention for the next 2-3 hours, do I pick up a book or play an unwatched DVD? NO, shouts the primitive voice, you can't do something like that at a time of day when friends and ex-colleagues are toiling away in their offices! It's just wrong. (Never mind that given the nature of my job, watching films and reading books count as value addition. Never mind too that even while I struggle with this profound ethical dilemma, the friends and colleagues in question are more likely taking hundreds of tea and cigarette breaks and bitching about who got what increments.)

Other hazards –

Relatives. I've spent most of my adult life avoiding all but the most necessary ones. Now it's impossible to escape them. I open my door and step into the living-room unaware that there are visitors about, and there they are sitting in a row – numerous fond faces that chant, "Ohh, Jai baba ghar pe hai?" Then one must sit and smile while wedding talk commences and they wonder aloud what good can come of sitting at home and how will bride be obtained when I don't have a job.

Power cuts. I used to think journalists were omnipotent. Now I find to my dismay that brandishing a press card and demanding immediate restoration of power fails to impress the people at the Electricity Board office. Instead of genuflecting and pulling at levers that will get transformers working again, they look at each other, roll their eyes and laugh like Gabbar's sideys. Meanwhile my laptop continues to discharge, the Tata Indicom beeps frantically, the cellphone says Battery Low, and ex-colleagues in office are still bitching and drinking tea – and they have the air-conditioner on as well.

(To be continued)


  1. Nalin has the same problem, since he's now trying to finish the PhD from home. And I, embarassingly, often find myself on the other side of the fence; telling him to wash the dishes, do the laundry etc. since he's at home all the time. There's a solution though: pick up your laptop and go to a library.

  2. I was just talking to a friend about some of the same things a couple of hours ago. I love being a freelance journalist - all said and done, it can be a remarkably autonomous job - but I face schedule problems too. If there doesn't seem to be a present cash shortage, I procastinate on sending in my invoices. Because there's no boss breathing over my shoulder, I procastinate on the writing itself. And because I procastinate on this writing, I procastinate on my more personal writing... And before I know it, I'm running out of cash again, and the deadlines are too close for comfort, and I wake up having panic attacks over whether I'll ever finish my novel (and ever publish it, and ever send in the invoices for the royalties).

    Thanks for this post. It's just like bitching over tea. :)

  3. I feel guilty for taking well deserved holidays - especially if it means me sitting at home.. doing nothing while my frens and roommate goes to work. I feel like I should be doing something productive!! Leave aside the fact that I worked non stop the last two days before that.. and well.. yeah you get the picture..

  4. Oh me relate to that. Freelancing brings with it a certain set of woes. Sometimes it's all very painful!

    Depending on the organisations you deal with - it can also be a rough ride, when people go back on their word, or claim invoices haven't been sent, or that you never said it would take two weeks! :)

  5. The concept of not getting a paycheque from some Lala at the end of the month is too alien a thought for me to currently contemplate. If for nothing else, there are those tea/fag/bitch breaks - thank god! And, well, honestly I do have a ridiculously cushy job.
    And I totally get your point of working on Sundays, I loved it, all the riff-raff aren't in office (and at EchTee there was a lot of riff-raff) and the networks run smoother, ah, the memories!
    I don't know if I envy you ar empathise with you on your free-time. I should feel envious, but I somehow can't!

  6. I could never, never freelance. I think you need a tremendous amount of self discipline for that and I just don't have it. I wouldn'l look out for work, would never give it on time, would never send bills. Plus, doesn't the isolation get to you? The few times I've tried working from home, I've often picked up my bag and headed for office around mid-afternoon. There's so much at home to distract one, no? Books and TV and Net and the phone and making tea and people. Impossible.

  7. n i thot freelancing was fun! but it seems to be 'nother case of grass being greener on the other side.

  8. really... it depends on how much you do.
    Anyway... is it good money freelancing back in India? Never thought it would be.
    Is it?

  9. rejoin your regular job b4 it's too late!
    It's too bad ICE is reduced to a single page, but it was inevitable i guess.

  10. Relax guys, I'm not giving up freelancing - not for a few months at least. Have already said no to a few very tempting offers to get back into the ball-and-chain routine, and it's felt very satisfying each time. This was a rant-y post so naturally there was no space in it for the good things about freelancing.

    Nitika: not sure if Delhi has many of the kinds of libraries where you can just take your laptop and sit there all day.

    Rohit: no money in it at all. Payment rates are very low and you usually don't see the cheque until years later, when you've forgotten all about it. But I have my retainership arrangement so I'm happy.

    Bagchi: yes, the isolation is a problem, as is the self-discipline - we've discussed all that before. That's one reason I do see myself getting back into a regular job at some stage in the future - even if temporarily.

  11. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  12. I for one can never get any work done staying at home. Yours truly has to have someone (the boss) prodding him on or berating him. Well, I suppose he can still do it on the phone but it won't have the same effect.

  13. What about increments in a retainership arrangement? Do you get timely increments -- just in case you plan to go back to working full-time and negotiating with a particular organisation?

  14. Do you get timely increments?

    Yes, of course - this isn’t social work. The money (and even the designation, if one wants) changes as it would in a regular job.

  15. this is the best post for me thus far.. I cant stop myself rolling in laughter.. no offence intended, but seriously you could write a novel on your daily chores and people would have one heck of a time reading it. keep it going!

  16. See, Jai, you're just not naturally lazy enough. Unlike me, you have *gasp* a work ethic.


  17. hey,
    I totally get you. BEtween the guilt over not working the exact 9-5, and exhaustion often working 24 hours straight, my life is chaotic. And I dont know about you but I miss the pay cheque coming in regularly. I hate having to call and ask for money that I have earned!

  18. Hi
    Just came across your post by accident. U know i am a working mom n a journalist n i find this home-office kind of arrangement very tempting. I have tried doing that in the past but somehow it has never worked for me. The problem...well lack of self-discipline. What i found is that as i would indulge in various other things as i was `on my own' ...basically in the name of discovering myself or enjoying the me-time...and then i would be so hardpressed for time coz of the deadly deadline that i would end up working late night, early morning and yes the line between working days n weekends would blur coz i would be working on weekends which does not happen when i am a regular employee...would like to know what you think of this...coz as a working mum i think home-office arrangement would be perfect