28 November 2009


One of the the real bonuses of freelancing is that I can have my weekends during the week, and avoid everyone else doing weekend stuff on a Saturday or Sunday. Like shopping in town, for example, which I often do on a Tuesday morning instead when it's quiet. The downside is that I often end up working on a weekend to catch up, if I do that, but I don't mind because the flexibility makes up for everything. And with no kids or partner in tow, I can pretty much please myself.

Taking this past week off to participate in some training inevitably meant I'd end up working this weekend. Several jobs have accumulated in my inbox which need to be done by Monday. Plus I had a business meeting in town this morning with a freelance colleague and friend as we are planning a new venture.

I loathe Manchester city centre on a Saturday morning, especially in the run-up to Xmas. It's full of people who are seemingly wandering round not looking where they are going, apparently for the sole purpose of making my life as miserable as possible. The meeting went well (although I now need to find time to go through the draft business plan and add my input) and I decided to pop into Boots to pick up some essentials before heading home. Big mistake. I got sidetracked by a visit to Waterstones when I remembered I had a £30 gift voucher in my purse. While in there, I spotted my own book on the shelf and nearly fainted with the excitement. I celebrated by blowing £150 on a pair of over-the-knee stiletto boots, as you do. And two pashminas to replace the one I lost recently (am fairly sure I left it behind when I attended Open 09). and £50 on make-up (I swear I only went in for a toothbrush and some face powder). I also acquired a yard broom when I got off the bus home, as my landlord is due to visit this week so I can renew my lease and I really need to sweep the gardens.

I cannot begin to describe how tired I am after the training week, but the rest of today is going to be spent writing someone's newsletter for their business, catching up with the cleaning, buying train tickets for Friday's day trip to London (work meetings, plus a boozy social with freelance colleagues) and reading the business plan. Tomorrow looks like it will consist of more of the same but I do plan to take some time out to do an urban walk in town if the weather holds up. There's a limit, after all, to the amount of time even I can sit on my arse and I have a Phd in arse-sitting. (Actually, there was a further unexpected bonus to the training week - I appear to have dropped 2 kilos spontaneously from all the rushing around. Perhaps commuting is good for you after all.)

But for now, it's back to work...

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27 November 2009

Learning curve

Just over a fortnight ago,on a whim, I applied to do a top-up training course. Today, I completed the first week of intensive workshops. I'm pretty shattered and tattered but it's been most interesting, for a number of reasons.

The biggest shock to the system was learning to commute again after a 6-year hiatus. Although I'm naturally a very early riser, I fought daily against the excruciatingly loud digital bleep of my alarm clock at 5.30am. On at least 2 mornings I was sorely tempted to roll over and crash out again. I don't know why this is - my insomnia frequently wakes me that early and I'm happy to get up, stick the kettle on and crack on with work. But I dislike jumping straight in the shower, deciding what the hell to wear and putting my face on for the day while it's still dark outside. Catching a bus at 7.10 is anathema, sitting on a crowded train even more so. It's bearable - just - as long as I have a large carton of coffee, a paper and don't have to talk to anyone. By today, I felt I'd just about got the hang of things again - nicely in time to unlearn them.

People. I'm naturally sociable, but equally like my own company and frequently crave solitude. This week has taught me that freelancing from home can definitely turn one into a misanthrope. Working largely alone for so long meant I had to learn to work in a team again, something long since forgotten (and, truth be told, after my last spell as a staffer coping with a colleague who was literally bonkers and made my team's life hell, something probably best left behind). I had a huge midweek bust-up with one of the other trainees, inevitable under the circumstances. It was resolved next day but it's served to remind me that in Q110 I'm probably going to have to button the lips that are normally left to speak as bluntly as they care to.

As for the rest, it was hard not to be aware of the age gap between myself and the other gang members. Interestingly, I was way ahead of them when it came to the geek stuff. Although I'm probably an early adopter, I generally expect 20-summats to be ahead of me there. So it was with some surprise that I discovered that 10 years of blogging, plus proficiency in Facebook, Twitter and a bunch of other social media stuff put me furlongs ahead. I was bored and a little frustrated, therefore, during the first couple of days while we were taught how to blog and exploit social media platforms. In the latter half of the week, I did learn new stuff - how to make a digital movie and audio slideshow, for example.

For me, the most bizarre bonus was undoubtedly the unexpected friendship I seem to have struck up with an investigative journalist who dropped in to teach the group how to dig up information on the deep web. A lot of the workshop was, again, stuff I already knew from doing this kind of work in the past but we not only had that in common but also some other things. We swapped cards, Facebooked each other and before you could shout "publishing deal" we were mooting the idea of writing a book together. How weird is that? No weirder than spending 2 hours in someone's company and feeling like you've known them for ages.

Some other points of note: I've had so little free time this week that I've been coming home to a mountain of email that I've had less than 2 hours to sift through in the evening, dealing with the urgent ones and mainly deleting the rest before collapsing into bed. I failed to put the bins out. I cleaned none of the house. The boy was undoubtedly very unhappy at being locked in all day for 5 days in a row. I was so tired one night I overslept the next morning by an hour (yet miraculously still managed to arrive at the course only 5 minutes late - don't ask me how). I was also so tired that I cancelled several evening social engagements I should have showed my face at. Just how do ordinary people manage all these things? I have clearly lost the knack and I'm wondering just how I will cope with 3 months of this when a mere week was evidently such a struggle.

I have a month's respite now, a month in which I have 2 books to edit for clients, plus do my other regular freelance gigs and somehow psyche myself up for returning to the external workplace for 3 months. Scared? You bet. Cocky? Damn right. Somehow I just know I'll pull it out of the bag even though it will more than likely be through my usual combination of winging it, bluffing it and shitting it.

What I really want to know is where it will lead afterwards. But that's another story. So stay tuned...Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

24 November 2009

National Freelancers Day

A couple of months ago I received a press release for National Freelancers Day. I was going to blog about it at the time but then decided I'd wait until it was actually NFD, which was yesterday. Except I was out all day on a training course and then I went straight to an evening meeting and didn't get home until 11pm. And by the time I'd fed the boy and myself, downloaded a huge batch of email and hit the "mark all as read" button on my RSS reader, it was nearly midnight and I was too tired to blog. I just wanted sleep.

So, here I am blogging a day late about why I don't give a toss about National Freelancers Day (although I do care about the missing apostrophe).

PCG invented this day. Who or what is PCG? It's a company (Professional Contracters Group or something like that). Its strapline says "the voice of freelancing" although it doesn't speak for me. I doubt PCG speaks for most other freelances I know, either. In fact, not one of the freelances I know was planning to celebrate NFD! As far as I can tell, PCG just wants freelances to sign up to it and contract work to them. I'm perfectly capable of finding my own work, thanks.

I'm also more than capable of celebrating my freelance status without assistance. I do this most days, in fact - I celebrate being able to sit at my PC in my pyjamas and sift through my email and work on my clients' projects or file my press copy, while gazing out of the window smirking at my neighbours as they all dash out to work every morning, driven by the need to be present at their boss's office come what may.

In fact, I was brutally reminded yesterday morning how glad I am that I no longer have to commute. My alarm went off at 5.30, I woke up in shock at the loud digital bleeping of the clock and leapt straight into the shower, knowing full well that if I didn't I'd fall asleep again for another hour and then I'd be late. Somehow I made it out of the house on time to catch a packed bus to the station then squeeze into an overcrowded train that had no buffet trolley. I got off an hour later grouchy at not having had any coffee and feeling thoroughly misanthropic because of the other commuters I was forced to share space with.

So I celebrate every day my freedom to set my own hours, work wherever I choose and delight in the knowledge that if I don't want to, I don't have to deal with others. I don't need PCG or anyone else to give me permission to do this.

And what were PCG offering anyway? Let's see. Oh yes, some "events". In my city, that meant a panel discussion with a tax adviser and some recruitment specialists. Just the ticket after a hard day's freelancing. Not. I can't think of anything less enticing than listening to some bigwigs drone on about the various admin aspects of working for oneself. I'd rather stick pins in my eyeballs.

If I hadn't had to attend my meeting, I'd have probably headed for the pub with some freelance colleagues to share a bottle or two of wine and a gossip - a far more productive way to enjoy the freelance life, or at least a spare evening after a hard day's self-employment.

Freelancing is not always a bed of roses. Sometimes it's rough and tough - especially in a downturn. But even in the bad times, I see good in it, even if on the really bad days the only good thing is being able to work in my pyjamas. And I really don't need anyone to tell me that's fine because I already know it is. The cynic in me knows that PCG probably created National Freelancers Day in order to recruit members. That in itself is reason enough for me to avoid it like the plague.

And on the days when freelancing really is stonkingly brilliant, I need PCG to help me "celebrate" it even less.

If anyone reading this did actually get involved, do comment and share your thoughts because I'd be very interested to hear your take on NFD.

11 November 2009

Radio silence. Radio noise?

Apologies yet again for a neglected blog. The last few weeks have been busy, chaotic and strange.

I sense a slight whiff of change in the freelance wind. After a desperately quiet summer, things picked up in the early autumn. It's not just me. Colleagues have also reported an uptick on the work front and there do seem to be more jobs being advertised after a lengthy period of falling axes.

In the midst of all this, I've attended several industry conferences - even teaching some social media stuff at one. And I also decided to apply for some proper training.

It's been a long time since I did training. There was the 2 1/2 years indentures when I started at the tender age of 16 and 3/4. It was supposed to be 3 years, but my bosses had the temerity to go bust and I spent the 6 months I should have enjoyed finishing my qualifications taking my kit off at the local art college instead to pay the bills and stave off starvation.

There have been a few spells of CPD since then, almost entirely 1-day courses with the exception of a couple that were 2 days.

So it was with some trepidation that I applied, almost on a whim, just a week ago for a 3-month placement. Yes - 12 whole weeks. I don't think I ever took the application seriously - I didn't really think the training on offer was for members of the Venerable Order of Knackered Old Hacks, but for the thrusting, bright young things snapping at my heels, which are very definitely not Louboutins.

Thus, it was a slight shock to be invited for interview. I was given 4 days' notice and asked to prepare a presentation on social media platforms for news. To show you just how seriously I took this challenge, I did nothing until 2 hours before the deadline to submit it. Then I flung it all together and emailed it with literally 1 minute to spare. (Not forgetting the computer crash I had at 30 minutes to go, with a struggle to reboot.) I wrote the notes to go with the slides while on the 40-minute train journey to the interview today.

Nothing like looming deadlines, eh?

On arrival, I was thrown straight into delivering my presentation - unrehearsed, naturally - and somehow managed not to swear, have a seizure or otherwise cock things up. But still I departed thinking, That'll teach me...

So I was delighted at 10.30pm tonight to get an email offering me a placement. I can't quite believe it. I shed a little tear, swore a lot, went totally nuts for 10 minutes and then reality kicked in.

From January to end March, I'll be doing paid upskilling training in a newsroom. Ignoring the fact that I've almost no proper newsroom experience, despite the 3 decades in the job, it's just hit me that my life is about to change completely.

No more loafing around in my dressing gown all day. I'm convinced my postie believes I'm an invalid, given the number of times I've answered the door in my pyjamas. It's been almost 6 years since I last actually "went out" to work. Almost 6 years since I last set the alarm clock for a pre-dawn commute to an office. I've forgotten what it's like, forgotten how to be on my best behaviour. Freelancing definitely deskills you in some respects, like how to get dressed at a sensible hour and how to maintain a wardrobe of suits. How to cope with colleagues for 8 or 9 hours a day. Perhaps this is what the training is for - to teach me how to handle a workplace again.

I jest, of course. I'm really looking forward to January and the opportunities that lie ahead, even while I'm wondering how I'll adjust to such a massive, if temporary life change.

I'm also wondering where I'll be placed. A newsroom for sure - I want that experience, after 31 years of feature writing. But there's a good chance it'll be at a radio station. So if you hear someone reading a bulletin oop north in giveaway soft southern jessie tones, there's a fair chance it'll be me...
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