15 December 2009

Annual review 2009

I usually do a bit of a round-up around this time of the year - a look back at another year of freelancing and what happened industry-wise over the preceding 12 months and any impact it had on me as both an individual and one of the many in my sector. Except when I look back at 2008's December posts, the round-up is missing. I know why, of course. 2008 was a bad year for me. Not workwise, but certainly on a personal level. I just didn't want to put all that in a review post, especially as some of what happened in the final quarter was immensely difficult and too personal to write about.

So where am I now?

I'm literally physically elsewhere, from choice. Making the decision to move to the city I'd originally intended to move to 6 years ago was right in every way. Workwise, it's opened up huge opportunities for me, not just in terms of actual work offered to me but the less quantifiable aspects - the contacts I've made, both social and strictly work, the conversations that sparked ideas, the events I've been able to attend that would have been physically impossible previously... all of which have had a huge impact on my future planning. I managed to get myself banned from a networking event I attended for the first time - simply because I was asked for feedback and was critical. I was gobsmacked at the pettiness, but don't feel I've missed out as the networking I've done at practically everywhere else in this amazing city has been so valuable in so many ways. I also never expected to end 2009 planning a new business venture with a freelance colleague or attending a training course that has led to me spending the first quarter of next year returning to a staff position and which may lead on to who knows what else. I feel I'm standing on the brink of something exciting and important and as yet unknown.

Financially, 2009 was ropey for me - as it was for many freelance colleagues. During the first quarter I earned almost nothing because I was busy writing the book and not in a position to take on other work. After I'd delivered the manuscript, work was very erratic. Looking back, I can see I did much less pure journalism than was desirable. This was partly due to my regular markets shrinking - there's not much point in pitching to eds who you know no longer have a freelance budget. It was also partly down to taking on whatever work was going, just to pay the bills - I ended up doing a lot of book editing and copywriting, which led in turn to having less time to drum up ideas for pitches, which I might not have been able to sell anyway.

I dumped a major client, the one that covered all my monthly bills for minimal effort, which was heartbreaking but had to be done because it had become unsustainable in other ways. I took me a while to find a replacement on that level, but in the early autumn I landed another regular who pays well and on time, and covers my outgoings for just a couple of days' work a month. One of my other regulars still owes me money from the first quarter and is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Somehow, I'll be amazed if I'm still writing for them in 3 months' time.

On an industry level, it was a bad year. If 2008 was grim, seeing thousands of staffers lose jobs, then this year was worse in many respects. It started off ok, as the staff redundancies meant there was still work going for freelances to fill all those pages. Then stage 2 of the downturn kicked in - advertising tailed off, leading to slashed freelance budgets and many publications closing. There seems to be a slight upturn now as the number of advertised staff vacancies is showing a modest improvement, but it'll be at least another 12 months I reckon before that translates into the return of freelance opportunities. There's been much industry talk in the last few months about how the future for journalism will focus on branded individuals. I've definitely used the downtime in 2009 to brand and market myself on Twitter, Facebook and the like, which I hope will pay off in work offered next year.

To my great shame, my blogging rate is way down this year - a measly 46 posts including this one. Compare that to 2007's 126 posts and last year's whopping total of 149. And on the other blog, I managed a feeble 17...

So, to the personal. Looking back, I'm quite stunned at how much I've blogged about my disability this year. I know that initially, way back when, I felt very strongly that I'd not let my health issues get in the way of work, or even be a point of discussion - I think I wanted to prove that the epilepsy was irrelevant to my ability to do the job. And so it was, in many ways. Except that only a few weeks ago, I actually admitted to my course trainer that it has hampered my career over the last few years in the sense that there were many jobs I didn't bother to even enquire about let alone chase because I knew it would be pointless. It's a key reason why I stayed freelancing, which is easier than answering awkward health questions and knowing that HR is lying when they tell you why they gave the the job to someone else. Although freelancing means I can cut out much of the stress - commuting, working with others, etc - that could have a negative impact on my seizures. And yet I had more seizures this year than at any time since I was diagnosed in 1997. My diary tells its own tale and so does this blog - living alone for the first time since diagnosis has forced me to face many fears, practical issues and my own mortality. I still feel vulnerable and I don't like it. Only today, colleagues were asking the "where do you see yourself in 5 years' time?" question and all I could see was me either in A&E (or the dentist) getting patched up, or dead, and all the fear came straight back up like I'd eaten a supersized portion of salmonella. 2009 has definitely been the year in which I can't run or hide from the impact of a long-term disability any more, while 2010 is going to be the year in which I know I'll have to look at long-term workarounds and make some big decisions.

As for the other personal stuff, there's been a relationship or two but nothing serious. As the year draws to a close, there are two very interesting men in my life - who knows what will happen? One is another hack, which has led to some interesting situations. I've not dated a colleague for a very long time - the last time, I swore off it as it became rather competitive on the work front even though we worked for different employers in different sectors. I guess the fear about being scooped is hard to shake off! But maybe not this time. We shall see. The other is as far removed from my industry as you could get, which is equally unsettling in some respects. I know how I'd like things to pan out - let's see in the 2010 review if I get what I wish for.

I end the year editing someone's book and looking forward to a few socials for local journalists (I've already done the London rounds). As usual, I'll be working over Xmas. I also close 2009 pondering the possibilities and practicalities of writing another book - a chance discussion with a colleague resulted in the vague idea of writing said tome together. I've no idea if it'll happen or not but I'm keen if they are. But first, there's the small matter of the tiny temp contract at the major meeja organisation to complete...

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