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How I Fell into Freelancing & Why I Still Do It

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I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. I wrote my first “novel” when I was six years old. It was six pages long. Each page was six lines long. Naturally, the avant garde child prodigy that was me dubbed each of the six pages a “chapter”, because form was important to me.

I don’t remember the title, but the plot surrounded two pet goldfish that were flushed down the toilet by a cruel big brother. They wound up in a nearby lake, and had a run in with a shark, from which they were saved by a combination of Free Willy and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

What can I say? I was born to write…

By the time I graduated from University in 2011, reality had set in. The publishing industry was on its knees, and no longer accepted pitches for as-of-yet unwritten books. The movies had lied to me! I thought I would pitch a great story, get some money up front, and then spend my days writing in my armchair, a cup of coffee in one hand and a pen in the other. “Reality bites,” They say.

***

I was 23, I had no money, the British and Irish economies were in recession, and the market research agency where I worked part time was about to shut. On the advice of a friend, I decided to borrow some cash to pay for a month-long English teaching course. This is what turned my life around -- I worked hard at becoming a teacher, and no sooner had I gained my qualification than I was offered a great job at a school in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I packed up, booked a one way flight, and arrived in Vietnam with 100 Pounds in my bank account!

It started off tough -- the culture shock and workload from teaching, but over time it got easier. Soon, I became efficient enough in my teaching preparation that I had way more time to write.

I started submitting articles to lifestyle, culture and travel magazines, and published the occasional short story too. Life was stress free -- I had my teaching salary to keep me going, and I could make extra cash from writing.

Those were idyllic days, but now things are different. I left Vietnam after six years due to family reasons, and now I spend quite some time in South Africa, where my partner is from. Here, I have no choice due to visa restrictions but to work freelance. This is how I “fell” into full time freelance work. At the age of 30, I restarted my life in a way.

***

It’s never easy I must admit. You are running your own company while doing all the work yourself. There aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done, while you only get paid for what you write. I thought the hardest part would be finding work, but that’s comparably easy. All you need is a computer, an internet connection, a decent CV and the right websites. The hard part is the administration -- the bank trips, the tax issues, and the lack of a regular payday. These things are all time consuming, and time is money!

Without a doubt though, the biggest issue for almost any freelancer is time management. After all, half of your job entails finding the next job. But is there ever enough time to do this while still working a full schedule? It’s a balancing act, that’s for sure.

Now, while the above all is quite negative, here’s the funny thing: I LOVE freelancing. I’m writing this at my kitchen table, with the windows wide open and great music playing in the background. My lunch is stewing happily on the stovetop and I can hear the neighborhood kids playing cricket on the street outside. When I’ve finished, I’ll go for a quick swim (the beach is ten minutes away), and then I’ll work from a cafe in the afternoon. I wouldn’t trade this life in for anything, honestly. I can only try to get better at it!

The variety of work is amazing too. I’ll write about education this afternoon, then I’ll spend an hour hiring writers for another travel project which I’m editing. Tomorrow it’s a health and fitness piece followed by a cultural story for (hopefully) a major newspaper. The day after, I’ll be writing website copy for a client in the adventure and outdoors industry.

I’ll make enough this month to pay rent, health insurance, and car insurance. That’s something that is a challenge though: all your bills are your own --There’s no company benefits.

Sometimes, I really wish there was a universal basic income. It would take so much stress off my shoulders, and would allow me to focus on more rewarding work, because let's face it, not every job is enjoyable even in freelance work. In a sense though, I find this total self responsibility to be a good, honest challenge. Going full time freelance has actually shown me how much, or rather how little, we actually need.

It’s forced me to reevaluate my priorities, and above all else, it’s also allowed me to give away all of my formal office clothing! Hallelujah!
Author: Sean Campbell