Monday, January 07, 2008

Autonomy vs. Inefficiency, OR
Life of the self-employed

Since January 1st, which marks my third complete year of working full-time for myself as a freelance writer and editor, I've been looking at both the pros and cons of the gig. The pros are obvious: working in your pajamas; a ten-step commute; no irritating co-workers and a genuinely good feeling that comes from creating and fulfilling your own work demands. For me personally I add: the fact that other than very part time work such as I do for BookSmart, the indie book store, I cannot sustain the energy it takes to work on someone else's agenda for very long. I'm a hard worker when I'm motivated, and an utter slacker when not. The beauty is that working on articles and clients' manuscripts feels aligned with my own work, and therefore it rarely feels like "other people's" work. The hard part of it is realizing that in the end, you're still stuck with yourself. And without those irritating, but sometimes nice co-workers, the commute time, and other people's agendas, you also have way too much time to spend with your own thoughts. To fret and worry and get overwhelmed and be bogged down by meaningless anxieties. And maybe sometimes this is not such a good thing.

For instance, in the workplace, you can commiserate and also take chat breaks. You are all in it together on some level, even if you're not really. You can pretend you are. You can gossip. At home, I can instant message my husband at work and call one of two friends I have in this town, but my contact with the outside world is otherwise pretty limited.

At home, I operate on a pretty formulaic schedule when it comes to my work:

--Say YES with delight to new assignments (or pitch/ seek new ones eagerly)
--Efficiently write all assignments on my trusty white board, with due dates and word counts, etc.
--Feel as though there is nothing but time in the world, so why start now?
--Slowly but surely begin to panic as procrastination meets real-time demands.
--Enter a state of cranky overwhelm
--Stop wanting to return emails or call friends
--Work madly and frenzied until all is done.
--Start panicking about getting new work.

It's a cycle I've had for a long time and I know it's not the most healthy--but I seem to work best under pressure. Since there is no boss cracking his whip and no coworkers to remind me that I better get stuff done or else, I have to create the pressure for myself--and the only way I have successfully figured out how to do this is to procrastinate.

(Note to clients and editors: I do manage get everything done on time ultimately!).

The even more ironic part of working for myself is that I did about five times as much when I had a day job. I wrote fiction in the wee hours, freelance work after hours, led reading salons or my radio show, participated in monthly writing groups and classes, went to graduate school, wrote novels and leapt tall buildings with ease. So even though I am happier, less stressed, generally a nicer person and making a decent enough income, I sometimes wonder if I've also become inefficient as a result.


At 7:43 PM, Blogger Maryanne Stahl said...

WHY oh why does it have to be this way for so many of us? or at least some of us?

WHAT is it about writers that make them procrastinators? I used to think it was because I could always tell myself (and others) that if I'd had TIME to do a really good job, the finished product would have been SO MUCH BETTER. In other words, procrastination as a hedge against imperfection.

But I dunno if that's all of it...


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