When It Rains, It Pours- and other self-employed creative cliches

January is a bad, bad month. It’s dark, it’s rainy and everyone’s broke. Especially if you’re a terribly susceptible human like me who tries to buy people’s love. It’s a terrible time to be obsessed with proving to people that you adore them by bestowing gifts.

Every year I decide I’m going to make gifts, and then I don’t leave enough time and think ‘fuck it’. This year, I half-made stuff. I baked a lot. But baked goods didn’t feel like enough, so I probably spent more trying to make up for the fact that I dared give my loved ones homemade cookies. My brain. I know.

The point being that whilst everyone is broke in January, it’s a pretty terrifying time to be self-employed and self sufficient. The work dries up, the companies who still owe you are closed for the holidays and generally you spend a lot of time sat in a dark cold room (because you refuse to pay for heating, goddamnit, that’s a luxury) thinking about where you went wrong in life.

I spent most of January applying for jobs. Okay, I spent most of January looking for jobs, and then deciding I didn’t want to go back to service work, no pubs or cafes, and sitting on my arse helping out as an admin assistant was making me fat again. But I found a few. The phrase ‘time to grow up’ circled around my brain quite a bit. As did the ‘I’m nearing thirty and I know a mortgage is a distant dream for my generation but…’

The crux of the matter is thus: I would quite like stability.

I used to hate that word. It spoke of routine and pattern and things being the same and boring forever and ever, amen. Now I get a little bit jealous of those people who are counting down to payday, because at least they know they have a payday to count down to. They don’t have to feel guilty for taking a sick day, or taking an evening off for a friend’s birthday or to spend time with their partner. For me, my time is literally money, and I won’t get it back. Maybe that’s why so many writers are hermits.

Of course, February hit, and with it, all the work I was desperately saving up, planning and waiting for. More clients have appeared, more bookings, more varied work, more classes, more workshops. More uni presentations, and referrals and all those good things. So now instead of panicking about having no work, I’m panicking about how I’m going to get it all done.

Such is the way of the creative freelancer. Surf the waves, and save and save. I feel like that squirrel who has been desperately saving their nuts for winter, but sometimes, no matter how hard you work, the savings never go far enough. And sadly in my line of work, we have two winters. Deadzones in the wintertime and the summertime.

How do we cope with this? Well, if you’re young and excited to be a freelancer, you jump onboard and get damn excited. When I started as a freelancer, I was living at home- stability was in my surroundings, which meant my career could be messy and exciting and varied. I hate to say this, and I know many of my smarter work buddies will get pissed off, but I feel old. I feel old and tired of worrying about bills and rent and where the money’s coming from. But that’s the life I chose.

And when the work is good, and engaging and busy, you can’t even imagine how you’d fit a ‘normal’ job in there. And when it’s slow and you’re scraping by, you wonder if you’re going to be a seventy-year-old creative, still wearing three jumpers and refusing to put the heating on, whilst all your smart friends are on cruises paid for by their retirement packages.

The life of a creative freelancer is a balancing act- some days it’s worth sacrificing stability for excitement, enjoyment and creativity. Some days you’d rather do something boring and soul destroying just so you know you’re building a future in your bank account and not just on your blank page.

Do I have any advice on this subject? Beyond the fact that temping isn’t failing, that 9-5s don’t remove your title as an artist, and that money isn’t everything? Well, have goals. I want to have published enough books that I can be a stay-at-home mum and prolific author in ten years time. So what do I have to do to achieve that? Just keep writing! How I survive until then is up to me, really, isn’t it?

Surf the wave, live the dream and keep creating…just remember to save those nuts for winter, because you never know when it’s going to hit.

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