In my years of freelancing, I’ve gained considerable knowledge about how to survive and thrive as a stay-at-home master of grammar and syntax.
Let me be clear: I’m not talking about the ordinary information you can read in any how-to book about freelancing. I’m assuming you back up your hard drive regularly, and you already know that forgetting to file your state or federal tax returns will lead to unpleasant consequences.
No, I’m talking about the real nitty-gritty—the inside dope you won’t get from those websites and books.
So here are my 12 Rules for Freelance Survival:
1. It is not okay to deduct all expenses from your road trip to see the [insert name of favorite band here] concert, not even if you told the gas station owner along the way that the apostrophe in his “Cigarette’s On Sale” sign was incorrect.
2. Marry (or date) someone with a salaried 9 to 5 job that pays well. This will take the pressure off you immediately. No work this week? Let the significant other pay for the groceries.
3. If you have children, explain what a freelancer is at as young an age as possible. Otherwise you will have to endure accusatory glares from your child’s teacher after your child tells the class that “Daddy stays at home all day” during their Careers unit. If you don’t take this proactive measure, eventually the entire community will develop a mental picture of you lying on the couch drinking a tallboy and watching TV all day.
4. Speaking of TV, don’t forget that television can be used to pacify and sedate children for several hours at a time. Still working on that footnote-heavy book about the genetic composition of arachnids when the kid gets home from school? That’s why you pay that cable bill, Mr. or Ms. Freelancer.
5. If you need to work over the weekend, try to schedule some playdates to keep your child occupied (if other children are still willing to associate with your child, that is—see #3). But resist the temptation to close the door to your home office and leave the children unmonitored. Check in occasionally to make sure all sharp objects are in their places and that they haven’t decided to play inappropriate games such as “Electrical Socket Truth or Dare,” “Prison Camp,” or (if that kid of questionable morals/upbringing is over) “Mafia Strip Club.”
6. Avoid the Internet at all costs. This is not only so you can avoid the distractions of those enticing news headlines on your home page, but also so you can avoid accidentally seeing the score of that game or the results of that reality show competition you’re DVRing to watch later. Take it from me: It’s much harder to sit through an hour of Has-Been Celebrity Single-Elimination Medieval Jousting if you already know that Parker Stevenson will dislocate his shoulder getting on his horse and will have to forfeit his match to Mr. T.
7. I’m all for multitasking, but do not edit or proofread while driving, even if you have one of those nifty smartphones. Likewise, do not edit or proofread while having “the talk” with your teenage son/daughter or performing any other task for which small mistakes can have devastating consequences later.
8. Don’t skip workouts to squeeze in an extra hour or two of work. Studies show that exercising will help you concentrate, and you’ll ultimately get more done if you start the day at the gym. Use caution however: If you edit Health and Fitness titles, don’t assume you can do an inverted reverse plank just because it looks easy in the photo. Nothing puts a damper on a day of freelancing like a dislocated shoulder (we can’t all just take a few days to recover as we collect Hardy Boys and Baywatch residuals checks like Parker Stevenson can).
9. Watch your diet. The commercials may say “Snickers Satisfies,” but what a Snickers for lunch really does is put you to sleep and make you irritable during those afternoon working hours. And no, even though peanut butter is chock full of protein, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are not an exception to this rule. Also when working with hard copy, think twice about snacking on raspberries, mangos, guacamole, or other colorful foods. They may contain cancer-fighting compounds, but your client still doesn’t want his black-and-white page proofs turned into multicolored abstract art.
10. Sometimes it can be helpful to work outside the home at a restaurant or coffee shop. But be ready to fight for those hard-to-find tables that have a plug-in for your laptop. If you want to be ready when that battery runs out, you can’t be shy about telling that old lady you need her to finish her friggin’ coffee already so you can use her table. Other less respected members of society can be dispensed with more harshly of course: If you sense that the guy who’s hogging the one free outlet at Panera is playing video games, just “accidentally” sweep his laptop and Bacon Turkey Bravo onto the floor, or threaten to call his mother and ask her to put an end to the “I’m just living in the basement until I get my act together” nonsense.
11. Don’t answer the phone; most daytime calls are from telemarketers. If you do answer the phone due to temporary insanity or forgetfulness, use telltale clues to end the conversation as quickly as possible. It’s likely that the person on the line who mispronounces your name is not a close friend or relative. Also the person who asks about your welfare before identifying herself (“Hello Mr. So-and-So, how are you doing this afternoon?”) is undoubtedly a telemarketer ready to sell you a trip to Bermuda on Food Poisoning R Us Cruise Lines. Remember that most phone service providers allow you to customize your ring for a particular caller, so you’ll know when the one person you do want to talk to is calling.
12. If you are fortunate enough to be able to turn down a job from time to time, don’t make your decisions on hourly rate alone. Sure, you’ll make $100 more if you edit that monograph about the mating habits of the mongoose, but then—well, you’ll know the mating habits of the mongoose.
Joshua Rosenberg is, obviously, a freelance editor.