I was writing out of a Starbucks the other day, and a few hundred words in, the smoke alarm went off. A barista appeared from the first floor, told us something I didn’t take my headphones out in time to catch, and was gone again. Some people around me started packing, so I assumed some sort of leisurely evacuation was in order. A few other headphoned individuals like myself were looking around, equally confused. The alarm quieted down within ten seconds, no further evac orders followed, and from the window, we could see that the first floor people weren’t running, either. So, after a brief chat between ourselves, we settled back down.
During that chat, a young woman at the next table caught my ear. The way she pronounced her th-s strongly suggested she was from the same neck of East European woods as yours truly. A quick question proved me right. She was Ukrainian, and from my home city of Kyiv, at that – so we were chatting before long.
My new friend was called Yuliya, a Java programmer with a good taste in headphones and a strong dislike for Liverpool stemming from its lack of freelance contracts in her field. As someone unable to find a part-time minimum wage job for about a year now, I happily joined in the bitching about the job market.
Then, somewhere in our talk, this exchange happened. Yuliya, dear, if you’re reading this, I’m sure you meant no offence, so I ask you take none at me, for sharing our conversation with the world.
Me: Fortunately, I don’t need to worry about money TOO much at this point, so I’m putting my main focus on my art.
Yuliya: Oh no, I’m a workaholic, myself. *laughs*
Did I hear an intake of breath from any freelance/beginning/struggling artists who are reading this?
Over the next few minutes, I listened to Yuliya talk about her passion for her job (something I can understand – having dabbled in programming myself, I got addicted every time I tried, and was forced to conclude that if I dedicated myself to that job, I would never do anything else). She told me, laughing at herself, how she was once sitting at a business lunch, feeling fidgety because all she wanted was get back to work. A friend of hers, on the other hand, always talks about maybe going job hunting after taking this vacation, and this family trip, and then maybe after Christmas.
More intakes of breath. I hear you. I had to keep mine inward.
I listened to all the above, with a burning feeling in my throat from that breath I couldn’t take, and repeating to myself, ‘it’s okay, calm down, it’s OKAY, she’s not being mean, she’s from a different field, she didn’t mean to call you… lazy.’If I vocalized my intakes of breath that didn’t happen, I would’ve told Yuliya that on my average week, I do 10-15 hours of (badly) paid work, aim to write 5,000 new words of my novel, and a minimum of one full-length blog. Which, admittedly, doesn’t sound like much, until you add the time required to type the new words up, with a first run of light editing, a day of work in a charity shop, several unpaid translation for a volunteer media project in Ukraine, plus whatever support I can give to the visual-artist half of my comic-book team, be it online promotion, organization, editing, or simple digital work.
Adding some simple math, I get:
– paid work (let’s make it an easy week) – 10 hours;
– novel – 15 hours (I’m a slow writer who writes first drafts in longhand);
– blogging – 4 hours (Sunday evenings);
– charity work – 8 hours (one full day, not counting an hour’s commute each way);
– volunteer translation – 4 hours (on average, two short texts a week);
– typing the week’s writing – bare minimum of 6 hours.
On weeks when there’s more paid work, this point slips up, and gets accumulated for future weeks. I’m currently about 12 hours behind on that one.
The above does not include any commuting (to the charity shop or to the nearest library, to avoid cabin fever), the mental effort required to switch between tasks, and the unquantifiable jobs that count as ‘my half of comic-booking’. On that subject, some time soon, ‘writing new material’ will also include writing several short sequential art (comic) stories, and a 100+ page graphic novel, something I equally look forward to and am terrified of.
So, not counting that, I arrived at roughly 47 hours, which translates to a six-day week of 9 to 5. I don’t keep exact hours, but seeing as I tend to have one-day weekends (often on Thursdays), this makes sense. Needless to say, any social life, housework, and simple things like food shopping are an added bonus to this.
The funny thing, however, is that as I write this, I sound defensive even to myself. So, in retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t deliver the above to Yuliya, who, I’m still convinced, didn’t mean to offend me. But I’m sure that I struck a chord with many of you people out there.
Freelancers everywhere, I salute you, and now I need to get back to work. I took a day off sick yesterday, by which I mean, I only did 80% of my paid gig and none of the art.
P.S. In the conversation with Yuliya, I didn’t go on the defensive, but once the opportunity presented itself, dropped the words ‘working on a six-novel series’. The response to that was a question whether I want to be “the new Joan Rowling –’cause she also wrote in coffee shops a lot, you know”. I suppose it’s better than being compared to that friend who always procrastinates on job hunting…
P.P.S. When hunting for a picture of The Elephant House, an Edinburgh cafe very proud of playing host to J.K. Rowling in her Potter days, I found this, instead. Apparently, some other Edinburgh cafes don’t like being mistaken for it. It amused me.