An Office of One…and a Bear

In the U.S., there are about 54 million people making a living doing freelance work. I happen to be one of them. I’m a freelance writer for a variety of industries, organizations, small companies, big companies, and everybody in between. Though it’s a modest living, it pays the bills all the same; well some of the bills (I definitely rely on my husband’s income, I won’t lie). It’s been said that a freelance writer’s life is lonely. In fact, I’ve met very few of my clients face-to-face. We rarely speak on the phone, and with the exception of an occasional Skype or Face Time session, our communication method is usually Wi-Fi via email and Dropbox. But that doesn’t stop me from participating in communal discussions or getting to know the people I work with. Just this morning I sipped a cup of hot chi tea while looking at pictures of my client’s dog that she texted me.

Speaking of dogs, I do share my days with Bear, my Malamute-Shepherd-Chow-Lab-Boxer-Whatever else is in there-mutt. Though the communication is ninety-percent one-sided, we do spend our lunch hour walking together around the neighborhood where I bounce ideas off of him and he sniffs other dog’s poop. It’s a very collaborative relationship, not unlike having a group-think lunch meeting with colleagues. Believe it or not, these walks provide a form of socialization for me during the day. But soon the cold weather will roll in and the long walks will diminish. Bear and I will have to resort to some whiteboard brainstorming then.

Today at least, it’s a pleasant morning here in southeastern North Carolina. That means crisp air, and I’d like to say cool, but it’s the middle of January and the temperature is in the mid-seventies, so I move my office from the typical spot at the kitchen counter to the screened porch that’s surrounded by trees and nature – specifically three Great Horned owls in the vacant lot next to our house, and my 80-year-old neighbor’s homing pigeons that he lets out twice a day. This will serve as my work space until the temperatures dip, then I’ll hole up at the kitchen counter again for the remainder of the winter.

I put in ten to twelve hours on a typical day, sometimes more, sometimes less, and it suits me just fine. Today will be no different. This week’s docket includes compiling a list of requirements for a grant proposal for a non-profit company, proofreading twenty-eight website pages for a corporate client, and writing forty-five test questions for an adult literacy digital learning publisher. Somewhere during the week I’ll also fit in four blog posts and a newsletter. I must say I love the diversity of the projects I work on. It keeps my mind sharp, forces me to be organized, structured, and focused. Not that I didn’t employ those same skills when I worked in the corporate world. Now it just seems for real since I’m in charge of my own bottom line and profit margin.

I have made some very meaningful network connections, both virtual and those I’ve met in person. Not to mention friends. I’ve been asked to sit on a board of directors for a new non-profit, be part of a volunteer community enhancement committee, and I’ve gained new clients through word-of-mouth. All of these connections are a direct result of my profession. I meet with an artist I wrote about in an article for wine once a month. I barter with a local spa owner – I write her newsletters, she gives me massages. Though the act of writing is a solitary act, at the end of the day, my career does provides social opportunities.

Perhaps my favorite part of being a freelance writer is that it gives me the opportunity and the freedom to pursue personal interests.  Sure, my days are long and busy, but I’m in charge of that. I have the freedom to choose the assignments I want to take on and turn down work when I need a break. Because of this freedom, I’ve been able to go back to school and pursue my master’s degree. Sure, I have to pay my own taxes, my own health insurance, do my own invoicing, and find my own clients, but it’s worth it.

My makeshift outdoor office is exceptionally peaceful and conducive for productivity today.  A sailboat passing by on the waterway, heading south, has three passengers perched on the upper deck. When your days are spent alone, you’re in another world, easily attuned to the overlooked, the underappreciated, and the unshared. You are in a protected haven right in the middle of all that. Birds, boats, wind become virtual coworkers no different than virtual clients. And I collaborate easily with them all, whistling to the birds, or listening intently to the captain yelling at someone to adjust the boom.

It’s the end of the day, I save the project I’m working on, stretch big, and lean back in the patio chair that’s been my office seat for the day. For the first time today I switch my iPod playlist from soft background music to The Ramones and crank up the volume. It’s nearing six o’clock and my hubby will be home from work soon.  Hanging out all by myself, I don’t want to be with anybody else. I just want to be with you. I just want to have something to do. Bear can sense the change in tunes and appears at my side.  Tonight, tonight, tonight, well alright.

My husband arrives a few short minutes later and asks me how my day was.  I open my mouth to speak and my voice is horse; probably from inactivity. I squeak out, “absolutely wonderful, how about yours?”  So, considering the number one complaint from many of the 54 million freelance workers in the United States who work from home, is loneliness, this may sound strange to hear, but I’m really not lonely. I embrace the lack of constraints and supervision. I appreciate the freedom, even if the long hours are often.