Guest Post: Jayne Hawkins

My Story: Four Shots at Freelancing

When I was eight, I was invited to read one of my short stories in front of the entire grade four class. Although I loved to write, as it turns out, I wasn’t the greatest public speaker. I fainted within the first two minutes and from that point forward, I decided I was better off keeping my collection to myself… but that’s another story for another day.

I was always one of the last few standing in school spelling bees, and I can remember finding mistakes on signs and packaging as a child. I haven’t read our local newspaper in more than ten years because the grammar is atrocious, and I was one of the rare students who truly embraced Shakespeare throughout university.

While I always dreamed of becoming a writer, I could never choose a specific genre. I decided to finish an Arts degree and apply to a school of journalism four hours away – the only one of its kind in Eastern Canada. Unfortunately, my marks were not up to par and I was rejected. I applied for a job at the same newspaper I loathed, where I was subsequently informed that staff writers cannot be hired without a journalism degree. Begrudgingly, I put writing on the back burner and enrolled in a web design course.

As I entered my 20s, I started moving from job to job. I was a grocery store cashier, I took on a six-month stint as an insurance broker, and I finally relocated to our capital city and settled on a legal assistant position, where I performed a few web design jobs on the side. I kept it up for three years, until I became pregnant with my second child. No longer enjoying city life, my husband, daughter and I moved back to our quaint Atlantic island to await the arrival of our next bundle of joy. The web design fell by the wayside.

Although returning home was great, the economy was not so fantastic. Facing one year of maternity time in an area that boasts a 15% unemployment rate left us financially strapped. In late 2005, I decided to rehash my love of the web and produced my first full-scale website. However, the market was impossible to work around and I eventually gave it up for a third time. The following year, I became reacquainted with a childhood friend, who suggested that I set up a business online. Armed with my web design skills, I threw together a site that showcased my writing, web, and yes, cake decorating talents.

Within one month, I secured four new clients and our finances began to improve, but my optimism was soon crushed. I became extremely ill and was forced to abandon my growing list of clients. I was sick for a year, then bedridden for six months. During that time, our money struggle peaked, and I tried to reconnect with my former clients – but I couldn’t sit up long enough to get through one e-mail.

In 2007, I was finally diagnosed with a Vitamin B12 deficiency. With treatment came some improvement, but not enough to combat the permanent nerve and vision damage that had been left behind. My doctor advised me that I may never be able to return to ‘real’ work and suggested that I apply for disability benefits; the application was denied a few months later. Left with no choice, I decided that it was time to return to my love of English and push my writing skills.

I began applying for freelancing jobs online, but I was lacking references and work samples. Fortunately, during my university years, I had worked as an on-campus magazine columnist and my portfolio of articles was enough to give me that added boost. With each month, my client base grew, until I found myself swamped with work. I eventually decided that it was time to return to school to finish what I had started, so I began pursuing my Master of Arts in English online.

Now, I keep four or five regular clients and squeeze a few short-term projects in between. I work with another great writer (thanks, Chesley), who was the source of my first long-term freelance relationship. My schedule can become quite hectic, but it comes with the territory. I wake up early, send my teenage daughter off to school, and spend the day with my preschooler. I fit a few work hours in throughout the day, and assume my regular typing position around 10:00 p.m.

Once the kids are settled, that’s when the real work begins. Most nights, I continue writing through to 4:00 a.m., then back up for the breakfast routine. I consider it a bonus that I function quite well on very little sleep, although I do start yawning somewhere in the early afternoon. Sure, I could take a few steps back, but for right now, it works. I’m paying off debts that accumulated during my illness, upgrading our ageing furniture, and it looks like we may finally install a front walkway (after three years of tracking mud into the house).

Freelancing is what you make of it. The beauty of it is that you can set your own schedule, control your workload, keep appointments, and spend time with your spouse or children. On the other hand, there are no medical or dental benefits (not as much of a concern in Canada), annoying and demanding ‘bosses’ still exist, and there is very little downtime. You see, when you work at home, your computer is always calling your name. Even when you take a break, it can be hard to separate yourself from your work, especially with a deadline looming in the background.

Those are the days where I leave the house. 🙂

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