Meet a newbie
Harriet Reuter Hapgood has only very recently gone freelance. How is she finding it – and was it a scary leap to make? Here’s what she has to say…
“I do – or try to – a nice balance of lots of things, all word-oriented, so in-office subbing shifts at magazines and newspapers; proofreading of academic work, commercial copy like press releases and consumer stuff like books; blogging (for pennies and publicity rather than paying the rent); writing, including interviews, features, opinion pieces; occasional on-the-radio talking-head stuff; copywriting; and I've done some non-fiction book proposal-type stuff.
“In amongst balancing all that, and trying to keep track of invoices and what I've pitched where, I'm writing a young adult novel about maths, physics and falling in love. I'd say it's my first book, but I wrote a truly terrible, never-to-see-the-light-of-day epic sci-fi fantasy (there was a dark and stormy prologue and it had SIX different narrators!) when I was 18... Hopefully I've learned since then!
“Why did I go freelance? I'd worked at my previous position - senior sub-editor/writer at InStyle magazine - for almost five years and felt in a bit of a rut. I got to do a great deal of different and interesting work, but all within the remit of fashion and beauty, and the workload didn't leave much scope for freelancing on top of that. Really, I just wanted to broaden my horizons a bit. I'd previously written freelance features for the Independent and Independent on Sunday, and I missed having a variety of topics to work with.
“Plus, I'd been trying to write this book, or a book, for a long time, but as lots of my job involved evening events (I covered food and drink for the magazine), every time I really pushed myself to work on it as well as doing a full-time job, I got burnt out - and it's very easy to just not do something when you're in a safe job. Ditching the safety of a salary has given me both the impetus to write every day and also the time.
“The downside is the constant hustling for work versus having too much work! It's a steep learning curve to figure out that you need to say no to some approaches and projects, and to not get too stressed out at an empty diary and rapidly cram it with subbing shifts or other work that's not quite right, only to then miss out later on some amazing opportunities. You do have to be good at constantly approaching people to say, ‘Hi, I'm around, I can do this, here are my skills, what do you need?’ and not have a thoroughly British attitude of going, ‘Snerk, snerk, sorry to bother you, I'd like to check some spelling, no? Thanks awfully please sorry’.
“I think also just getting into the headspace of being freelance is quite tough. Even once you've organised your National Insurance payments and set up a spreadsheet of all your invoices and lists of projects, etc, and logically you know that you're booked full-time and are financially sound – because you're the one in charge of all the paperwork, there's an ever-present, ‘Have I left the oven on...?’ feeling that you've missed something or forgotten to tick a box.”
Was Harriet worried about going freelance in the current climate?
“Oh my stars, yes. I'd considered it and delayed it, and faffed about for a long time because I had doom-mongering visions of ending up in a gutter with my cat and a bottle of gin, telling stories to tourists about how I had one of those job things once. I knew lots of publications were cutting back on hiring freelance subs, or not commissioning features and just writing everything in-house. Plus there's the no sick-day pay, no holiday pay, what if, what if, what if...
“But then, equally, I knew many successful freelancers and any time I needed to book a sub to cover my own holidays, they were all booked up with plenty of work; and I had freelance writer/blogger friends who seemed more than content. Eventually, you just have to take the plunge. I started earning money from writing when I was 15 and people were still seeing fit to employ me [a redacted number of years] later, so I thought I might just be all right...
“So long as my rent is paid, I can do as much or as little work as I like or need in order to fund those days when I want to sit and write my book. So long as I have the time in my diary to spare, I can say yes to lots of fun invitations to things and pitch coverage to any publication, rather than saying, ‘No, not up my publication's street’.
“As a (however wannabe) fiction writer, it's fantastic to broaden my world and go into all sorts of different offices and places; and the variety of things I now get to do as a journalist is just –at the risk of sounding saccharine – really inspiring. Oh, and I can choose to spend that first Monday after the Christmas holidays watching telly in bed instead of slogging through the snow. Freelance perk!”