Guest blogs

Working as a creative freelancer in lockdown

You don’t need me to tell you that the period we are living in right now is pretty unusual. 

No matter what industry you’re coming from or the job that you do (whether it’s creative or not), the job market is a stressful place to be wading through. 

Throughout lockdown, I have been working as a freelance writer and content creator. I’m very lucky in that, although I am a creative freelancer, I work as a writer – so the cancellations that have impacted countless other creative industries have not restricted my work. 

However, I do have some sense of the difficulties that lockdown has imposed on my age group generally, and any other individuals who are working in the same field as me. It is my hope that this piece will resonate with other freelancers out there, who might be facing the same stresses and challenges as I have been. 

Just as a little bit of background info for you, I graduated back in 2019. I technically still class myself as a post-grad (don’t think I’ll be able to get away with saying that for much longer though). I got a job as an in-house writer for a creative agency, and I was there for almost a year before I moved back home to write on a freelance basis. This, completely coincidentally, came hand in hand with the start of lockdown. So, during the pandemic, I’ve been building my freelancing career.

The surreal thing about freelancing during the lockdown is the fact that, not to be too unprofessional in admitting this, but you’re essentially sat typing away in your joggers all day. In some senses, that’s the brilliant thing about it. Plus, I love to be kept busy (but I can’t sew, so I’m not really made for lockdown’s conventional hobbies). For me, it’s been great to be able to throw myself into my work during this period. 

On a day-to-day basis, I find the job’s successes, new contracts coming in and receiving praise from employers to all be fantastic plus points of the job. I’m incredibly lucky to be in a position where I can pick and choose the types of work that I take on, and I’m so grateful to be able to say that I truly love what I do. 

However, the negative side of working completely on your own is the isolation of it all. Sometimes, you can be left with the unnerving feeling that your work doesn’t really exist. It’s a hard sensation to explain. But, with a lot of the ‘ghost writing’ projects that I do, you essentially write a thing, send it off and then never see it again. Working on a screen all day, then sending quickly-written work to people that you’ve never met and then it’s gone forever – it’s rather surreal at times. 

If you are self-employed, self-motivation, organization and self-management are always tricky matters. But (at the risk of sounding like I’m sitting on my high horse), these skills can be especially tricky to master if the work that you’re doing is creative. You’re bound to have an off day here and there, and sometimes, there’s nothing that you can do about that. 

When you’re working on creative pieces, an off spell might mean that the work that you do on that entire day is pretty rubbish. And that’s part and parcel of the deal. But over lockdown (where, let’s face it, we’ve got nothing else going on), that can really get to you. It’s all too easy to start really beating yourself up about your skills. 

One of the other most common problems with working as a creative freelancer is being underpaid. All too often, potential clients undervalue our skill set, because it’s seen to be something that ‘anyone can do’. There are so, so many writers out there, and businesses looking for someone to hire know that. 

I worked with an American client for about a month, and they were paying me $6 per 500 words of my writing, and I would write as much as 20,000 words for them a week. It was hard being paid very little for a lot of work, and then churning out so many words can leave you feeling very demoralising at times. This can certainly lead to self-confidence knocks. 

With hindsight on my side, if I could go back and tell myself one thing, it would be that it is so important to stick to a fair rate and that, if it means losing the odd job here and there, so be it. In order to break this cycle of underpayments, we need to respect each other as a creative community and stick to our rates, so that no one else is being inadvertently undercut, or forced to drop their rates to compete with ours. 

I want to end by absolutely stressing that, all things considered, working as a creative is incredibly rewarding. Being able to write all day long is the most wonderful, fullfilling job. 

As with any creative career, managing your mental health is a routine that you need to spend a bit of time learning to perfect. It is a skill in-and-of-itself, and one that it is absolutely imperative that we take seriously. 

The support that BE-EXTRA provides as a community has been invaluable to me. Time and time again, Katherine has pulled me out of a little rut, or provided me with fantastic advice (particualry guidance r.e. Twitter!). I cannot overstate the importance of feeling as though you’re part of a creative community. Independent work can feel so isolating at times, and it’s been fantastic to feel as though I am within of a hub of like-minded creatives, going through exactly the same things. 

Overall, if you take one thing from me and my little ramble, it would be that one of the main areas of growth that you will face when you start out on a self-governed creative career is working to bolster your mental health. This should be treated with the same level of respect as learning how to respond to your emails regularly, or how to create manageable to-do lists (none of which came naturally to me). This is part and parcel of the process, and will be a key contributor to your successes.  

This blog was written by one of BE-EXTRA’s copywriters, Josephine Walbank. She is a recent English Lit graduate from the University of Exeter. Josephine is currently working as a freelance writer, based in Derbyshire.