How to not suck at freelancing when you're a mother by Emma Elobeid

How to not suck at freelancing when you’re a mother*

*OR how to not suck at motherhood when you’re a freelancer

I fell into freelancing like I fell into motherhood: all at once, and with no prior strategy. Both have been empowering, transformative and, quite frankly, the happiest and hardest things I have ever done.

My seventeen year old self dreamt of this reality: writing for a living from my home by the sea that I share with my little family. Life is good. Really good. But - as with any dream - the reality is also tempered with moments of utter exasperation, sleepless nights, and the occasional smattering of writer’s block. 

Here are some of my essential work-to-live rules I’ve gradually compiled to ensure that - more often than not - the dream outweighs the drama. 

Keep your circle of concern small

In other words: merrily absolve yourself of unnecessary responsibilities. Letting go feels good. I learnt the hard way that you can’t be everything to everybody, so why even try.

What are your lean, mean, non-negotiables to keep life - and money - flowing smoothly? For me, it’s pretty simple: food to eat, clothes to wear, deadlines to meet, time to play. Unfortunately, the desire to please and overachieve is a curse borne equally in motherhood and self-employment.

Being free and easy with our yeses can lead to all sorts of trouble: whether it’s volunteering to host storytime at your local library every Tuesday morning from now until eternity, or accepting a last-minute project with a too-short deadline.

My advice: keep things tight, learn to say no, give yourself half a chance. Do it. Freedom awaits.

A little skiving is good for the soul

One of my favourite ever facts is that - in moderation - procrastination breeds productivity. I quote it often, though mostly to myself. As a writer, I’ve pretty much got my procrastination/action balance down to a fine art now: a muddy welly walk in the research stages, a play date with a friend when I’ve reached that first draft brick wall. Nothing like a spot of tea and toddler chaos to get you out of a flunk.

But when it comes to crunch time, there’s no escape - and so I’ve also learnt how to knuckle down and get shit done. The things I rely on most of all are probably coffee, my mum, and my favourite ‘I’ve Got This’ Love for the Mama tee!

Keep the staples up high, and the crayons in reach

This one goes against pretty much any other piece of freelancing advice you will read. My guess is whoever wrote about the importance of work space/family life office hygiene clearly didn’t have a curious two year old, laundry that needs drying, or a limited number of bedrooms.

I’ve had to implement a two-tier system. When I’m not working - the desk is his. Anyone raiding my desk drawers would immediately assume I specialise in infantile artwork, so stuffed are they with colouring books, Fireman Sam stickers, and various pipe cleaners, pom-poms and paper. Meanwhile, the staples, tipex, and anything remotely valuable or dangerous are well out of reach. In many ways, it’s like we job-share. By day he writes pretend letters - “Dear friends. Will you come to my party? Love you, goodbye” - while I fold the washing and jot down ideas as they come. By night, the twinkly lights go on and the space is mine again.

Deadlines are sacred (but never let children realise this)

Kids have this really irritating sixth sense when something is important: the clock is ticking, you’re on a deadline, and stuff really needs to happen, now. If they work this out, it’s game over. Getting dressed becomes a half-hour chase round the bedroom, and that’s before the ‘why’ game starts.  You know the one. The secret (I’ve found) is to never - EVER - let them sense when a deadline is looming. Instead, maintain a ridiculous aura of calm and jollity. I sometimes feel like Mummy Pig in the episode where she has Important Work to do on the computer and Peppa and George want to help. Come to think of it, I can relate to Mummy Pig on a number of levels, but that’s another blog post entirely.

Multi-tasking doesn’t even begin to cut it

All mums are multitasking maestros, and all working mums are expert gear-shifters. We’re all wonder women as far as I’m concerned. But there is something unique about self-employment: there is no off switch. There’s not even a pause button. And there’s definitely no flop on the sofa after a long day at the office because, well, sometimes the sofa is your office.

My working day is snatched when I can: sometimes at 6am over breakfast CBeebies, occasionally while he naps, and the two mornings a week when my mum comes to the rescue. But mostly, it begins after bedtime when everyone else is settling down to watch Fortitude. When you write, create, run a business, or work-from-home, downtime has no meaning. I structure intros while washing up, and make mental notes while feeding him to sleep. 

Being a freelancer can mean never fully powering down. But maybe that’s why it works so brilliantly with motherhood. Because, as we all know, there definitely isn’t an off switch for that.

Emma Elobeid is a freelance writer and proofreader. Oh, and a mama to one rather lovely chap. When not writing, she can mostly be found either stomping her local beach, or picking playdough out of the carpet. When not parenting (and sometimes when she is), she writes. It’s a winging-it, work-in-progress kind of balance….