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    This is one of a series of contributions that provide useful insights and tips from experienced freelancers who already participate in the MedComms Workbook service. We hope you find it useful. If you make the move to freelancing then please do join us - and we wish you good luck with your venture!

    Yes, it's a freelance life for me
    By Derek Collett, posted 30 January 2017

    My working day begins when I switch on my computer in the morning. I try to map out a rough plan for each working day the night before and then hammer it into a fairly definite shape after breakfast. The receipt of early-morning emails and/or phonecalls - sometimes when my face is still smothered in shaving foam - can swiftly render my carefully crafted plan redundant but c'est la vie. Flexibility of mind and resourcefulness are key attributes for the successful freelancer.

    Not being a morning person, I tend to do most of my freelance work in the afternoons and evenings whenever possible. A brisk walk or strenuous bike ride in the middle of the day helps to clear my head and puts me in the right mood for brain work. I would go so far as to say that if you are intending to work from home then breaking up your labours with some form of physical exercise is pretty much de rigueur. Stir-craziness is an ever-present danger of the freelance lifestyle and you need to get out of the house at least once a day if you can. But the prospect of flexible working is undoubtedly one of the best things about being a freelancer: you have the freedom to draw up your own timetable and the ability to grasp certain weekday leisure opportunities that may well elude the office-dwelling wage slave. So if you want to spend an entire Tuesday afternoon in summer watching Andy Murray on television then no-one is likely to stop you. Just make sure that you get your work done before or after the match though...

    I began working from home in 1995 and have done so for at least three-quarters of the time since. At first I hated it: I missed my friends, the camaraderie and the comforting routines of office life. I even missed the office politics for a while. As the writer Sinclair McKay once observed: "You simply cannot drum up any decent office politics in a living room, unless you intend to plot against the cat." But I quickly saw the advantage of not playing office politics and the sensations of loneliness and isolation wore off over time. I returned to working in an office after a year at home but that period of employment ended badly - the strain of commuting to London got me down - and so I decided to give the freelance life another try. Second time around it worked much better. I don't really know why that was so but I tried hard to maintain a better work/life balance than I had before and I also introduced as much variety into my day as possible, in order to keep things fresh and interesting. Getting the work/life balance right is another prerequisite for a successful freelance career.

    Not everyone is cut out for a freelance life. I had a friend who tried it for a while in the late 1990s. She would sometimes phone up at about 3.30 in the afternoon and inform me that she was sitting on the sofa, watching daytime TV whilst still attired in her pyjamas. Needless to say, she had yet to do a stroke of work... My rule at that time stated that whenever Tinky Winky and his Teletubby chums popped up on the television in mid-morning it was high time for me to switch off the set and go and do some work. So you do need to be disciplined, motivated and determined if you are going to make a go of it as a freelancer. You also need to enjoy your own company (luckily I do) as you will be spending a lot of time on your own.

    'Feast or famine' is the great cliché that is always trotted out whenever freelance workloads are discussed; like most clichés, it also happens to be true. Your workload is likely to fluctuate wildly and you need to possess the mental suppleness to be able to deal with that. I have certainly eaten well in the past but have been on something akin to a starvation diet for a while now. But that is largely as a consequence of a decision I took some years ago to branch out into the field of literary writing (my first book was published in 2015). This goes back to what I was saying earlier: as a freelancer, you are in control and can set your own agenda. Where workloads are concerned, I would just say that my final golden rule for freelancers is never to turn down work if at all possible.

    Whatever the future has in store for me, whether feast, famine or some happy state in-between, I wouldn't go back to the nine-to-five grind now.

    Derek Collett
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