I can still remember the exact moment when my career as a full-time staff writer ended. I was sitting in front of my computer at the Jerusalem Post when I noticed my water broke. Within 36 hours I became a mother and said goodbye to full-time employment, forever.
I could have gone back after maternity leave but I didn’t want to. My baby, whom I breastfed on demand, was enough of a taskmaster. I didn’t need the additional yoke of an employer but I wanted to write professional so I became my own boss, a freelancer.
Freelancer, what a beautiful word. Freelance as in free: Free to design my workflow, to choose my subject matter, to follow the promptings of my own heart. How glorious was that and yet it wasn’t long before I discovered the downside of the freelance life, the loneliness, the struggle to self-motivate, the low pay and the weird way that people reacted to my new job description.
When I announced that I worked at the Post people smiled but now they rolled their eyes. I was still the same person, but when calling myself a freelancer sounded weird, ungrounded spacey and then there was the dreaded follow-up question “so where can I see your stuff?” Sometimes I could boast of a freshly published piece in a prestigious outlet but more often I’d scored a rejection slip, a publication on an obscure website or no publication at all as I was deep into tweaking a novel whose future was uncertain.
It was then that I long for the crisp outlines of a well-defined life. That’s not to say that my present life is chaotic – I’ve learned to structure freelancing but sometimes my routine falls apart as it did during the days following the long Passover break when I found myself daydreaming about a regular gig. That’s when magazine X came to mind. Mag X had published my work in the past and had briefly flirted with hiring me – I refused their wooing but now that my kids were in their teens, twenties, and even (yikes) thirties I thought I was ready. Now the challenge was getting magazine X to want me. That wouldn’t be hard. I’d pitch them an idea, they’d accept it and then I’d write a piece so awesome that they would fall to their knees and offer me a regular stream of work.
And so I pitched my story and as if she knew my plan, the editor quickly gave me the heads up. Not only that, but she stroked my ego. ‘Yes go ahead, sounds great. You area good writer,” she wrote. I was so excited that I made light of her worrisome caveat. “We close the magazine on Wednesday (I pitched her on Tuesday) and our pieces are usually 2,500 words long.”
“Fine.” I wrote back.
“Are you sure?” The editor offered me another week but I wouldn’t or couldn’t accept that gift of time. The crazy deadline was my chance opportunity to strut my stuff.
I raring to prove myself. In my mind my foot was already inside of the proverbial door and so I broke my own rule; I told my friends about the brilliant new career I was about to start at mag X. They were all onboard.
“Go for it, sounds great, you need it, It’ll be good for your mental health,” Oy. Those last words gave me a sick feeling. What did my friends really think of my freelance life?
I’d think about that later. Right now I had a deadline to meet. I delayed laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, speaking with family members, even working on my novel. For the next 48 hours writing this piece was my top, indeed only, priority.
But as the deadline drew near my life pushed back. The house was becoming dirtier, the piles of laundry bigger and my family more needy yet I had to make this deadline..
On d-day, Wednesday night I was done, my research complete, the piece written. Now I was editing rearranging the paragraphs as if they were LEGO blocks. The piece was good and solid; it wasn’t nearly as long as the editor liked, but it was professional, well-written, well-researched, and good enough.
Would the magazine hire me? I wasn’t sure but now I was no longer convinced that I wanted to devote my days and night writing research heavy articles on tight deadlines for mediocre pay.
I missed the freedom of my old life – the way that it allowed me to close the computer and make time for my family when that was needed.
And for the first time in a long time, it occurred to me that I had I been right all those years ago when I walked away from the Post.
Freelancer is a beautiful word.
Carol Ungar is an award-winning writer whose work has been published widely. She is also the author of Jewish Soul Food-Traditional Fare and it’s Mystical Meaning (UPNE 2015).