Starting 2014 with a gratitude list: 15 reasons I love freelance editing

I thought it would be appropriate to begin the new year on a positive note―with some gratitude. So for today’s post, I’m presenting a list of reasons I love freelance editing. I owe thanks to one of my authors, Rashad Pharaon, for posing the question, “What do you enjoy most about editing?” to me a few months ago and inspiring me to set my gratitude list down in writing.

After doing the same job for almost a dozen years, you might think I’d become bored with it, but the opposite is true. I love my work more than ever. To me, written language, along with music, is the most expressive of all the arts. No two authors have the same writing style, and the manuscripts I receive are marvelous in their variety. I’m often challenged, occasionally frustrated, and invariably astonished at the breadth and scope of the writing I edit. I’m never, ever bored.

Yes, there are a few downsides to freelance work: long hours, erratic paycheques, and no employee benefits. Steady work has almost never been an issue for me (on only one occasion, a client cancelled, and I was left without work, but I quickly filled that gap). So for me, the positives of the freelance life far outweigh these few negatives. I’ll begin with some of the more obvious reasons I love freelance editing and work my way to the most profound.

1. Being my own boss. Well, technically speaking, my clients are my bosses. I work extremely hard to please them. But beyond that, I answer to no one else’s standards, policies, and rules but my own. Yes, the responsibilities of owning one’s own business are far greater than working for an employer. If I fail at any aspect of the job, I have no one to blame but myself, but when I succeed, the rewards are mine alone to claim. There’s little greater professional satisfaction than a freelance job done well and a happy client. Job security? Well, I’m responsible for that. Arguably, there’s less job security when one is at the whim of an employer than in being self-employed.

2. Setting my own hours. I used to loathe the nine-to-five office regimen. If I’m passionate about what I’m doing, it doesn’t end at 5:00 p.m. And I’m not an early-morning person. These days, I prefer to spend my mornings doing an hour of outdoor cardio walking, then coming home and making coffee, answering e-mail, making phone calls, working on blog posts, and doing social media. I’m much more productive editorially from about 2:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. It might sound a bit crazy, but it works for me. Each day I set a goal of XX number of pages to edit, and I rarely fail to achieve that goal. I’m very self-motivated. And even though I know I’ll have to make it up later, I can take an unscheduled day off anytime I want.

3. Working solo from home. I’ve always found an office environment too restrictive. And when it comes to work, I’m a loner; I don’t work optimally with big teams in an office. Working at home alone suits my nature, and I never feel isolated because of my hundreds of editor colleagues and friends on Facebook. FB is our virtual water cooler, where we share anecdotes, trials, tribulations, and questions about editing.

4. Editing in my pyjamas. Seriously, I save a small fortune on clothes because I don’t have to go to an office every day. My only dress code at home is comfort; I can wear jeans and sweats and nobody cares. Bonus: no makeup or hair styling either. Of course, if I’m meeting with a client or colleagues, I do make every effort to look presentable.

5. No commute. Really, does anyone actually enjoy commuting? I gain one or two hours of productivity by not having to deal with the stress of commuting. I spend little on car maintenance, even less on gas, and I don’t pay for parking. And don’t get me going on the years I didn’t own a car and had to depend on public transportation. One cold winter in Vancouver, on my way to work on several occasions I sat freezing in a stuck-in-the-snow bus for hours.

6. Freedom to schedule personal tasks at optimal times. Most people have to fit in appointments, shopping, and workouts on their lunch hour. I have the flexibility to schedule my exercise, personal chores, and appointments during non-peak, non-lineup hours. More time saved and put toward work productivity.

7. No unproductive meetings. As a staffer with various large and small companies before my editing career, I sat quietly through many unproductive meetings, where mostly only the type-A personalities would be heard (not me!). Now, I schedule phone or in-person meetings infrequently, and only when a client specifically requests one. And even then, the meetings are productive because the client knows I’m charging for my time.

8. Control of my environment. No working in a cube farm for me. I have a beautiful office in a bright sunroom, decorated to my tastes with plenty of bookcases and . . . no desk. I’m much more comfortable—and productive—sitting on the couch with my laptop and my feet on an ottoman. In summer, I can be found working on my shaded, tranquil back patio.

9. Freedom to travel. I’m free to live and travel wherever and whenever I want, as long as I have an Internet connection where I’m heading because I always take work along with me. I used to laugh and say my dream was to edit on a beach under a palapa in some tropical locale, and the dream, once a joke, has actually come true for the past several winters. (However, I also learned that the reality doesn’t always match the dream: the sun’s glare and the heat, sand, wind, and other distractions don’t make for optimal working conditions. See my blog post on the hazards of editing on a tropical vacation here. Caveat: be careful what you wish for!)

10. Choosing the clients and projects that suit me. After almost a dozen years of freelance editing, I’m now mostly in a position to turn down manuscripts that don’t seem quite the right fit for me. I’m so well connected in the editing world that I can always find a more suitable editor for the job, leaving me to work on manuscripts that suit my abilities and interests.

11. The variety of projects. I’m not a person who can work at rote tasks day after day, year after year. My worst pre-editing job ever was mind-numbing (to me) data entry. I thrive on diversity, and you only need glance at my portfolio to see the enormous variety of genres I’ve edited in both fiction and nonfiction. And not only do I get variety in the subject matter with a new project every month or so, but there’s infinite variety in the challenges I face with each project because each author has a unique writing style. I embrace them all.

12. Learning new stuff. I’m a voracious, lifelong learner. Growing up, I was always the family member who raced for the set of World Book encyclopedias when a question arose at the dinner table. I’ve acquired a delightful mélange of knowledge through editing books on topics as diverse as numismatics, the tesseract, and Saudi Arabian geography, just to name a few. I’m on Google dozens of times a day during any given project, fact checking and also researching things I’m not as familiar or confident with as I’d like to be. There are few other jobs in which one is paid to read, research, and absorb a vast array of eclectic facts and bits of trivia.

13. I love the nuts and bolts of the work itself. I have a love affair with the English language and all its vagaries, nuances, and beauty. I get enormous satisfaction from reworking sentences, paragraphs, chapters, structure, plot, and characters and then fine-tuning and polishing them. I enjoy examining a poorly constructed sentence, for example, and almost instantly seeing a way to improve it. My mind just works that way with the English language. It’s very gratifying and rewarding.

14. Doing a job I’m good at and have an aptitude for. I am a dedicated, driven worker—it’s just my nature—and for two decades, I worked very hard in several careers including television production and classical music. But they just weren’t the right fit, and hard as I strived, I could never seem to achieve anything beyond mediocrity. When I became an editor, I knew instantly I’d found my life’s calling, my strength, my forte. I was a natural. I worked hard, as usual, but this time I excelled. It was only the second time in my life I’d found a passion, and this time I was able to turn it into a successful career. It is a rare gift to be able to carry one’s passion into a career and excel at it. Every day, I’m truly grateful for this gift.

15. Interesting, wonderful clients. Finally, and best of all, I take great delight in the variety of authors and writers I “meet” in my work (and I do meet some in person, although most often it’s by phone or e-mail). Writers are a fascinating bunch: smart, creative, entertaining, well-read, and the diversity of personalities I meet is endlessly stimulating. I’ve formed special connections with some of them that have lasted long beyond the editing work. In my travels, I’ve enjoyed the hospitality of my authors from various states, provinces, and countries, and I’ve had authors visit me where I live, purely on a social level. I cherish those bonds. In many ways, forming a strong author-editor relationship is the best part of my career.

If it isn’t more than obvious by now, I can’t imagine doing anything else but freelance editing as a career. And I don’t intend to stop working with the English language for a very, very long time. In fact, soon, I hope to do some volunteer work with a literacy organization where I live, returning some of the gifts I’ve been given to my community.

I’m so grateful for work that allows me to immerse myself in books. What about you? Would you like to share some of your own gratitude here? As a writer or editor, what aspects of your work are you most grateful for?

Picture of Arlene Prunkl

Arlene Prunkl

Arlene Prunkl is a freelance manuscript editor and the owner of PenUltimate Editorial Services. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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17 Responses

  1. This is lovely and I agree with all of it. I particularly like being able to work very early in the morning, as that’s my personal best time, and having a long lunch break to go to the gym, shower, have lunch and then start the third session of the day. Hooray for freelancing and thanks for such a positive post!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Liz, and you’re welcome! I know I’m far more productive when I can schedule my time in a way that suits me best, and I’m sure most of us are like that. It’s a dream job in so many ways.

  2. You’ve offered wonderful reminders, Arlene, about entering newly created worlds, whether fictional, biographical, or any other genre. I’ve never been an early-morning person either (though I continue to wish I were). I try to work out in the morning and get through admin or other personal work while letting the life of a manuscript take shape in my thoughts. I love working my way through the afternoon and, more often than not, will return in the evening with a predetermined stopping place in the text.
    The key emotion is always waiting to be found in any genre and the author’s direction then becomes clear.
    The only point I’d remedy is your having said you worked your way to the most profound reasons you love freelance editing. Each of the fifteen offer profoundly gratifying and rewarding advantages! Thanks for a great editorial overture into the new year.

    1. You have a wonderfully lyrical way of describing how we editors approach a manuscript, Irene. Beautiful sentence: “. . . get through other personal work while letting the life of a manuscript take shape in my thoughts.” That’s just perfect. And it’s nice to hear that you think every point is worthy of profundity. I would have to say I agree!

    1. It’s true, Kevin. And you’ve given me an idea. Whenever things get tough, as they invariably do from time to time, I’m going to come back to this post and reread it to get back to my happy place.

  3. LOVE this list—I was nodding and smiling as I read each item! I could never go back to an office.

    1. Glad you could relate, Karen! And I hope any office workers who read this don’t think I’m gloating. We freelancers have our share of struggles, and that’s why I created this list — to remind myself of the good things during tough times.

      1. Right. If they accuse you of gloating, you can remind them of their paid sick/vacation days, health insurance, 401(K), etc.

  4. Thanks for the list Arlene. May be about to go back to the world of self-employment and that list could be needed as a gee-up some days. I found that working from home can be a bit isolating and can also eat up the hours, but if you get out-and-about occasionally and stay disciplined all those other factors you talk about stay to the fore 🙂 Came to this through Culdaff and a Canadian astronaut, strangely enough!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Martin. I’m happy you found inspiration from my list. Interesting the things you find when searching the ‘net. Working from is a luxury to me. And I don’t feel isolated at all. I cardio-walk with a group for an hour first thing each morning, and throughout the day at intervals I connect with dozens of my editor colleagues on Facebook — our virtual water cooler. As long as I stay disciplined about my time, this really works for me.

  5. Job security is something you could add. I think we agree that we are grateful that our future is not in the hands of a single business manager. In today’s world, one could think of “a job” as the best example of having all your eggs in one basket.
    I agree with all your points.

    1. Indeed, Adrienne! I did mention that in #1. I lost several jobs in my former cubicle life because of downsizing or an employer’s whim. I feel much more secure owning my own business than I ever did tiptoeing around a boss.

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