Balance and confidence: The tricky tightrope of being freelance



It’s tricky, being a freelancer. We need to exude confidence but avoid arrogance, appear reliable and professional, whilst maintaining a creative edginess. We have a precarious vocation, but can’t be seen to court convention or the prosaic. Being the innovator or blue skies maverick often gets us jobs (and certainly pushes on form and content), but some ideas can be too ‘out there’ for commissions – and when the means to support ourselves relies on a regular income, the rope we tread is high and tight indeed.

Quite how we support ourselves in this increasingly challenging and, frankly, anti-arts and culture climate is a perennial problem. I have no solutions, just a steadfast impulse that we need to be true to ourselves. We write and create for many different reasons, and for me the sense of communing with myself, knowing my thoughts and reactions in response to the times I inhabit is a pleasure I can’t underestimate. This alone, however, doesn’t put grub on the table. In this capitalist system we need to work, and the product of our labour needs to be valued in monetary terms. How we go about making a living whilst having a life is a constant negotiation, but there are a few things I’ve observed which I feel don’t help.

For years I’ve seen artists and writers trying to second guess directors, producers, editors and literary managers, or considering shaping their emerging work towards whatever is currently doing well. It’s an understandable impulse, but deadly. Never try to jump on a bandwagon. Whatever is currently trending would have been seeded over eighteen months ago. By the time ‘your’ version amounts to something, it will be very much out of date.

I’ve also seen colleagues compromise ‘too much’ with the work, and that can leave a taint on the tongue. I’m all for collaboration and negotiation – I have grown substantially as a writer by exploring avenues I would never have travelled if left to my own navigation. It becomes a problem when artists or makers by their own admission feel they have conceded in some way, or given too much to a premise, aesthetic, or product not conversant with their concept or plan. Finding the balance between being a flexible and responsive team player and the assured primary creative is essential, and something that requires fine tuning. Again, we need confidence, but not egotism.

And as to what ‘they’ want…? What every director and literary manager and producer I’ve ever spoken to is looking for is fresh work made with energy and skill and passion, about subjects that matter to you, communicated in a way that has resonance to all, relevant to now. They want strong, developed, realised ‘voices’ with something to say. They don’t want mynah birds, or would-be mind readers. They want to be surprised, moved, excited. They want to hear what you think is important, in the form and aesthetic you want to use. Given the insecure nature of our profession,and the hourly rate which would defy any notion of ‘minimum wage’, much of our remuneration for the effort put in is not in financial form.  Even more reason to check the balance and trust your own voice and your own passions.

4 responses to “Balance and confidence: The tricky tightrope of being freelance

  1. Thanks for this one Kaitlin. Much appreciated.

    I find it very difficult to say no to anything at the moment, the fear of missing out on an opportunity or some income is too great. Which leaves me feeling anxious about if I am taking on too much, or that I am sacrificing my own stuff to make sure i deliver for others.

    Hopefully I can develop some greater discernment as I continue on my way!

    Much love

    W. X


    • I know that feeling and situation – and it’s really valuable that you bring this up, Will. I think it partly depends on our individual circumstances and where we are in our careers – I know I made certain choices when I was starting out which benefited me hugely in the long term, but which perhaps would not be so beneficial for where I am now. I feel I served several apprenticeships (and each time I start working in a new form, it is, rightly, an apprenticeship) and I think the central thing is to be conversant with ourselves, knowing our ambitions, our intentions, our compromises and limits so our choices are informed and connected to the deep wellspring at the heart of our creativity rather than something perhaps instilled by panic. One of the greatest lessons I learned was the courage to say no to dynamics, content, or aesthetic that didn’t resonate or ring true with me and to realise that we can be empowered by what we turn down. But this is a hopefully a long journey, a life time’s worth, and everything changes and fluctuates according to the moment. Economic pressures are immense, and I think artists sometimes are too willing to be the lesser partner, or to compromise in order to get the gig or the essential paycheque. I think so long as we are okay with our decisions, and rationalise this is the right action for this exact moment in time, we can compromise creatively and in good faith. I just feel bad for friends who have felt they have ‘sold out’, or not committed to finding somehow the time to make their own projects in the midst of making a living. As one friend says, the thing he always checks against is ‘the iron entering the soul’

  2. Pingback: Tom’s Top 4… Picks From The Internet | AtDAC: Disability Arts Cymru

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