Freelance reflections #13

Well, it’s a new year and the perfect time for reflection – though having always worked in education, I always see September as a good time as well. In fact, I think it’s important to reflect on how things are going, which is obviously why I started this blog series! I finally started the bullet journal that a friend got me a while back, and I’m going to see how well it works in combination with my current system of using my iCalendar. I used to use an Excel spreadsheet, but I think I need to better utilise this in combination with my calendar system for specific tasks such as submitting work. For example, I have put ‘submissions’ into my calendar to repeat for an hour a week, but I would be better to work through these in my spreadsheet. What I’ve been doing instead is just having the tabs open, which is less effective, cluttered and stress-inducing.

Despite being happy with the work I’m doing, as I’m thinking of moving out of my parents’ place, I am becoming concerned that my income needs to be higher. I’ve applied for a few poetry jobs – one editor role and a producer role. I’m even thinking about applying for more part-time EFL work, and have gone for one that is three days a week… the issue is that it is 20 hours, and this often refers to contact hours rather than total hours, so lesson planning could mean that more of my time is eaten up. I think I’m still questioning what I’m doing too much rather than just getting on with things and enjoying it.

When thinking of the year ahead, I’ve used the bullet journal to plan poetry-related activities as the other work I do is pretty consistent. There’s a couple of key submission deadlines at the end of February, so I really want to focus on getting these two projects I’m (supposed to be) working on completed by then. This means that the show stuff might have to wait until the beginning of March, but I’m sure that time will come around quicker than expected! When I wrote out all my goals on the yearly timeline, it made it easier to see. I need deadlines in order to actually make things happen creatively, otherwise I tend to let the paid work takeover.

I have found myself being annoyed when people ask about work, especially when there is an assumption that you are only working when you ‘go out’ to work. In fact, most of the work I do is at home, and most of the time I ‘go out’ to work is spent travelling rather than teaching (with the exception of maybe one day when I have three students). Planning lessons is work. Marking is work. Content writing is work. Checking emails is work. Writing poems is work. Updating bloody financial records is work (this is what I spent all day yesterday doing, finished with a bit of content writing and admin). When I am at home, I spend a majority of the time working, so even if I’ve been at home all day, it is pretty damn safe to assume that YES I have been working.

Being freelance means I work every day, and I choose to do that because it means I can be more flexible at times. Sometimes I have to fit things around work, and sometimes work can fit around other things I want to do. I would love to have more rules for myself about what work I do on a Sunday (ideally these would be reserved for reading, writing and relaxation), but at the moment they are just another day I can fill with things I want to get done. By implementing a slightly better system, I hope this year that I can work more towards spending time in a way that is closer to my ideal, because certain tasks end up piling up because they’re not “important”, then they just seem like such a mountain to climb. These things that pile up tend to be the financial record keeping, my scrapbooking, and copying quotations from books I’ve read (instead, I prefer to read more books and add more to this pile).

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I’m really happy with how the year is going so far. In fact, I’m going to break down what I’ve been up to each day briefly.

1st: I’d been at a small gathering with three others for NYE and it was perfect. I woke up without a bad hangover. When I have a really bad hangover, it tends to be the only time I do actually have a day of relaxation, because I’m physically forced into it. However, this day, I met my friend for brunch and then we went for a walk through Clapham Common. I spent the afternoon writing until past 11pm.

2nd: I hadn’t finished the writing I’d wanted to do, so I also write this day after starting the morning off with Zumba. I also did some admin, such as telling the tax credits office about my actual earnings since completing my self-assessment. I went through some emails before seeing my first student of the year, then spent the evening marking work that I’d collected from another student. I added a prompt for the ’12 Days of Form’ writing group I’m in, for the next day, and finished at 10:30pm.

3rd: I had my final session with one student in the morning. I’d stayed up late the night before watching a film, so I was a bit tired. I came home to do some planning and marking, and had to do a quick update on my ACE evaluation before doing some more writing. After working through a few more emails, I then met friends for dinner and a final festive celebration with a panto.

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4th: I did Zumba again, after writing the poem of the day. I then spent just six hours updating my records. It took me a lot less time than I expected, so that was great. I did some content writing and some admin for She Grrrowls. Still allowing myself some time to wind down from the holidays, I watched another film before reading in bed (this last activity is one I want to get into better habits with).

5th: Today I have been to the gym (I last went on NYE – go me!), written the poem of the day, and I’m about to have lunch, get ready, and go to Words Aloud in Sutton. It’s a great time to go to an open mic when you’ve not got plans. It’s quite local to me and my mum’s even offered to give me a lift! Then I’m meeting a friend from college for the 30th birthday of our old friend. It’s fancy dress and I’m using the ‘growing up’ theme for an excuse to wear all my old dance gear, tap shoes and all!

Tomorrow I’ll get working on those piles!

Happy New Year!

Freelance Reflections #11

It’s been a month since I’ve written, and another busy one at that! My room is a mess with big stacks of papers, I’m behind on my record keeping for finances, and I haven’t had proper dedication writing time towards the three main projects I want to focus on in what feels like an age, so this weekend I plan to do a lot of that boring admin stuff, as well as a bit of personal writing today (including this blog!) I’ve worked five days already this week, yet it’s still difficult to reassure myself that doing this today is worthwhile, and I’m going to take some time to de-stress by going to a swimming class after writing this.

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I have deadlines looming over me for content writing, and last night I did a last minute job working with a university student from Malta to help with their English. I have an almost full time table of students, which includes a couple of days where I’m out 2.30-9.30pm, including the travel time. It means I’m able to get into more of a routine, but planning and marking takes so much time at the moment that it’s quite difficult to fit in the content writing and meet the deadlines. On top of that I’m doing events and tour management and yesterday I did a big chunk of this once I’d finished my lesson planning.

There are now only two tour dates left for the She Grrrowls Autumn 2018 Book Tour! In October, we went to Norwich and Cambridge and both dates were lovely. The next two are in Bristol and London. I’ve also been trying to run some informal workshops, but because the tickets are free, I’m getting a lot of dropouts on the day. The workshops are called ‘Don’t Get Bitter, Get Better’ and I managed to meet up with a poet who is local to me called Rachel Sambrooks, and it was honestly so refreshing to actually talk about our work. We both found it incredibly valuable… now to find the time to go back to those poems to make those edits!

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Last month’s regular She Grrrowls event went really well again, and I’m so happy to be at The Poetry Cafe. It ended up being a rather northern evening, featuring Sophie Sparham, Fran Isherwood, and Sarah Crutwell. It was particularly enjoyable to see Sarah Crutwell as I had never seen her before and I could really relate to her poetry, plus she gave me this cool POWER pin! I can’t believe that it’s just over a week until the next date and soon enough it will be over! Amongst all the work, I’ve also found time to have fun socialising, plus go to Spanish lessons and salsa classes!

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Freelance Reflections #9

It’s nearly a year on from becoming self-employed, and I’m finally getting a routine together. I have six students across Monday to Wednesday, which takes up about six hours on each day because most of this is travelling. It’s a constant battle in my mind between money and travel. I live at home, so I am able to save, but the sacrifice is time.

It begs the question: what is my time worth?

I figure I’ll stay put for now, and embrace the time travelling by reading, doing any admin I can on-the-go, and sometimes just daydreaming out of windows, listening to music. I’ll be turning 30 next May, so maybe I’ll freak out then and feel the urge to uproot. But at least by then I’ll have saved some more.

My mornings are spent planning lessons and marking. This takes up a lot of time as well, but it’s okay. If I stick at it, the work will get easier with time. The type of subjects the students are studying often means I have to go over each paper to make sure that I not only know the answers, but know how to teach the students how to get those answers.

The students themselves are lovely and a pleasure to work with. The other day, I was doing a creative warm-up game with Rory’s Story Cubes, and we made a story that was so funny that we both got the giggles. It was about dice that wouldn’t stop rolling. It relied on an implicit communication as we each continued the story, the dice still rolling in the story, and whilst it was seemingly unprofessional to laugh quite to the extent I did (barely being able to speak), we bonded in that moment, and it is those moments that will make it hard when the tuition stops.

The last couple of weeks, I have been focusing on trying to get into the routines that I want to continue. Sometimes I question whether I’m doing enough paid work. I have this mentality that I should be trying to make as much as I would need to survive if I didn’t live with my parents. But, how am I going to progress with my writing career if I don’t give it the time it deserves? When talking to fellow creative Daisy Dockrill a few months back, she said to do exactly this, for the reason that I would be able to give myself that time to write more.

As well as planning and marking in the mornings, I do content writing, and I said I wouldn’t do this past Wednesday, but this slipped into Thursday the last couple of weeks. Today I’m going to aim to do at least four hours of writing, but I also have a book tour to organise and there’s still (always) a lot to do for that! I’ve been trying to do bits and pieces to do with it, but as always, it never feels like there’s enough time. I’ve been socialising a fair bit too, but this week has been all work really. I’m looking forward to a couple of social things over the weekend, including Common Ground – a free festival I found out about. Hopefully the weather will be nice!

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Last week also saw the first instalment of She Grrrowls at The Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden. It was really lovely, with the most audience we’ve had in a long time. I didn’t make quite enough to cover costs now I have to pay for the venue as well as the acts, not to mention paid advertising. The features were Annie Hayter, who is a Barbican Young Poet; Anvi, who is on an ACE-funded stay from India; and Good Canary, who is a musician!

I’ve been exercising every day until today. I was really itching to, but I just got a new tattoo, so I can’t wear a tight sports bra over it. I’ve been doing a bit of Spanish, including some reading, but could push myself more with this to get up to scratch. I’ll be starting intermediate conversation classes soon, which is scary! Next week I’ll be in Leicester for the second date in the She Grrrowls Autumn 2018 Book Tour, and the first outside of London!

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Freelance Reflections #3

Another couple of weeks of freelance life, and I’ve now got three students I’m tutoring, and although other paid work has not been much over these last two weeks, I’ve been busy with lots of unpaid activities, such as planning workshops and tutoring sessions (which takes a long time at this stage) and writing a funding application. I’ll still be working on both of these things next week too.

I’m also using a maths revision book to brush up on my Maths, and have found there are a couple of different ways to do subtraction, and the new way I’ve found is actually the one recommended by the government.

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Joel Auterson at his book launch for ‘Unremember’

I went to Joel’s book launch, which was really lovely, and there I saw lots of old familiar faces, as well as a few new ones. The next evening I went to see The Head Wrap Diaries, and I ended up reviewing it for The Norwich Radical.

I’ve dedicated some time to writing, particularly on Sundays, but have been using my long journeys to take part in NaPoWriMo still, which ends on Monday. I’ve been sharing some extracts from my new poems via Instagram. I’ve also done a little bit of illustration as an experiment to get me back into visual art a bit.

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(L-R) ‘unnatural council hands in cold looked blue’ by Sara Barker and ‘Sleeping Beauty will hum about mine ears’ by Fiona Rae

Yesterday I decided to go to a few exhibitions around Old Street, including a visit to BEERS, Victoria Miro, and Parasol Unit. I went for an incredible tapas meal at Boqueria and then to a reggaeton and salsa night, where I danced until the early hours. I’m now feeling pretty smug because I’ve had so little sleep, but I’ve been super productive doing some content writing work, plus poetry and Spanish practice and this!

I also recently got an office chair for my bedroom and I love it! I was on a horrible wooden fold-up one all this time before. I can even put it on a massage function!

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‘Sea Painting, Dunwich’ by Jessica Warboys

Freelance Reflections #2

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Another couple of weeks have passed, so I thought I’d write a bit about what I’ve been up to during this time. I’ve not been earning much the last few weeks for a number of reasons. Time has been taken up with family celebrations for both Easter and a cousin’s hen party. Secondly, the majority of my time has been taken up with planning workshops that won’t even nearly cover my costs in terms of the amount of research and planning that I’m doing. I’m also planning a book tour for She Grrrowls, which I will be attempting to get funding for so that it can go ahead.

I attended the Out-Spoken Press Prize and I really enjoyed all the incredible poetry there and avidly Tweeted about it. I was feeling pretty shy and anxious that night, but I said hello and/or well done to around five people, so I didn’t feel so bad. I’d been long-listed for the performance category, but I didn’t make the shortlist, so felt it was important for me to attend, resisting the urge to hibernate. She Grrrowls was a couple of days later and the turn out was much better than the last two (though still not enough to cover my costs) – it was a really lovely evening as always and I enjoyed it as much as a headless chicken can enjoy such a night.

So, this week I’ve been trying to work as much as possible, but I did manage to schedule a day with my friend and artist Natalie Cooper (she did the illustrations inside the She Grrrowls anthology). She introduced me to Salsa 98.1 (I like to listen to Spanish/Latin music when content writing), cooked me a Cuban-inspired dish with kidney beans, and provided me with tea. I wrote some of my spoken word show It’s Always the Quiet Ones without getting too distracted by the music, so felt really pleased with my production levels!

On Saturday I facilitated the first workshop as part of The Femme Canon monthly series with Spread the Word at The Albany. I really enjoyed it and the participants were not only insightful in their readings of the work we covered, their reading voices were delightful, and their poetry was incredibly powerful. I’m looking forward to the next one and although I have all my own materials at the ready, I have asked participants to send me a poem of their choice to make the workshops a little bit more collaborative. With that in mind, if you’re reading this, please feel free to comment with your own favourite writers who are women or non-binary.

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I’m really excited about my Saturdays, even though I’m working a lot of them! On 28th April I’m running a one-off workshop with The Poetry School aimed at writers wanting to develop work for the page who regularly perform their work. I’ve also got a few sessions where I’m covering someone as part of the tutoring agency I work at delivering creative writing workshops to kids. These sessions, along with the rest of The Femme Canon workshops – there’s one ticket left and at £30 for all sessions, it’s still a bargain for six hours of workshop time! The reason why I’ve been aiming to work Monday-Wednesdays with regular work is partly to be able to do one-off workshops across the rest of the week (as well as to try to give myself time to write!)

As for today, I’ve done a bit of admin, as well as person writing, NaPoWriMo writing, and a bit of writing for my show. I’m going to do a bit more admin, as well as revise my maths a bit to brush up whilst doing 11+ tuition. I’m actually enjoying the focus these exercises give my mind. Yesterday afternoon I met up with a friend called Ella Daniels (also a writer, I’m incredible excited for what she has planned!). We spoke about making time for doing the things we love, so I’m planning to get into better reading habits by slightly changing how I schedule my time.

 

Lastly, next week, Joel Auterson – fellow Kid Glove member and Roundhouse alumni – is having a book launch. I’ve already read his book Unremember from Bad Betty Press and it’s pretty special. There’s a great list of poets supporting on the night, including another Kid Glover, Antosh Wojcik, She Grrrowls poet Aisling Fahey, and another fave Laurie Ogden. Also, Poet in the City have a series of events at Wilton’s Music Hall on Women Poets Who Changed 1968, looking at some of the poets who we cover in The Femme Canon – Maya Angelou and Adrienne Rich.

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Freelance Reflections #1

Today marks 6 months since I’ve been officially self-employed. My journey started when I got offered a freelance teaching job (EFL), though you could say it started seven years ago when I began my MA in Creative Entrepreneurship, though you could also say it started over a decade ago when my college friend Anya Destiney took me to an Apples & Snakes open mic, then again, you could also say it started when I wrote my first poem as a child and started to make an anthology with my parents compiled in a plastic folder, or you could say it started when I was born and named Carmina, Latin for poetry.

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I was longlisted for the Out-Spoken Prize for Performance and will be going along to cheer on those shortlisted tonight!

Anyway, being freelance is something I have wanted to do for a long time, yet it is scary taking the first step as it goes against much of what I feel I’ve been encouraged to do by my parents and society as a whole. Really, being self-employed is something we should be taught at school, especially when it comes to avenues that tend to work in this way, such as studying creative arts subjects. Although I don’t believe study should be so focused on the career, it would certainly make these subjects more practical and viable when thinking of the future, especially when it comes to A-level and university.

I thought I would start a series of reflective blog posts for several reasons. Firstly, I appreciate the honesty and transparency from other creatives about how to survive and thrive in this world, and there are many ways to do so and I would like to share what I’m doing in order to help others starting out. This is why Paula Varjack’s Show Me The Money was so great. Secondly, it helps my own practice as an artist to reflect on what I’m doing. I currently do this by writing a list of activities and goals in an Excel spreadsheet (I love spreadsheets) but, as a woman of words, I craved a more thoughtful expression of these reflections that are more than just time management.

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To summarise, my income currently comes from various different streams. The idea is that my main income will be from tutoring and teaching on a part-time and freelance basis. This is a mixture of EFL, English and 11+. For the past six months, this has actually been a slow progression to building clients, and I’ve been doing a lot of copywriting to keep me afloat. Although not as well paid as I would like, I would be making next to nothing if it wasn’t for that work. I’ve been losing money from events (paying artists and the sound technician) and made a small amount from sharing my own work, and selling books. I’ve also donated eggs, which has seen me compensated with £750. You can do this a maximum of three times. Mostly, I’m doing anything I can grab my hands on, including some exam invigilation, which I found really difficult as my legs ached so much as I struggled with the boredom!

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To think about ending this post, I’m going to just review this past week in more detail. I began the week planning my set for a 30 minute set and rehearsing in my bedroom. I spent a couple of hours writing my diary before getting on with some admin. I had a massive backlog of emails, so I indulged in spending a big chuck on these first few days going over the emails and actioning on them where required, meaning reading and signing a contact, and arranging phone calls etc. I didn’t have my usual tutoring that week, so I met up with my Spanish exchange that evening a couple of stops away on the train.

On Tuesday, it was a similar day with rehearsing and emails, sending invoices to get paid etc. I did some content writing and booked travel and accommodation for a trip to Liverpool with a friend, partly a birthday celebration, and also to attend a joint event between Shy Radicals and Shrinking Violets. I also arranged travel and accommodation for a training day in Cambridge, as I’m going to be an assessor for an A-level paper this summer, marking around 200 scripts.

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One of the things I love about being freelance is getting up when I want (though I do need to be more strict with my bedtime!) and being able to start the morning with exercise which I like to do regularly for both my physical and mental health. Thursday was a very similar day, but in the evening I had the opportunity to support Sabrina Benaim at Bush Hall, which was a high I rode on for the next few days. The audience of around 400 people was incredibly supportive, and I felt like I really connected with them. At the end, when people queued for Sabrina, I was also invited into photographs and signing books and tickets – so exciting!

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The previous week I had dedicated my first chunk of time to writing my own work, where I’m trying to write my first spoken word show. This Friday I tried to dedicate a couple of hours to writing, but I ended up just saving documents from my phone noes to word, and submitting a few poems to magazines and anthologies with upcoming deadlines. That evening I had a social event, but also went to support my friend’s band called Black Palms as an audience member. The next day was quite a contrast, with my last working day being a stall at Balham Bowls Club. Although well attended and nice to be a part of, I only sold one book, having paid £35 to do the stall. It’s swings and roundabouts.

I’ve just arrived back from being away with family, so starting a fresh week today!

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29.03.18 – Support for Sabrina Benaim

I’m supporting Sabrina Benaim, who is a Canadian poet on tour in the UK. I’ll be doing a 30 minute set, including my epic poem ‘Circles’. It’s at Bush Hall, but it’s sold out now!

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