Wednesday, January 12, 2011

NO: A Word Not Often Heard in Freelancing

Needless to say, life doesn't always go as planned. When I left my day job in June, I never could have foreseen that physical pain my body would be experiencing just eight months later. It's not getting any better, and may even be getting worse. But I refuse to give up. And although I have my bad days, overall I'm trying to stay positive and not let it affect my everyday life as much as it could.

I don't want to dwell on it, but rather acknowledge that it may even be a welcome challenge. I mean, come on. If I didn't have this back pain to contend with, life would be way too easy and I would feel super guilty about how perfect things are. Sounds crazy, but it's true.

In fact, all this may even be meant to help me focus more on my career. It makes sitting at my computer all day excruciating, BUT it also makes me realize that I need to be WAY pickier about how I spend my time everyday. I am beyond fortunate (right now) that I DO NOT rely on my job for a steady income, nor are our bills or rent dependent on how much I make with my illustration work. I imagine that this will change someday, but for the time being I should feel super lucky that I do not HAVE to take on projects if I don't WANT to. 

That being said, why in the heck am I taking on projects that I do not want to do??
I AM A FREELANCER. I work for myself. No one depends on me. So why don't I feel like I have the freedom to pass up work?

Is it greed?
Gosh, with the low-paying jobs I've done recently it surely can't be that.

Nor do they offer challenging benefits to my career experience. Most of the educational work lately has been more like a math problem with so many constraints that only one answer is the right answer and anyone can figure it out, if they work at it long enough. 

It's unbelievably frustrating to find yourself doing things you don't want to do when YOU are the person who put yourself in that situation to begin with.

So why do I do this to myself? I'm not supposed to owe anyone except myself right now. Why do I keep forgetting this?

Wouldn't my time be better spent working on my own projects, and moving my portfolio forward in the direction of the kind of artist I WANT to be? Heck, my time would better be spent reading than it would be working on some of the lame crap I've done lately. 

I know why I've said yes to this work, and bottom line it's because I felt like I couldn't say no. Like it would look bad to my agent. Like I needed to prove to myself that I can do these meaningless jobs and make a quick buck. 

But the bottom line is that I am not built with a switch that allows me to care less about one job over another. If I take on a crappy job, I'm going to work just as hard on it as I would an awesome job. No matter how long it takes me, no matter how stressed it makes me. 

So if I can't change my work ethic, than perhaps I need to protect myself from my own proclivity for perfection. And that means that it's going to have to be ok for me to say NO to something that doesn't deserve my attention. 

If someone else can do it, than get someone else to do it. Time is too precious. Don't waste it on art you don't want to make. 


  1. The reason I am no longer an illustrator is exactly because of the constraints, the joylessness, of the sort of piecemeal free-lance work you describe. In the end it got to the point that I realised I wasn't earning enough to pay rent in London and it was crushing inevitability of submitting three roughs for an illustration in a photocopier manual! It was the work or the art and the art won!

    I appreciate that that make a snob and a terrible person but I did feel as if I was debasing myself everytime I took a new job on.

    Besides i've taken on another Sisyfusean task - I'm writing books now and that's tougher than three day old steak!

  2. Oh, Courtney...I was having these same thoughts just this morning. I've got plenty of work but it's all mindless crap. After this I'm telling the agent "no more". I want to build my portfolio, not degrade it.

    Would love to hear more from you on this subject...if only to know I have a comrade out there who feels as used as I do.

  3. Hi Anonymous!

    Glad to hear you're in the same boat. Well, I mean I'm glad to hear you can relate, though I'm sorry you're frustrated like me!

    I'd love to share more thoughts on this subject with you directly but I don't know who you are---can you enlighten me? :)