The Loneliness of the Long-distance Freelancer

Like many freelancers, I spend much of my time working alone at home.

A few weeks ago, I left my mini office to meet up with a client who has a workspace in a large building in Manchester city centre.

As I waited in the foyer and took in the sheer size of my surroundings and watched the dozens of people milling around I was struck how strangely alien it all seemed. Most days, I’m left to chew over the day’s events with my two dogs while the majority of my (mostly email) conversations are with people hundreds of miles away in London, most of whom I’ve never even met.

It also got me thinking about how, as a freelancer, you can keep faith in what you are doing or trying to achieve while facing up to the very real challenges of being your own boss.

The title of this blog is nicked from Alan Sillitoe’s novel The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and the film of the same name. The film poster’s byline, which even less-rebellious types with no interest in running can relate to, reads: ‘You can play it by rules… or you can play it by ear – WHAT COUNTS is that you play it right for you…”

So my question is this, how – as a freelancer – do you make sure your are playing it right? I’m not the type to get lonely but I do worry sometimes about the long-term effects of working alone. For example, what difference does it make to my creativity, productivity and willingness to explore new opportunities? I can measure my own success in the number of commissions/projects I secure each month or my annual profits but beyond that how do I know I’m really doing the best I can or achieving all the goals I could be achieving? Naturally, I can talk to other freelancers, network, and stay in touch with developments in my industry. But, inevitably, I still have to plough a lone furrow and hope it brings rewards.

I recently clocked up ten years as a freelance journalist, which is longer than I’ve been running, so I guess I must be doing something right. But it does get harder to keep pace with the competition.

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