Writing for a Living: Author Hollie Smith

Hollie Smith has been writing for a living for more than two decades. Her she shares her story and tips for successful freelancing.

For me it was a no-brainer: I had no intention of returning to my full-time job as a magazine commissioning editor once my maternity leave was up. The decision – made back in 2001 whilst expecting my first child, Lily – was mainly driven by a desire to be with my baby as much as possible; and partly by dillusionment with the job in any case. But whatever the motivation, I knew even as I walked out the building for the last time, heavily pregnant, that I wouldn’t be going back.

And yet, no way had I given up on my career at that point. My plan was simply to start a new phase of it, once Lily was five or six months old. Before I was a commissioning editor, I was a feature writer. And that’s what I hoped to be again, only freelance rather than on staff, and very much part-time, spending about half the working week in my office, and the other half with my daughter. In theory, the perfect compromise. Especially as I was fortunate enough to have the ultimate in reliable-but-free childcare at my disposal, thanks to the willing services of my own mum.

How has it worked out? Well, almost eight years later, I’m still my own boss. My office is over the garage. And I’ve been gainfully – if not especially lucratively – self-employed ever since (in fact, I’ve progressed from being a feature writer to being an author of five non-fiction titles). Most importantly of all, I’ve been there for my kids (Lily is now seven, her younger sister Isabel, five) for the larger part of their pre-school days and, now that they’re both in full-time education, I’m still around to take them to school and back (not to mention Brownies, ballet, and swimming) and to make an appearance at all the sports days, services, and assemblies that crop up so often on our calendar.

I’d recommend working from home on a freelance basis to anyone – especially parents looking to have a maximum presence in their children’s lives (and I say parents because, although my own other-half is an office based nine to fiver, I know lots of dads who’ve found working from home ensures they get a good work/life balance). Top of its attractions is the freedom – freedom to drop if all when that sports day gets scheduled and you simply have to be there. If it’s feasible, if you can afford it, and if you think it’s for you, I’d say do it. No question.

Of course, it’s by no means without drawbacks. In fact, there are many and they’re not insignificant: little or no job security, an erratic income, isolation, lack of motivation, and the fact that your work and home boundaries blur sometimes.

But for me, those drawbacks are just the pay-off for a pretty marvellous deal. Work from home, set my own schedule, no commute, earn an okay living, and still get to be there for my children. Like I said at the start: it’s no-brainer.

Hollie’s Top Tips for Freelance Working from Home

  • Set yourself a firm schedule and be (fairly) rigid about sticking to it. If you work within school hours, you’ve automatically got a useful timeframe to go by: mine’s 9.30 to 3.00 – I try my best not to deviate!
  • Don’t be tempted to waste working hours on cleaning the house or shopping – make like ordinary working parents and fit these things in as best you can the rest of the time. (Of course, part of the joy of freelancing is the flexibility – loading the washing machine or swinging by the supermarket for the day’s dinner if you need to is your prerogative!)
  • Never be tempted in by the lure of daytime television. And if you’ve got a Facebook or Twitter habit, make a pact with yourself that you won’t log on until the end of the day – or possibly just for very short visits at lunchtime! It’s easy to get sucked into social networking when you’re alone at home, but it’s a terrible waste of time and concentration – best not to go there at all if possible! (In actual fact, most freelancers find isolation isn’t a major problem – in fact, it’s often a relief not to have certain colleagues buzzing around. And if you’re doing the school run regularly, a bit of schoolgate chat either side of the day usually serves pretty well as a way of beating loneliness.)
  • Take a proper lunch break, even if it’s only a short one. Make yourself something nutritious (be sure to stock up on what you need to feed yourself in advance of the week) and sit at your dining room table to eat it rather than scattering bread crumbs all over your keyboard.
  • If you need to catch up on missing hours or work late to beat a deadline, then so be it. But wherever possible, turn off your computer when your work for the day is complete, shut the office door, and don’t go back. Think of yourself as having an imaginary switch – click it over to ‘home/kids/hubby/life’ when you’re done for the day, and leave it there until the following morning!
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