The (few!) joys of freelancing

Contrary to presumption, freelance writing isn’t all beer and skittles. The pay is miserly, you’re never off the clock and as for the company…that gag you thought up about Eamon Gilmore’s hair, which would be hilarious in an office, isn’t so much fun when you’re telling it to yourself. Then replying to yourself.

But there are benefits to working from home: for starters you don’t have to stay there. Hop in the car anytime and go wherever you like. On a whim, I point the Batmobile north towards Gort, then north-west to Kinvara, then follow the coast south. The day is shining-fresh, sunny after rain.

The soft, shimmering light is magical, and sunshine after rain is even more so: everything looks in clearer focus, every detail super-real, like a picture doctored in Photoshop. Filter tool – sharpen – apply – save.

I haven’t taken the coast road from Ballyvaughan to Fanore in a while, and had forgotten how breath-taking this drive is. On the left, limestone hills, grey crouching giants; on the right, the great belly of the Atlantic, blue today, with splashes of green like globules of ectoplasm.

In the centre, me struggling to get my eyes off the scenery and onto the road. And appreciating the fact that instead of working, I’m driving aimlessly through the stark and beautiful Burren.

Next day, off to the woods for a run. No need to imitate those super-people who jog at 5am before beginning their day. The odds on me rising at 5am are only quantifiable by NASA supercomputer.

The fact I run at all is a minor miracle. I’m one of those folks who will never get the endorphin rush from exercise; it’s hard labour, and will forever be. But it’s necessary, and running in the woods is much more enjoyable than plodding around the roads.

You can trick yourself into thinking you’re a movie character: Jason Bourne, maybe, training between missions, or some hero in Lord of the Rings, hurtling towards death or glory. Such are the ways we delude ourselves into doing what’s best for us.

More perks of the self-employed: idling an afternoon watching hurling clips online. Normally, I can’t stand sports bores blathering on about how it contains all the answers to life, is an art-form and so on.

For all that, there are moments of real beauty and magic in sport; some of these hurlers are, almost literally, poetry in motion. What wonderful vision: when you think about the precise neurological and motor actions, how unlikely that such a subtle, sublime coalescence of mind and muscle is possible…

Yet for hurlers they’re routine. That’s the beauty of this machine we call the human being, I guess.

A final advantage of freelancing: time to write. Again, I’ll never get up at 5am to toil on a novel; working for yourself, you can find an hour here and there.

I recently finished a Young Adult story. I write YA thus: pretty much like a book aimed at adults, then take out any too-explicit references to sex, drugs or violence.

And swearing. Foul language is tricky – so tricky that I Googled, “Can you say ‘f**k’ in YA?” The feedback was inconclusive. It seems you can use minor swearwords (not too often), but the biggies – f word, c word, p word, other p word – must be sparingly, if at all.

So I spend a day going through my story, pitching the swearing at an acceptably innocent level. Change “sh*t” to “crap” a few times, replace “motherf**er” with “b**tard”, put back one of those deleted “sh*ts” for extra grittiness. Eventually, I’m happy there’s enough cussin’ to make the book sound authentic, not so much it’ll get banned by Rick Santorum if he’s ever elected.

Yes, this counts as work. Doesn’t it?


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