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Tanis McLeod

In-house to Freelance and Back Again

Illustration of four people collaborating over two computers on a desk. Abstract images representing ideas and success appear in the background.
Illustration of four people collaborating over two computers on a desk. Abstract images representing ideas and success appear in the background.
Copyright: alisarut

I started my professional editing career among a team of writers and editors for the Alberta provincial government. At the time, government was the largest employer of editing professionals. The role was fairly limited: we did everything in Canadian Press style, we never credited a source, and I spent most of my time reviewing slight variations of the same documents. This is common with large organizations—editors are hired for one or two specific functions and rarely get to expand the scope of their practice.

However, there’s a lot to be said for working in a team of editors. For one, you’re never working in isolation. Editors are so often the lone individual who knows (or cares) about perfecting communication. Another benefit of working in a team is that my work was reviewed by other editors, and I was able to quickly develop my skills and move up in the job. It’s much easier to build a career when you work in a team.

There is also much to be said for working freelance, including working for your favourite boss, having control over the hours you work and the jobs you take, and charging what you consider to be the value of your services. When I went freelance, I was aware that my reality would likely consist of perpetually hunting for work, putting in long hours for less cash than I deserved, and forcing myself to persevere through absolutely abysmal writing. And I wasn’t surprised when I had to learn to edit in a variety of styles.

What did surprise me was how many days I spent in isolation. It was like a prison sentence for doing what I love. I worked alone in an otherwise empty office, I talked only to myself, and when I needed a second opinion, I consulted the internet. There were no conversations about writing or editing with other live human beings. No one else was interested. If I did meet another freelance editor (usually at an Editors Canada gathering), they usually sized me up as competition in a tight market, and connections quickly fizzled.

After four years, I went back to working full-time again, this time for smaller organizations. I was respected as an intellectual and an expert in my field, and if I decreed that something should be written a certain way, no one was in a position to argue with me. But at the same time, I was still on my own, the only writer and editor in the organization, and everyone was thankful it was me and not them who spent their days writing.

I have recently returned to a large organization, and there are once again spirited discussions about the spacing of paragraphs and high-fiving when one of us nails the perfect word to convey our meaning. We support each other, appreciate each other, and lift each other’s spirits. Say what you like about the freedom of freelancing: I once again feel that I belong somewhere, that I am part of a community. I have returned home.

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2 Comments on “In-house to Freelance and Back Again”

  • Anita Jenkins

    says:

    «…having control over the hours you work.» Farmers say they can work whenever they want to, as long as it is 20 hours a day.

    The other editors who saw you as competition were absolutely mistaken. Our Edmonton editing community back in the day constantly passed jobs over to each other, either when they were overloaded or when the client wanted a task that they didn’t do (e.g., I never did bibliographies). We shared information about any opportunities out there that might be of interest. That community also helped with the «isolation» problem. Several are still good friends today, in retirement.

    For me, working freelance was a dream come true. After I left the employed work force, I knew I could never go back. I said I was like a hound who had tasted blood.

  • Wendy J Barron

    says:

    I went from freelancing to in-house a few years ago, quite early in my editing career, and I have the same appreciation for working with a team. Mine is one of the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of being part of. Since the pandemic, I’ve also had plenty of opportunity for isolation, working in-house from home. It’s weird, but it works well for my life these days. I miss my colleagues, but I don’t miss commuting. 🙂

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