Freelance Reflections

Another two months, another blog post. I should probably stop starting each post with a reflection on how long it’s been since I’ve last posted, though. That’s just always the first thing that comes to mind when I have a blank canvass in front of me and I’m trying to begin again. Well in addition to being 2 months since my last posting, it’s, more interestingly, been 2 months since I started my new freelance lifestyle. Every time someone asks me how the freelancing is going I’m not sure how to respond. But after I hung up a Skype call this morning with a friend where I had fielded that question again I came up with a better answer. So far, freelancing has me regularly oscillating between feeling totally overworked and feeling guilty that I’m not working enough. There’s no middle ground, or not yet anyway. I’m not saying that I’m not enjoying it though. On the contrary, another side of my guilt is feeling like no one should have such a free and enjoyable lifestyle as this. But without a fixed schedule decided for me by some other body it’s hard to ever feel like I’m working exactly as much as I’m supposed to be working, no more and no less. For example, last weekend a bunch of assignments and jobs all landed at the same time, so I spent all of Saturday and all of Sunday working, at least 12 hours each day. And being the weekend, when most of my friends were likely sleeping or going out, this seemed cruel and unfair. But then I awoke on Monday with no immediate jobs or deadlines in front of me. So I “took the day off” — my first in 8 days, and that seemed fine. But now it’s Tuesday, and considering that this is an “on day” I haven’t been noticeably more productive than yesterday… Instead, I’m sitting in Starbucks, fiddling with my planner while listening to Allen Stone’s “Unaware” on a loop.

I spend a whole lot of time in cafes these days…

Strange to say, since embarking on my freelancing, I haven’t really had to actively look for and apply for work. The first month, especially, I felt like I could barely manage the workload I had taken on, let alone apply for more jobs. So I guess here’s a good point to actually explain what these “jobs” are that I’m doing. All of the jobs I’m doing now are things that I set into motion about a month or two before leaving my school, to try to make the transition as easy as possible and also just to gauge if I could actually support myself freelancing. Anyway, my jobs fall into two basic categories: writing and tutoring. On the writing side, I get more or less weekly assignments from this pretty big Japanese company, writing articles about Tokyo for a blog on one of their websites called loveinnjapan. I’ve written something like six articles for them at this point, but only one has been published so far. I would put a direct link to it here, but it was the first article I wrote for them and I’m not overwhelmingly proud of it, to be honest. At least not compared to the later articles I wrote. Actually I’m pretty proud of the last one I just submitted, so I hope that one comes out soon. [UPDATE: They just released this article I wrote about one of my favorite neighborhoods in Tokyo. There’s also a video I made at the end of it so check it out!]. Besides that company, I do some fiction writing for a Japan-based startup called 96 problems. They’re in the middle of releasing a story-reading app called LongShorts. The concept of these stories is called “social fiction.” The app interface is made to look like Twitter and the characters in the stories are all Twitter accounts. As these fictional users tweet things a story gradually unfolds. You can download the app now (it’s in the “open dress rehearsal” stage of launch) if you follow this link . My story is called “The Accomplice.” Unfortunately, though, there’s a few errors in the first day of tweets which is really confusing for the reader, I think. Essentially, two characters are tweeting, and while one character is babbling on and monologuing, suddenly some of his tweets are confusingly misappropriated to the other character. Hopefully that’ll be fixed before the official launch though..

PIGMENT, a beautiful art supply store in Tokyo– from my last Tokyo article

But continuing with my freelance breakdown: I also do some editing of Physics articles. These were articles written by Japanese researchers in English, so sometimes there are mistakes or it’s just hard to follow what they’re trying to say, so I revise it for clarity. Physics was one of my majors in college, so I really like these jobs. It’s nice to feel like I have some contact with the world of Physics and the state of research. It can be really challenging though, because the research articles are on super esoteric topics that I might struggle to understand even if it was written in perfect English– so trying to understand and clarify bad English is sometimes almost beyond me. This company also doesn’t send me enough jobs, though, and I have no way to apply for more work from them– they just send me assignments whenever they have them available, which so far isn’t so often.

Finally, on the tutoring side of things, I get all of my jobs through one company, or really through one person. I found this company kind of miraculously. The guy who finds these tutoring jobs for me, who I guess I can call my “manager,” posted on the JET Alumni Facebook page back in September asking if anyone living in Tokyo was interested in tutoring in Physics. I wasn’t even part of this group at the time, though, so I never saw his post, but a friend of mine who knew that I was very much interested in teaching Physics tagged me on his post and suggested he message me. I’ve gotten so many jobs from that one connection that my friend says he would like a commission. Through this manager guy I’ve gotten 3 regular gigs tutoring international high school students in Physics and Math. He also sends me random jobs pretty often, like revising college essays. And every couple months or so I’m signed up to teach a 5-day SAT prep course at Yokohama International School (YIS), where most of the students I tutor attend. Although SAT prep isn’t the most exciting material to teach, I actually really like teaching these classes. YIS is a small, cozy school to the south of Tokyo and close to the shores of Tokyo Bay. The neighborhood around the school is like a little Western hamlet– all the buildings are in a grand, sweeping European style, with big front lawns and Victorian facades. When one of my students talks to me about the school, she describes it as a cliquey, hostile place, but as a teacher I don’t see that at all. To me, the school seems warm, clean, and brightly lit from its many south-facing windows, the students cheerful and friendly. Not that I discredit her account of it at all. But it’s funny how differently the same place appears to the two of us. I wonder if some of my high school teachers also thought of my high school as a “warm and friendly” place, where to me it literally felt like I was walking in and out of prison every day.

Park near Yokohama International School

I haven’t actually sat down and calculated it, but I would guess that my work time is pretty evenly divided between writing gigs and tutoring gigs. My income, on the other hand, I have to sit down and calculate and can clearly see there isn’t such an even divide there. Optimistically, I would say 75% of my income comes from tutoring/teaching, 25% from all my writing jobs. I’m hoping down the line I can even that out more, but for now my tutoring jobs are infinitely more lucrative. I could easily spend a month perfecting a week of story content for LongShorts, and it would earn me the same money I could make in 2 tutoring sessions. But I’m trying not to divide my work time according to pay scale. If I was really interested in the best time-spent-to-income-earned ratio I would still be working at my previous school as a glorified tape recorder.


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