The Poetics of Freelancing
Posted on March 2, 2013
From One to Another
“I crave for freedom in many aspects of my life so this makes me ill-suited for a nine to five,” said Rebecca Toh, who runs the Casual Poet Culture, a charming creative studio dedicated to expressing the magic of simple everyday life through photography and writing.
The self-professed workaholic delights in the joy of traveling whenever she wants to and plans her time as she wishes. The weekdays see her exploring in the name of work — whether scouting for shoot locations or editing photographs; weekends find her exploring, in the name of play. She is plugged in on social media where she engages a community of followers through fun, collaborative projects and personal posts on her freelance journey. Offline, she keeps company with spirited individuals: the like-minded, creative dreamers who dream and do.
Toh knows her fate is in her own two hands. She has to constantly keep up with the momentum of getting more work, as supposed to being handed work in a regular corporate setting. “You have to constantly market yourself. What keeps me going is the desire to do better work and to have that work seen by more people,” she said. “I also keep lists of ideas and possible future projects and go back to them once in awhile to see if there’s anything I can work on at any given moment,” she said.
What keeps me going is the desire to do better work and to have that work be seen by more people.
For writer Justin Zhuang, who helms In Plain Words, freelancing was an “accidental” move while he was looking for a suitable job where he could write about topics he was passionate about: creative non-fiction and Singapore’s visual culture, heritage and spaces. Zhuang soon realized he could work this way full-time as more editorial assignments came along.
“I just wanted to sing,” said Dawn Wong. “It was a natural progression opportunity to opportunity.” Wong embodies the never-say-die spirit. She survived a brutal Mandopop reality TV singing programme in 2007, and went on to juggle wedding and event gigs while working at full-time jobs.
Fast-forward five years later, Wong now works freelance full-time and has released her debut EP, Dawn. She also runs her own company providing live bands for weddings as part of long-term career and financial plans.
“You have to be aware of what you are doing and think for yourself,” said Wong. “I’ve been educated to toe the line, take instructions and follow templates. But when you’re fending for yourself, you have to keep both eyes open and make your own calls.
“I find this really hard to do and am still figuring lots of stuff out as I go,” she added.
The Other Side of Things
Standing on one’s own two feet without the backing of a corporation and the security of colleagues and mentors is no walk in the park, but along with a long list of challenges comes a heightened sense of self-awareness and motivation.
Zhuang, who has realised that life in Singapore is designed around people who work in stable jobs and large corporations, says that society generally empathises with workers and respects big businesses more. “For small studios like mine, it’s always an uphill struggle to convince them we are professional and can deliver equal or even better work,” he said. “What keeps me going is knowing I am in control.”
For small studios like mine, it’s always an uphill struggle to convince them we are professional and can deliver equal or even better work.
Pastry instructor Felicia Khoo, whose love for baking stared out as a hobby to share recipes with readers on her blog, started out as a young baker after graduating from the famed Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, where she studied for a Diploma in Pastry. Although work is irregular, she cherishes the time she gets to spend with her family.
“We are only young once, so it’s alright to take your time to figure what you want to do. It also taught me how much time is lost when we are outside working and how many things we can actually miss out.” she said.
Others like Wong choose to see this possibility of work drying up as a form of motivation. “In the fickle music and entertainment industry, where the shelf-life of a female singer is fairly short, we rely a lot on relationships to get work.”
“This all adds up to be rather precarious for someone who depends on this work for her livelihood,” she said. “But I’ve put all my eggs into the proverbial basket so I have to keep going.”
When it comes down to the heart of the matter, it is courage that will steer the ship in the right direction.
Melly Fong, who runs Hex, a six-year-old web design business with her partner Ben Ho, decided to take the plunge after she realized unhappiness at her old job was making her unhappy in life on the whole. “The idea of something new trumped every lousy feeling I was experiencing at the time so I jumped at it. Looking back now, the thought of having control over my life probably made me go in this direction more than anything else.”
“We use our gut feeling as a compass most of the time,” she adds. “This is how we’ve been from the get-go so we’re sticking with it because it’s served us well so far.”
As they excelled, delivered on time and made themselves accessible to clients, there was no time to worry as projects came along through word of mouth.
“Freedom keeps us going,” she said. “This applies to every aspect of our business from our working pattern to when we work. We’ve also learnt to come to terms with our flaws and no longer go hard on ourselves for not being the persons others want us to be.”
It is that light at the end of the tunnel that takes freelancers through the dark, lonely nights. As lines between passion, work and personality blur into a creative effort of interpreting life, it’s not hard to see why some call it a privilege, a way towards a well-lived life.
“Freelancing has taught me to be responsible in everything I do,” added Zhuang. “I am wholly accountable for all my work and decisions — both good and bad — and I reap what I sow literally.”
Said Toh: “As long as you keep going, you will eventually get somewhere. It might seem infinitely difficult at first, but the amazing thing is that people will find you, work will find you, as long as you keep moving.” ∗