Don't let anyone work-shame you, especially if you're self-employed
|Apr 5||Public post|| 3|
I have a confession to make – I’m writing this from my bed. Sometimes, in the middle of the afternoon, I’ll get into my bed with my laptop, pull the covers over me and write.
The reason I’m “confessing” this is because I’ve realised plenty of other writers do this as well but are too ashamed to admit it.
I was recently listening to an old episode of columnist and previous FJ&Co panellist Daisy Buchanan’s “You’re Booked” podcast in which she interviewed the author and High Low co-host, Dolly Alderton. They were talking about the writing process and Dolly said that she does her best writing from the sofa. She said “I know it isn’t good, I should probably write at a table.” A few days later, I saw journalist Kat Brown chide herself on Instagram for her bed-writing habit.
I’m here to defend writing in bed. In fact, I’ve gone gonzo on this polemic and am writing this very email from my bed.
Let’s be clear, I definitely don’t do all my work in bed. (Or “the soft office” as lots of freelancers call it.) I tend to write from bed when I’m tackling a particularly difficult story, or when I’m feeling overwhelmed by work and need to retreat but still get work done. I don’t do it all the time; it’s definitely the exception rather than the rule, but I’ve stopped being ashamed of it. And I’ve stopped caring about how I’m “supposed to be” working.
For the best part of a decade of my career, it was dictated to me how I should be working: Get to an office at a certain time, sit in a pre-assigned seat next to a pre-assigned colleague and do work that requires deep thought in a noisy environment full of constant interruptions. And woe betide you if you try to challenge this performative style working! Ask to work from home and you’re labelled a slacker. Come in early to take advantage of the quiet (or beat the nausea-inducing rush hour), and you end up working more because no one saw you working earlier.
When I first started freelancing, I defaulted into a pattern that mirrored that which I already knew. I got up at roughly the same time I would do when I went into an office and worked within the same hours. If I finished all my work by the mid-afternoon, which I often did because it’s amazing how productive you can be when no one is hassling you, I still sat in my chair until 6 PM. If I took “too long” at lunchtime running an errand, I felt guilty.
Then I realised this was madness. And I started trying to figure how, when and why I actually do my best work.
But it was a lot easier said than done. When I started researching different ways of working and how other people successfully work from home, I kept stumbling across advice posts with all these “rules”. Most of them included the classic “you have to shower and get dressed!” Well yes, everyone should be showering and dressing every day, but guess what – it’s ok to do that on your own terms.
Shock-horror, I often do 30 minutes to an hour’s work before I shower. I do this because I’ve figured out that I’m at my most productive first thing in the morning, right after a cup of tea, when my phone is still on airplane mode and before I’ve engaged with the outside world. It’s a very small window I have to be at my most creative. By the time I’ve showered and let my mind wander too much, the window closes.
The irony is not lost on me that when we work in offices, our employers have such little faith in our ability to work autonomously, but when we’re self-employed no client or editors care how you do something, just that it gets done. And yet we continue to police ourselves with these ridiculous performative work rules.
One of the most rewarding, but at the same time most difficult, aspects of being self-employed has been undoing that kind of thinking. What this journey, which is still very much ongoing, has made me realise is that modern work culture does not encourage what I’m calling “productivity self-discovery”. In fact, quite the opposite, there’s a propensity to work-shame people instead. None the more so when it comes to writers who admit to writing in bed.
So next time you feel like writing from bed, or just doing work in an unconventional way, don’t let anyone – including yourself – work-shame you.
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Bought Ralph a new bed. Dolly stole it despite it being too small for her. Now Ralph is on the floor. Not much writing getting done.
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The Professional Freelancer is written by Anna Codrea-Rado, illustrations are by Léo Hamelin. It’s a production of FJ&Co, a platform that gives freelance journalists the tools, resources and community support they need to make a sustainable self-employed living
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