#MyDeskView: Johanna Spiers, Freelance Proofreader

Show us a picture of your work space and tell us about it.

I work from a variety of places: my sofa, my dining room table, my balcony, my best friend’s living room and the office in my partner’s house. My favourite place to work is the balcony, which I do whenever the sun is shining. I can see nature, sky and cows from there, and it makes me feel elated that I am my own boss and am lucky enough to live somewhere so spectacular.

What kind of freelance work do you do, and what made you decide to do it? 

My main income is from proofreading. I proofread pieces for an expat client, which I enjoy as it lets me daydream about travelling to hot countries and trying out delicious food from around the world. I also proofread PhDs and Masters theses and dissertations. I have a PhD in health psychology and spent 10 years in London as a sub-editor, so I’m ideally placed to proofread social science PhDs. This is a new venture for me, and is something I’m enjoying as it’s so varied.

On top of this, I continue to lecture on and research health psychology topics in a freelance capacity when the opportunity arises. I’m about to write some lectures on qualitative methods for Cambridge University undergrads, which is exciting and terrifying in equal measure. Knowing the science behind imposter syndrome doesn’t make it any less real!

I started working as a freelancer when my contract as a research associate at Bristol University ended. I had started writing a novel and really wanted time to continue working on it. I’ve now finished the book – which is a dark comedy about a political journalist who goes on an Arctic cruise where mysterious things start to happen – and am looking for a publisher. I’m working on new pieces of writing all the time, which would be much harder if I had a ‘real’ job.

When did you start freelancing, and what were the biggest changes you had to make?

I started freelancing in the autumn of 2017, when my savings ran out and I realised I didn’t want to return to academia full-time.

The biggest change I’ve had to make is being much more careful about budgeting. Some months I earn almost nothing, whereas other months I earn more than I would have in six months at a university.

Other changes – such as never setting an alarm and being able to go out for a walk in the fields at lunchtime – have been much easier to make!

Is your freelance job a 9-to-5? How do you structure your time? 

My work is somewhat nine to five, although it’s much more flexible now than it was before I was a researcher. Between my own writing, marketing my proofreading business and doing the actual proofing, there’s plenty to keep me busy every day. However, I am also an active member of my local Labour party and a wedding DJ; being a freelancer gives me the flexibility to work on my music and political interests during the day, something I couldn’t have got away with at a university.

I use an app called ToDoist to structure my days. If you’re a busy person, I can’t recommend it highly enough. You can save all the things you have to do in different projects, and plan what each week will look like, so nothing gets forgotten.

What do you enjoy the most about your way of life?

The thing I enjoy most about being a freelancer is the flexibility to work wherever I like. My best friend and my partner both also work for themselves, so I often work with one of them, which is lovely. Even better, my partner and I are heading to Sri Lanka for six weeks over winter so we can work from the beach while everyone in the UK is turning the heating up and shivering at bus stops. I can’t wait!

What do you find the hardest about the work you do, or freelance life in general? 

The insecurity of freelancing can be hard at times. Knowing that I’ve got enough money in the bank for the next two months, but don’t yet know how I’ll make ends meet the month after that takes some getting used to, and resulted in some very anxious dreams when I first began this life. However, the work keeps coming in and I’m so much happier and less stressed than I used to be that the uncertainty is definitely worth it.

What piece of work are you most proud of?

My novel, Eat the Rich. Hopefully you’ll get to read it one day soon.

What measures do you take to ensure your physical and mental health don’t suffer? 

I find that splitting my time between working alone and working with others is helpful. I really enjoy my own company and like being in charge of the music and the radiators – other people always think I make rooms too hot, so it’s nice to be able to be selfish about that. However, it is easy to go a bit stir-crazy if I work alone for too long, so spending time working with my best friend and partner as well as alone helps to keep things varied. I also do a LOT of yoga and think everyone else should too.

If you had another chance at going freelance would you have done anything differently (no matter how small)?

I didn’t really plan to go freelance; I initially thought I’d return to a university job once my money had run out or I’d finished the novel – whichever came first. However, an accident with my taxes meant that the money I had saved up ran out a lot more suddenly than I had hoped, so I spent a couple of days frantically looking for freelance work, and was surprised to find Bohemiacademia quite quickly through a Facebook friend. This job has really changed my life and given me the confidence to look for more freelance work. I wouldn’t change anything about that – even the unexpected tax bill, as that was the catalyst for what is now a very enjoyable way of being.

What’s the best bit of your daily routine? 

Being able to wake up whenever I like. I’m an early riser, so this doesn’t tend to be much after 8am, but having the freedom to wake up naturally rather than with an alarm is really liberating.

What’s the worst bit of your daily routine?

This doesn’t happen every week, but I do work many more weekends than I used to. However, this only happens when I have lots of work to do, so I remind myself to think of the invoice!

Do you miss anything about your previous lifestyle? 

I live in quite a remote spot, so I do miss being able to run errands in town at lunchtimes, as I could when I travelled into uni every day. I definitely don’t miss the commute, though.  

What’s your work-life balance like? 

My work-life balance is mostly pretty good. I sometimes feel like I work a lot more than I did when I had a proper job – I often work weekends, and can sometimes work really long days. But in reality, I often mix my personal tasks in with my work tasks and spread them out throughout the day to give myself some variety, something I couldn’t so much do in academia. Some days I take the afternoon off to go for a massage, or have a really long lunch with a friend, so that makes the longer nights and weekends work worthwhile.

Do you get much time to relax / enjoy hobbies? And if so, what are they?

I always make sure I have enough time for fun in my life! Writing is my number one passion, and that’s the first thing I do every morning; either working on a new piece or sending my book to a publisher. I also do lots of yoga, read books every lunchtime and listen to music all day long – either 6Music, or the endless instrumental playlists I’ve made on Spotify which I listen to while I’m writing or proofing.

What keeps you going when you get discouraged? 

Reminding myself that the work always seems to come in, and that I now have time to write every single day, something I’ve wanted to do yet struggled with since I was four years old!

Where can people find you online if they want to hire you? 

This is the website for my post-graduate proofreading service.

I’m also always on the look-out for other regular proofreading clients, so if you have any work you’d like me to do for you, please email me on johanna.spiers@gmail.com

Finally, I also run a small business writing bespoke stories as gifts. You can buy one of these here.

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