I've been working for myself for ten years. How has it been?
At the end of 2012, I left a full-time university job that I once thought I would have forever. I won’t go into my reasons for doing so, but within a few days of leaving, I had secured my first two freelance contracts: a curriculum consulting project with a university in western Canada and a writing project for the British Council. I spent that Christmas holiday reading everything I could about running a business, and when my husband and kids went back to work/school in January 2013, I went to my home office and started my freelance career.
So what has happened in the last ten years?
When I left my job, I was in discussions with a publisher to write an EAP coursebook, and I wanted to take my career in this direction. I did write that book, and four more. Critical Reading and Say What You Mean were published by Pearson (the latter, an academic speaking book, was co-authored by my husband Tom, which was fun).
Last year, National Geographic Learning published its new EAP series Reflect, and I was thrilled to author the Level 6 (CEFR C1) Reading and Writing book. I’ve just finished another book for NGL, to be published next year. It’s great to be writing for a major global publisher, and I've worked with some of the best editors in the business. I know I'm a better writer than I was ten years ago.
But the book I’m possibly most proud of is not published by a major ELT publisher—it isn’t even ELT. I was invited to write an academic upgrading book for Coast Mountain College and other BC colleges. The book, available as a free download from BC Campus, is intended for students, mostly Indigenous, who dropped out of school and are now going back in their 20s and 30s. I travelled up to northern BC to meet some classes; it was an eye-opening experience, and I hope my book has helped some of them on their way.
When I’m not writing, I’m usually editing. While I was working full-time, I became editor of IATEFL’s annual Conference Selections publication; I did that for ten years. I then became editor of IATEFL’s Voices magazine and have held that role for nearly five years. I will soon be stepping down from Voices, and I’m not sure what my future with IATEFL (if any) will look like, but it has been a massive and valuable part of my life for a long time. I would not be in the position I am today if it were not for my IATEFL involvement.
I’ve also built a solid academic editing business. Over the years, I’ve done the right training and ongoing CPD, and I’ve joined Editors Canada and CIEP. Last year I attended my first CIEP conference in the UK, which was excellent. I really love working on journal articles, dissertations, conference papers, etc., especially when written by non-native speakers of English.
I’ve done a fair bit of editing and proofreading of ELT materials for various publishers, though I have to say that I prefer working with individual clients on academic texts.
When I’m not writing or editing, I might be found doing curriculum design. I’ve designed curricula and written custom material for universities and colleges across Canada.
I’ve done a bit at the local college, in both the ESL program and the Communications department. What was especially great, though, was returning to my hometown in England to teach pre-sessional EAP for two summers at the University of Warwick. This was not only the best teaching experience I’ve ever had (I was working with highly motivated pre-master’s degree students from around the world), it was a lovely opportunity to reconnect with where I come from. I taught at Warwick for a third time, this time online during Covid. I had a super class, and we made it work—but I would love to have been there in person.
I did a few interesting things that I would never have done if I had stayed in my job. In 2016, I travelled to Kazakhstan to take part in a program to mentor Kazakh educational editors. In 2017, I did the northern BC trip I mentioned earlier. In 2020, I went to Cuba to train EAP teachers for the British Council. I was in Havana in the exact week that we all realised that Covid was a real concern; I flew back from Havana, went into isolation, and stayed there for the better part of two years.
I’ve kept up with my frequent conference attendance. Like everyone, I’m happy to see the return of F2F conferences, and this year I’m planning three: IATEFL and BALEAP in April and Editors Canada in June.
Since I’m sure some readers are wondering, in every year since my first one, I have equalled or surpassed my university income.
Anything not so good?
Yes. This past year I did a project for an educational organization outside Canada, and it took me a very long, stressful six months to get paid. I was looking at a loss of over $10,000, and I came close to launching a lawsuit. I know they appreciated my materials, and I don’t think there was any malicious intent on their part, but it was the worst experience of my freelance career. I did get paid eventually—but this consumed a massive amount of time and energy, and it made me question everything for a while.
So what’s next?
I’ve reached the point where I can be a little more selective about what I take on. I’d love to keep writing EAP, and I know I’ll keep editing for a while, but I’m thinking more about work–life balance than I did ten years ago. One thing I’d like to do at some point is teach one of my own books; I’ve never done that.
So all in all, a pretty good ten years. I don’t think I’ll work another ten, but who knows…
Tania Pattison is an editor and proofreader specializing in English language teaching, education, and related subjects. When not editing, she is an EAP textbook author.
Photo: Erwan Hesry/Unsplash