A translator’s Solitude… Or, the Loneliness of the Long-Distance Freelance Translator

A freelance translator sounds like the ideal job when you’re commuting to work in rush hour traffic on a cold, rainy morning, and the thought of being able to get up whenever you want, eat and drink at your desk without anyone complaining, and above all, work in your pyjamas(!) sounds very appealing. However, is being a freelance translator really all it’s cracked up to be, or does the solitude of the long-distance translator drive you crazy in the end?

Although I know there are all types of freelance translators, I can only speak from personal experience. I have indeed done all of the above, and while it’s great to be sitting at your desk at 12.00 noon with a hot mug of coffee in one hand and a hot keyboard in the other, with no-one telling you off for spilling crumbs everywhere, it can be difficult to remain focussed and disciplined at times. It’s easy to fall into the trap of not getting dressed till lunchtime, and then translating until the wee small hours are so small and wee that you’re cross-eyed and making no sense. If you still find yourself in slippers and pjs at 5.00pm, however, that’s when it’s time to take stock before your friends stage an intervention.

Organisation and a Schedule: The Solitary Freelance Translator’s aids

To be a freelancer, you need to have at least a minimum of organisation and a schedule. I find that keeping a list of projects, with due dates and other details, helps to focus, especially as unfinished ones are in red which is very motivating! You need to make sure you don’t take on more work than you can manage around other commitments, including a social life. And to prevent yourself from becoming a complete shut-in, force yourself to get out every day. In my case, my dog makes sure that doesn’t happen, which leads to another point – the importance of contact.

For those who live alone, there is a danger that they might never see anyone from one end of the day to the other. How do you combat loneliness? Well, as I said before, a dog (or any pet really) can be a great help, and you don’t even have to be particularly nice for them to like you! Once you’ve acquired the pet, please don’t forget to feed it or you’ll find yourself even more alone, sobbing with guilt over its demise. The great advantage of a dog is that you have to take it out several times a day, so you are guaranteed some exercise and fresh air, as well as getting to know other dog walkers and being forced to make some kind of human contact.

Taking part in social activities where you live is also a good idea, if only to get out there, meet people, maybe practise another language, and put your rusty vocal chords to use. You can join evening classes, go to a gym or pool, learn a new skill, even try online dating! (Don’t imagine that you are going to find someone to date at the gym or pool, that only happens in movies. In real life, everyone looks so sweaty and disgusting that they all rush out of there like Speedy Gonzales, trying not to be recognised). Also, don’t forget to keep in touch with old friends, and if no-one has invited you anywhere recently, why not have them round to your place or arrange to go to the cinema? Cultivate those friendships!

Being a freelance translator can be solitary since you don’t work with other people and you can feel faceless. You will probably never meet most of your clients, and it’s easy to feel unappreciated. If you sign up with a translation company, you have the support of a team and the knowledge that someone out there appreciates what a good job you’re doing. Another upside is that you never have to deal with unpleasant customers! If you prefer to be a lone wolf, you can look out for courses or seminars for translators, where you can make vital contacts for your work and also share experiences with others from the “pjs at 12” club.

No matter what you do, it’s important to get out there in the world and socialise, before you end up living in yoga pants, with a foot-long beard and moths in your hair, eating only cereal and forgetting how to speak. After all, it’s also good for your language skills!

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