Here’s a question that most frustrated artists have asked themselves – When is the best time to start my creative freelancing journey?
It was 2019, and I’d been working in the chicken shop for 2 years.
When I started, it was almost pleasant. I was still a full-time student, so the extra money I had from proper employment was delightful. I felt proud of finally feeling grown up. All I needed to do was finish my degree, then I could quit and get a full-time job in the arts.
You may call it naivety — I prefer optimism.
But my last few years of uni were tough and left me feeling less capable than ever. As my art was regularly torn apart by my teachers and peers, my chicken shop job became more and more toxic. My boss would scream and throw tongs at us. The hours were long, and the pay was low. I spent all day at university feeling like I wasn’t good enough, then spent all night at work feeling like I wasn’t good enough.
The person I was in 2019 could not bear to think about her dream job in the arts. I hadn’t given up on the idea — it just became hypothetical. When you study for 20 hours a week, work 25 hours a week, and both drain your soul out of you, you have no space or time to move forward and plan for a future. I genuinely believed that I would be trapped at the chicken shop forever.
In February of 2020, I went to Adelaide Fringe Festival, and it changed everything. I woke up in that week of independent theatre shows, far away from the grease and the yelling of my career back home. I was galvanised to change my life and make the move into freelancing, because I realised it was the only way to make theatre and have the job I always wanted.
If you see any of yourself in my story — feeling stuck, drained, or bored by your current ‘real’ job — I invite you to test yourself. If you answer YES! to any of the following questions, it might be time to take the plunge.
Can you afford it?
This might not be possible right now, but if you think creatively about your income and access support when you need it, the transition from employee to business owner becomes a lot more possible. You could move from full time to part time employment until you make enough money from your creative business to quit. You could start with higher education to find a clearer pathway into your industry. You could spend a few weeks, months, or years on government support. You might never leave ‘real’ employment at all, always picking up a few shifts here or there to keep afloat.
Can you access resources to help?
Self-employment comes with a slew of business rules that you’ll need to learn to work with. Remember, no one is born knowing how tax law for sole traders works, and there’s a lot of information out there for new freelancers to help you get across the basics. Creative Start-Up, for example, is an excellent online resource that makes for a perfect starting point for beginners.
Will it make you feel alive?
Not happy, not content, not secure- alive. Happiness is fleeting and easily interrupted. Economic downturn, changes in the arts scene, and unforeseen circumstances can dry up income in a flash, which won’t make you happy. Long-term happiness comes from finding your purpose in life. Some people feel alive working their ‘normal’ jobs, which is wonderful for them — if you are not one of them, then it might be time to change course.
Grace Davidson-Lynch is a playwright and dramaturg based in Sydney, NSW. Her play Hydrarchos was longlisted for the Best in Theatre Award at Sydney Fringe 2022. When she isn’t making art, Grace also teaches theatre and creative writing at the University of Wollongong.