Life as a freelance translator Organisation Work-life balance

New routine

Finally, the now 2 year-old is sleeping all night rather than waking at three, and I am getting back to the work routine that suits me best.

5.30 – 7.15 a.m. Work

7.15-9.30 a.m. Breakfast with children, get everyone dressed, hunt for nursery bag, book bags and shoes that have unaccountably vanished since the night before, put in a load of washing, walk to school and nursery and walk back, through the fields if it’s not raining.

9.30 a.m. – 3.30 p.m. Work, not non-stop, though, unless under dire pressure of deadlines. Husband picks baby up from nursery at 1 and children from school at 3.15.

3.30 p.m. Stop work. Speak to children, wash up breakfast, hang up laundry, make scones, practise school reading, entertain visiting small friends, take people to Brownies, build train tracks…

I am a morning person. I wrote all my university essays at 5 a.m. and before children I used to start work at six. Now that I am able to do that again, things are so much better. I used to view breakfast with the children as a frustrating interminable delay preventing me from getting to the computer until about 9.30.  This did not make for a happy and harmonious home. Now it’s a pleasant interlude (admittedly, with the odd bit of shouting about shoes) after sending out the early jobs and getting a start on longer deadlines. I don’t feel so rushed in the mornings and last week I even had time for a quick coffee with a friend at 9 a.m. because I’d already done all the first thing urgent stuff.

I used to either be working when the children came home, which made them cross, or trying to work in the evenings, which makes me cross. It also makes me extremely slow and unproductive. For me, working after 8 p.m. is like trying to translate through fudge. Getting that time in the mornings back means I get evenings too. I can put the children to bed without feeling stressed at having to get back to the computer or having to choose between work and choir rehearsal.

It helps that many of my clients are in Scandinavia and with 3.30 being 4.30 in Sweden and 5.30 in Finland they tend  to be winding down for the day by the time I stop. My mobile phone downloads work e-mail via the home wifi until 6 p.m. so if something does come in, I know about it, but usually it’s quiet then anyway.

It might not suit everyone – my husband is one of those people who hits his mental peak at about 1 a.m. – but it suits me and I feel better for it.

Life as a freelance translator Organisation

The paper is encroaching again

When I moved out of my office in March 2007, I had to remove cardboard magazine files containing print-outs of every translation I had ever done since I started freelancing in 1997.  That’s a lot of paper. I moved them here to our new house, transporting them from the car in a wheelbarrow, and stacked them in the cold, damp, unheated, earth-floored storeroom by the back door, the only place there was room. I planned to go through them, shred any that were confidential and put the rest in the recycling.

Um… in two years I’d only managed to get through two boxes. The Finn bought a little machine that was supposed to turn paper into handy briquettes that you can burn in your woodburning stove and he thought we could get rid of some of it that way, but you had to shred the paper first and get it wet and in our climate the briquettes never dried and there was nowhere to stack them while they did, so we gave up on that idea. By this year the stacks of paper had started going mouldy and the ones that were faxes (when I started, all of my source texts were faxes) had faded beyond legibility. In June we had an enormous bonfire and burned the lot.

Although I felt strangely mournful and bereft seeing ten years of work, (my work!) going up in flames, I had to admit that I had hardly ever looked at any of those translations again after finishing them. What exactly was I keeping them for?

When I started out, you had to keep the hard copies because often that was the only version of your source text you had. I also used to teach translation at the University of Surrey and raided my past jobs for teaching material. But now I can’t remember the last job I had that wasn’t e-mailed. These days, if the client comes back with questions weeks later or I need to look up a previous job on the same subject, I’ll search my hard drive rather than tipping boxes of files over the floor. Everything is also backed up onto a separate hard drive and, as of last week, automatically backed up to Zen’s remote storage every night (thanks Philippa for reminding me to sort that out). Even if the computer exploded, I wouldn’t have to scan every translation I’d ever done in again.

I proofread on paper (nothing will convince me that quality would be improved by doing otherwise) and printing out every source text as soon as it’s confirmed and having it sitting on my desk as well as booking the job into TO3000 means there is no way I will forget I’ve got to do it.  But once the job is done and sent it is probably unnecessary to keep the paper copy forever.

However,  I now have six full magazine files of finished translations on the desk and the windowsill and recently completed jobs are balanced on top and overflowing onto the floor. It might have to be time to cull some of it if I don’t want another huge bonfire in 2029.