The Uninvited Guest

Dec 05 2014

To some, the life of a freelancer might sound like the Sunday-morning version of glamorous: sleeping in, enjoying leisurely meals, only accepting the projects I want to, working in sweatpants, shower be damned.

In truth, the above description constitutes Opposite Day for me. I’m up by 6 a.m. at the latest, I eat and shower quickly as I get the kids ready for their day, I typically work from 9–4 (plus after the kids go to bed and on weekend nights until all hours), I try to say “no” to clients as little as humanly possible (hence the aforementioned schedule), and the sweatpants are a matter of survival rather than sloth (my basement office is freezing in the winter).

But I still love being my own boss—for the ability to spend one Friday morning a month reading to my son’s class, to take the day off when my daughter has a fever or the nanny calls in sick, to know that the only limits to my ability or income are the limits I set for myself—not someone else’s determination of my skill level or their perception of my value as an employee.

It’s not glamorous by any stretch, but I can’t imagine anything more empowering.

However, there is one major drawback to working for myself, which was illuminated for me by a dream I had a few weeks ago in which I crashed a staff meeting at Simon & Schuster.

In order to communicate how bizarre this dream was, you must know that (1) I’ve never visited the offices of Simon & Schuster (couldn’t even tell you the address), (2) I know no one who works there, (3) I have no idea what a staff meeting there is like, so the entire scene was fabricated by my subconscious.

So Dream Simon & Schuster looked suspiciously like the Library Hotel in NYC but with a lot of exposed brick. In my dream, I knew I was crashing and I was simultaneously terrified of being recognized as Does Not Belong Here and also hoping to be identified as Obviously One of Us. I somehow found my way through a maze of conference rooms and into The Big Staff Meeting, which was filled to capacity with not just editors, designers, sales people, and marketing & publicity folks (like the title-design, cover-design, and publishing-board meetings of my WD days) but also agents, critics, and writers.

At first I was a wallflower, just anxiously taking in the scene, but then for some reason we were broken into small groups and I started talking to the people at my table about the projects I was working on now . . .

My two-year-old daughter yelled for me the way she does every morning (“Hellooooo? Is anybody there? Helllooooo?”) and I bolted awake, feeling thrilled by my book nerd’s lit’rary fantasy . . . and also kinda sad. There was no great gathering of My People, no convo with kindred souls. And it hit me: sometimes I really, really miss being part of a team.

Tonight I spent an hour on the phone with a memoirist, just talking about his life, the possibilities for the manuscript he just completed, and how I might be of service to him. When we hung up, I got that post-Dream S & S rush, with none of the letdown, because I was reminded that this is my favorite part of my job.

Catching embarrassing mistakes and polishing prose is a lot of fun for me. But this . . . this profoundly human element, the connection of shared understanding, the collaboration to create art, the common goal of bringing something unique and wonderful to the world, this is why making books is different from making widgets, why the market can only commodify these creations so much before missing the whole damn point.

Author + Editor (+ Agent—can’t forget you guys <high five>). Strategizing, crafting, perfecting. My idea of a dream team.

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