Dear newbie translator

Dear newbie translator: I know. The first year (or two or three) as a freelancer is/are really hard, and it’s easy to get discouraged. So for those days when you feel really down, here are a few things I want to tell you.

  1. As Dan Savage says about growing up gay, It Gets Better. The first few years as a freelancer are like the first few years of raising a child (which I’ve also done) or maybe like military boot camp (which I haven’t): if you feel totally wrung out but at the same time you’re sure that this is what you’re meant to be doing, you’re on the right track.
  2. It may get better all at once. I distinctly remember that at some point during my third year of freelancing, all of a sudden I realized that the vast majority of the time, I had enough work. Just like that.
  3. Experienced translators stress out too. It’s not just you. If you asked 100 translators whether they panic when a week goes by with no work, I bet that 98 of them would admit that they do, and the other 2 are crossing their fingers behind their backs. But in the end, the tide of work always rises again.
  4. There is well-paying work out there if you actively seek it out. But most people don’t. They wait for the sweet projects to find them, and in the meantime they complain.
  5. You work a lot harder than I do. Seriously. My work flow mainly consists of triage: deciding which project offers I want to accept and which I want to decline, and how much I want to charge. Meanwhile, you’re actively looking for new clients and new projects almost all the time. Mostly, I get to translate interesting projects that pay well or even very well. So if you can do what you’re doing now, you can surely do what you’ll be doing in 10 years.
  6. You’re a lot braver than I am. Again, seriously. When I go to a conference, I usually know most of the people there. Sometimes I’m even the one coordinating the conference. I’m not sweating through the buffet line, wondering who I could sit with, or if I should just eat lunch in the bathroom. Meanwhile, you’re walking in to the opening reception of the ATA conference and wondering which of these 1,500 people would like to have a conversation with you. I give you a lot of credit for that courage.
  7. You’re hungry, and I’m a little lazy (or something like that). When a client who’s not one of my regulars calls on a Friday afternoon with a Monday deadline, or has an icky handwritten document that will make my eyes go bleary, or needs a list of 1,000 five-digit numbers proofread, I don’t care so much about the money. The annoyance and stress just aren’t worth it. I’d rather shut the computer down on Friday afternoon and go biking or kayaking with my family and stick with the work I enjoy. But you? You’re there, bailing the client out and winning huge kudos for it. And that’s why in the end, you’ll be OK.
40 Responses to “Dear newbie translator”
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