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Freelance life offers exciting challenges

Published on Friday, 12 Nov 2010
Liana Cafolla at home with her family.
Photo: Jonathan Wong

When my first child came along, I was working full-time and studying part-time for a master's degree. My time was limited but I had great support - my husband was working from home, and I had a helper. I was entitled to 10 weeks' leave, which I changed to 20 weeks' part-time. I also had a lot of accumulated holidays, so I had plenty of time off.

When my son was almost two, I started working part-time at the South China Morning Post. Then, when my daughter arrived five years ago, I left and became a freelance journalist. I hadn't anticipated it would take so much time to build a business. I spent a lot of time pitching for work, making contacts, researching publications and reading. My income was pitiful.

Writing from home with two small children around is not easy. They just don't understand why you're not available to play. It was frustrating not to be able to devote myself wholeheartedly to either childcare or writing. I missed having a regular income, and the stimulation of working with others. But I loved the work, and thought I should persevere.

Now, finally, I work to my own, flexible schedule. So long as you meet the deadline, editors don't care whether you've written a story at 4am or with a child asleep in your arms. I can go to the children's special days at school, I can stay at home if they're sick, and I can often finish early and take them to the park.

I usually work from 9.30am to 4pm, but no two days are the same. I could be doing an interview in Tsim Sha Tsui at 10am, going to a press conference at 2pm and going home to write up a story later in the afternoon. Or I could spend the morning rewriting a draft, transcribing an interview or setting up new ones by e-mail and telephone.

Organising my time is the most difficult aspect. I write for several different publications and edit in-house at two other places, plus ad-hoc assignments. I'd be lost without my diary.

As a freelancer, I need to keep learning so that I can challenge myself and expand the range of publications I write for. I read as much as possible, and talk to people who are experts in their field. I'd always shied away from business stories but in Hong Kong they're hard to avoid. Now, about half my income comes from business work. Sometimes, you just don't know what you can do until you try.

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