Friday, December 01, 2006

Taking Time Off

I know that you're about to give birth any second now, so I was wondering if you could address how freelancers handle maternity leave - how long you take, what you tell your editors, if you worry about money. All of that stuff.

Maternity leave for freelancers is a tricky thing, I think. Not least because for many of us, it's incredibly hard to tear ourselves away from the computer and recognize that it's okay not to be working. We're like Pavlovian rats: we hear our email ding or get an assignment from an editor and rush to our desks to nab that tempting piece of cheese. And I'm totally, totally guilty of this.

Which is part of what makes this whole thing tricky. The other part, of course, is that unlike salaried employees, your income stems solely from actual work you produce, and there's that lingering fear that if you take time off, your editors will forget about you.

All of these factors played into my mindset when I had my son a few years back. After two weeks off, I actually got really restless - I was so used to doing 100 things at a time that I really had a tough time NOT doing anything. So after about two weeks, I emailed some of my editors - the ones with whom I had really strong relationships - and said, "Hey, if you have any less complicated assignments or need me for anything, I'm here." And thus, I was back. Which was great for a while. Until about three months later, when burnout of epic proportions hit. I kept working through it, but really struggled with motivation and any enjoyment of my work.

So this time, I'm planning on taking the full month of December off, with the exception of some necessary PR work for my book, and then easing back in during January. This is a perfect compromise for me: it's not too long that my editors can't do without me, and I know that I'll be ready to come back after a month off.

So how did I deal with this with my editors? Every writer is different: I know some who never breathed a word of their impending arrival to their editors out of fear of losing the business. But that's not my style: hey, if they ding me because I need some time to recover or because they think I can't juggle motherhood with a thriving career, then screw them. So I started giving my editors a heads-up a few months ago - really, just sharing the news with them (which was met with enthusiasm by all), and then eventually discussing logistics. Many of my editors are moms or work with moms, so they get the deal. Basically, I just said, "hey, kid #2 is coming along; I'll be taking Dec off, which shouldn't be an issue given the holiday scheduling, but I can't wait to get going on things for you in January."

Of course, there are a few who abuse the fact that you work from home and sort of disregard the fact that you've said, "I'm out of commission for these dates." How do you deal with them? Last time, I would have jumped through hoops to please them. This time, I realize that they're A-holes for bothering me during this time, and they'll get my out-of-office message. (Btw, I'm not referring to editors who email me to ask me if I'm back working or if I'm interested doing in a story or those to whom I've already said, "I'll get this done during my time off." Which, yes, I have said because I'm happy to get some things done for editors whom I value and who I know value me. I'm talking about editors who have long known about my due date and still nag me for revisions, niggly questions, etc.) The bottom line is that if I worked in an office, I wouldn't be reachable, and I need to realize that, as do they. And if I lose an assignment here or there, well, I'm gaining a daughter...and really, not to be entirely cheesy, but is there any comparison?

So...moms out there, how have you handled maternity leave?

4 comments:

Manic Mom said...

Hey Allison, I had a C-section with my first (VBACs with #2 and 3) and I went back to work for the first time 8 days after AJ was born. I couldn't just do nothing.

After that with my other kids, I had no maternity leave cuz I was then working as a full-time mom, and we all know there is no vacation time, benefits (other than spit-up and poop, and googly-beautiful unsolicited smiles from the babies), sleep opportunities in that job with a newborn.

How close are you??!!

Oh, and in terms of gaining a daughter, just wait. Don't say I told you so, but I'm telling you now... if she's anything like Diva, she'll give you a run for her money... But they are the most precious things. I tell her daily that I'm so glad I got to have a daughter, even though she threw the absolute worst imaginable tantrum last night all because hubby stirred her chocolate milk.

Tragic.

Good luck with the upcoming birth!

Manic Mom said...

DID YOU HAVE THAT BABY YET?

Allison Winn Scotch said...

Not yet!!! At any moment!

Manic Mom said...

Contractions?!?!?!