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Enjoying your job as a freelance translator
Thread poster: Marion Rooijmans

Marion Rooijmans
Local time: 01:29
English to Dutch
+ ...
Jan 30, 2007

Dear fellow translators,

I've only been working as a freelance translator for a couple of months now. In the beginning, business was slow and I just didn't know if I would be able to make it. But these last few weeks have been really busy.

I used to really enjoy translating, especially during my studies. I learnt a lot and had the time to think about my translations. Then, when I started working as a project manager, I occasionally translated as well. There usually was some pressure, but I still enjoyed it.

However, things have changed. I don't know if I still like translating as much as I used to. It doesn't feel like playing with words anymore; it's become a harsh business world where only money seems to matter. Not just for the client, but for me as well. I won't take on jobs for low rates, how interesting they may seem, as I prefer to take care of well-paid jobs, even if it's another boring manual.

Sometimes I feel like I am working in a factory, doing the same job for hours and hours. I don't like the fact that I don't have any colleagues. I talk to other translators and project managers, sure! But they usually only tell me about the small mistakes I made in a translation, and I often get the feeling they get tired of my questions about the job (and I'm not harassing them with silly questions or anything like that, just the regular 'can you please provide some more context?'

Does anyone else feel like this? Do you have any advice on what to do?

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keshab  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:59
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
+ ...
Stay here and enjoy Jan 30, 2007

Hi Marion,

Welcome to the world of translators. Apart of business talks with the PMs, you can enter in this world at your leisure time, take part in KudoZ question-answer which will improve your knowledge base, watch the forum so you can update with modern translation world, put your problem here and see thousands helping hands will come for you from all over the world.

Good luck.

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Markus Wahlgren  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:29
Member (2007)
English to Swedish
Cheer up! Jan 30, 2007

You are bound to hit lows in life every now and then, especially in your professional life. That's only human! It doesn't matter what you are working with, really.

I changed to full time freelance translations when I was really bored to the verge of apathy with my other job. But sure I feel like you do sometimes too. But when I have no projects I feel stressed because of that instead, yes the human mind is a strange thing.

You need to focus on the positives instead!
Do affirmations, meditate, relax, and take time to enjoy the money you make. Treat yourself to something you really love. You deserve to be spoilt rotten.

You don't have to drive to work, running off in the cold rain to your freezing cold car, only to wait in congestions for hours on end before arriving at a dull mind consuming job. Most people do.

You can stay up late one night working, only to get a sleepy morning with a nice breakfast, a hot bath before heading off to work in your PJ's (all this in the same time that your poor co-citizens are trying to get to their workplace). Most people can’t..

You decide how much you want to work, how much money to make, what to do with your time. And last but not least get a decent cup of coffee at work. Most people never have.

There you go -a few reasons to cheer up and love your job, even if you are working on figuring out what the manual writers had in mind when writing. Probably dreaming of the free luxurious life of the freelancer...

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Claire Titchmarsh  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:29
Italian to English
+ ...
Set your own pace Jan 30, 2007

"it's become a harsh business world where only money seems to matter".

Very true, Marion. But show me a job which isn't about money (unless you want to be a missionary or something).

If you have the chance, do something else as well as translating. Like anything else if you do it too much it loses its appeal. I find it a very two-dimensional world and to be honest I don't enjoy forming working relationships with people I never see, so I keep e-mails brief and phone calls to a minimum. You have to look for social interaction outside of your work.

I used to be an EFL teacher. Now due to family commitments I can't do that, but as soon as I get the chance I will go back to doing a few hours' teaching a week, it helps me to feel I'm living in the real world.

As for hassling PMs for questions about more context, I do it all the time - it's just a sign that you take your work seriously and won't deliver something that's possibly going to sound silly.

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Patricia Rosas  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:29
Spanish to English
+ ...
consider your personality traits? Jan 30, 2007

Dear Marion,
I hope, as Keshab said, that you'll find the support you need here through ProZ. I have 2 thoughts to share:

Perhaps you just are not the sort of person who is meant to work alone? Perhaps you are squandering excellent "people skills" that won't be used if you work at home?

You might try taking one of the pop psychology tests that can give you some insight into your personality (can't think of the names of them at the moment), and then rethink how you want to spend your days (alone or with people?).

Another possibility might be to develop another line of work. Perhaps what you need is a 20-hour per week job doing something completely not word-related.

Whatever you do, I hope that you can find balance ... that's something that is hard most of us to keep in our lives.

[Edited at 2007-01-30 16:39]

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Fiona Grace Peterson  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:29
Italian to English
Patience :-) Jan 30, 2007

You say you've only been translating for a couple of months but that your workflow is good. That's a great achievement and one you should be proud of.

I'm not sure what you mean about project managers telling you about small mistakes. If you are asking them for help so you can do a better job then it shows you are conscientious as Claire says. Try not to take criticism to heart, but if you feel they are being unnecessarily harsh with no good reason then perhaps you should look for some new clients?

As for meeting colleagues... are there any Powwows in your area? It's a great way of meeting other translators and feeling less isolated.

One way of enjoying your job is to specialise. At the beginning it is natural to take all work that comes your way as long as it is within your limits as a translator. But working in fields that you really hate (a welding manual and an endless Excel file of software strings have been two of my worst nightmares ) can be very draining. Find a field you love, and start to specialise and I'm sure things will improve. Good luck

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Daina Jauntirans  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:29
Member (2005)
German to English
+ ...
Take a few interesting jobs Jan 30, 2007

here and there, even if they don't pay as much. I do that just to get recharged.

I eventually got used to having "virtual" colleagues. I don't mind that now and I try to get to conferences and get-togethers now and then to meet other translators. But as someone else mentioned, you need IRL ("in real life") friends, too - hobbies are a good way to make friends.

Are you trained in interpreting? Some translators break up the monotony by interpreting as well.

PS I think the test Patricia was thinking of is Meyers-Briggs - it's supposed to tell you your personality type.

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Claire Cox
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:29
French to English
+ ...
Count your blessings Jan 30, 2007

As Markus says, I think it's a case of counting your blessings - or at least offsetting them against the disadvantages.

I have worked as an in-house translator and would much rather be my own boss. I can choose what to accept and turn down, when to work (within reason) and how I work - sitting in the garden with my laptop if necessary! I used to hate the back-stabbing you tend to find in any office environment and couldn't stand getting involved in petty office politics. Now it's all up to me. It's a brilliant job to do if you have children - something to remember for the future maybe! I also have two dogs so I can fit walking them around working and clear my head at the same time - much better than sitting in a stuffy office or on a train.

As for people contact, I think it's important to be actively involved in forums like ProZ and seek out local translating networks too. I'm a member of my regional group and it is lovely to get together, even if it's only a couple of times a year and meet like-minded people.

I think Daina's point is a good one too - it isn't all about money. Some of the most interesting jobs I've done have been the ones that took me longest and required lots of research - tourism websites for Croatia and Slovenia, for example - but I adored doing them and it was worth the reduced income for the sheer pleasure of translating them!

Good luck!

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Percy Balemans  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:29
English to Dutch
+ ...
Interesting jobs and powwows Jan 30, 2007

I agree with Daina: try and find some jobs that interest you, even if they don't pay that well. It will help you get through the boring jobs. I even do some voluntary translation work for a non-profit organisation, which I find very rewarding.

And as for meeting other people: keep an eye on the powwows page, the Dutch powwows are great fun!

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United States
Local time: 18:29
English to Russian
+ ...
Set the next checkpoint Jan 31, 2007

Notwithstanding the previous posts...

Dear Marion,

Your question is a very serious one. We do enjoy a lot of things for fun but when forced to do it for money we start hating it. If I'm not mistaken, it was Oscar Wilde who said something about noble lords who enjoy driving their luxury carriages down the boulevards but would go mad if someone offered them to work as paid coachmen. I suppose you'd be singing and dancing all day long while straightening out and decorating your own brand new house but how does a maid job sound to you?:-) Same here.

I would listen to my heart once more in a 6-12 month timeframe. Maybe you're born with it, maybe not... I remember how passionate I was 20 years ago. I was after every challenge in the new fields (not at customer's expense, I swear:-)), I was begging the editors to trust me with a couple of pages, my bedtime reading consisted of brilliant translations and subject literature, which was so hard for me I thought I'll never get through it. But it was interesting, always, even packing lists for valve shipments:-) because for me the interest lied not so much in the subject area but in the professional challenge. With the exception of medical nightmares I was trying my hand at nearly everything, sometimes just for myself. First compliments from the editors I worshiped kept me happy for weeks. Within a few years I narrowed my hunting grounds and started specializing in 2 major fields, and later added one more.

Today I'm much older and much more cynical:-) My fields are well known to me and it's the number of words, handsome invoices and future spendings that I care about the most. Not boring, not fun, just work. I find the fun part in the interpretation. Translation is nothing but work that feeds me well enough to have a good interesting life, and life comes first.

However, I doubt I would be doing it today without all those wonderful years of love and passion and feeling of playing God - giving other people incapable of understanding a foreign language the power to understand and react. In other words, you may or may not find fun and happiness in professional translation, and the sooner you realize it one way or the other, the better.

Join us and stay with us, it IS fun!


[Edited at 2007-01-31 06:01]

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Saskia Steur  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:29
English to Dutch
+ ...
voluntary work Jan 31, 2007

I, too, understand where you're coming from. The way I deal with this is that I distinguish between work I have to do and work I want to do.

I do voluntary (translation) work for two organisations I have great affinity with and I make sure I get a few really nice jobs in between, usually a book, that do not pay well but give me great satisfaction.

I also agree with others that being active in a translator's community, whether it's a Yahoo group (I know a couple, please e-mail me if you want to know more), Proz or another network. It can be very inspiring to share these issues with fellow translators and have a good laugh about things from time to time.

Hope this helps! At least, you're not alone!


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Michaela Kaplanova  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 01:29
English to Czech
My two cents - I feel for you Jan 31, 2007

I know where are you coming from. Surely, sometimes you must feel lonely and not motivated anymore. But look at it from another perspective:

You dont have to spend 8 hours a day with people you dont want to be with.

You can travel to Maledives, take your notebook with you and sit on a beautiful beach where you can work from.

I have been translating for five years but only as a part-time job since I am still a student. For upcomming summer I am planning to get a certificate, get myself a licence for Trados and make translating my full-time job. And I am really getting excited about this idea, especially when I think about the advantages.

You have to compare pros and cons and decide if this is really a suitable job for you.

Try to make 1 hour break every day to have lunch with your friend in a nice restaurant or to go for a swim. That way you will meet people and will not feel alone. Also that way you will choose who you want to hang out with instead of being forced to spend 8 hours a day with people you cannot relate to.

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Marion Rooijmans
Local time: 01:29
English to Dutch
+ ...
Thanks Feb 1, 2007

Thank you all so much for your replies.

You're right: I'm happy that I don't have to drive to work every morning, I'm happy I don't have to work in an office with people I don't like and I'm happy there's things like, where I can meet people like you.

Moreover, I'm happy to see I'm not alone in this.

I guess I expected it to be all a bit more... creative, let's say. During my studies, I had hours and hours to focus on 200 words. We weren't really told what the real world would be like.

Right now, I'm not in a position where I can choose which jobs I like to do and which not... yet! For the first couple of months (maybe years?), it will be all about getting my name out there, letting potential clients know that I'm here. After that, I hope I can go and sit with my bum in the nice warm sand of a beautiful beach, laptop near, getting fresh fruit brought to me by stunning, tanned men, while the dolphins are doing tricks in the sea

Thanks again, I think I'll stay a bit longer.

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Local time: 07:29
English to Chinese
+ ...
Never give up Feb 4, 2007

"After that, I hope I can go and sit with my bum in the nice warm sand of a beautiful beach, laptop near, getting fresh fruit brought to me by stunning, tanned men, while the dolphins are doing tricks in the sea "

That's very nice! When I have to burn the night oil to meet the dealine, I usually motivate myself with some imaginary pictures of my future life, a big house and a handsome car. Translation is harsh, so we need some motivations, real or imaginary. I hope thant we can realize the imaginary into the reality by our efforts. Do not give up!

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Monica Colangelo  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:29
English to Spanish
+ ...
Tired so soon? Feb 5, 2007

Dear Marion:

I will sound bitter, because I really am.
You only started "a couple of months ago", you are overloaded with work and can afford to choose the higher paying jobs. From what you tell us I understand you are very young. I would not complain if I were you. You have been extremely lucky to "get established" that soon.
I got my diploma in Legal and Literary Translation 31 years ago and have broad experience in a wide range of fields. I spend no less than 15 hours a day offering my services to agencies and businesses. However, I only worked eleven days over the past five and a half months. And I have been raising three kids on my own for the past ten years...

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