Posted by: patenttranslator | April 10, 2011

Sangfroid and a Quiet Hobby – Two Very Useful Characteristics of Freelance Translators

The so called feast or famine phenomenon is something that most independent translators and other freelancers are quite familiar with. One month I may have so much work that I am turned into a mere appendage of my several computers, and next month I may spend a lot of time mostly just readings books. The happy medium when there is just about the right amount of work on my plate is really sort of an exceptional occurrence.

After 24 years, I think that I am finally getting used to this grim reality of life for freelance workers. Fortunately for me, I like both extremes mentioned above – I am able to work long hours when I have to because I need the money, and I also have a quiet hobby as I like to read books, in my case, mostly mysteries. I never go to the library anymore, I like to buy “new” books when they are finally on sale after about a year or two. Since I have not read them yet, they are new to me. I will probably never read the same books again, but I like to collect them anyway, just in case. It is a fairly harmless compulsion I have. It is not nearly as dangerous as for instance being a dog collector or a cat collector. Books are not nearly as messy and needy as animals, let alone people.

Our house has nine large and heavy bookcases so far, six shelves tall. In fact, one reason why I bought this house was that I saw that it had two huge built-in bookcases on the first floor and that there was plenty of room in it for bookcases in the hallway along the walls on the second floor. Whenever I fill a large bookcase with rows and rows of mystery novels, I call a guy I know, his name is Adrian, and Adrian comes to our house, measures the space that is still available for another  bookcase and builds a new bookcase for me again. I may not be able to move again to another house because where would I put all those bookcases? It would be a major problem.

It is kind of nice to turn off the working mode after a hectic week, or two, or three, or four or more and just read and read, and maybe watch a little teevee or a movie. I like to watch old French movies, which is the only kind they show here anyway on the one French channel I can get here (TV5Monde). My problem is that once I start doing that, after a few days I start really liking it so much that I find it quite painful if I have to switch back to the working mode again. It takes me forever to pick up speed again after a lazy break. After a lazy break, especially a long one, I usually translate less than two thousand words a day, although I can easily crank out four or five thousand words of complex patentese a day if I have to because I am working on a tight deadline.

I think that our body and mind have a natural rhythm that is constantly adjusted and fine tuned. When I don’t have to translate, I am completely at ease with being lazy, watching the birds (wrens, sparrows, thrashers, mourning doves, warblers, blue jays, cardinals, woodpeckers, mocking birds) who come to our backyard because we leave bread crumbs and ground peanuts for them there. The birds look at us when they eat their peanuts and crumbs on our back porch as we look at them when we eat our lunch or dinner. They know us and we know them by sight. I can name most of them only in English because I never paid much attention to birds when I lived in other countries.

I don’t worry much about when the next job will finally show up in my e-mail any more as I used to. I know that there is an inexhaustible supply of work for patent translators out there. Eventually, a major project will end up on my plate again. So I might as well enjoy the quiet times while they last.

But I also learned how to keep my cool when things all of a sudden get very, very busy. When I finally have enough work for a week or so after a slow period, I often have to fit in another job, and then another one and another one, and what was supposed to be a pleasant week with about two thousand words a day turns into close to four thousand words a day for the same week which is no longer so pleasant.

But if it is no more than about four thousand words, day after day, I know that I can handle it. After all, a day has 24 hours, so you just have to keep your cool, stretch the hours during which you are working and shrink the hours during which you are taking a break or sleep.

Keep your cool and keep adjusting and fine-tuning the inner clock that keeps your mind and body in good shape and everything will work out just fine.



  1. Yes, I quite agree about adjusting to the sudden hectic pace of work after a rare quiet spell. I find I’ve just started enjoying the slower tempo, catching up with friends, baking and gardening, when a hefty job drops into my inbox: you almost feel quite cross at first! Doesn’t happen very often these days, but quiet spells are definitely to be treasured…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I liked your description of the fluidity involved in your work. I spend my quiet days exerting myself with gardening work, mostly, which causes me to fall asleep after reading about a page of my current book. As you can imagine, I don’t need quite as many bookshelves as you do!

    Liked by 2 people

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