I am one of those annoying people who take up loads of room in cafés. I am currently sitting in a relatively busy café at a table for four, but it’s just me. I have my laptop, and my notes, and my enormous bag stuffed with all the detritus that a wandering freelancer needs. My local café does double duty as my office (at least some of the time), so obviously I need to spread out. I do appreciate, though, that my presence is vexing for the wait staff. I will probably also be here for a lengthy period of time, and consume one small coffee. I’m not really a café’s idea of a good time.
At least I’m sensitive to the anxiety of my waitperson. Having been a waitperson myself, a thousand years ago, I do understand. I used to work in a terribly cool café in Glebe, one of the ritzier and more up-itself suburbs of Sydney. Local celebs and the wealthy beautiful crowd used to stop in regularly for their foccacias and macchiatos. Writers would come in and take up multiple tables with their notebooks and big ideas (this is the pre-laptop days), wannabe filmmakers would come in a take up even more room with their big dreams. I was constantly juggling tables and people and armloads of food, trying to squeeze as many fabulous bodies in as I could. It was complicated and annoying, and I often had a hangover while doing it, so many a less-than-savoury word would escape my lips on a busy Saturday morning.
If this café gets any busier, I will move to a smaller table. Or move to another café. I live near Newtown, which prides itself on being one of the hippest café strips of Sydney. If I leave here there will another café within spitting distance and yet another short black and large table awaiting me. I am also not alone. Living in a suburb full of students, freelancers and ne’er-do-well creatives, there are inevitably a large number of our kind taking up lots of room and spending small amounts of money.
I do have a perfectly nice office to do my work in. And, most of the time, I’m in there working. But I’ve incorporated the café culture into my day anyway. I usually drop the kids off at school early, to accommodate their various swatty activities, and then have an hour or so to wait before I can go to the gym. I fill that hour with a bit of work in a café on the way. I have a couple of favourite haunts, although I do tend to be a bit slutty in my café commitments. After gym I head back to my office and my day begins proper, but that little bit of work in between (and the super-strong coffee that goes with it) helps to kick start the process.
I will probably always exploit the café-as-office though, for sentimental reasons. I started freelancing while I was still a student, and shared a house with large numbers of scruffy friends. My tiny bedroom was dedicated to study and other exploratory activities, and there was no way I could do anything serious in the rest of the house. I’d seen the writers and filmmakers coming into my workplace, and I envied them so. I hadn’t yet decided to take myself seriously as either, so I didn’t want my flatmates to see me doing anything as poncy in case they made fun of me.
So, I would take my writing to a café, where nobody knew me and I could spend my days trying to make my words behave themselves. Later, after uni, when I was trying to find work (and myself) I would spend whole days in cafés, making my pitiful dole money last for as long as humanly possible, writing and writing and writing. Most of those words were crap, but after a while the good ones started to pay, as did my other long-held dreams.
I feel a certain pride sitting here now. It’s twenty years since those days, and even though it was hard and sometimes I was very frightened, I have made this freelance life work. I have a creative job that I love, and that I invented for myself. It doesn’t get much better than that.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I might have another coffee. After all, I can afford it these days.
Until next time, happy freelancing.
Freelancing for Australian (for Dummies) is available in bookstores and via the Freelance Success website right now – visit https://www.creativeplusbusiness.com/books for more information.