Kelly-May Macdonald is a writer, editor, proofreader and transcriber who spends her life immersed in the wonderful world of language. Based in the Western Cape, she also tutors, offering school-going students additional assistance with their English and Afrikaans studies.
Please tell us more about what you do and how long you’ve been a freelancer.
I have been freelancing for the past six-and-a-half years. To date, I have specialised in editing and proofreading memoirs. The authors I have worked with in this genre range from well-known public figures such as Angelo Agrizzi to the man in the street who simply wants to record his personal experiences and tell his “story” to the world.
I have also edited non-fiction books such as Sam Cowen’s Brutal School Ties: The Parktown Boys’ Tragedy, which tackles the serious topic of child abuse in the South African school context. Another one is Professor Wahbie Long’s Nation on the Couch – Inside South Africa’s Mind. This book puts our nation’s collective mindset and experiences under the psycho-analytical microscope. In addition, I have edited cookery books, including Somizi’s Dinner at Somizi – I am not a Chef; a wide range of children’s books; and inspirational books and memoirs written by Christian authors.
What does a day in your life look like?
I am the quintessential night owl! I am terrible in the mornings; and it takes me a while to wake up “properly.” However, when I’m finally wide awake, I’m raring to go! I check and respond to urgent emails first thing in the morning, but only begin my “real work” at about ten o’clock. I work on my freelance projects until late afternoon, with the exception of the two mornings a week when I volunteer at a local primary school as part of the SHINE Literacy Initiative.
My tutoring takes place three afternoons a week, and my tutoring sessions last between one and two hours. At around four or five in the afternoon, I get my second wind and take my dogs to the wetlands or to the beach to clear my mind and get some fresh air and exercise. I also do Pilates classes twice a week; and I have just taken up golf lessons, which I will be doing over the weekends.
After cooking a healthy dinner with meat and vegetables for the dogs (yes, the dogs!) and then one for myself (usually consisting of tea and All Bran Flakes!), I relax in front of the TV and knit, which I find stills my busy mind and proves extremely therapeutic after the noise of the day. At around ten or eleven at night, I get my third wind, and that is when I find I produce my best work, relishing in the quiet solitude of the night and the freedom from distractions such as non-stop WhatsApp messages and phone calls.
I sometimes work until two or three in the morning, depending on whether or not I am working towards meeting a deadline, and on how inspired and/or energetic (or not!) I am feeling that day. Some evenings, I do feel exhausted (usually after staring too long at my laptop instead of gazing at my navel) and collapse into bed at midnight, trying to be mindful of the importance of a good eight hours’ sleep to ensure that my brain is not a pile of mush the next day!
Where/how do you find inspiration?
I am a voracious reader and the best part of my day is when I curl up in bed with a book before I fall asleep. I enjoy reading the more widely celebrated authors such as George Orwell and Sylvia Plath – partly to increase my vocabulary and improve my writing skills, and partly because I just love reading high-quality, inspirational writing. I am always reading two books at a time; and the second book next to my bed would be something deliciously escapist such as human drama fictional novels, or a gory criminal/detective novel!
What advice do you have for other freelancers?
Network as much as possible; and tell everyone you meet in life what you do, because you never know who is looking for somebody in your field of expertise! Break your day into manageable chunks by blocking off time on your calendar, remembering to allow yourself time for rest and relaxation to recharge your batteries so that you don’t put yourself at risk for burnout (as I have done in the past!).
Remember that communication is key. Always keep your clients in the loop and ensure that you provide them with regular updates of your progress on their project. It took me a long time to realise that people are actually “quite nice”; and that as long as you keep your clients informed of any unforeseen changes in your work schedule – the need for extra time to complete a project etc. – you can usually finish the work having made a new friend out of your client! This is beneficial because if you have a good relationship with them and have made the experience of working with you a pleasant one, they will recommend your services to others in their network, and also supply you with more work in the future.
Believe in yourself, upskill yourself as much as possible, always give of your best (treat each project as if it were the make-or-break for a fantastic job opportunity), and work hard but smart at the same time!
As a freelancer, it is very important to have firm boundaries when it comes to your time management. If clients do not respect you as the professional you are, or continuously make unreasonable demands on your time just because you are a freelancer, stick to your guns and do not give in. An overly fatigued freelancer is of no use to anyone, neither your client nor yourself!
How long have you been a Safrean, and why are you a member of Safrea?
I have been a member of Safrea since May 2017. I find the organisation to be an invaluable tool for networking opportunities and finding new gigs. Belonging to Safrea helps me as a freelancer to feel part of a community of like-minded people. It gives me the opportunity to bounce ideas off my fellow freelancers and to request and receive assistance at those times when I find myself feeling “stuck” when writing, or doubting myself when editing.
Safrea helps me to feel less of a lone, directionless ship in a vast and sometimes overwhelming sea of work and ideas, and more of a member of a rowing crew with everybody in the same boat, all striving to reach the finish line together and encouraging one another along the journey.
What is your work/life motto?
People treat you the way you allow them to, including yourself! Don’t let anyone steal your sunshine, and don’t ever let yourself become the “horrible boss” you sought to escape when you decided to embark on your journey as a freelancer!