Freelance Editing: A Lifeboat for Those Living with Chronic Illness or Disability: Part 2

by Natalia Iwanek

Stethoscope next to a laptop on a white surface.
Photo by Negative Space from Pexels

On Tuesday, November 26, we published the first part of a feature on freelance editing as an option for people living with chronic illness or disability. This is the second and last part of that feature. To read Part 1, click here.

The editing community is incredibly diverse. I hope that by highlighting our varied experiences through the following two interviews, I will inspire editors to see how life-changing this career can be.

Jane (not her real name) is a freelance editor with a PhD in a highly specialized field. She describes living with a chronic illness, while freelance editing part-time and working part-time at a research job that sometimes involves writing and editing.

What made you get into editing? Was this a career goal or was it something you naturally gravitated toward over the years?

Editing is something I’ve done on the side since high school. I formalized my editing career as a business after I got laid off from a different job in 2013. Part of the reason why I continue to edit is that I enjoy it, but another reason is that, with my niche skills, it pays well per hour and with minimal effort compared to some other work that I could be doing.

In what ways, if at all, has your illness impacted your editing career? Have you had to overcome any barriers?

I have Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s is an autoimmune condition in which the body attacks the digestive system and sometimes other organ systems as well. The medications I’ve been on for the past 15 years have kept most of the worst symptoms under control most of the time, but I still get sick frequently and unpredictably and also suffer from debilitating bouts of fatigue lasting from days to weeks, again at unpredictable intervals.

Crohn’s is a complete career killer. I was unable to pursue a career in academia because of the restrictions it put on my ability to do certain kinds of research (because of the immune-suppressing medications I’m on), to travel easily (because of my inflexible treatment schedule), and to obtain affordable health insurance anywhere other than Canada. (Health insurance for anyone other than full-time, tenure-track faculty often has a yearly cap at around what my medications cost per month.) I worked outside of academia for several years but had a succession of bad bosses who did not abide by the accommodations my doctors outlined. I was pressed to work more than I could handle, ended up on sick leave, and then was punished for it.

Freelancing allows me to take on work when I am not sick or less sick and to pass work on to other editors when I am not able to do it. It’s still a feast-or-famine situation, but I have more control over my time than I did when I had no say in my own schedule. When I am well, I can work up to 20 hours per week, and up to 60 hours per month.

Right now, I edit as a freelancer part-time and work part-time at a research job that sometimes involves writing and editing. My boss at the research job is fantastic and lets me manage my own schedule. He is happy that I continue to edit on the side and lets me take time off to do so — it keeps my skills sharp for when I have to edit at the research job. While I love my current work situation, it is unlikely to last forever. Editing is always something I can fall back on if other things don’t work out.

What advice would you offer to new editors living with a chronic illness?

Keep networking however you can, whether online or in person. Other editors can be a great source of support, and it’s always helpful to know who to trust with work when you have too much of it to handle yourself. Your peers can also send you work when they are overwhelmed or think a job suits your expertise more than their own. Other people you meet may not be able to hire you, but they can mention you to their friends and colleagues who need editing help. You never know which connection is going to lead to your next job or a new friendship.


Ann Kennedy is a Toronto-based copy editor and proofreader. She lives with a mobility disability. Here, she describes how living with a disability impacts running a freelance editing business.

What made you get into editing? Was this a career goal or was it something you naturally gravitated toward over the years?

The company I worked for was downsized and I found myself without a job. Three months later my mom passed away after a long illness. I knew I needed to take the time to recover and figure out what direction to take. I had grown up enjoying writing and loved to read, so I started looking through George Brown College’s liberal arts programs. In most of my varied jobs up to that point I had written articles and proofread materials before they went to print, and when I saw that the college offered an editing certificate, I had one of those “aha!” moments. I went to the orientation night, and I was hooked!

In what ways, if at all, has your disability impacted your editing career? Have you had to overcome any barriers?

My editing career is just starting, but I have found it necessary to change the location of my desktop computer to allow me to work while putting my feet up and to change my position often. I also work on my laptop occasionally, and it is an ongoing process to ensure I have all the resources I need available on both platforms—I’ve never been very tech-savvy!

What advice would you offer to new editors with disabilities?

Having a lifelong disability, I am very accustomed to being resourceful and figuring out what works for me. I would say, don’t let anyone tell you how you have to do things. Look at the end goal and your abilities and resources, and then work out how to achieve the goal.


Natalia Iwanek is a Toronto-based editor and writer. She specializes in article and blog writing, copy editing, and proofreading.

This article was copy edited by Summer Cowley.

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