The advantages of being independent are numerous.
You can be free to do what you want to do, not something that fits a departmental gap.
You have no department duties that drain your energy.
You have no department politics that drain your energy.
You are under no pressure to produce for research assessments, etc., although without pressure, and with freedom, you can often produce far more than ‘professionals’.
You can write honest reviews.
There are many, many others in the same situation as independent scholars, and we provide mutual support for each other. Establish a network of trusted email friends and share with them. Remember, plagiarism is all too common, and what you reveal in a conference paper may be taken and used by those who hear it without acknowledging that it was taken from your paper. As a general rule, do not reveal anything that is not already accepted for imminent publication, because as a non-professional, it will be hard to convince ‘the establishment’ that it was your idea first. Even those who read manuscripts or proposals for publishers can leak your ideas. Publishers, naturally, do not reveal who their readers are, but one can sometimes guess.
Big expensive conferences are not always wonderful, and there can be hidden competition in the air, trying to impress and so get noticed. Do not play that game. Pursue scholarship for its own sake. Your antennae will lead you to like-minded people.
Decide first if biblical scholarship is really what you want to pursue. Only real commitment will see you through the hard parts.
You will need rigorous self-discipline and have to work out what best suits you. I have found that starting at my desk at 5am is the best way to get in a couple of hours before the ‘day’ starts, and what is done in those quiet hours can keep you happy and calm for the rest of a day when there might be no more opportunity to go anywhere near a book or a desk.
Do not waste time. Any lost five minutes is five minutes you will never have again. A train journey or waiting at the dentist’s can be used for reading. Always carry a note book; ideas can [and do] come in the supermarket.
Do not use library time for pottering. Go with a clear idea of what you want [get the location numbers beforehand from the on-line catalogue] and then photocopy/scan only the pages you need. Always put a full reference on the copy. You have no time to chase lost references. Make a collection of these copies and file them in the way you find most convenient. Since I started this a long time ago, when photocopying was a new invention, I now have filing cabinets full of bits and pieces of paper, all classified and easy to access.
Never quote from a book without checking all its claimed sources. You will be surprised how many books have rogue references, caused by copying without checking from the work of another person. And check all translations; they can be very strange indeed.
Enjoy your work. When it ceases to be a pleasure, it is time to stop.
I am grateful to Margaret for her willingness to write this article. Her latest book – The Mother of the Lord, Volume 1: The Lady in the Temple – is out now.