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Freelance writing can be a misunderstood art. A lot of people have translated any career with the prefix, “freelance” as “unemployed,” or the less popular but equally hurtful, “probably drunk right now.”
But at least one of these is going to be untrue in real life for those that chose to pursue freelance writing as the craft to bring home the bacon. Freelancing is much more than setting your own hours and working in sweats year-round. In order to set your own hours, you need to have work lined up to create a schedule. No work, no hours, no money.
And just like that, freelance writing can go from dream job to nightmare fuel.
Stresses of freelance writing are unique, from pitching to getting a whole lot of red ink from your editor — writing is its own brand of beast that can get out of control and leave you feeling hopeless and unsure about the career choice that you made.
Luckily, there is relief.
No matter what chaotic curveball your editor or client throws your way, there are ways to roll with the punches and thrive as a freelance writer without losing your mind. Here are some tips and tricks to help you survive a freelance freak-out.
Finding the Right People to Work with
With the growth of the internet comes the access to find jobs and clients online without leaving the comfort of your bunny slippers.
Clients are everywhere, and they want you to write their content. They just don’t know it yet.
There are websites all over that can help you find a client base. A word of caution: there will be clients that will want you to work for free or for “exposure/experience.” While you can do this if it’s how you want to start out, it may be better to write for yourself for free first. That way you can pick topics that you actually want to write about, and broadcast that in your portfolio to land gigs that line up with your passion.
There are also blogs that exist where once you get in, your work will be published and you can get paid-per-view. Even if you don’t get paid hardly anything, you now have a published article that you can use on your portfolio… and two bucks is still a coffee whereas zero bucks is… not a coffee.
Pitching and Edits
Pitching is the easiest way to be crushed by editors that you don’t even know. Editing is the easiest way to be crushed by editors that you talk to every day.
You may have days where you pitch the best ideas you could think of, pitches you had dreams about — pitches that have changed your life, so of course, you want to share it with others.
Did you send your pitch out into the pitch abyss? You’re not the first, and you won’t be the last.
Try to shake it off, and unless there’s a disclosure that you can’t send the same pitch again to another company or editor, send it to someone who deserves to see how awesome you are.
Being ignored is part of the process. Try to see it as a challenge and push yourself to switch up your angle or find something that maybe fits the editor’s style better. The best way to survive feeling unloved or unimportant is to try not to take it personally.
Editors blow through pitches daily. Despite what most writers believe, they’re not out to crush your soul. If you haven’t hooked them with your first few sentences, that may be what you need to work on. It also doesn’t hurt to ask for feedback. It might get thrown into the void as well though, so try not to sit on that too long either.
Did your pitch get approved and you wrote a show-stopper article, just to find out that your editor wants you to tear it up and try again? Nothing makes a grown man or woman cry quite like red markups all over their baby.
The same goes for criticism on your work — editors are actually your friends and are just trying to help you create the best content that you’re capable of. Again, try not to take criticism personally. It’s a blessing that you have someone looking out for you and wanting to see you perform your best.
… And even if that’s not the case, tell yourself that to keep your head above water.
Creating A Schedule
Writers are great at losing themselves in their writing. You can easily go from wanting to write a couple hundred words in the afternoon to sunset is now happening, and you just wrote well over 3,000 words and should’ve been done hours ago. Now your original project is behind and your project that was due next week is done.
Prevent yourself from getting too deep in other projects if you have hard deadlines quickly approaching. It might seem hard to stop when your brain is full of great ideas, but it might be better to jot the main ones down and come back later.
You might find that you put off certain projects every time. If you find that you have clients that ask you for mundane work, it’s okay to fire them if you’ve got enough income and other clients to fill the gap.
While it may be true that beggars can’t be choosers, that usually only lasts in the beginning. One day, you can be picky about your clients, and it will make writing dangerously easier and more fun. If you’re overloaded with work and don’t have time set aside for seeing your friends or visiting anything outside of your home, be sure to make time to do that.
Sunlight is important, social endeavors are important, seeing another animal besides your cat is important. Make sure to get out. It can actually help you feel better when you didn’t even realize that you weren’t feeling so hot. When you set time aside to de-stress, you’ll probably produce better content too when you’re ready to come back.
Mental health is important.
Some people even take mental health days to recover so they can come back to work feeling rested and ready to tackle the world. If you’re feeling stressed do something good for yourself. And if you notice that you’re tired a lot lately, don’t just juice up on coffee.
Scary, I know.
Do try to get to bed early a couple of times a week and get enough rest. If you’re feeling groggy, it’ll probably bleed into your work and will be evident to your readers.
Coffee may seem like a quick fix, and it might get you through the night — but the next day is going to be rough if you’re not rested and keep trying to just power through one more copy or article.
Turn on some music that calms you down. Be clichéd if it makes you feel better and abashedly turn on some jazz. Bonus points if it’s a rainy day outside and you have a hot drink on your coffee table.
Take advantage of the fact that you can work from home. Put on some yoga pants or sweats and roll out a mat. Do some stretches with the dog or cat, turn on some nature sounds and find some peace in the middle of the day.
Gloomy weather can be your best friend. When you’ve got some crazy deadlines and feel like the room is spinning — light some candles, turn on some twinkle lights and put a fire on if you have a fireplace. Nothing soothes the soul like some warmth and comfort despite a storm raging outside, or in your head.
A solid way to soak in some relaxation is drawing a bubble bath. Get a tabletop that can go over the tub so you can set your laptop on it and work in the comfort of your makeshift spa. Combine this with some aromatherapy, and you’ve got a calming atmosphere that may help clear your head. Just be sure to use citrus rather than lavender so that you’ll feel energized and not sleepy.
Do you feel gross around clutter in your workspace? Having a tidy space can help lower your anxiety and, in return, better your productivity.
A designated workspace is another way to help channel your focus. Try not to work in bed too much or for too long and try to avoid bringing work into the living room or dining area. If you keep your office space designated for work, it’ll be harder to see the rest of your home as a workspace.
If you can’t get away from work, it’ll be a lot harder to feel like you ever have time off or take a break, which in turn can lead to more unwanted stress. Don’t be afraid to schedule some time off. It doesn’t have to be a vacation, but allowing yourself some brain breaks will go a long way.
Bless This Mess Sans Stress
You know the flight attendant speech where in case of emergency, put your own oxygen mask on before helping someone out? The same goes for you and your mental health while freelancing. If you’re suffocating and going down in flames, you can’t do anything for anyone else.
Take care of yourself, so that you can take care of business.