5 Ways to Avoid Freelance Burnout as a Writer
Imagine you’re sitting in front of a large pizza. Don’t like pizza? For the sake of this example, pretend you do.
The first slice is so great that you decide to have another. The second one is good too, but not quite as satisfying as the first. By slice three or four, you’re probably ready to close the box and maybe try to sleep off that full feeling. No matter how good the pizza, each additional slice you eat will provide diminishing returns.
If your friend comes over the next day and says you two should go out for pizza, you may tell them you’re a little burnt out on it as of late. The more we get of something, the less valuable it becomes. Sometimes a good thing in excess amounts can even affect us negatively.
This is also true when it comes to work. Don’t get me wrong — I thank my lucky stars I’m able to work as a freelance writer instead of performing an hourly job. It’s more fun, the dress code is less strict, and the boss is way cooler.
But even if you’re someone who loves writing, it can be easy to get overloaded. Freelance burnout can be a serious problem, and it may leave you feeling overloaded, frustrated, and ready to take a vacation from the occupation you love. Here are five ways to avoid freelance burnout.
1. Follow Directions to Avoid Time-Consuming Errors
When I was just starting out as a freelancer, I remember being given my first “big” project from a major client. It came with pages of instructions, one of which was in a format I wasn’t used to.
I ended up covering the wrong topics and had to do thousands of words over again. To make matters worse, I got this news just as I had gotten back from the dentist. I had planned to rest that day, but instead found myself working until midnight — and my sore gums certainly didn’t help matters.
Losing a day off and having to work when I didn’t plan on it made me feel a bit overloaded. Thankfully, the client was cool about the delay. But each time I had a question after that, I made sure to voice it ahead of time.
2. Think in Terms of Time, Not Money
This one can be a little tricky. Freelance writers are all about the money, right? We love our craft, and we love the freedom freelancing provides, but a roof over your head is nice too.
During my time as a retail warrior, I remember fighting for extra hours to pad my paycheck at the end of the month. Once I gained some trust from clients, I found they’d give me as much work as I could handle. But in the process of looking at the price on projects, I would sometimes underestimate the time it took to complete them.
Freelancing isn’t about giving your all for a period of time — you only get paid when you complete a given task. Overloading yourself in hopes of getting more money can help you increase your bank balance, but it can also be a surefire way to encounter freelance burnout.
3. Know Your Strengths and Take Advantage
When you’re a freelance writer, you may find interests you never knew you had — especially when you get paid to be interested.
Not everyone has the luxury of covering topics they love. Before I was recapping the latest UFC cards and telling everyone about the cool (and slightly concerning) developments with artificial intelligence, I wrote about a plethora of different topics. I even wrote a piece about stockings once. Because if there’s anything a bearded, burly guy would know about, it’s hosiery.
Research is a part of the job, but you should be aware that unfamiliar subjects will require more of you. Even if you can crank out 1,000 words in under an hour, spending an additional hour studying up on the material can be tedious — especially when you have to do this for multiple projects.
It’s a job, so you have to do what you have to do. But remember, topics you aren’t familiar with will require more time and energy to cover. Commit to projects wisely, or risk a first-class trip to burnout boulevard.
4. Work Ahead on a Schedule if Possible
Some writers have regular clients that want a set number of pages per week or even per day. If this is you, congratulations! Not only are you getting steady work as a writer (which is not easy, in some cases) but you also have the luxury of being able to work ahead.
How many times have you woke up to the sound of an alarm, and wished you could just lay in bed or be lazy that day? At some of my previous jobs, this was a regular thing. Even if you only have to put in an hour or two of work per day to make your commitments as a freelancer, everyone deserves a day off.
Even if you work in your living room, reporting seven days a week will get old in a hurry – I’m speaking from experience. If you want to avoid freelance burnout, try to give yourself at least one day off a week.
5. Don’t Take Too Much Time to Complete Your Work
This one may seem counter-intuitive at first. If you take your time with your copy, you’re more likely to do a better job, right? In some cases, this is true. You don’t want to rush and make mistakes, especially if you’re working with picky clients.
As long as you make your deadlines, you’re good. But if you’re the type of person who gets distracted easily, you could turn a 500-word blog into a four-hour project. More than once I’ve turned a small order into a multi-hour project. The flow of events usually went something like this: create my format, check social media, write a paragraph, click “like” on funny memes, write another paragraph, check out a music video and then end up on the weird part of YouTube, etc.
It can be easy to lose track of time, but once you do you’ll find your workload is still staring you in the face and you don’t have time to do much else. Sit down, focus up, and power through it — concentrating and seeing a project through will not only help you create a better result, it will mean you spend less time working.
That means a reduced chance of freelance burnout, and more time left over for your own leisure — whether you want to use that to rest or browse those memes uninterrupted, the choice is up to you.