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How to Avoid Burnout as a Freelance Writer

Updated on April 30, 2012

As a freelance writer, I know how easy it is to become burned out from doing the same work over and over. In fact, I am just now recovering from a six month period of burnout. Nonetheless, if writing is what helps pay the bills, it is important for a freelancer to be on their “A” game as much as possible. Take it from me—burning out will cost you money! Here are some tips to help prevent and work through burnout.

Start Slowly

The energy and fervor that a new freelancer brings to the table each day is a wonderful thing. However, entering into the full-time freelance writing world without developing the stamina and work schedule necessary to be successful in the field is the kiss of death. The lure of more money and opportunities can easily cause a new freelancer to overextend their resources. I recommend giving freelance writing a whirl during free time before committing to it on a full-time basis. If nothing else, write just one article a day for a week or two, and then build up the commitment from there. Find a pace that is comfortable and sustainable for the long term. This may mean writing no more than four or five articles per day. Only you can determine what works for your schedule and your energy level.

Have Other Gigs

If you possess skills in other areas besides writing, try diversifying your work schedule to include other work from home jobs. Once I burned out from freelance writing, I was completely unemployed for two months. eBay, a service I have used on a part time basis for over 10 years as a seller, became my only stream of income. I finally realized that I needed to utilize my information and teaching skills. As a former librarian, I decided to take indexing classes, enabling me to index books for publishers on a contract basis. On top of this, I started offering my skills as a genealogy and family history researcher online. Finally, I found steady work as an adjunct at an online university. Writing need only be one aspect of a successful freelancer’s portfolio!

Do Things You Love

One of the things that caused me to burn out from freelance writing was a lack of passion for the work I was generating. I started to associate the art of writing with drudgery, instead of treating it as the joy it once was. The antidote to this malaise involves taking the time each day, or as often as possible, to work on a writing project you love. In between writing keyword-rich content, I take an hour out daily to brainstorm for, write, or edit the novel I am working on. Even if your work is not The Great American Novel, creating something valuable to you will rejuvenate the mind and the body.

Take a Vacation

It sounds cliché, but it works: taking a vacation will clear the mind and relax the body. For best results, take at least a week off from writing every 2-3 months. Remember that, as freelancers, we truly have the luxury to be able to set hours as we see fit. Going away for a few days, or even having a “staycation,” may just be the fix for your sanity. The best vacations are physical. Go rock climbing, surfing, swimming, or take a ski holiday. The last thing you want to do on your vacation is to sit around for hours on end like you do when working.

Have a Social Life

It is easy to become cut off from society at large when working from home. Having an active social life outside of work is critical to being a successful freelancer. Conversing with people is a basic human need that must be met. Finding friends as a freelancer can be challenging, as we cannot draw upon the interoffice social network. Taking classes, attending local gallery openings and other cultural events, and connecting with people at your place of worship are all great ideas for meeting new people. Setting up shop at your local coffeehouse occasionally can also help. Meeting people outside of your profession is a good way of generating new ideas—a very practical application of this advice! If you are single, make a profile on a dating website. If, like many writers, you are of the nerdier persuasion, try OkCupid for both dates and new friends. It is completely free!

Revisit the Old Grind

If you had a day job prior to becoming a freelancer, try revisiting the old grind for just one day. Get up at whatever time you used to wake up, shower, get dressed in your fancy clothes, and set off on the road. Make sure you leave the house in time for rush hour traffic! Think about the money wasted on gas, the expensive clothing necessary to look “professional,” and the frustration experienced out on the freeway during rush hour traffic. Doing this for one morning may help you appreciate your current job more.

In conclusion, the life of a freelancer is not always sunshine and roses. Like those that work in other professions, freelance writers can suffer from burnout. The next time you feel tired and hopeless, take these steps to help ease away the tiredness and frustration that can come from this line of work. You will be happier for it!

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    • swellgal profile image
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      swellgal 5 years ago from Kentucky

      @janikon--I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only one going through this process! Stay strong.

    • janikon profile image

      Stuart A Jeffery 5 years ago from Toronto, Ontario

      I really enjoyed this article as I suffered a burnout a couple of months ago, and have just gotten back into the swing of things. Your tips are something I took to heart. Voted Up!

    • swellgal profile image
      Author

      swellgal 5 years ago from Kentucky

      I can understand your frustrations with Demand Studios. The list of topics they provide is long and often bizarre. Textbroker might be another choice. While the pay is less than stellar, often the articles asked for involve taking a topic you know a little something about and spinning off of it. Sometimes it helps to "just write" and avoid doing much research. This is one of the reasons why I joined HubPages! There is a time when, indeed, enough is enough in regards to research. I may very well take the time to post a hub on productivity. Thanks for the comments.

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 5 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Swellgal, I wrote and had accepted a few Demand Studio articles a few years ago but gave it up because it would take me two or three days and many hours to make $15 or even $5. I'd have to learn about a topic from scratch before writing about it. It would take me hours just to choose a topic to write about from their long lists of choices. I have no difficulty thinking of hub topics, and I love research. I hope I can relearn those college research writing skills. For me that was 50 years ago. Maybe I need to learn to say enough material, enough research, long enough, get it done. You're my inspiration, and I hope you'll write hubs on your writing productivity skills and techniques. The flip side of not burning out is getting work done and out into the world at a satisfactory rate.

    • swellgal profile image
      Author

      swellgal 5 years ago from Kentucky

      It is, indeed, common sense advice, but it does have to be reiterated to freelancers. Without a boss overlooking us, we are quite subject to overworking! (Not that this doesn't happen with a traditional job, but we can be our own worst critic!)

    • thesingernurse profile image

      thesingernurse 5 years ago from Rizal, Philippines

      I can so relate. I really have to agree that you always have to give yourself a leeway. Basically, your insights are applicable to almost anything!

      Thank you for sharing! This is very comforting and useful. :)

    • swellgal profile image
      Author

      swellgal 5 years ago from Kentucky

      @B: I learned how to write quickly when I got my bachelor's in English six years ago. I spent a lot of evenings burning the midnight oil to get those 10-15 page research papers done on time. Prior to that, I took secretarial courses, so I am something of a fast typist. Research comes easily to me, as I went to library school, and I always try to source everything well before I begin writing.

      Four to five articles a day, five days a week, is my pace given that I have other work outside of freelance writing. (Teaching takes up a lot of my time, especially if I have other projects on the back burner.) Depending on the group of assignments I work on, I spend 45 minutes to an hour on a piece. I almost always write work that has a fixed rate unless I have received a contract for a group of articles. As a newbie, I would recommend that you check out Demand Studios if you haven't already, as $15 for 300-500 words of copy is the current going rate. Textbroker is another good place for newcomers, especially if you haven't done enough work to develop a strong writer's resume.

      I noticed that you seem to enjoy Dragon Naturally Speaking. Many writers use this tool to help speed up the process of getting these small articles completed expediently, especially if they aren't fast typists.

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 5 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      All good advice. Thanks. I sure wish I could write that fast. My current heart's desire is to speed up my productivity to two articles per week. I work on hub pages writing 4 to 6 or more hours per day, with Sundays off, and so far I've averaged 2.8 articles per month. Research seems endless, with several more loose ends discovered each time I tie down one. I know I won't make any money till I've created a lot more hub pages. With no success finding even a part-time minimum wage job, getting my freelance writing to where I make even pocket money is a practical matter for me. Is 4 or 5 articles per day a "comfortable pace" for you because you are a super fast typist? Because you think very fast? Because you already know a lot? Because you write it right in the first draft and don't need to revise?

    • swellgal profile image
      Author

      swellgal 5 years ago from Kentucky

      Thank you for the comment and for following my work. I appreciate the vote of confidence, and I hope that you find these tips useful.

    • swellgal profile image
      Author

      swellgal 5 years ago from Kentucky

      While it looks like I have been unusually prolific, some of these articles have been sitting around for a while, waiting for a home. Thanks for the vote of confidence, and for following!

    • savingkathy profile image

      Kathy Sima 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      There are some great tips here. Thanks for sharing your strategies and welcome to HubPages! I look forward to reading more of your writing.

    • Robert Erich profile image

      Robert Erich 5 years ago from California

      This is a fantastic article Swellgal. You have only been on Hubpages for two days and you have 3 articles! I will have to read the others and give you a follow. I'm voting this article up and sharing it. Best of luck on Hubpages and thanks for the tips!