The freelance writing lifestyle can take a toll on anyone. It doesn't matter how good or how experienced you are - stress and weariness will catch up on you.
I have been writing for more than 10 years. I have climbed the ranks from writing $5 for 500-word articles years back to earning way more now for the same number of words. It's a testament to how much I love writing. I'm lucky to have turned my passion into a profitable business and I don't see myself doing anything else in the near future.
But there are times when I can't help but feel contempt for writing. Sometimes, I want to be anywhere else but sit in front of my computer typing the same old crap I've been writing for years for another client.
I understand it's part of the job. There will be dog days when you just want to take a break after hours and weeks toiling to produce the best content for my blog and client's. The buildup of stress is inevitable. However, you can't afford a break because of backlogs and other projects that need your attention. Don't get me wrong - this is a good problem to have. However, it doesn't make it any less of a problem.
As you procrastinate and the tasks keep piling up, you're left with even more backlog than ever before! Next thing you need, clients won't be placing anymore order to you because you can't deliver on time. It's a reality that freelancers need to be aware of if they want to sustain a profitable career.
Therefore, instead of sulking and cursing the world for your perceived misfortune, you need to find ways to reduce stress so you can continue working at your best and keep producing for your clients and your blog.
My simple ways to reduce stress as a writer
1. Take breaks in between tasks
Lately, my chest hurts while working. And it's not the pain produced by romance. It's more of a physical kind produced by hours of non-stop typing in front of my laptop. I have been working at least five hours straight for the past few weeks each day. After not getting jobs for the first quarter of the year, things have been looking up since. I have had an out-pour of blessings these couple of months which put my writing skills to work. It's great to be back in the saddle after being stuck in the sidelines.
However, my fervor for writing caused a cramping pain on my chest. My wife and I think I am experiencing heartburn which is caused by stress. While I love my job, it is physically difficult for me to love it too much. I get too engrossed in writing that I forget the time and to take breaks.
To maintain my performance writing for clients and keep stress at bay at the same time, I have been using the Pomodoro Technique. It's a productivity tactic where I work 25 minutes straight and take five-minute breaks in between.
For the 25 minutes, I completely shut out everything while I do my thing. That means no Facebook, Youtube, and other distractions that keeps me from working at my highest level. It encourages me to squeeze out as much work as possible within that time-frame.
Once the 25 minutes are up, the five-minute break kicks in. I can stand up and take a stroll, check on my Facebook, get a cup of coffee - anything that will keep my mind off work. Personally, I stand up and walk around, stretch my legs and arms, and get my blood flowing in my body after minutes of just sitting down.
To help me keep track of time to do the Pomodoro Technique, I downloaded the Pomodoro Time Lite app for my Android phone. Not only did it improve my productivity and help me get more things done but it also reduced my stress to a point where I no longer experience chest pains. It's as simple as taking regular breaks during work that made daily work much more manageable.
2. Have a good night's sleep
I'm not those people who maximize their waking hours by taking the least amount of sleep as possible. It works for some, but it does the opposite for me. Instead of me getting more work done because I'm awake longer, the lack of sleep makes me tired and weary much faster. As a result, I sometimes fall asleep in front of my laptop despite my resistance. Ultimately, I'll just fold my laptop and retreat to my bed.
Next thing I know, it's already afternoon and I slept longer than if I slept at night on time. I'll be hard-pressed for time to turn in work due in a couple of minutes. Due to bum-rushing the article, I submit a substandard article that is not representative of my writing.
So instead of pushing for less sleep, I lobbied for longer sleep. I get at least 6-8 hours of uninterrupted shut-eye so I can feel well-rested and refreshed when I wake up. It allows me to get more work in everyday and leave no stone unturned.
A thing you need to know about sleep is preparing yourself for the next day. You won't be able to sleep properly if you don't plot out the things you need to do the following day. Therefore, you should schedule your tasks for the following day to manage expectations. I use Google Calendar to create the tasks and add notes so I know what I need to do for each. I also use Trello to help me break down the task into actionable items or collaborate with my fellow writers. Developing a system where you can set the schedule of your tasks for the next day will help you worry less and sleep better.
3. Prepare an outline for each post before writing them
Writing doesn't come naturally if you don't know what to write. This happens if you're unfamiliar with the topic assigned to you by the client or you come unprepared for the day. This adds unnecessary stress to your job as you simply need to be prepared for the days ahead.
A way of getting ready for the tasks at hand, aside from plotting your day using an online calendar tool as mentioned above, is to outline the articles you will be writing for the day.
Outlining the topic lets you break down the article into subheadings that you can discuss on a macro level. Once you've developed your outlines, writing the posts become much easier because you have all the information at your fingertips. You don't have to research for them while writing the article. You can find everything on the outline - you job now is to flesh out the information into your own words.
For building my outlines, I use Trello to organize my projects into different boards and cards. For each card that will contain the outline, I include the following:
- Keyword - I write with SEO in mind. Therefore, I use Keyword Revealer* and find the best keywords so I can write an optimized article
- Title - Keeping the keyword in mind, I craft my title using Sharethrough Headline Analyzer to help me come up with the best title version for the title
- Intro - In this part, I usually wing the intro using stock knowledge and how I want the article to flow from the start. I just write things that I know - there's no research involved here yet. I tweak the intro according to the points that I will research about later
- Bullet points - This is where I write the subheadings for my article. I simply write a 1-2 sentence description about what I want to discuss under each subheading
- Resources - I include links that I will use for reference in writing the articles
From here, I should have a good idea on how to write the article when the time comes.
Outlining my posts have made it much easier for me to write them which makes my days less stressful. It prevents from getting stuck on a particular topic when writing. Since I've done the research beforehand, I can focus writing the article at will!
4. Have a "me" time
Question: if money were not an object in this world, would you still be a writer?
Honestly, I still would write, but not as much as I'm doing right now. Before taking my freelance writing career seriously, I loved playing heavy metal on my guitar, playing Super Mario Galaxy 2 on Wii (back when Wii was still a thing), reading Asian literature, and staying on top of the latest sports news, to name a few. Let's face it - the world is not limited by what our laptops and mobile phones show us.
Throughout the years, I find myself playing the guitar and video games less to a point that I no longer have time for them. Aside from being a freelance writer, I'm also a loving husband and a father of two. I'll be more than willing to replace everything just to keep my family safe and happy. Even if it means compromising time for my hobbies and passions.
However, it doesn't mean that I should eradicate "me" time from my schedule completely. The time you spend pampering yourself and doing things you love outside from your work and family is equally important. They help you contain your sanity most of the time and let you experience life a bit more.
Since late last year, I bought an acoustic and electric guitar to jump-start my passion for playing the six-stringed instrument. While I've been jumping in and out of playing them since then, it feels nice to be lost in the music like I did back then. Nothing matters except the music I was trying to play without mistakes.
Also, having a subscription to streaming sites helps me get over the dog days. As a basketball fan, I love to see takes from experts about my favorite NBA teams for the coming season. Some streaming site block content due to legal reasons which sucks. The US has it good since they have all the access to streaming content. However, I am still able to watch ESPN outside of US, for instance. Granted, I have to bear Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith with their over-the-top analyses. But hey, it's part of the experience.
These things, while they seem simple, add value to my "me" time. It allows me to look forward to the time when I'm not suppose to write. Rekindling the fire for my hobbies balances my work-life relationship so I have an outlet to blow off steam.
5. Spend time with loved ones
This is arguably my biggest stress reliever. My family is the reason why I do the things I do. Without them, I'll still be stuck at an office job, wondering how much better life would be if I resigned and got out from my cubicle.
I end work at around 8:30 in the evening. To be honest, I wish I could end earlier but that's how things are at the moment. But once I log off, I do my best to catch up with my kids and play with them. I play the monster and they try to fight me off while laughing at the same time. Seeing them this way is something that all parents strive for. These moments make the difficulties at work seem trivial.
Once the kids are fast asleep, I spend quality time with my wife. We talk about the things we want to do months from now like take a vacation, or go see things. Then we plan for these events ahead of time to make them happen. We talk about how much we love each other and how we're lucky to have each other's backs.
The time I spend with my loved ones put things into perspective. Having a profitable freelance writing career is fine and dandy, but having a loving family to live with through thick and thin is what life's all about. I'm not saying that having a family is the only way to live life. But in my experience, having someone to love and live for made me realize it's not always about me.
I am living a life to build something that is greater than all my personal accomplishments combined. Having children to raise and help make a difference in this world their own way with a life partner to love and trust for life is a responsibility I never thought I wanted. However, I'm more than willing to take up the challenge.
Having realized these things, the stress from work slowly melts away.
Do you have your own ways to reduce stress?
The ways I shared above are personal but nonetheless crucial to my success as a freelance writer. Getting the most of my time and drawing the strength from my loved ones is what ultimately keeps me going.
However, these aren't the only ways to reduce stress. If you have useful tips you want to share that have been very effective in keeping you stress-free, then please share them by commenting below!
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