Treading Water Isn’t Failing In This Writing Life

I heard an incredible story over the weekend about a woman who was found in the Atlantic ocean treading water.  She wasn’t into extreme sports or out for a water jog, she had apparently fallen into the drink and had no idea what else to do.

She spent 10 hours like that.  Ten. Freaking. Hours.  It’s unimaginable to me that anyone could tread water for that long, but then I look over my writing career and I see that, in some ways, both myself and other writers I know have had periods when we’ve done just that.

Starting Out is the Hardest Part

Whether you’re getting started as a freelance writer or you’ve just gotten a job at an agency as some sort of creative, there’s going to be a massive learning curve and a lot of stuff is going to get away from you.

Starting out is always the hard part.

Your friends, family and possibly even your co-workers are going to expect that you’ll get over the initial shock in a week, two weeks… and then you’ll be ready to tear the world up.

The truth is that it can take a long time to develop the skills needed to fit well into your new position.  As a freelancer, you’ve got to be fast, agile, accommodating and willing to give up your lunch break and sleep in order to build a name for yourself.   In an agency setting, you have to be a team player, learn to decode directives that may be contradictory and do it all on tight deadlines for less pay than you might think.

Neither are ideal for the writing process, which requires both caffeine and sleep to execute properly.  Also, a little sugar never hurt.

Are You Sinking?

Like the lovely Brit who was collected by the Croatian Coast Guard, you’re probably just doing everything you can to stay afloat.  You might lack the systems and processes required to do your job well and keep everything organized or you may be learning how to write fast in order to meet all these deadlines that keep popping up.   You may even feel like you’re failing horribly and will never make it.

I have news for you, Bucko.  You’re still working, so you’re still winning. 

Step one is to tread water successfully.  Then you can work on the fancy stuff.  Those breast strokes are for the Glitterati.  You’re functional.  You’re utilitarian.  At least for now.

Moving From Treading to Transcendence

Now, I’m not saying that you’re in shark-infested waters, but I’m also NOT saying you’re not in shark-infested waters.  That being said (or not said), it’s a good idea to move beyond treading water as fast as possible.  I mean, it gets tiring, so at some point you’re just going to give up and sink into the deep, dark depths, where Schrodinger’s sharks might or might not be.

Let’s get you into a higher state.  I’m throwing you a lifesaver, grab on!

  1. Invest in time management.  I wrote on this recently, but I think it bears repeating.  If you’re easily distracted by Facebook or the television or some random pop-ups that keep happening on a certain website, for fuck’s sake, close it down.  Pay attention to your time sinks and limit your exposure to them.
  2. Organize thyself.  Your shit is literally scattered all over the house, from tip to stern (this is your houseboat, right?).  Your brain is equally scattered and I don’t even want to get into your desktop.  Take a day — take a whole weekend if you need to — to get your house in order.  Create places for things to live, put them away when you’re done, prioritize projects, get all of that on a calendar so you can see when everything is due.  Organization is key.
  3. Ready, set, go!  Challenge yourself to write faster while still maintaining quality.  This week, just write like you would, but keep track of how much time it takes to do each piece.  You can average them or whatever you want later, but we need a baseline.  The following week, set a timer that’s five minutes shorter than the time you spent writing similar content last week.Do this repeatedly until you’re fast enough to actually make a living.  For me, that’s around an hour for a 500 word blog, but someone I know can crank ’em out in half that time.  You should always strive to improve this time.
  4. Exercise regularly.  I don’t mean writing exercises, either.  I mean, get outside, go to the gym, do something to move your body.  Hey, I used to think this was business bullshit, too, but physical stimulation and mental stimulation can go hand in hand.  Also, you’ll sleep better and it’ll help cut your anxiety down.  I know you’re anxious AF.  I can see right into your soul through the power of the Tubes ™.
  5. Delegate properly.  You can’t do everything.  Well, maybe you can, but it’s not going to be pretty.  Get a buddy, hire an assistant, something.  They can do the little stuff so you can focus on doing the things that your reputation will be built on over the longer term.  There’s enough room on that door for someone else, Kate Winslet.
  6. Treat yourself like your best employee.  I mean, you probably are, anyway.  Your best employee will always be treated with a little bit of extra care since you can’t bear to lose them, right?  If they need a day off, you’ll give it to them.  Or, say they need an upgrade to their laptop because the one they have is too slow to get anything much done.  You’d dig deep and find that ish, right?  Why not be as generous and kind to yourself?  Get what you need and take no shit.

Well, kids, that’s all I have today.  If you’re treading water, remember that you’re still not sinking.  As long as you tread, you can work toward summoning that Croatian rescue boat into being.  You don’t need luck, though, you just need to work smarter (man, I hate that phrase).

Today is your day.  Today.  Do it for yourself, then do it for anyone else who might be watching.  Like me.  Or Santa.

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