It’s Important to Take Writing Breaks

I know a perfectly lovely lady who is a digital copywriter.  She works her butt off all the time, and she’s constantly tired and stressed.  I happen to know she’s very talented, but she neglects self-care.  And self-care is one of the most vital parts of being a writer.

I was there, I was her, just a few years ago.  I would write for two or three months straight, without weekends, and wonder why I was getting slower and slower — why it got harder to get up and go to work every day.  The truth is that I was completely worn out.  But I kept trucking because I had to pay the rent, pay the utilities and buy groceries.  It never had to be that way, I just thought it did.

The Value of Weekends

There’s something so freeing in having a weekend to look forward to after a long, hard week of writing.  There’s something so nice about it.  But beyond giving you some shiny, happy feelings, it also gives you a chance to unwind and destress, a chance to clear your head.  Sure, I know it sounds like utter shit, and I used to believe that, too… but I was wrong.

See, I (and I expect you, too) was raised in a world where the ability to work yourself to death was considered a virtue.  This wasn’t a world that spawned creativity, it was a world of pure industry, where everyone was herded into factories to mechanically build consumer goods.  So if you could work for a long time without dropping dead or going insane, it was a really good thing.

Labor laws and whatnot were invented to protect the average Joe from his employers forcing this sort of endless labor onto him, but we self-employed creatives aren’t bound to those laws.  We really should be.  Like truckers, we should be limited in how many hours a day we can write.  This is probably a variable thing for different writers and for different projects, but when we can’t set limits for ourselves, we need to take a cue from others.

It wasn’t that long ago that I’d have four or five day long “Write-a-Thons.”  And when I say I was writing the whole time, I’m not joking.  I’d write 11 days in a row, all day long, because I thought I should.  I’d write for months without a break.  And you know what happened?  I started to suck in a big way.

Giving Yourself a Break

Yes, writing is work, and it’s not easy work.  That being said, you need to give yourself a break now and again.  Maybe you can’t do it all at once, but you can start to make changes today that will allow you to treat yourself better in the long run.  Do I have tips?  OF COURSE I DO!

1. Get Organized.  You’ll never break the cycle of weekend writing if you’re disorganized.  Organization is the key to much of this — if you don’t know when to write a thing, how long that thing will take and when that thing must be delivered, you’ll not only miss deadlines, you’ll kill yourself fighting against the mess.  Get organized.  Free tools like Google Calendar can go a long way to helping you sort out the chaos.

2. Ask for Help.  Sometimes you get so much stuff on your desk that you can’t possibly get it all done.  Oh, I know.  I’ve been there, my friend.  There’s no shame in asking another freelancer for help — with a caveat.  Never outsource without asking your client if it’s ok.  Some may want to only work with you or have sensitive information they’d rather keep to themselves.  Respect those wishes, especially if that client is your bread and butter.

3. Set Realistic Deadlines.  As a freelancer, you’re probably asked by your clients when you can deliver.  The answer should never put you in a place where you’re neglecting self-care.  Learn how much you can realistically write, really figure it out and be honest with yourself.  Everybody writes at a different pace, and so long as you’re paying the bills, it’s ok.

For example, I’m most comfortable at four to five 500 word pieces a day — gives me plenty of time to think about them.  That doesn’t mean I can’t write more when I have to, but I limit those “have to” situations as much as possible.  I tell clients it could be a while before I get to their stuff, most of them aren’t in a hurry, so it’s ok.  If they demand work right away, I charge them accordingly.  Be hard, stand your ground, and take no shit.

If  you take nothing else away from this blog, Fuckers, it’s that you need to take better care of yourself.  I don’t care if you’re taking Tuesday and Wednesday off or Saturday and Sunday, you need a fucking break and every week.  Treat yourself nice so you don’t blow your top.  Trust me, you’ll last a lot longer in this life if you pace yourself.

Networking Matters for Writers

I see you there, hunched over in your dark cavern of gloom, silently stroking your cat and typing endlessly at a keyboard as you both chain smoke and binge drink — yes, we all know you’re the epitome of Writerliness.  Except, no one really does know it because you never get out of your cave.  It’s time for you to get to networking.

I can feel your eyeroll.  I can.  I know it sounds like business-ese for elaborate ritualistic ass-kissing, but networking can be really beneficial for writers of every genre.  Just like alcoholics get together once in a while to drink together at the bar (or reminisce about how great it was to drink at the bar before they sobered up), crawling out of your dive can do you good.

Networking is Good for Your Health

We’re solitary beasts by nature, I know.  I know this.  Don’t think I don’t — but there’s a certain pressure in the Internet Age to be connected to everyone you’ve ever met.  Even if you manage to somehow resist it, you may be doing yourself a disservice.  A number of studies have been published on isolationism and the effects on human health — and brother, it ain’t pretty.

High stress, depression, anxiety and the physical effects they can cause might start snowballing because you’ve locked yourself down and not made a friend or six.  Oh, yeah, and now there’s evidence that your social connections may influence how well your brain and memory functions over the long run.  So… you know, brains are good and you need yours to continue to be a writer.

Above all else (and most importantly), your ability to find new work can be seriously hampered by being a lone wolf.  If you don’t put yourself out there, meet new people and whatnot, a lot of opportunities will pass you by.  According to Harvard Business School, 65 to 85 percent of jobs are found through networking connections.  I know, right?  It’s crazy.

How to Win at Networking

Better mental health and access to work are great reasons to pop onto social media, where our people reign supreme, and make some new friends.  But, of course, it’s never that easy, is it?  No… no, it’s not.

Social media is like a tank full of piranhas, ready for fresh meat.  I don’t care if you’re logging into Tumblr or LinkedIn, it’s all sort of the same.  There are factions, there are people ready to attack you for absolutely no reason and there are total and complete nutjobs just waiting to screw with your head.  But that’s ok.  That’s life, in a little virtual ecosystem that doesn’t require you put on pants.

So, how do you win at networking when the online world is so confusing?  Here are some tips:

Find your tribe.  I know, it’s trite.  But it’s also the best piece of advice I’ve been given.  The Internet is filled with factions, liberals vs. conservatives, pro-science vs. anti-GMOs, tongue-clucking grammarians vs. fluent text-speakers — the easiest way to get started is to find your people.  Join some groups that represent your interests outside of writing, like speedboats or aquarium keeping or elephant punching — whatever you’re into.

Feel out the water, figure out who your people are in a safe place that won’t fuck up your future work prospects.  Then join a writing group or two of people in your genre.  You’d be shocked how many will be more than happy to introduce you around their own circle of writing friends.  hen before you know it, you’ll have a blooming network of writers to bounce ideas off of and help you find work when the world’s falling apart.

Don’t feed the trolls.  No matter what you do, where you go or how well you do it, you’re going to meet trolls on the Internet.  These people have nothing better to do than to torment and criticize others, often bringing the uninitiated to tears.  You’ll have to grow a thick skin and resist the urge to fight these people — you’ll never win.  They cannot be defeated with words, only silence kills a troll.

What you can’t manage online, you need to ignore.  You can’t change most people’s opinions, as it turns out, so unless they’re asking for your help, leave them be.

Follow the playground rules.  You know, to have a friend, you gotta be a friend, don’t push and never, ever rub dirt in the other kids faces — the basics.  Be yourself, but remember that virtual mediums are hard places to get tone across, so unless someone knows you well those snarky remarks may become hurtful and result in further isolation.  Use emoticons.  Really.  Draw your emotions to spare those of others.  😀

Also, don’t hammer your friends with constant posts to your feed.  Some may only have a few online friends and your 10 posts a day get very overwhelming.  Shoot for four or five, tops, and only if those posts are really awesome.

Share just enough.  There’s such a thing as sharing too much, even in this world where people take pictures of their dinners, talk about how their toddler melted down in Target and ask their friends to help them choose the right underpants before a date.  Start out easy — pretend your Internet connections are your neighbors.  Would you want your neighbor to know that you like to snort blow off your dog’s ass?  I didn’t think so.  Don’t share that.

Networking is what you make it, but if you’re a writer in the 21st century, it’s a necessary evil.  Put yourself out there, meet some new friends, make sure they all know what you do for a living and let them know when you have openings for clients.  Before you know it, magic happens.  You’ll find you have more work than you know what to do with.

Shake that thang your mama gave you.  SHAKE IT, I SAY!

Get Organized, You Slob!

Messy DeskWriters are among the most disgusting fucks I know.  Not only do they forget to bathe for days or weeks at a time, they usually end up working in a pile of feculence the likes of which can only be matched by an open garbage dump.  There’s no excuse for this level of gruesome and odious filth.  Period.  Dot.

If you want to make it in this business, you’ve got to get your shit together.  Get your vile pile under control!

How Disorganization Costs You

When you’re extremely disorganized, there’s no hope for you — but most of you don’t fall in that range, you’re usually just some disorganized or a little confused and have a few piles.  Total disorganization makes our job impossible.  There’s no way you can juggle multiple clients with their various needs if your desk look like that one up there.  You’re fucked in that regard.  But, if you’re somewhere between that and organized, I can help.

Being disorganized costs you in more ways than financial.  Even if you never have a video conference (I recommend you don’t until you get your ass organized), your clients will notice the sloppy work your environment encourages, they’ll start keeping track of how often they have to remind you what their voice should be… and they might even end up calling you at home because you’ve started missing deadlines.

Basically, your disorganization is going to lead to the ruin of your business and potentially the fall of humanity.  That’s a big burden to carry, I know.

Emerging From the Pile

Of course, you can change your putrid ways today.  TODAY!  You can clean the fuck out of your desk, get your papers in one stack (Why do you still have papers?!  This is the digital age!) and generally make life a lot easier for yourself.  Any organizational system is a personal thing, but I’ve been crafting one for years and I have a few items I think everybody needs:

Whiteboards for Client Tracking.  Whiteboards bring me endless joy and utility — I have them scattered throughout the house.  But the ones in my office are of special value, they help me keep track of client needs, give me a place to jot notes and draw things and allow me to visualize how much of my hard-earned cash is still out there floating around.

Scheduling Calendar.  No writer in their right mind should be without some kind of scheduling calendar.  I use Google Calendar, but you can use a paper calendar, a whiteboard calendar or whatever works.  Fill your daily work into each day’s section as individual pieces, and move things around as need be.  This way you can easily see if you have time to take on more work or if you have to pass on that awesome offer that just came randomly to your email.

Shelf for Reference Books.  No matter your specialty, you’ve got some reference books, even if they just consist of a tattered copy of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, a half legible dictionary and a 1998 edition of the Associated Press Stylebook.  Everything needs a fucking place.

Drawers for Files and Pens.  Other things, like pens and files, are less frequently used than your reference materials, so stash them nearby, but away.  Get them off your desk with a rolling file cabinet or buy a new desk with some storage.  Treat this shit like an investment, because it is.

Spreadsheet for Income Data.  This is less of a physical thing, but if you really want to know how you’re doing compared to last year or where you’re headed based on five years of income data, a spreadsheet can give you that info.  It’s even a great way to curb your spending on expensive, but necessary things like fast food hamburgers, the mana of life.

Post-It Notes.  I should really buy some stock in 3M, because I use the fuck out of Post-Its.  They’re a great way to keep track of who wants single spaces in their deliverables, what needs to be done right away and new ideas I’ve left to implement.  They’re great for everything.  Sometimes I stick them to my husband’s head.

I promise you that if you get your shit together, it’ll pay off in the long run.  Clean your desk, you filthy mongrel, pick up your space and get fucking organized!!