The Care and Feeding of the Freelance Writer
If I asked you to name your most important business asset, what would you say? Your computer? Your printer? Your iPhone? What about you?
Yes, you. Your computer can always be replaced, even if it has a major meltdown and zaps half of your documents into oblivion (three words: external hard drive). Printers and iPhones, too, can be fixed or replaced within a day or two of crapping out.
You, however, cannot be replaced. If you're too sick or stressed to write, your whole business grinds to a halt until you feel better. That's why caring for ourselves is so important.
So, even if you're sure you are Super Writer and that you don't have time for special care, take just a minute to think about the following suggestions. You may be surprised at how a small amount of comfort and care can send your productivity skyrocketing.
For those of you who have never taken a programming class, GIGO stands for "garbage in, garbage out." It doesn't matter how sophisticated your program may be–it the data you enter is garbage, the results you receive will be garbage as well.
The same thing is true with your body. The more you stuff yourself with caffeine and sugar to keep your tired brain churning out ideas, the more your writing will suffer. You'll start to make mistakes, first small ones, then bigger ones that can hurt your career. The only answer is to stop the cycle of garbage and give your body the rest, exercise, food, and fluids it needs to keep the brain in top shape.
Escape from the Cave
Sure, our ancestors may have slept in caves and sought shelter in inclement weather, but they were smart enough to know that the human body was never intended to remain inside 24/7. Take a page from their book, and get out as much as you can. Take a break and walk around the block, or bring your laptop to a park and work on your projects there. Even if it's snowing, you can still get outside for a few minutes. Try doing something fun like building a snowman or making snow angels.
Make Your Work Space Pleasant
It's easy to let your desk fall into disarray, especially if you're a piler rather than a filer. Working in clutter, though, can slow you down and put you in a bad mood. Take a little time at the end of each day to neaten your desk and lay out your next day's projects in an orderly manner. You'll feel so much better when you start work the next day.
Experts argue about the exact amount of fluids required by the human body, but most of them agree that we don't drink enough healthy liquids during the day. If you like water, always keep a full bottle or glass of water at your desk. Remember to sip from it every few minutes, and refill it when you get up to take a break. If you're not that big on water, try fruit juice, milk, herbal teas, or decaffeinated coffee. Restrict your intake of sugary, caffeine-loaded soft drinks.
Don't Be a Hermit
Writing is a solitary occupation. Even if you have online friends with whom you keep in touch, it's not the same as spending time with an actual person. Try to set aside at least two or three times a week when you leave your home to spend time with friends or family. Who knows? Your conversations with them may give you some excellent story ideas.
Find a Comfortable Work/Life Balance
There is no single correct balance. Every writer must find his or her own. Finding that balance is a little like defining pornography. You may not be able to explain exactly what it is, but you'll know it when you see it.
If you spend all your days feeling rushed and overworked and if you hear yourself complaining about your freelance job at every turn, take some time to think about whether freelance writing is the best career for you. There's no shame if it isn't, you know. There's also no glory in burning yourself out and making yourself miserable doing something you never liked that much in the first place.
Even if you don't love all of the projects you're hired to complete, you can still enjoy the creative process, the thrill of picking words out of the air and trying them out in different combinations until they make sense. As you become better known, you'll be able to be a bit more selective and seek out the projects that really interest you.
In order for that time to come, however, you have to take good care of yourself now.