Freelance Writers: How Do You Handle Vacations?

I haven't had a "real" vacation in about 12 years. After college it was just about not having the money to go (nonprofit work at the time paid far from well). Then I was going through the startup phase in my business (PR firm them), so there simply wasn't time. Then it was client issues -- when you're on retainer as a consultant, you have to be there when a client calls or has a problem (and when I do take a vacation, believe me, it'll be completely unplugged).

As a fulltime freelance writer, I almost feel like vacations should be easier. After all I can take the laptop with me anywhere and work if I really want to (although like I said, I probably wouldn't). It's also easier to clear up writing projects early than consulting projects which are more open-ended. Yet I still haven't taken a good long break.

I was originally planning on taking my normal Christmas break starting December 24th, and then leaving for England for two weeks shortly before the New Year. It doesn't look like it's going to happen though. It keeps getting pushed back. Why? Because work is good.

It seems to be a damned if you do, damned if you don't kind of situation. Either there's not much work coming in and you can't afford to travel, or you can finally afford your dream vacation but you're so swamped with work that you can't go. This is one of the drawbacks of taking on regular monthly contracts instead of one-off projects (although I wouldn't trade them for the world, and would never discourage other writers from pursuing them).

There has to be a way to make it work, right? A little bit of planning maybe? Trying to get clients' orders in early so the work can be done before leaving? This is one of those issues I've reallly struggled with over the years, but fortunately there has been a lot of good advice for freelance writers about vacationing lately. So today I'd like to share some of that with you. Several colleagues have given tips on taking the breaks we all deserve from time to time or what we can do on those vacations. Here's what they had to say:

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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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5 thoughts on “Freelance Writers: How Do You Handle Vacations?”

  1. Clint, I am really feeling you right now. When I went on my vacation, I was in the same situation – I work mostly by monthly contracts instead of one-off projects, and I was unsure about how my clients would handle time without me and, of course, about how the actual work would get done.

    Here’s what I did: I wrote each of my regulars about a month in advance, and stuck some info about my vacation on my email signature (carefully deleting that particular line if I were querying or corresponding with a non-regular client.) Then I made myself a strict schedule involving getting all my client work done early. Because I started so early, this probably only involved an extra 2-3 hours per day, tops. And, oddly enough considering my work habits, I ended up well ahead! That worked out, because I had planned to take some of Alex Fayle’s Freelancer Vacation Clinic advice and schedule an extra “fake” vacation day before and after my actual vacation to alleviate stress.

    As for the vacation itself – the laptop was anathema and through a snafu with my international service, it turned out I didn’t have phone either. Luckily, my clients were extremely respectful of my vacation time and did not call or email me (at least with anything urgent.)

    And you know what else? When I came home, I found that my clients had missed me. They had work for me and were glad I was back. Absence made the heart (and pocketbook…?) grow fonder indeed!

    I would love to see you take a vacation and enjoy all these benefits for yourself. Let me know if you need any advice or encouragement. I think I’ve become a vacation evangelist!

  2. Haha – I fooled you in my awesome impersonation of Clint when I posted this. 😉 Seriously, it was a WP glitch that was defaulting to him as the post author for several posts, and wouldn’t let me list myself. All better now though and Clint and Yo will begin posting freelance writing jobs for AFW next week (not yet). 🙂

    I think what’s tough for me isn’t even so much that they’re regular contracts but that several of those regulars are middlemen clients. So, for example, I might write press releases for a handful of a marketing firm’s clients. Therefore it’s not always in my direct client’s ability to get me an order early if their own clients don’t know what they want yet. I agree that a month should be pretty adequate time though — maybe mentioning the vacation during the previous month’s order.

    And I think the fake vacation days are such a brilliant idea, freelancer or not! 🙂 It’s kind of what I like to do around the holidays (the only time I take extended time off). I do it around Thanksgiving too, usually taking the day before off (so I can cook and prepare things depending on that year’s plans) and the day after (so I can shop all day on Black Friday of course! lol).

    As for clients missing you when you’re gone, another freelancer actually echoed that to me privately not long back — in her case after taking a staycation for a bit of a break. I don’t expect clients will all run off and find new freelancers to replace me if I take a week or two off. If anything, it’ll keep me sane and freshen up the mind a bit to tackle their projects better when I get back. So logically I know I should just do it. I’m toying with the idea of a shorter vacation maybe this winter, in the new year, to Canada. I have a colleague I’ve been wanting to see up there anyway. And Yo actually mentioned recently that the three of us should try to get together next year (alas, no Harry Potter for me though! lol). So maybe two shorter things next year would be good — one up north, and one down south. I’ve been dying to go back to Myrtle Beach actually (haven’t been there since high school). So maybe I’d go down for that finally. We shall see!

  3. I have a post in queue on this very topic. When I went on vacation last May (my first as a full-time freelancer), I did the bulk of my work before I left. I tried to schedule deadlines so they didn’t fall right before, during, or directly after vacation. I let regular clients know I would be on vacation well in advance and, of course, set my out of office notification.

    I did a minimal amount of work while I was actually on vacation. I had one blog post that I didn’t complete before leaving and worked on it on my iPhone while laying on the beach (can’t get better than that). It wasn’t bad at all. I checked email once in the morning and made it a point not to check it at all after that.

  4. Hah! Stop trying to hide behind Clint, Jenn. But seriously, I think the three of us getting together is a capitol idea, but I just realized I don’t know where you are! I know Yo and I are both in the South, so we could totally meet at Myrtle Beach. I’ve lived in Atlanta my whole life and never visited MB until last year. I found it delightfully kitschy! I’m excited!

    Please do try to take a vacation. I think you will find it easier and more freeing than you can imagine. I’ve been back for three weeks now, and have noticed I’m working harder, writing better and focusing more on business initiatives instead of just meeting deadlines.


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