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Freelance Writers Should Take Time Off

In all the years I’ve worked with fellow writers, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard colleagues just like you say you struggle with the lack of paid sick time and paid vacations you’d get from an employer.

We’ve talked about this here before, but I want to remind you once more that, yes, we do get those things too. Our vacation time, sick time, and personal days should be worked into our rates.

You should be able to take time off when you need to without suffering through a complete lack of pay. If your rates aren’t covering those things, please spend some time playing with the advanced version of my freelance rate calculator so you can fix that. It may give you a little more peace of mind.

Now, I’ve taken time away before – from a day here and there to several months when I was quite sick for a while. Sometimes you know it’s coming, like a yearly vacation. Sometimes circumstances are out of your control, and you need to take time away suddenly. Most recently I’ve dealt with the latter scenario.

Needing Time Off

Other than a couple of guest posts for Writers Worth Month over at Lori Widmer’s Words on the Page, I haven’t done much blogging lately. That was due to being ill for a while, followed by some personal time off – “mental health days” I suppose you could call them.

No big deal when I got sick. I took care of client work early over a day or two when I felt something coming on, and then took nearly two weeks off to recover.

After that, I thought I’d be back to work without a problem. But due to things out of my control, I found myself in a pretty bad place – I’m not sure how else to describe it. So I extended my break a bit, again doing the bare bones for others, usually as early in the week as I could, then taking the rest of the time off.

I didn’t think much of it. I figured I’d move past it and I’d feel better in a day or two. But I didn’t. Things got worse. For weeks. My motivation was hit hard, as was my passion for my work. So I did what I had to, but no more. Hence the lack of blogging.

Obviously I’m back to blogging this week. And I’d love to tell you I’m over what’s had me feeling so unlike myself. But I’m not. I’m back because I figured some semblance of normalcy might be good right now.

While I may not feel entirely motivated yet, this at least felt like a good learning experience.

It’s Okay to Put Yourself First

Even if you’re a planning and organization junkie like I am, you can’t control everything. Sometimes you need a break.

You can get ill or injured at any time. You might find yourself with a sick family member to take care of. There might be an emergency that takes you out of town for a while. And yes, sometimes you won’t really know what’s wrong – you’ll just know you need a break, whether it’s a result of burnout or something else.

And that’s okay.

That’s what I want to focus on today – not crunching the numbers to cover vacation pay or figuring out how to tell your freelance writing clients that you’ll be taking time off.

I just want you to understand that it’s okay for you to take time when you need it. It’s okay to put yourself first. After all, you’re no good to your clients or readers if you can’t keep your head in the game.

How do you know when you need some time off? Here are some examples that come to mind:

  • You’re physically ill or otherwise incapacitated.
  • You have a sudden wave of self-doubt you can’t shake, and you don’t know why.
  • You’ve lost all ambition or your sense of purpose (what I’m going through now).
  • You feel exhausted all the time and it’s affecting your ability to focus.
  • Or, frankly, you just want a damn break. That’s fine too.

Some of these things may last a day. Some will last longer. But if your body or mind is telling you it’s time to get away from work for a while, if it’s at all possible, listen to them.

So this is your Monday Motivation exercise this week – focus on a combination of self-care and preparedness so you can take time off, even suddenly, when you need or want to.

Self-Care for the Self-Employed Writer


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When I say “self-care” here, I’m not talking about vegging out or sleeping in. I’m also not talking about eating healthy and working out so you avoid getting sick. Those can all be good things (the first two in moderation certainly).

What I’m talking about when I say “self-care” is taking care of your mind. It’s an essential tool when you’re a writer. And you probably work it a little harder than you realize sometimes. Even when we’re not “working,” our brains are often hashing out ideas and plans anyway.

So for the first part of this week’s exercise, here’s what I’d like you to do:

  • Set aside one hour every week during your working hours for some sort of mental exercise or self-improvement. This is time where you can do something different that’s good for your mind, which is essential for the health of your business.

    Read a novel for fun or a nonfiction book that might help you learn a new skill. Practice a new language or instrument or some other hobby. Play a game that makes you think in a way your normal work doesn’t – perhaps an online game of chess or Scrabble with a friend or colleague. Meditate.

  • Choose one day in the next month to take off as a personal day. If you don’t have a lot of flexibility worked into your client projects, you might need to make it a few weeks out.

    Use this day to do something fun – just for you. For example, you might read a book you’ve been dying to get through or take a day trip somewhere not too far away. Or if you have kids home for summer break, maybe take them out to enjoy a bit of nature – hiking a local trail, visiting a local park or playground, or simply bird-watching, depending on their ages.

  • Think ahead to a time of the year when you can take a longer break. Schedule a vacation for yourself if you haven’t already.

    You don’t have to travel. It can be a staycation where you just enjoy some peace and quiet at home or do local things you enjoy.

In other words, don’t wait until you feel completely fried to think about taking some downtime. Be proactive about it and take care of yourself by allowing for the breaks you need. And understand a “break” doesn’t have to mean being lazy. Do something you wouldn’t otherwise do for yourself.

Being Prepared

What about those times when you need to take a sudden break, such as a sick day (or more)?

Too often I’ve heard writers say they had to push through and work while sick, never taking time to recuperate. Why? They needed the money. They had no other options.

I get it. Things happen that we aren’t always ready for. But there are ways you can prepare ahead of time so when you do need a sudden day off you aren’t left scrambling.

Here are some things you can do now to make it easier to take time off on a whim.

  • Set aside money you earn to cover time off. This is where rate-setting is important. But it’s not enough to charge enough and reach your yearly income target. You have to remember to spread those earnings over 52 weeks, not just your working weeks.

    Keep your current week’s pay, and set the rest in savings to pay yourself when you’re off. Then you won’t have to worry about time off meaning no money to cover that week’s or month’s bills. You already have it accounted for.

  • Set your own deadlines. This is why my own schedule is so flexible, and I can routinely skip out for a day at the lake or sleep in without stressing about client deadlines.

    When I negotiate with a client, I make sure the project’s deadline is several days to a week more than what I’ll need in an ideal situation. Then I set my own deadline at least a couple of days before that.

    My work schedule accounts for my own deadline. If it’s finished then, the client gets the project sooner, and they’re happy. If I need a day off (or if something takes longer than expected or is delayed by the client even), I can take an extra day without worrying about pressing deadlines because I’ve built a buffer into everything. So there’s little to no risk of me missing a client’s deadline.

    It’s a simple trick, but it gives you an immense amount of freedom and cuts back on stress. It’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver than tell a client you can do something more quickly and either fail to meet the deadline or produce shoddy work because you were rushed.

  • Have an emergency backup plan. What if something truly tragic happens and you’ll be out of work not only suddenly, but also for an extended period of time? Your priority might be on that emergency. But taking care of clients is vital.

    In extreme cases, you might be able to negotiate a new deadline. But my preference is to have go-to sources – other people I can count on to make sure my clients are taken care of.

    This might mean referring my clients to someone else temporarily when I can’t take on a new gig (and letting them know it’s temporary – they’ve almost always come back after this instead of staying with the other writer, and the writers are usually ones I’m close to who aren’t interested in poaching clients permanently).

    Depending on how much time you’ll have, it might make more sense to subcontract some of your work to a colleague you trust while you still manage communication with the client. This preserves your relationship for future gigs, but you still pay out to the other writer.

    Don’t be afraid to do these things and assume you have to do everything yourself. I routinely refer prospects to other writers. You’re better off doing that with a new prospect than making promises you can’t keep or simply turning them away. If they’re happy with your referral, they’ll remember that you put their needs first. And it’s not uncommon for them to come back to you later for another project because of that.

    So have a backup list in place not only for existing clients, but also potential clients who reach out while you’re taking the time you need.

Will those things solve all the potential problems with taking time off from your freelance writing or blogging business? No. But they’ll put you in a more comfortable position to make the best decisions when the time comes.

Suck It Up Sweethearts

Look. It’s important for you to know it’s okay to take time off, whether that’s a day, a week, a month, or more. Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do because you risk causing more harm by not taking time away when you should.

Then there also comes a time when you just have to suck it up and either push through or get back to work, even if you don’t feel ready.

I’m in that latter position right now. I don’t feel ready because I don’t feel confident in my overall direction for some big projects. I know why that is. But it’s 100% out of my hands. All I can do is wait and see how the situation plays out.

Those kinds of times aren’t fun. And if you can take time off to sort it all out, do it. But if you can’t, or if you do and it doesn’t help, then it’s time to get back to work.

I’ve had to talk myself back into things over the past few days. And the only thing that convinced me was this question:

When the situation does play out, where do you want to be?

The one thing I’m sure of is I don’t want to be a year or two behind where I otherwise could have been – at least not on the off-chance the situation ends up less than disastrous. That has to be enough right now. So I’m going to trust in my plan and move forward out of necessity. Sometimes that’s the best option because too much time away can be just as discouraging as pushing too hard and burning out.

Don’t let yourself get into the kind of place I’ve been in lately. And don’t leave yourself in a panic over a simple sick day or two because you haven’t planned ahead. Take care of yourself. Take time off because you’ve earned it. And make sure you’re ready no matter what emergencies might come along.

Do you struggle to take time off from your writing? Have you ever had to take a last-minute break from client work? How did you deal with it, and did that experience convince you to make changes to allow yourself more freedom in your schedule in the future? I’d love to hear your stories.

Thanks for sharing!
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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, NakedPR.com, and BizAmmo.com.

Jenn has 18 years experience writing for others, around 13 years experience in blogging, and over 10 years experience in indie e-book publishing. She is also an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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