1. Even though you’re hanging out in your pajamas and working “on your own terms”, writing alone on your computer all day can be equally difficult.
As an introvert (and someone who is not a morning person), one of the best aspects of being a freelance writer is my freedom and my time alone. I wake up when I want, I slowly make coffee while I check my mail, I take midday showers on my break or eat lunch on my patio. I never have to go to a meeting I can’t stand, or put energy into dealing with other people when I prefer to do things alone.
And yet, there’s downsides to all this freedom and alone time, and recent studies and polls are discovering them. A 2004 Australian study found that self-employment wasn’t associated with many significant mental health benefits (women in the study actually ended up with worse health than women in traditional jobs). And a national poll found that only 14% of self-employed people described themselves as “thriving.”
A Fast Company article explained why so many freelancers surprisingly get depressed. Part of it is that even though we technically have all the freedom in the world, we are now bound to several (often) needy clients, and have to pressure ourselves to perform in the best way possible for all of them. There’s no slacking off as a freelancer, because every client is solely relying on you to get the job done.
Meanwhile, the lack of camaraderie can intensify the pressure. Without co-workers to collaborate and bounce ideas off of, working alone all day can be an intense exercise in self-motivation and self-esteem.
I never thought I’d struggle with being alone too much with too much freedom. And, I also didn’t expect how much sitting at a computer, eyes glued to the screen, could actually affect my body (a study featured by the Washington Post found that every person working from their computer should never be sitting for more than half an hour at a time.)
As of now, I still find the trade-offs of casual work loneliness, pressure, and physical discomfort still worth it. But it has definitely been important for to stop dismissing these side-effects entirely, or diminish how much they affected my daily life.
2. Pay doesn’t matter so much. But FAIR pay matters a lot.
When I decided to try writing as a profession, I certainly knew I wasn’t in it for the money. While I promised myself I’d never write for free, I didn’t mind (at least at first) writing for a salary that was way under the salary of my previous professions.
Having come to terms with all this, I couldn’t understand why the idea of pay kept aggravating me when I first started out. I was supporting myself financially and had the privilege of not necessarily needing more money urgently. So what was still bugging me?
That’s when I found this article. The article argued that “open and honest discussion around pay” was one of the most important factors for employee satisfaction. Even more interestingly, surveys in the article found that even when employers paid people less than the market average, 82% of employees were still satisfied, so long as their employers “communicated clearly” the reasoning behind the smaller salary. But when employers didn’t have these conversations and even overpaid employees, employee satisfaction still remained lower.
In my experiences, these surveys made total sense. As a freelance writer, in many ways I care less about the actual amount I receive than I care about knowing I’m not getting cheated by a publication, or taken advantage of. I care less about numbers than I care about feeling as though my skills are valued and compensated in a way that reflects that.
Negotiating pay with new clients is incredibly stressful, but keeping these values in mind helps me remember what matters most when I’m making decisions about future work.
3. Twitter and a personal website can be just as powerful as everyone claims they are.
When my first piece was published as a writer, I hadn’t even started a twitter account. I found no personal use for the platform and was skeptical that it could actually help in my career. I also thought my friends who had started personal websites were going a bit overboard. I wasn’t a business or full-fledged company. Why did I need my own corner of the internet?
And now, three years in, over 8,000 people have visited my personal website, and Twitter tells me thousands have seen my tweets. The number spikes consistently every time I publish a popular article. People find my email easily through my website or connect with me easily through Twitter offering great connections, feedback, or job opportunities. Several eventual freelance clients, editors, and radio hosts told me they tracked me down using Twitter and my website. And now working as an editor, I find myself using Twitter and personal websites as the two best ways to find new writers quickly and connect them with opportunities at our site.
Though I still somewhat hate to admit it, without Twitter and a website, I could have missed out on several opportunities that were instrumental in developing my work. For writers, they’re worth the hype.
4. Criticism for your work hurt way more than you may think. Proceed with caution.
I used to believe it was my duty as a writer to read the comments. I used to think that ignoring the comments meant I was unable to handle criticism and was not gaining much needed insight into how my writing was perceived.
But these days, I realize that reading the comments is not necessarily contributing to my personal growth. Instead, it was a form of self-inflicting abuse. Recently, publications have endorsed this opinion by closing their comments sections all together.
I obviously know that as a writer, criticism comes with the territory. But I never understood how much it could impact my daily life if I didn’t keep it under control. These days, my self-care strategy for criticism is to use this post by writer Elizabeth Gilbert to help me make my choices:
“I DO listen to negative criticism about my work, however — but only from certain people, and only at a certain time. The people who I listen to about my work are people who have earned the right to offer me criticism. There aren’t many of them, but they are precious. They are a few of my closest and most trusted friends, family members, and colleagues. Here is the test, to see if people are allowed to criticize me:
- Do I trust your opinion and your taste?
- Do I trust that you will understand what I am trying to create, and therefore can help me to improve it?
- Do I trust that you have my best interests at heart — that there is no dark ulterior motive, and no hidden agenda in your criticism?
- Do I trust that you can offer your criticism with a fundamental spirit of gentleness, so that I can actually hear it without being mortally wounded? Gentleness is very important.”
As a a writer, I should only care about the opinions of people I respect and admire most, not the opinions of random people on the internet. When I want feedback, I ask those people for their opinion, and take to heart what they say. That feels far more productive and valuable than taking a random sample of mindless critique from people I’ve never even met.