Photo: Drew Coffman
TWO YEARS AGO THIS MONTH, I quit a decent communications job at an NGO to focus full-time on being an internet travel writer. It was not, as many (including my former boss) seemed to think at the time, an extremely stupid decision that I was probably going to regret. I like being a writer. It’s a pretty fulfilling job on most days. But there are some things I’ve learned over the past two years that I wish I could tell my former self.
1. A dream job is still a job.
Work is hard and is sometimes not fun, no matter what it is you’re doing. When people say, “What would you do with your life if you could pick literally anything?” you tend to imagine gallivanting around the world and having deep talks with famous thinkers. You don’t imagine sitting in your underwear at 10 in the morning trying to come up with listicle headlines over a cup of burnt, bottom-of-the-carafe coffee. Even the best job includes drudgery.
2. You’re going to get depressed.
Working at home is neat. It’s fun being able to stop and read occasionally, and it’s nice being flexible about where you can work from. But if you work from home, you’re going to have pretty much zero human contact throughout the day, except with your spouse, and that equation gets real simple real fast: no social life + no fresh air + no exercise = depression.
And depression comes up slow: It doesn’t have to be an unbearable sadness or a sudden onslaught of suicidal thoughts. It can just be a slow hazing of the mind, and a slow descent into apathy and ennui.
3. You have to work a lot harder to take care of yourself.
I used to walk at least a mile or so to work everyday, just to get on public transit. Now, I don’t ever have to walk, because my office is 30 feet from my bed. And 15 feet from my office is my fridge. You know when lunch time is? It’s when I damn well say it is.
I didn’t start exercising daily until about two months ago, about 22 months into this work-from-home deal. That’s when it finally hit me that exercise wasn’t just about losing weight, it was about battling depression and feeling good enough about myself to be proactive and creative. Taking care of yourself is not built into your day when you’re self-employed, unless you build it in yourself.
4. You need to get out and talk to other writers.
“Sometimes I just sit around and think, ‘what’s the fucking point?’” one girl said at the first writer’s meeting I’d ever attended. “Even if I do get published, my stuff’s gonna get lost in all of the other crap that gets published, and I’m still going to be insanely obscure.”
I realized I’d met my people, and I put away the draft of the piece I’d been working on. This wasn’t a place where people came to critique: this was a support group. And it was amazing.
5. Being a travel writer does not necessarily mean traveling a lot.
In the two years I’ve been a writer, I’ve been on one all-expenses paid press trip. It was pretty cool: I got to go to Vegas and ride in a helicopter through the Grand Canyon. But that’s the only time something like that has happened.
Fewer publications are footing the bills for sending writers abroad than in the old days, largely because the internet has rendered plane tickets unnecessary: why waste money on sending a relatively unknown writer to a foreign country when you could very easily find an accomplished writer who’s already living there and already has the proper connections?
No, travel writing is awesome, but you have to foot most of your travel bills, and you have to work it into your regular life.
6. Spend as little time as humanly possible on the internet.
Yes, I know you write on the internet. But the internet just has too much to offer. It has both seasons of Rick & Morty. It has the bottomless well of Facebook. It has an entire galaxy of porn. You need to stay away from this place. It is a dark place. You just work here. Do not allow yourself to live here as well.
7. A lot of coffee shops are actually not super cool about you hanging out there all day.
There’s been a rise in teleworkers, and that means more people are posting up at coffee shops. And a lot of coffee shop owners aren’t really cool with it. They see teleworkers as people who spend $2 and then bogart a table for the rest of the day. Sometimes people will say something to you. Sometimes they’ll just post passive aggressive notes or comics in the bathroom.
Think of using a coworking space. It’s more expensive, but it also offers the social element, and you won’t feel like a leech.