Saturday, October 29, 2022

NaNoWriMo and My Changing Schedule

This past week was a rough one, which was part of why I haven't blogged as regularly lately.  My horse Panama went back to his corral on Monday, which ostensibly means that he's better and our lives will be easier now... once we're sure he's settled in and won't suffer a setback, anyway.  So although in theory this week was laying the groundwork for a better schedule, in practice it was rather a hot mess, as we spent a lot more time going to the barn to check up on him.

I am consoling myself that at least next week will be better, in that Panama will require much less of my time.  Unfortunately, next week will also see the start of NaNoWriMo, so that time I'm saving will be immediately dumped into a new bucket.

NaNoWriMo begins Monday night in a big way, with our annual kickoff party.  We always start the party at 10pm, after people have had a chance to do Halloween things.  We have a potluck and socialize for a couple hours with people we only really see in November every year.

Then, once November officially starts at midnight, we start writing.  The entire place suddenly and completely quiets down, and all you hear for the next 90 minutes or so is the clacking of keyboards.  The party officially ends at 2am, but people tend to start filtering out after 1am, usually, and we typically start cleaning up around 1:30 or 1:45.

It means that we typically don't get home until close to 3am, so we also usually take November 1st off work.

Then begins a month-long whirlwind of write-ins.  We have a big new Come Write In partner this year, Barnes & Noble, so I'm holding two official write-ins at local B&Ns during the week, plus my big weekend write-in at a local gaming cafe, and another write-in or two I'm planning on attending in a less official capacity (i.e., not running them).  I'll be doing a minimum of three write-ins per week, and as many as six.

It's going to be a busy month.

For the most part I'm going to try to keep my novel writing to the write-ins, so it does mean that I'll have to carve out time on my own for any day where I don't go to a write-in.  This is instead of my original plan, to work on my novel first every day.  With the exception of a Saturday write-in I might attend, all of the other write-ins take place in the early evening, so it makes sense to spend the earlier part of my days on other work.

I can't believe NaNoWriMo is already nearly here!  As always, I feel supremely unprepared.  Hopefully I can get more prepared in the last couple of days before it starts.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

NaNoWriMo Incoming!

If you look at my resume, you'll see I'm not shy about volunteering my time when I care deeply about something.  One of the places I choose to volunteer my time is for NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month.

I blog about NaNoWriMo often, as it's an annual event that's close to my heart.  If you haven't seen my previous posts, National Novel Writing Month is actually an international challenge to write a 50,000-word novel - or 50,000 words of a novel - during the month of November.  It started out as a tongue-in-cheek writing challenge to show that writing a novel doesn't have to be super serious or difficult, but over the past 20ish years it has blossomed into a massive undertaking for millions.

I still run across people who don't know what NaNoWriMo is, but increasingly more often, the people I talk to around this time of year actually do know what it is.  I find both equally mind boggling.

As a volunteer Municipal Liaison, I function as an organizer for the local region, including writing email blasts, organizing local events, communicating with Come Write In partners (businesses who are offering to host events), and maintaining a calendar and social media presence for our local participants.

We've been in full NaNo prep mode for weeks, although for us NaNo prep is organizing our big kickoff party and coordinating with Come Write In partners to get other events set up.  We already have events going up on the calendar, not just our kickoff on October 31st (we start writing at midnight), but also write-ins throughout the month.

I can't believe that November is only a little over a week away!  It's coming up so fast.  For the most part I'll be blogging about NaNoWriMo over on my book blog, RubyRansome.com, but I'm sure it'll leak over onto this blog as well.  NaNoWriMo all but takes over my life in November!

Friday, October 21, 2022

Creating a Daily Blogging Habit (Again)

If you followed my blog long ago, or if you look through the archives, you'll see that I've had this blog for a long time.  I started blogging a long time ago, nearly 17 years ago now, back in December of 2005.  You can find my very first blog post here!  It's absolutely crazy to realize that my blog is old enough to drive, old enough to be a junior in high school, if I had given birth to a child instead of a blog.

Okay, that's slightly weird imagery.  But you get the point.  I've been blogging (and freelancing!) for a very, very, very long time.

Unfortunately, I haven't been blogging regularly this entire time.  I blogged pretty consistently the first several years of my blog, and then my posting frequency started to fall off.  It was pretty sporadic for the last decade or so, with only even a couple of posts to show for some years (if any at all).

What changed?  Honestly, I'm not entirely sure.  Looking back, I think I was in a slump with my freelancing.  For quite some time, I'd only been doing the minimum to keep my freelance career going.  Then last fall (a year ago now!) I started struggling with my energy levels and it was all I could do just to get the bare minimum done.

The doctor tested my vitamin D levels and found they were really low, so she started me on vitamin D supplements, and I started taking a daily multi as well.  My energy levels were just beginning to recover when my horse got sick, and then of course there were no more thoughts of whether I had enough energy for anything, because it was ALL PANIC ALL THE TIME.

I'm really glad that's over, of course, but as he has improved, I've slowly been regaining more and more of my schedule.  Instead of fitting freelancing in here and there as I had time, like I was when he was at his sickest, I've actually been able to focus on my career again.  In addition, I've started a new website and business that I'm really excited about, so it's been fairly natural to work more on my writing website and blog as I work on the new website and blog.

I've been blogging almost daily for a couple of months now, and I'm finding that I really, really missed blogging.  It has a way of keeping me grounded and focused on my career.  It also helps me to maintain a daily writing habit even when I don't have client work to do, and most importantly, provides a dedicated space for my own writing (rather than client-ordered stuff).

It's ironic that I'm getting back into blogging, when it seems like pictures and video are the more popular way to go these days.  I don't mind though.  I still feel like blogging has value (obviously, since I write them professionally for a lot of clients), plus I just love to write.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Motivation Methods: Sidle In Sideways

Please note that this post contains affiliate links.  As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn commissions from sales made through these links.

This is my fourth post in my series about self-motivation.  I'm talking about ways to break out of the cycle of procrastination and get things done.  My first post discussed doing something else first in order to harness that momentum and get the bigger, scarier things done, and my second post talked about the (affiliate link alert!) "Eat That Frog" method of getting stuff done, where you create a prioritized to-do list and get the biggest, scariest, most important thing done first.

Those are two very different approaches, obviously, and depending on your personality one or both might not work well for you.  It's easy to get stuck doing mundane tasks forever while you fret about doing the thing you're actually procrastinating about, but it's also extremely intimidating to try to jump right into the worst thing on your to-do list.

Fortunately, there's another approach, which I think offers a pretty good compromise.  Instead of choosing between doing something else completely or forcing yourself to stare down your fear, I like to do what I call "sidling in sideways," where I start on just a small part of the big task I'm intimidated by.

For instance, if there's a client article I've been particularly dreading, I'll start by doing something relatively easy, like researching or outlining it.  Sometimes I'll even just focus on writing a title.  During NaNoWriMo, if I can't think of what to write I'll work on character descriptions or backstory (still word count that counts toward my 50,000 word total!).  If

It works for non-writing things, too.  For instance, recently I've been chipping away at cleaning up and reorganizing my kitchen after months of neglect while my horse was sick.  My dolls have overrun the kitchen, plus I wanted to reorganize everything.  It's a big job, and if I think about all the things I need to do to get it all cleaned up and reorganized, I freeze up.  Completely.  The only way I can get anything done is by doing something small.  I pick one stack, one mess, one cupboard to work on, and go from there.  Everything usually takes longer than I think it will, which adds to the overwhelming feeling if I try to look at the big picture - but by starting on just a small part of it, I usually get into it and end up getting more done in the end.

Dividing something up into tiny parts and starting on a small, less-intimidating part is a great approach if you can't afford the time to do something else first, but aren't good at "just doing it."

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Motivation Methods: Just Do It

Please note that this post contains affiliate links.  As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn commissions from sales made through these links.

This is the third post in my series about ways to motivate yourself.  In the last post, I talked about how extended procrastination can make tasks seem incredibly intimidating, but how you can do something else first and use that momentum to get going on the more dreaded task afterward.

For some people, though, that approach doesn't fly.  The dreaded task is usually dreaded for a reason, usually because it is high priority, and it makes more sense to put your energy into getting it done now.  Spending your time on other, less important tasks is a waste of time because it ignores the elephant in the room.  Some might even argue that the rush it gives you to get something else done gives you a false sense of accomplishment, because you're ignoring the thing that needs to be done the most.

I know that's a pretty harsh way of judging people who prefer to do something else first (ahem, like myself), but there's a pretty powerful motivational book out there that's about exactly this.  It's called (affiliate link warning!!) Eat That Frog, and it's all about how to accomplish more by getting the most important things done first.

The theory behind it is that you spend so much time doing other things first when you're dreading something, that you actually end up wasting time and doing things that you maybe don't need to do, all in a misguided pretense at "productivity."  So maybe that writer with writers block who's cleaning her house right now is spending time scrubbing baseboards with a toothbrush, something she wouldn't normally waste time on.

Unlikely, but you get the point.

The fix is, of course, to write a prioritized to-do list with all the biggest, most important, most dreaded things on top, and that's what you start with. By getting the scariest and most important thing done right at the start of your day, you start your day off by being the most productive you could be, and remove that drain on your motivation right from the beginning.

Personally, I've never been good at this approach.  I think this is a perfect method for motivating morning people, people who are at their best at the beginning of their day, and that is definitely not me.  I require some time to wake up, warm up, and clear the cobwebs from my brain before I can start to work productively.

There's an alternative that I think offers a good compromise between these two methods - doing something else first, and doing the scariest and most important thing first - and I'll talk about that in my next post.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Motivation Methods: Do Something Else First

This is the second post in my series about methods for self-motivation.  My goal here is to compile methods for getting yourself moving when the moving is hard, because I have found that once you're moving, it's a whole lot easier to take that forward momentum to the next thing, and the next, and the next, and eventually to form a habit of getting things done.

We all have those big projects that we dread doing.  Sometimes they're not even that big, we've just made them big in our minds by putting them off for so long.  It's like the longer we procrastinate, the harder it is to do the thing, until it's nearly impossible to get going on it.

One of my approaches when I feel myself getting into this rut is, honestly, to just do something else first.  My to-do list is always eons long, so it's easy enough to find something else on the list that needs to be done, something I am not dreading as much, and sometimes even something else equally as pressing.

It's the subject of a running joke for writers, actually.  The joke is that you can tell when a writer has writers block because their house is clean (or some other normally-overlooked tasks are all done).  Doing something else makes you feel less guilty about the thing that you're not doing.

If you use it correctly, though, you can actually use the building of that momentum to launch you into the task you didn't want to do.  There's something very satisfying about getting something done, and it doesn't really matter what it was you accomplished.  If you turn your focus to the task you were putting off while you're still feeling good about having gotten done something else, you can harness that energy and use it to catapult you into the dreaded task.

Of course, once you accomplish the dreaded task, you usually feel a little underwhelmed and amazed that you let "that little thing" monopolize your time for so long.  It's often not as bad as you feared it would be, but either way, it feels equally good to get it done!

If doing something else first when you have a task looming over you isn't your style, stay tuned for my next post in the series.

Monday, October 17, 2022

Motivation Methods: A Series

This is the first in a series of posts I'm writing about how to motivate yourself.  I feel like self-motivation is a struggle for many entrepreneurs, especially freelance writers, and especially when it comes to doing parts of the job you don't want to do.  I conceived of this series when I was writing my post about the cycles of motivation vs. procrastination, which is all about how procrastinating tends to breed more procrastinating, whereas the satisfaction of doing things can help to motivate you to do the next thing.  Getting started is easier said than done, though, which is where this series of posts comes in.

Note: This series probably also applies really well to writers block, which is sometimes as much a motivate issue as it is a creativity "block."

There are a ton of books and classes and coaches out there to help people with productivity, so obviously it's a problem for a lot of people.  Some of the prevailing theories recognize that getting started is a major part of the battle, but they don't all agree on how to get started.  With each blog post, I'm going to give you a "trick" that will help you get started.

Once I finish the series, I'll come back to this post and update it with a list of links to the posts in the series.  Stay tuned!

Friday, October 14, 2022

The Cycle of Motivation vs. Procrastination

Recently I blogged about a day where I had no motivation and just wanted to do nothing, even though I had plenty of things to do.  I listened to myself, took a break, and then ran some errands to shake things up.  When I got home, I felt a little less blah, and got to work on a project.  Accomplishing something had the effect of making me feel more motivated to do other things, which I wrote an update about later.

I said I needed to blog more about it eventually, and here we are!

The concerns of too much focus on time management aside, there's a reason procrastination is such a vicious cycle.  There's also a reason why doing things - and feeling good about it - makes you want to do more things.  It's all about how those things make you feel.

Not doing things has a habit of making you feel worse, at least in my experience.  It saps your motivation and stalls your momentum.  There's a reason it's hard to go back to work and be productive when you've been on vacation, for instance.  Or why it's so hard to break out of a slump when you don't feel like doing anything and have been procrastinating for a while.

Doing things, on the other hand, tends to make you feel good.  It's the same reason why accomplishing things has a positive impact on self esteem, for instance, or why it's easier to move onto the next item on your to do list when you're already in motion.

There's a certain amount of energy that you get when you're productive, and it's easy to use that energy to get started on the next thing, and the next, and the next.  There's an extra boost you get when you do something that makes you get up and move around, too, I think, which is why frequently I find that going to the barn for a bit or running some errands can help me break out of a rut.

Take this blog, for instance.  Around the same time that I got burnt out on freelancing full-time, which I discussed recently, I also stopped blogging regularly.   I had barely updated my blogs for years, and I even let quite a few of them go (I used to have a horse blog, a book review blog, and a 1920s wedding planning blog, all of which I decided to shut down).

In the last month or two, though, as Panama started getting better and I started getting more time again, I decided I wanted to devote more of my attention to freelancing again.  I started focusing more not just on freelance work, but on branding and blogging.  All of the things I've accomplished have gotten me even more excited for freelancing again, and it's made me more motivated to get my work done quickly.  I've even been getting client work done right away, instead of scheduling my work calendar around the deadlines, like I used to.  It's been a new experience for me, and I find the more I accomplish, the more I want to do.

So in the spirit of my newfound productive energy, next week I'm going to do a series of posts of how to break through that do-nothing feeling, whether it's writers block or something else.  I still believe in the importance of listening to yourself and taking a break when you need a break, but sometimes we don't have the luxury to do that for long when we're self-employed.  So I want to write about how to get going on things when you're struggling with motivation, and how to harness that momentum so that you can keep it going until you get excited about it, too.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Is Time Management Really Ruining Our Lives?

Despite all of my blog posts on productivity and getting things done, there's an alternative mode of thought that we're actually making our lives busier and more stressful by focusing so much on productivity all the time.  It's the subject of a book I've mentioned before, Do Nothing, and pops up occasionally in articles, such as this one by Pocket: Why Time Management Is Ruining Our Lives.

I've discussed Taylorism before in my series about the corporate pushback about working from home that has occurred in the wake of the pandemic: What Happened to Working from Home and Freelancers Prove that Working from Home Works.  Over a hundred years ago, Taylorism or "scientific management" was a novel way for factories to make the most of the money they paid their employees.  But as this article argues, it has seeped into our personal outlooks, too, bringing that more-work-for-less mania into our daily lives.

But as the century progressed, something important changed: we all became Frederick Winslow Taylors, presiding ruthlessly over our own lives. As the doctrine of efficiency grew entrenched – as the ethos of the market spread to more and more aspects of society, and life became more individualistic – we internalised it. In Taylor’s day, efficiency had been primarily a way to persuade (or bully) other people to do more work in the same amount of time; now it is a regimen that we impose on ourselves.

The introduction of Taylorism into our personal lives has created this myth that if we're more efficient, we'll have more time, somehow.  But as factory workers are constantly reminded, our bosses are greedy, and will always demand more, and more, and more.  The same goes for us with our own lives: When we achieve our desired levels of productivity, it's not enough.  We're always pushing for more productivity over more hours, until we're more stressed and busier than ever.

So what's the answer?  I think there's two levels we need to discuss this one: personal, and societal.  As far as the personal level, books like Do Nothing recommend letting go of our need for perfect productivity all the time.  I actually don't think the concept of productivity is a bad one; we just forgot to come up with boundaries to go with it.  If you can prioritize and draw a protective boundary around your personal life so that Taylorism doesn't cross over into leisure time as well, you may actually be able to reap the benefits of the extra time that being productive affords you.

Then there's the societal implications.  This is important, because as often is the case, it's the lower classes that suffer the most.  While the effects of Taylorism are felt across all levels of society, it's those who work lower wage jobs that suffer the most, because those are the jobs where employers push the hardest and pay the least.  So on a societal level, it's important that we start emphasizing the importance of the quality of work over quantity.

Unfortunately, there's no getting around the importance of time management as a freelance writer or small business owner.  Time is literally money when you work for yourself and don't get luxuries such as paid breaks or sick days.  Fortunately, as freelancers we are also in charge of our own boundaries, so it's important to establish strong ones that will protect our leisure time from the goal of perfect productivity.

Monday, October 10, 2022

Is Your To-Do List Realistic, or Wishful Thinking?

Are you a list-maker?  I'm an avid list-maker, but not really such a great list-follower.  Every evening I get my to-do list set up for the next day, and during the day, one of the first things I do is to review my list and make last-minute changes if needed.

Unfortunately, my list is always packed, and I rarely complete more than just a few things on the list, so I'm constantly rolling everything over to the next day, and the next, and the next.

Part of it is probably that my to-do lists are often more of a work of fiction than fact: They're what I would like to be able to get done the next day.  I use Google Calendar to keep track of my tasks now, since I can see them on my calendar and schedule them for when I want to work on each thing, but when I have another task scheduled every half hour, the harsh reality is that I just can't accomplish everything that fast.

I suspect I'm not alone, and a lot of writers - a lot of entrepreneurs - do the same thing.  I've heard that being late all the time is common with optimists, because you tend to optimistically underestimate how long it'll take you to do things or get places.  I think the same goes for to-do lists.  I put a bazillion things on my to-do list every day because I optimistically think (or hope) I can get it all done.

I've seen productivity experts recommend only having a max of three things on your to-do list, but for an entrepreneur that seems unrealistic, as there are always things that need doing.  Yet when I get to the end of my day, I've often accomplished only a few things on my to-do list, so maybe they are onto something after all.

I guess it's too bad Google tasks don't have a separate list for "evergreen" tasks, ones that don't have a separate due date, but still need doing at some point.  A lot of the tasks on my daily list are that kind of thing, but I don't know what else to do with them so I stick them on a day.  If I have time to tackle one or two of them, I do.

Unfortunately, this has the effect of making me feel at the end of the day like I didn't accomplish enough.  Even though I can look back on my day and see that it was busy and full, and realize that I did do some important things on my list, I am faced with all of the things I didn't do and have to roll over to the next day.  It's demoralizing to do it day after day, but like I said, I'm not sure of another way.  And my current method of using Google calendar's task feature is actually helping me stay on task better, so I don't necessarily want to change to a different system.

What kind of list-maker are you?  Are you realistic, with just a few items on your to-do list every day?  Or are you optimistic, hoping you can conquer a long list of tasks, and being disappointed every day when you can't?  How do you handle tasks without a specific due date on your to-do list?

Sunday, October 09, 2022

Sunday Fun Day: My Series on Writer Burnout

I just got done publishing a series of posts on writer burnout, and decided that I wanted all the posts linked in one place to make them easier to find.  I feel like burnout is a major issue for freelance writers, right up there (and possibly one of the causes of) writers block, and so it deserves to be made more visible.

Of course, burnout isn't only a problem for writers.  Everyone is at risk of burnout, but especially those who tend to work too much, such as entrepreneurs and small business owners - a group that freelance writers naturally belong to.

I hope consolidating links to all these posts into one spot will be helpful for my readers!

Saturday, October 08, 2022

Saturday Bonus Post: How to Recover from Burnout

I don't usually publish posts on Saturdays (I've been trying to maintain a Monday through Friday schedule), but I wanted this post to follow the rest of my series on burnout.  Burnout is a big issue, not just for writers but for others too.  I've had to claw my way out of major burnout twice, personally, and I've had to combat minor burnout as well.  Understanding what causes burnout and taking steps to avoid it are helpful, but if you're already burnt out, you need something more.

Getting past burnout can be a long road.  Don't forget that the same symptoms of burnout can also be caused by your physical or mental health, so make sure you get checked out, especially if you see signs of your "burnout" leaking into other aspects of your life.  But if it's definitely burnout, here are a few tips for getting past it.

1) Listen to Yourself

Sometimes you have to push past a reluctance to do things, but other times it's good to listen to yourself when your mind and body say, "I don't want to."  If you're burned out because you were hustling too hard, for example, then you've surely earned a break now.  Sometimes taking a break - within reason - will help you muster motivation to work when the break is over.

2) Find Something You're Passionate About

I think this one is pretty key.  I've found the biggest motivator, the biggest way to get past a burnout, is to find something you're really engaged in - engaged enough to overcome the feelings of burnout.  This may not be client work at all, but a project for yourself that you feel strongly about, and that's okay.  When you're enjoying the work you do for yourself, you'll retrain your brain to focus and work hard again.  Plus, by getting excited about your work, you'll uncover hibernating motivational reserves that you can put to use in other areas, too.

3) Allow Yourself to Take Breaks

If you've been burnt out for a while, you're probably going to have to retrain your brain to work again - but retrain it the right way, with a healthy amount of brain breaks.  For instance, try adopting the Pomodoro technique: Instead of trying to work hard all day long and failing, work in short, focused bursts with breaks in between.  Typically the idea is to work for 25 minutes with a 5 minute break, but for work that requires longer focus sessions, you could work for 45 minutes with a 15 minute break.  Breaking up your work day into more bite-sized chunks will help you get through it, especially if you've burnt out from hustling too hard and ignoring your need for breaks.

4) Value Yourself for More than Your Productivity

This one is a hard one, because our society teaches us that our value lies in how productive we are, not just with work but with personal things too.  Think about how often people ask how your day, week, or weekend was, and your answer is all about how much you did or didn't get done.  Placing all your value on productivity helps to lead to burnout and keeps you from escaping once you're there.

Instead, try to shift your focus from how much you get done, to the quality of what you get done.  This is also part of why finding something you're passionate about works so well for helping you get past a burnout.  Feeling good about what you do is worth so much more than feeling like you did a lot.

5) Consider a Change

If you're really struggling, it might be that you'll need to make a major change in order to revitalize your focus and motivation.  It doesn't have to be a forever change; it may just be until you feel motivated to write again (or whatever you normally do).  For me, twice now, burnout has led to a partial career change: in 2011, when I started nannying part time, and in 2020, when I stopped nannying and returned my focus to writing full-time.  It's disheartening to try to force yourself to do something day after day, especially if you're unable to accomplish much, and just end up feeling unproductive every day - so find something you can do, and want to do.

Getting over burnout is tough, and depending how bad it is, it may take time or a complete change of pace (or career) to get past it.  But it's doable, especially if you catch it early.  Don't ever feel like your only option is just to keep pushing onward even when you don't feel like it - doing so can actually make your burnout worse!

This is the last post in a series - you can find links to all my posts about writer burnout here.

Friday, October 07, 2022

How to Avoid Writer Burnout

My last couple of posts have talked a lot about burnout.  I've dealt with a few life-changing bouts of burnout, and each time I've had to make major changes to my career in order to get through it.  I've learned through these phases how burnout presents and what causes it.  Now I'm going to talk about how to avoid it - and while my post is primarily written for writers, many of the ideas are applicable to entrepreneurs, small business owners, and others.

Also, because it turns out that I had a lot more to say about burnout that I realized, I'm going to write one more post after this, about how to recover from burnout if it's too late to avoid it.

In the meantime, here are a few protective business practices for avoiding burnout.

1) Work with People You Like

This seems obvious, but it's amazing how many times we overlook it.  We often get into a mindset as small business owners that we have to work for everyone and anyone who wants us.  This simply isn't true, and sometimes being a little choosy can actually help us.  It'll free up your time to work with people you enjoy and who appreciate you, and it'll prevent you from feeling unappreciated - which leads directly to burnout.  Have a difficult client?  Fire them!  Life is too short to work with people like that.

2) Establish Expectations

It's an important life lesson, especially for women, that setting your own worth is totally up to you - as a writer as well as in any other role.  You are in charge of setting your own standards.  If you accept less, others will behave accordingly.

This has so many applications, but as a writer, it means it's important not to work for too little.  It's important to say, these are the hours I want to work, and I'm not letting anyone else dictate otherwise.  Working too much and for too little is unsustainable and a direct path to burnout, so take care of yourself first.

3) Maintain Variety in Your Work

Are you sensing a theme here?  Freelancing is all about choice, and choice is your strongest defense against burnout.  Personally, I prefer to mix up both subject matter and the writing style of projects I work on.  Maintaining variety in your work is key to keeping your work interesting, and being interested and engaged in your work will help protect you from getting burned out.

4) Find Work You're Passionate About

Just like I discussed in my last post, feeling like your work makes a difference is important to our job satisfaction, and people who feel high levels of job satisfaction are less likely to burn out.  Find work that means something to you to help keep yourself invested in your work.

If you're a writer or entrepreneur, it's important not to lose sight of the fact that you do hold all the cards.  You control the scope of your business, who you work with, and what work you accept.  It can be empowering to remind yourself of this!  If you don't feel right about something, if a client is being unpleasant or you realize you're working too hard for too little, make a change now before it leads to a burnout.

Click here for links to the rest of my series about writer burnout.

Thursday, October 06, 2022

Writer Burnout: What Causes It?

This is my second post in a series of posts about burnout.  Be sure to also read the first one, When Writers Get Burnt Out.

I've decided that this post actually needs to be broken up into two: What causes burnout, and how to avoid it.  While the post is written mostly for writers, it's applicable to others as well.  I went through burnout not only as a writer, but also as an entrepreneur and a nanny.  As far as I can tell, all of my instances of burnout have similar causes.

Cause #1: Lack of Appreciation

It'll probably come as no surprise that one of the biggest causes of burnout is longtime feelings of being unappreciated.  I don't mean feeling unappreciated by one client or for a short while - I mean long term.  When I got burnt out as a nanny, I had worked for a series of fairly unappreciative, unreasonable, and demanding parents.  There were some in there that were great families to work for, but they weren't able to balance out the difficult families.  By the time the early stages of the pandemic shut everything down, I had been feeling burnt out for some time, so I took the opportunity to transition over to freelancing full time again.

Cause #2: Too Much Hustling/Too Little Pay

What I think of as the next biggest cause of burnout is too much hustling to make a living - or, put a different way, not being paid what you feel you're worth (and therefore having to work harder than you should to succeed).  This also often goes hand-in-hand with lack of appreciation, because when you feel appreciated, you're willing to work harder... and let's face it, the biggest show of appreciation someone can give you is in paying you fairly for your work.

I think hustling too much for too little pay was part of my early and most serious burnout from freelancing.  Especially early on in my freelance career, I accepted some pretty low-paying work, just because I was so happy to have work.  But low-paying work means you have to work harder, faster, and longer in order to make ends meet, so while it helped me to gain experience, it also contributed to my eventual burnout.

Cause #3: Too Little Variety in Your Work

I love working from home.  Anyone who reads my blog or follows me on social media knows that I love it.  But there is one disadvantage: It's far too easy to get bored with your work, if you don't make a concerted effort to maintain variety.  The days start to blend together, and not in a good way.  That was another thing that contributed to my major burnout from freelance writing, I think: too much monotony in the work I was choosing.

Cause #4: Lack of Passion

This is somewhat related to the lack of variety I discussed above, but it is not the same.  You can have variety without having any work you're passionate about, and that's just as bad.

That doesn't mean you have to be over-the-top passionate about every assignment you take.  It's not practical to try to maintain that, and you'd probably get burnt out on passion alone if you tried.  But it's been proven that one of the basic necessities of job satisfaction is feeling like you do work that makes a difference.  If you don't care about what you do, you're going to get burnt out very quickly - especially if you also lack variety, work too hard, and feel unappreciated.

Having all four of these is a death knell for a freelancer, but even a combination of just two or three factors can cause a mild burnout.  In my next post, I'll talk about strategies for avoiding writer burnout - but also small business owner and entrepreneur burnout.

Find the entire series of posts on writer burnout here.

Update to My Do-Nothing Day

I thought I'd write a little update about my day where I didn't feel like doing anything.

I let myself do nothing for a little while, like I said.  It wasn't for very long though before we had to leave to feed Panama his dinner and run some other errands while he ate.

When we got home, I had entirely shaken off my do-nothing mood.  We ended up working on a project this evening, and I feel pretty satisfied with what we got done.

We've had an ongoing goal to clean up the house, starting with the kitchen.  I'd had a goal at the beginning of the year to clean up and organize my house so that my doll spaces were easier to utilize, and we'd been making good progress before Panama got sick.  Since then, everything has gotten a whole lot messier, because for five straight months we basically had zero time (or motivation) to clean or organize.  We were spending so much time keeping Panama alive, that what time we had left had to be spent keeping ourselves alive (working so we could pay bills, and enjoying the occasional down time so we didn't go completely crazy).

I've been planning ways to reorganize the kitchen, and had bought a couple of pantry organizers a few weeks ago, but we hadn't yet had a chance to set them up.  We finally set one of them up last night, and the other one tonight.  As part of that, we cleaned up that section of the kitchen a little, and while there's still a lot of work left to be done, I'm quite pleased with what we accomplished tonight - especially given my do-nothing mood earlier this afternoon.

I have a few other things I could work on this evening, but I no longer feel reluctant to do so.  That's the secret of motivation, and why procrastination is such a vicious cycle: When you get things done, it actually helps to motivate you to get more done, so when you're not doing things, you're missing out on that energy that can help you feed into the next thing, and the next, and the next.

I should probably write a post about that eventually.

For right now, though, I'm going to go do some things before it gets too late and my motivation peters out for the night!

Wednesday, October 05, 2022

What Do You Do When You Don't Feel Like Doing Anything?

Today is one of those days where I don't feel like doing anything.

I find this often happens when I have a day (or days) where I have to spend a lot of time at the barn.  Today I got up early for a farrier appointment for my horses, so by the time I finished the appointment, fed Panama, waited for him to finish eating, and came home, my brain pretty much felt like puree.  It doesn't help either that I have no client assignments right now, so I have no deadlines to motivate me.

Writing a blog post isn't "doing nothing," I suppose, but it's like a writer cleaning the house when they've got writer's block: It's the path of least resistance, and easy to do when you don't feel like doing anything, yet want to feel like you did something.

There are definitely things I could be doing.  I haven't done much marketing this week - despite my good intentions, every day seems to get away from me before it should.  I also need to work on catching up on expense reporting, which means going through emails and receipts to put them into my spreadsheet.  (I used to keep up on this every year, and haven't in a long time, but I want to this year to make the next tax season easier.)

I could also be working on a massive cleaning and organizing project I've been chipping away at, a little bit every day.

Right now, though, all of it seems overwhelming, so I'm taking a little while to humor my desire to do nothing.

I know there will be lots to catch up on later.  And I know I can't humor these moods all the time.  But right now, I've got a moment, and nothing utterly pressing to do, so instead of procrastinating and feeling terrible about it, I'm allowing myself a little time.

What about you?  What do you do when you don't feel like doing anything?  Do you have tricks for pushing through, or have you found it's best to give yourself some time, as I have?

Note: While a lot of people might interpret doing nothing as being "lazy," take note of my last post, on burnout.  I've definitely found it's for the best if I listen to myself when I'm feeling overwhelmed and unmotivated.

When Writers Get Burnt Out

As I'm sure many freelancers have, I've dealt with a recurring cycle of burnout over the years.  The worst was probably in 2010 or so, and resulted in me getting an after school nanny job the following year.  But I've had other periods of burnout too.

Burnout has a way of sneaking up on you - in anything, really, but especially as a freelancer.  When you work from home all the time, it's easy to lose track of time.  You're home with your work all the time, and like many writers, you may choose to "warm up" by checking email, job postings, blogs, social media, or the news.  And then after a while, you realize you're "warming up" progressively longer before you get to work, procrastinating more on projects, and just in general feeling grumpy and lethargic.

Have you ever read the Melville short story, "Bartleby, the Scrivener"?  It's about a scrivener - a writer, essentially, although more of a copyist in the days when those tasks had to be done by hand - who starts refusing to work increasingly more often, with the words, "I would prefer not to."  I often think "Bartleby, the Scrivener" is the perfect fictionalization of what writer burnout (or probably most burnout) feels like.

I would prefer not to, indeed.

For a freelancer, burnout is especially dangerous.  When your entire livelihood is based on timely turnaround and actively marketing yourself to new clients, it's can be devastating to suddenly feel like you'd prefer not to all the time.  At a full-time job you can get away with a little slow work when you need a break.  Self-employment is called a hustle for a reason: You have to hustle, and keep hustling, in order to succeed.

If it's not resolved, burnout can be a death sentence to a career.  Certainly my major case of burnout set my writing career back.  I chose to freelance part-time for a while and worked part-time as a nanny and a babysitter, which did succeed in providing some variety that helped me climb out of the burnout.  Unfortunately, that period of severe burnout is also when I stopped marketing regularly, and when I took the part-time nanny job, I stopped marketing entirely.

Incidentally, I eventually got burned out on nanny work too - for some of the same reasons, but also for some reasons completely unique to nanny work.  I took the lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic as my opportunity to stop nannying and start focusing on freelance writing work again.

I feel like I've learned some things about burnout, what causes it (at least for me), and how to avoid it, and I'll share some of those discoveries in my next post on burnout.

You can find the rest of my series about writer burnout here.

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

Creating a Daily Marketing Habit

I started to title this post "For Writers," but I realized that it applies to more than just writers.  It also applies to entrepreneurs, small business owners, and anyone else who needs to market on a regular basis.

Years ago, when I was a newbie freelancer, I had an informal schedule where every morning (or after I got up - we'll just call that morning), I would "warm up" by catching up on other freelancer blogs and newsletters, and then I would search for new freelance work.  I did it that way every day for at least a couple of years.

Over time I stopped marketing on a daily basis.  I had a lot of repeat clients at the time, and it stopped seeming necessary.  Yes, I'd forgotten about the importance of marketing for freelancers, and honestly it probably set my career back quite a few years.

Another thing that led to me marketing less - and to my career setback as well - was that I got burnt out, but that's a good subject for a future post.

Fast forward to today.  I have squeaked along for some years on longtime repeat clients and one-off work from a freelance job board I frequent, but in 2022 I've lost two of my repeat clients.  I was already feeling the pinch after losing the first one early this year, and then of course after my horse got sick and I could barely find time to work.  For the past couple months, my horse has been doing a lot better, and I've been working more... and boom, I lose another client.

So obviously I need to start marketing regularly again.  Ideally I'd like to settle into a daily schedule again that includes time to market, just like I used to.  Unfortunately, my horse isn't entirely back to normal yet, so my schedule is still a little topsy turvy, and I'm not sure where marketing is going to fit in.  Additionally, I have a couple other business ventures now that I didn't have then, so my schedule is definitely much more complex.

Right now my routine is to get up, get a few things done at home if I have time, and then head out to the barn with my computer to feed Panama.  While he eats (which takes a while now, since he's finally back on hay) I can work.  Often I work on client projects during this time, but I'm thinking that it might be an ideal time to work on marketing.  Marketing requires a little less focus than client work, and sometimes the distractions at the barn can be bad, for one thing.  For another, going to the barn is often the first "real" thing I do with my day, and I like the idea of reinstating the goal of working on it first thing.

Note: For a lot of freelance writers, marketing means combing through freelance job postings, but not always!  Lately I've been working on my websites and blogs, social media posts, and videos.  For other (non-writer) small businesses, that's probably a lot of what your time marketing is going to look like.

What about you?  Do you schedule time to market to ensure it gets done?  What do you find works best for you?

Monday, October 03, 2022

For Writers: How to Streamline Your Job Search

When you spend a portion of every day job hunting and responding to ads, it can get a little time consuming.  Fortunately, there are ways to streamline your job search so that you can finish marketing and get to work on client assignments a little more quickly.  These are some shortcuts I used to take when I was marketing on a daily basis - and since I'm gearing up to start marketing more regularly again, things I am currently getting into place again.

Here are a few ways to make your job search faster.

  • Bookmark your favorite job boards and go through the list every day.  I used to have a short list of my favorite freelance job boards, and I would check each one on a daily basis for new job postings.  Typically I go through the job postings quickly, opening each new one into a background tab, and when I am done searching, I can get to work on responding to each one.
  • Have not just your resume, but also your cover letter ready to go.  I like to have a cover letter template with some boilerplate that I can tweak as needed.  I just copy and paste it into the email or web form as I apply, and then tailor it for the specific position.  It makes applying a lot faster to have the basics already written.
  • Have a list of go-to writing samples.  Some job postings will ask for specific writing samples, and they don't want just a link to your portfolio.  Be ready with a curated list of writing samples that demonstrate a variety of skills, subjects, and writing styles, so that you always have an appropriate clip on hand when asked..
  • Don't wait.  I used to fly through the easier applications, but I would put off any that required a little more work.  Unfortunately, I probably missed out that way, as the client had often already chosen someone by the time I responded.  Learn from my mistakes and try not to wait too long.  Freelance job posters are often inundated with responses, so you need yours to either really stand out, or get to them before they get too overwhelmed by the flood.
I'm starting to market regularly again for the first time in years, so I'll probably have more tips as I get back into the swing of things.  For certain I'll be talking about how to create (or re-create, such as in my case) a daily habit of marketing.  Stay tuned!


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