The Dark Side of Freelance Writing: Burnout

tales from the darkside

Not everything about freelance writing is bunny slippers and bon bons. Sure, we have the best life. We have flexibility and the abililty to work anywhere we please, pick and choose our own clients and set our own rates.  With all the perks, freelance writing also has a dark side. We already explored what happens when clients don’t pay in a previous “Dark Side” post. Today we’re going to discuss another topic we don’t touch on enough here at FWJ, burnout.

What is Freelance Writing Burnout?

I think every freelancer has experience burnout at one time or another. For me, burnout happened mostly at the beginning of my career. I took on many different clients and spent more time working than doing anything else. I was waking at 4:00 each morning and working until my family got up and went about our day. I’d also work late into the night, functioning on only a few hours of sleep.  That’s not a normal scenario for all writers, though.

Basically when writers spend a lot of time churning out articles, especially for projects they’re not enjoying it can lead them to, well, not want to work anymore. It affects everything. You don’t want to work but you can’t keep your mind on anything else because you know the projects are looming. You even consider giving up writing for good.

When you don’t like what you do anymore because you’re spending all day writing topics you don’t want to write in order to meet unrealistic deadlines, you’re going to suffer from writing burnout.

How to Avoid Burnout

Honestly, the best way to avoid burnout is to be more selective with your gigs. My own personal philosophy is to avoid freelance writing jobs involving unrealistic quotas. I remember writing for a couple of web masters and clients who expected a certain amount of articles each month, not all of them were topics I enjoyed. I always ended up putting off those projects until the last minute.

If you’re putting off all your writing until the end of the month, and rushing to do 50 articles in the last week of the month, you’re not enjoying what you do. Chances are by the end of that week, you’re not loving your job. I don’t write for clients with quotas anymore. I mean, a couple of posts a week is one thing, but I’ll no longer commit to 20 or 30 articles a month.

It’s hard to tell writers to only take jobs they love when they have no choice. I know what it’s like to have to take jobs I didn’t like in order to build up a client base and make ends meet. However, when you have too many projects or, especially, you have too many projects you don’t like, you’re going to burnout. There are a few things you can do to avoid this:

  • Don’t take projects you’re not feeling
  • Take periodic breaks
  • Do more non-writing related projects
  • Give up the work you don’t enjoy

To truly avoid burnout is to not allow writing to consume every waking moment. We’re freelancers because we want to enjoy our lives, how can we do that if we’re stressed out over our writing?

When to Step Away from the Desk

If the stress of freelance writing burnout is too much  and you find it’s affecting your health, it’s time to step away from the desk. If you can’t sleep, you have headaches or you can’t focus on your work, it’s time to take a break. If you find yourself unable to meet deadlines because they’re not realistic, you need to rethink your gig.

The bottom line is this: we should all enjoy our work. If it’s going to cause stress, we may as well go back to our office jobs. If we don’t enjoy what we do, what’s the purpose of doing it? Every writer pull the occasional all-nighter, but this shouldn’t be the norm. If you find every day is a chore, you either need to find another gig or give up freelance writing altogether.

Do you ever have burnout periods? If so, how did you get through them?


8 responses
  1. Triona Guidry Avatar

    I avoid burnout by wearing multiple hats. For example right now I am fixing a sick PC, working on a web estimate for a client and writing my monthly technology column for our local newspaper. If I concentrated on only one kind of thing all the time I think I’d get burned out very quickly. Diversifying also helps avoid those slow times when suddenly you don’t have any jobs rolling in.
    .-= Triona Guidry´s last blog ..Beware Twitter Worm, Spreads Via DM =-.

  2. Heiddi Avatar

    Hi Deb. I have been burnt out. Though from my day job not from writing. To avoid burnout, I have activities outside of my dayjob that I enjoy. I play the guitar and volunteer. Every week I have pratice and wail on my guitar. It’s very therapeutic for me. I also avoid watching the news or reading the paper due to the nature of my work as a therapist. I also make sure to spend time with family and friends. In addition, I take my full lunch hour to enjoy my meal and conversation with co-workers. Sometimes writers get so bogged down in the work, they end up chained to the computer and trapped. No calls or tasks related to work during lunch is my rule. It’ll still be there when I get back anyway. Great post Deb! Thanks for sharing. 🙂


  3. poch Avatar

    Digital stress from blogging already burns me out Deb.
    I could imagine how much more if I have a lot of freelance clients!

  4. Kate Avatar

    I can relate to this, I came very close to burnout when I first started out. I had a client who changed the scope of the project at will, paid erratically, and never gave any feedback so I had no idea if I was giving him what he wanted. Eventually he had to mothball the project due to a lack of money; I cried with relief when he phoned to tell me.

    Nowadays, I try only to take jobs I know I’m going to enjoy, and make sure I break up my working day with non-writing activities.
    .-= Kate´s last blog ..A Movie Music Memories Meme – With added alliteration =-.

  5. LIsa Avatar

    What’s the difference between “very tired” and “burned out?”

  6. P.S. Jones Avatar

    I feel like the solitariness of freelancing really contributes to any burnout I feel. So I started joining groups on meetup, including a few writers groups. One of my favorites is one where we just meet on Thursday nights in a coffee house or cafe that sets aside room for us. For about an hour, we just write silently. And then we spend another hour talking about what we want to write, what’s getting us down, what we want to accomplish in the next few weeks. It really helps to talk to someone in person (besides the dog) about how I feel.

  7. Rosanne Avatar

    “Don’t take projects you’re not feeling” – I’m sure it works for most freelance writers. But for me, work is work. When projects are few, it’s better to have some than none at all especially when the pay is good.
    .-= Rosanne´s last blog ..Welcome to Elite webcontent =-.

    1. Deb Ng Avatar

      Hi Rosanne,

      I know exactly how you feel because in the beginning of my career I took on every single project I could because it helped pay the bills, and, also, because it was practice. As I gained experience and raised my rates I was able to drop the projects I didn’t enjoy. I hope it works out the same for you!

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