As much as I love writing online for a living, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t always feel a bit precarious. The gig doesn’t come with traditional benefits like healthcare. You don’t know how much you’re going to make from month to month. And you almost certainly develop an unhealthy fixation with output. After all, your output is the only thing you can control, right?
Eh… yes and no.
When I first began blogging for money in 2018, I never intended to be a daily blogger. It worked out that way, however, because I was determined to make it for me and my daughter, who was just 4 years old back then.
Honestly, it did work. Just eight months after I began, I felt comfortable enough to quit my job in social media marketing and I’ve yet to regret that choice. This month, I’m rounding out two full years since leaving a job I hated to do my own thing.
It’s not hard to see how I fell hard into the habit of writing and publishing every day. The more I wrote (and published), the more money I might make. The more productive I was in terms of publishing one or more blog posts a day, the more people would see my work.
And for a long time, this formula worked for me. It wasn’t a big deal if some of the stuff I wrote flopped financially. Putting out 40 to 65 stories a month helped ensure my overall success, whether or not any of it went viral.
For more than 18 months, that sort of strategy worked for me.
But then, 2020 happened.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic hit the US, I needed a change. I love daily writing, and I even like publishing every day, but I needed more. Or, less. I had no energy and I needed a break. But how do you take a break from doing what you love to do?
Early on in 2020, I made a surprising move. At least, it was surprising to me. I decided to quit publishing every day. Instead, I began giving my stories a little breathing room.
I had a lot of fears about the whole thing. Like, what if I wrote less and all of it flopped? What if my income took a massive hit? What if people didn’t like what I wrote?
To a certain extent, these are all natural questions for any content creator. There’s no rigging the system or shortcutting your way to success. You’ve got to sit your butt in the chair and do the work. Scaling back feels really scary, especially when the end goal is growth.
Sometimes, though, you just know it’s time to cut back.
Cutting back in 2020 has worked out for me. I’ve had more “viral” stories this year than in 2018 or 2019, and I’ve gained a greater sense of peace about letting my drafts sit before I go back and edit them.
These days, I publish about 20 stories a month. It’s a huge step back from my previous 60 or more, but it’s been a good change. But it’s still not always “enough.”
It’s been more than a little disappointing to discover that even after cutting back so much, I can still get burnt out. In fact, I found myself terribly burnt out last month after initially thinking I was going to have an especially productive October.
Long story short? I wound up publishing only 14 stories and didn’t put out anything for an entire week.
I didn’t plan to take such a long break, but I basically hit a wall mentally and emotionally where I needed to do nothing for a while. As a general rule, I recommend planned breaks, because the impromptu ones can feel a little strange. I didn’t know how long of a break I was going to take — I just knew I didn’t want to do much of anything for a while.
The downside about that is how I felt like a failure. Every day, I woke up and started to write, and I asked myself if I was ready to get back to work. I wasn’t.
There’s a certain headspace you’ve got to be in just to complete a story. Writing — that’s actually the easy part. I can write all day long, even on my worst days, but taking the time to wrap it all up and make it make sense… that’s a whole other story.
For several days, all I really wanted to do was sleep, binge watch The Affair, and make soup. And play Merge Dragons on my phone. So, that’s what I did. And do you know what? It was scary as fuck. I worried a lot about my stats tumbling down in a freefall. I worried that it would be hard to get back on the horse, so to speak.
In some ways, it was hard. I sort of spoiled myself by celebrating Halloween weekend with my 6-year-old and not giving a flying fuck about productivity.
We carved little pumpkins. She tried making a cute monster with a flower in its hair. I did Jack Skellington.
She got to play Tinkerbell.
We had a socially-distanced visit on her Nana’s porch and then did a get-together with my friend and her kids. With masks, of course. It was our first hangout in seven months, and my kid still can’t quit talking about the fun we had.
Seriously, it was fun.
I haven’t hung out with anyone other than my kid for months. It was heaven.
In hindsight, I wish I had done a planned week-long break as opposed to an unplanned one. It’s easy to fall into this trap of feeling down-and-out when you’re not sure how long you’re going to be away from your work.
I definitely felt a sort of part-time guilt. I didn’t just take a break from my work but from any semblance of productivity. I felt good and bad about it. Good, because I knew I needed the time to myself, but bad, because I’m a single mom. Doing “nothing,” or mostly relaxing for a week isn’t the sort of thing most single working parents can do without sacrifice.
There’s a lot I could have got done or should have got done that I didn’t. And I knew that was okay because my mental and emotional health honestly demanded the break.
But it’s not lost on me that there’s this alternate universe in my mind where I don’t slow down, and I got all my shit done, and sometimes, I really wish I could live there.
Clearly, I can’t. So, like the rest of you, I just do the best that I can do.
Though, I won’t lie.
Getting back on the horse after an unplanned break is a bit of a bitch.
The thing about writing online for a living is that sometimes, the stories flow easily, and at other times, they don’t. I keep a folder filled with thousands of working titles, so, I’ve always got something to write about. But that doesn’t always make it easy.
There are days where nothing I write really feels right. Today is one of those days. Often though, writing feels hard because I get too hung up on the outcome. How other people will receive the story. If readers like the topic. If it earns decent money.
The more I think about these things, the more I overthink the process. Or get nervous. At some point, though, you’ve just got to move. Write the story, publish, rest, and write the next one. It’s so easy to get caught up in these fears that your writing won’t stick or matter, but the only way to know is to actually get the words out of your head.
When you put out creative work every day, every other day, or every few days, it’s never going to be your best work all of the time. And it’s unlikely that everything you create will turn to gold. Yet, when you build an audience for your work, I think that whatever you create will find a home in someone.
Some days, you’re just going to write whatever works for you. Whatever stories you need to tell for your own sake. And sometimes, you’ll write stuff for other people.
You don’t need to be absolutely amazing, but it sure helps to be authentic.
There was a time when I thought that taking a week off of publishing would ruin all progress I’d ever made. And earlier on in the game it likely would have made a bigger difference.
In the end, though, I wrapped up October and entered November in a place that was better than I expected. In a way, it makes sense. After all, I worked this hard for a reason. I’ve worked so hard since May 2018 to get to this point where I can take a mental health holiday.
It doesn’t mean that I don’t want to grow, because, I do. It doesn’t mean that I don’t want to make more money, because, I do. What it means is that I know there’s more to life — and work — than money or productivity. Even though it doesn’t always feel like that’s true.
The reality is that every creative, every freelancer — we’re all on an individual journey.
It’s so damn easy to look around us and see what everybody else is doing and then judge ourselves against other people.
But it’s not healthy.
Breaks are healthy
Taking time out is healthy.
Giving our minds space to process whatever is going on in our lives is healthy.
In some ways, it’s easy to focus on output as a measure of success and progress and think that our output is the one thing we can control. But when we do that, it’s also easy to allow our output to control us. Which isn’t exactly helpful.
Taking time off?
Sometimes, that’s the only thing that helps.