The other day I was writing for a client and I had to take a break when the realization hit me: writing that article felt like work.
Prior to beginning my freelance writing career, I only ever wrote for fun, when the whim took me. Shortly after beginning writing on a professional level, I still felt excited about writing. I had my dream job! I was being paid to write. Isn’t that what I always wanted?
Yes, absolutely. But that didn’t mean writing for a job wouldn’t ever feel like work.
Writing as a Hobby vs. Writing as a Job
For years before I seriously considered turning my passion for writing into my job, I wrote for fun (and still do!). Fiction was always my preferred form of writing so, naturally, I wrote stories from my imagination. I had no boss or deadline or client, merely the goal of having completed a project. I’d have long binges of wordsmithery, followed by even longer periods of not writing at all. I could write as infrequently or as often as I desired, with only my frustrations or personal milestones to guide me. Without a deadline or a client waiting for delivery, I was free to write at whatever pace I wanted to.
Writing for a client, though – writing for pay – means I’ve promised to deliver something by a certain time, and contractually obligated to do so. When money’s brought into the equation, especially someone else’s money, the stakes are raised for not only the quality of work being produced, but the timeliness that work is completed. My work ethic dictates that I respect my clients’ trust in me and that of their hard-earned dollars they’re paying me in exchange for my expertise and craftsmanship. It means I can’t write when the whim takes me: I must write whether I’m sick, tired, bored, or just not feeling it.
It means that professional writing feels, well, like work.
On every social media profile, my employment is listed as “freelance writer.” My most recent employment history on my resume is “freelance writer.”
That’s because freelance writing is my job.
For some, freelance writing is a hobby or a side hustle. Some people write professionally on the side to supplement their income or fill their free time. For me, freelance writing is my career choice. I wake up every day with a list of what I need to do for my business and to meet my deadlines and those of my clients. It’s the same as when I worked as a bookkeeper and knew that on Sundays I’d have to reconcile and verify the previous week’s deposits and documentation, or how I’d have to complete daily reports every morning before the store opened. It feels like work because it is work.
Some days, I simply don’t feel like writing a piece, or sending out pitches, or marketing my business.
Spoiler alert: it’s okay if freelance writing feels like work – because it IS.
When I was writing for a client the other day and the work felt like work, I was overcome by concern. Because writing felt like work, I briefly wondered if that was okay and if that feeling would show through in the work I was producing. Gone was the dream-like surreal nature that I was getting paid to do what I love (write). I took a break from writing the piece and worked over the issue in my head and came to the conclusion that this realization only marked the end of the honeymoon period from beginning my freelance writing career.
I realized writing is supposed to feel like work.
And then I finished my client’s piece.
Writing as a Job
The biggest difference between writing as a hobby and writing as a job is that, when you’re writing professionally, others depend on you to keep true to your word. This means that everything you write for a client must:
- be written according to the terms of your contract
- be delivered on-time by the agreed-upon deadline
- be of the highest quality you’re capable of writing
- live up to your client’s expected standards
As a freelance writer, you’re your own boss. The client is not your boss. But keep in mind that your client is paying you for your work. Your work needs to reflect your respect of the client’s trust in you and the value of the money they’re paying you. Chances are, they’ve worked just as hard for the money they’re giving you in exchange for your work as you have in earning it.
Most of the jobs I’ve had in the past were jobs I loved, but even then, there were days I simply didn’t feel like going to work or got bored with the same repetitive tasks. When that happened, it was easy to force myself to crawl out of bed and head into work regardless because I had a boss to report into, a team that was depending on me, and rules to follow. As a freelancer, there’s none of that forcing me to do my job. Freelancers can fall prey to being their own boss and deciding they don’t feel like working on any given day because they simply don’t feel like it, or they’ll procrastinate writing for a client and binge on Netflix instead.
When you feel yourself sliding down that slippery slope, pump the brakes and remind yourself:
I used to drive a 13-year old Dodge Dakota that gave me plenty of issues while I owned it. Every week something else was breaking or in need of replacement. I had friends who offered to do a few repairs for cheap after I already sank in hundreds of dollars repairing it, and I took them up on the offer. Then I ran into a new problem: my friends weren’t professional mechanics. While they had the technical aptitude to fix my truck, they were also prone to rescheduling when they were available, or they’d come hang out and never get around to doing the job. I ended up taking my truck to a mechanic who had it up and running again by the next day.
If you’re a professional freelance writer, you need to be a mechanic. There’s nothing wrong with being a hobbyist, but you can’t bill yourself as a professional if you’re not going to be living up to the terms expected of one. So when the job feels like a job and writing feels like work, you need to push yourself through it and get it done. You’re not going to feel like writing every day. Not every project is going to inspire you to write your best.
You have to. Every day, especially on those days you don’t feel like working, you have to force yourself to get out of bed, sit down at your desk, and write the best words you’re capable of writing. On-time. You’re being hired for a purpose, so fulfill that purpose. I promise you, once you get over your initial reservation of, “Ugh, I don’t feel like working today,” you won’t dread it as much. Netflix or the latest video game can wait; it’ll still be there when you fire off that fresh, well-written content to your client before the deadline.
It’s not a bad thing if writing feels like a job, but you can’t let that feeling impact your writing. You’re a professional writer, so act it. You can do it; if I can get over my slump days and feelings of, “ugh, this feels too much like work,” you can, too.
And you know what? We’re all in this together, so let’s hold each other accountable! If you need a little bit of motivation to get your work done, hit me up on Twitter or shoot me a message and I’ll do my best to hold you accountable to getting your work done. Feel free to do the same if you ever see me slacking. Freelancing can often make you feel like you’re alone because you’re not working with colleagues like in a traditional office setting, but the reality is: you’re not alone. You have colleagues who all understand exactly what you’re going through, whatever it is. Make use of them as a resource and together, we’ll all be better off.