How to Survive as a Freelancer

A friend of mine who's also a fantastic writer, Nathan Meunier, runs a pretty great clips site. To those of you who aren't full-time freelance writers like myself, a clips site is just a place where you post all of your published pieces. That way, when you encounter a new editor at a new publication and they want to see your work you can easily either refer them to your site or select the links on your site you want to highlight. Anyway, Nathan's site has a pretty cool recurring feature called "Ask The Freelance Dude," wherein he answers questions from people who want to be like us: someone who gets paid to write about video games.

In keeping with my recent posts on how to polish your résumé and write a better cover letter, and inspired by my buddy Nathan, I've decided to answer everyone who asks me, "When are you not hustling?" In other words, I'm gonna explain how to survive, mentally, as a freelancer. Even if you're not a freelance writer like me, if you're running your own business, chances are you're not gonna be ponying up lots of cash to rent space to run your new company in. You're going to be doing it out of the home.

So, how do you not go crazy? 

Here's how.

Balance is key. Many people think they have to constantly be grinding to stay afloat. It isn't true. You'll turn into chalk dust if you're working every working minute. Exercise. Breathe. Eat breakfast before you start working. Don't go straight from your bed to your desk. Remember when you worked full-time you'd take your time or rush to get ready? That should still be part of your routine when you work from home.

Have a sense of humor. Also, have faith that even though you're living check to check, your hard work will pay off. If you don't take things quite so seriously, you won't end up bitter and angry and frustrated and nursing a baker's dozen of ulcers. Don't spend all day on YouTube looking up news actors blooper videos -- though I highly recommend doing it sometimes -- but relax.

Know when to say no. You don't have to take every job or opportunity that comes along. There's a reason "spread too thin" is an expression. As Ethan Austin's recent post on having a mantra points out: If an opportunity has nothing to do with what you want to do, then pass on it. On the other hand, if the pay is attractive and it isn't a lifetime commitment, what do you have to lose? Similarly, I owe my entire career to saying "yes" to almost every unusual opportunity that came along, not knowing quite where I wanted to wind up. Which is another thing: Sometimes you need to go down a path just to see where it leads. Sometimes knowing what you don't want to do is just as valuable as knowing what you do want to do. Trust your gut.

Get a pet. If you live alone, anyway. A bit of furry companionship can go a long way to livening up your home office. Also, watch your animal friend: They aren't planning and planning what they're going to do. They are living in the moment and going onto the next one. That's exactly how you should be when you're working. Focus on the task at hand and trust it will all add up to your ultimate goal, whatever it may be.

Make time for other projects. Or even if it's just grabbing lunch with a friend, try to get out of the house at least once a week and work on something else.

Set goals. Speaking of which. If you're living check to check, have a greater purpose. Set a goal. Say it out loud.

Wear pants. If only so you don't give the rest of us a bad reputation. If your waistband is elastic, change into jeans. 

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a columnist for EGM. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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