In the battle to have enough incoming work to pay bills and provide stability, freelancers often have eyes that are bigger than their pens. Freelancer addiction, which is fueled by paranoia and a common feast-or-famine environment in the industry, causes writers to grab work like kids hoarding candy on Halloween.
When in the throes of a work-grabbing high, you don’t even care if the work is relevant to you: It’s available, someone else is going to claim it in two seconds, and you must be victorious. The freelancer with the most pending work wins, right? Whether it’s a list of controversial subjects to write about or a batch of 1,200 product descriptions for the exact same faucet, you must have those orders. Your life is not complete without those orders. If you lose those orders, you have to stop wearing the fancy sweatpants, your kids starve, and Armageddon begins. (Did I mention freelancer addiction causes things to escalate quickly in your mind?)
While a freelance writer has to be quick on the draw to keep work coming, bashing randomly at clients and writing sites as if your F5 button is a piñata bat doesn’t necessarily help your writing career. In fact, when you come down from that work-grabbing high, you often realize you’ve made some questionable choices. You’ve accepted orders on topics you know nothing about, compromised ethics to write things you don’t agree with, or stacked your work list with orders sans intelligible instructions. The good news is that you can control freelancer addiction.
Be Realistic about Time and Word Count
Let’s be honest: 28,000 words in two days isn’t possible for most writers. Even if you can pull that marathon off, how good are the words going to be? During a flurry of work-grab, freelancers hold imaginary sacrifices in their minds. They sacrifice sleep, showers, social time, television, and anything else that might take up valuable writing time.
“I can write 28,000 words in the next two days if I sleep 2 hours a night, write 18 hours a day, and maintain a steady pace of 777 words per hour.”
Freelancer math. Chances are, you’ve done it. Even fast writers can’t keep maximum pace for hours on end, and computering for 18 hours a day is terrible for health. Understand your own limits and take work accordingly—your ten-years-from-now body will thank you for it. Your clients will probably thank you for it too, because when you don’t cram writing jobs down your own throat, the quality of what you do write usually goes up. Instead of focusing on getting more work, try focusing on getting more pay for the amount of work you can actually complete.
Do the Work You Already Have (So You Can Take More)
Freelancer addiction tosses logic aside in favor of gluttony—even if the work queue is already full. “I can haz moar werk?” asks the freelancer in a pitiful voice akin to Oliver Twist asking for more porridge. “Even though I’m swamped and can’t conceivably write all the words I already have?”
At the depths of freelancer addiction, a writer will actually spend time looking for more work even when deadlines are approaching on work she already has. A writer will procrastinate by claiming more work, creating an overwhelming queue of work that can’t possibly be completed. Then, she’ll stress eat chocolate and drink all the caffeine, pull an all nighter or two, and tell herself she’ll never do that again. Ever. Not even if the…oooohhh…is that more work?
The truth is that you can fit plenty of work on your plate if you regularly clear off the work you already have. Start work as soon as you claim it and finish everything before deadline, and you are free to grab enticing work as it pops up. You feel better if you eat regular meals throughout the day as opposed to saving all your calories for one glorious midnight binge, right? That concept works with words too.
Friends Don’t Let Friends Freelance Binge
As with any addiction, sometimes you need help. You know you have too much work, but shiny new work is calling your name. You’ll just agree to one more blog post…or eight. It’s all on the same subject, so if you research one, you might as well make use of that knowledge and write eight anyway. . . If you move that one appointment, have ramen instead of a real meal for dinner, push your shower to tomorrow, cut back on sleep…STOP. Just stop. (is what your freelance friend needs to say).
Make some writer friends locally or online and enter into accountability relationships with them. Discuss your workload on a regularly basis so you can cheer each other on, encourage each other to meet deadlines, and point out when the slobbering monster of freelancer addiction is wreaking havoc on your life.
Freelancer addiction doesn’t have to rule your writing life. Other people have overcome it, and so can you.
BIO: Sarah S is a freelancer addict. It’s been 10 days since she last grabbed work even though her plate was filled to the brim with words to write.