As a freelance writer, it’s easy to fall into the trap of overworking yourself and ultimately experiencing burnout. You may start to feel like your passion for writing has disappeared and that the work you used to love now feels like a chore.
It’s happened to me.
And I see it happening to other writers, too. So many writers I follow on LinkedIn have struggled with the freelance lifestyle lately.
But burnout doesn’t have to end your freelance writing career. Instead, it’s an opportunity to reassess and implement strategies to avoid it in the future. This is more than just managing stress — it’s created a freelance writing system that sustains you over the long-term.
That’s where I’m here to help. In this blog, I’ll share my experience with freelance writing burnout and provide tips on avoiding it so that you can continue to do the work you love.
Having Freelance Clients is Like Being a Parent
When I reflect on my experience as a freelance writer, I’ve seen the parallels between having freelance clients and being a parent. (This has nothing to do with clients’ maturity; they are not childlike. It’s only that there are clear parallels to what the relationship feels like in action.)
First and foremost, both require a significant amount of emotional investment. As a parent, you’re only as happy as your least happy child; as a freelancer, you’re only as happy as your least happy client. Just as a parent’s mood can be impacted by their child’s needs and wants, a freelancer’s satisfaction can be affected by a client’s demands.
Also, just like parents need breaks from their children, freelancers need time away from their clients. While I genuinely love my clients and the work I do for them, there have been times when I felt overwhelmed by the constant need to respond to their requests. This is when burnout can set in, and it can be challenging to break the cycle.
In my case, I hit a breaking point in 2022, and I knew I needed to make a significant change. There were too many projects and not enough time. So I turned over my entire client roster and took a break to focus on my mental health. I reached out to my clients and told them the truth – I was struggling and needed a break. To my surprise, everyone was completely understanding. So I took a break and rebooted my business with a healthier mindset.
9 Tips to Avoid burnout as a Freelance Writer
How do I avoid writer burnout? As noted above, it’s more than managing prolonged stress. It’s setting your own schedule and working with clients that is mutually beneficial and that allows you the freedom of the freelance lifestyle. Here a nine specific strategies to overcome burnout as a freelancer.
1. Set a Schedule
One effective way to avoid burnout is to set a daily schedule for your freelance writing. You are your own boss as a freelancer, and your working hours should be sacrosanct. With a structured routine, you can focus on the tasks, reduce distractions, and accomplish more in less time. Setting a schedule also helps you prioritize tasks and avoid feeling pulled in different directions.
For any freelance writer, the 3:3:3 method is an excellent strategy for organizing your day. It involves setting aside three hours for one high-priority task, three smaller tasks, and three maintenance tasks. This approach ensures that you’re always progressing on your most critical projects while taking care of routine tasks that are essential for your business.
You can also use project management platforms like Monday, Asana, Trello, or Basecamp to stay organized and on schedule with your freelance writing. These tools help you break down larger projects into smaller tasks, assign deadlines, and track progress. They also allow you to collaborate with clients and team members, share files, and communicate more efficiently.
Even a simple Google Sheet can help a freelance writer get organized and set your schedule. You can create a spreadsheet to list your tasks, deadlines, and priorities for the day or week. This approach helps you visualize your workload, stay focused, and avoid missing important deadlines.
Ultimately, it’s essential to find a system that works for you. Whether it’s the 3:3:3 method, a project management tool, or a simple spreadsheet, the goal is to create a routine that allows you to work efficiently, stay organized, and avoid burnout. When you try to keep everything in your head, things start to fall apart, and you’re more likely to feel overwhelmed and stressed. By setting a daily schedule, you assert control and mitigate the risk of burnout.
If you can’t set and maintain your own schedule, you’re not fully accessing the benefits of freelance over a full-time job.
2. Establish Boundaries
I have found it crucial to set boundaries between my clients and me, including my preferred communication methods. I communicate solely during work hours and prefer to avoid being contacted via text. I find text messages invasive and disruptive to my personal time. If a client gets me via text, I do not respond. Instead, I reply via email when I return to my desk. If a client continues to text me persistently, I let them know I am available via email rather than text. This approach has allowed me to stay focused and manage my workload more effectively, which helps me maintain a healthy work-life balance and avoid burnout.
3. Raise Your Rates
Low rates can be one of the fastest ways to burn out as a freelancer. If you’re constantly working hard for too little money, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, underappreciated, and undervalued. One solution to avoid burnout is to raise your rates.
If you’re burning out, consider raising rates on your existing clients. While it may be scary to bring up rates, remember that you deserve to be compensated fairly for your hard work and expertise. If a client isn’t willing to pay your increased rates, it may be time to replace them with new clients who value your work and are willing to pay a fair price.
Feel free to request a higher rate when submitting proposals for new jobs on sites like Upwork or other freelance platforms. It’s better to get rejected by low-paying clients than to accept a project that will pay what you deserve. So focus on higher-paying work, and you’ll find it easier to fend off burnout.
By focusing on higher-paying work, you’ll increase your income and have more control over your workload and schedule. As a result, you’ll be able to take on fewer projects while earning more money, giving you more time to recharge and avoid burnout.
4. Shoot for Conservative Revenue Goals
It’s easy (and dangerous) to set overly aggressive revenue goals. As a result, you may need to take on more clients or work longer hours to meet these goals, leading to burnout and exhaustion. One solution to avoid burnout is to set conservative, reasonable revenue goals.
Setting conservative revenue goals doesn’t mean settling for less or not pushing yourself. Instead, it’s about setting achievable targets you can meet without feeling overwhelmed or overworked. Setting conservative goals can build momentum, stay motivated, and avoid burnout.
To set conservative revenue goals, look at your current workload and earnings. Next, consider your current client roster and the work you can do without sacrificing quality or burning out. Factor in your expenses, such as equipment, software, and taxes, to determine your minimum monthly or yearly revenue target.
Once you have a conservative revenue target, break it down into smaller, achievable goals. For example, if your minimum monthly revenue target is $3,000, aim to earn $750 weekly. This approach helps you stay motivated and focused on short-term goals rather than overwhelmed by a larger target.
Setting conservative revenue goals also allows you to celebrate your progress and successes. Instead of feeling like you’re constantly falling short of aggressive goals, you’ll be able to celebrate each milestone and feel motivated to continue growing your business.
5. Take Vacations
It can be easy to feel like taking a vacation is not an option. This is because you may need to be available to your clients 24/7, or taking time off will result in lost income. However, vacations are essential for avoiding burnout and maintaining mental and physical health.
Taking a day off work or a weekend getaway should be a non-negotiable part of your freelance routine. It doesn’t have to be an expensive, weeks-long vacation to Europe or an exotic location. A simple break from work can be enough to recharge your batteries and avoid burnout.
During your time off, try disconnecting from work as much as possible. Stay away from screens, including your phone and computer, and instead, spend time outdoors, read a book, or spend time with loved ones. If you’re feeling adventurous, take a weekend road trip to explore a nearby town or city.
It’s also essential to plan your time off and communicate it with your clients. Let them know you’ll be unavailable during your time off and will return to work on a specific date. This approach allows you to take time off without worrying about missed deadlines or client expectations.
Finally, remember that taking time off is not a luxury but a necessity for maintaining mental and physical health. Burnout can have severe consequences for your health, relationships, and work, so it’s essential to prioritize self-care and take time off when needed.
6. Create Vacation Buffers
When you plan time off, it’s easy to fall into the trap of cramming in work until the last minute and then returning to a pile of unfinished tasks. This can leave you feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and defeated.
One way to avoid this is by creating vacation buffers. A buffer period is a few extra days before and after your time off to tie up loose ends and prepare for your time away. For example, if you’re taking a long weekend and will be away from your desk and computer on a Friday and Monday, tell your freelance clients that you’ll be out from Thursday to Tuesday. This approach gives you buffer periods to complete outstanding work and prepare for your vacation without feeling rushed.
During your buffer period, use the time to finish any outstanding tasks, communicate with clients about your time off, and set up an auto-reply message for your email. This approach helps you leave work behind with a clear conscience and return to a more manageable workload.
Creating vacation buffers also allows you to maximize the benefits of your time off. By taking the time to disconnect from work completely, you’ll be able to recharge your batteries, reduce stress, and come back to work feeling refreshed and motivated. This approach also helps you maintain a healthy work-life balance and avoid burnout.
You never want to compress your writing process in service to a vacation. Buffers help you avoid that situation.
7. Fire Problem Clients
As a freelancer, it’s essential to prioritize your mental health and well-being. Unfortunately, some clients can bring unnecessary stress into your life, making it challenging to enjoy your work and avoid burnout. The truth is that life is too short for problem clients, and sometimes you need to let them go.
The term “firing” a client may sound harsh, but it’s necessary when a client brings more stress than value to your work. Some signs of problem clients include:
- Demands that a freelance writer meet tight deadlines, but no deadline discipline on the client side.
- Refusing to pay on time.
- Invasive communication (outside work hours, text rather than email, etc.).
- Consistently requesting revisions or changes beyond the project’s scope.
If you’re dealing with a problem client, it’s important to remember that other clients will love your work and appreciate your value. So focus on finding more of those clients, and let go of the ones who bring you stress and anxiety.
One way to find more clients who appreciate your work is by using the right strategies on freelance platforms like Upwork. For example, use targeted keywords in your profile and job proposals to attract the right clients. In addition, highlight your strengths and expertise, and showcase the best work in your portfolio.
Another strategy is to be selective about the clients you work with as a freelance writer. Before accepting a new project, take the time to research the client and their work. Look for reviews or testimonials from other freelancers to gauge their communication style and reliability.
8. Start Fresh
As noted above, I needed a change at one point in 2022. After eight years of freelancing, I felt burnt out and overwhelmed with my workload. So I decided to wind down work with all my clients and start fresh. It was a scary decision, but it was ultimately a great thing for my career and mental health.
Starting fresh allowed me to create the freelance lifestyle that I wanted. I had the opportunity to establish new boundaries, raise my rates, and take on clients that valued my expertise and respected my time. In addition, it was liberating to begin again with the knowledge and experience I had accrued over years as a freelance writer.
Of course, starting fresh was challenging. I had to rebuild my client base from scratch, which meant taking on smaller projects at first. But over time, I was able to attract higher-paying clients who appreciated my work and respected my boundaries.
Looking back, I realize that getting rid of all my clients was a bold move but necessary for my well-being as a freelance writer. It allowed me to take control of my workload and focus on the projects that mattered to me. It also allowed me to set new goals and work towards them with a renewed sense of purpose.
9. Maintain perspective
Maintaining perspective is an essential aspect of freelance writing. It’s important to remember that while our freelancer work is critical, it’s not the same as carrying around nuclear codes or defending death row inmates. Maintaining perspective can help any freelance writer minimize stress and enjoy work without feeling overwhelmed.
As freelancers, we play a game. We make the money we want to earn while minimizing stress and enjoying our work. But it’s important to remember that our work is not life or death. We’re not performing open-heart surgery, and the consequences of our work are not always life-changing.
One way to maintain perspective is to view freelance writing as a means to an end. It’s a way to make a living and support ourselves, but it’s not the end-all-be-all of our existence. We can have great relationships with our clients, but we shouldn’t let their moods dictate our lives.
Another way to maintain perspective is to remember why we started freelance writing in the first place. Whether for freedom, flexibility, or creativity, keeping our original goals in mind and using them as motivation to keep going is essential.
Ultimately, perspective is everything in freelance writing. Maintaining a healthy perspective allows us to enjoy our work without feeling overwhelmed or stressed. Remember that while our work is essential, it’s not the same as carrying around nuclear codes or performing open-heart surgery. So remember your goals, have great relationships with your clients and enjoy the journey.
Bonus. Get Regular Exercise
When things get busy, it’s easy to neglect physical fitness. I know because it’s happened to me. But getting regular exercise is key to both your physical and mental health. Don’t underestimate it as an important way to decrease stress and manage burnout — if not avoid writer burnout altogether. I would guess that freelance writers that exercise more have lower instances of burnout. Exercise and you just might find it easier to enjoy your freelance work.
Any Other Tips for Avoiding Burnout?
Yes, freelance writers must avoid burnout to maintain their mental and physical health and enjoy their work. We’ve discussed various strategies for reducing the effects of burnout, including setting daily schedules, setting boundaries with clients, setting conservative revenue goals, taking vacations, firing problem clients, and maintaining perspective.
However, we also know many other strategies out there and want to hear from you. For example, how do you avoid burnout as a freelancer? What methods have worked for you? Share your feedback in the comments section below or via the form on our contact page.
As freelance writers, we’re all in this together, and by sharing our experiences and strategies, we can help each other stay motivated and inspired and avoid burnout. So, please share your strategies for mitigating burnout, and let’s continue to support each other on our freelance journeys.