The Golden Pencil’s Anne Wayman on Overwork

The Golden Pencil ran a piece on freelance writing overwork, what I like to call “deadline creep” and time management. When reading Anne Wayman’s description of how she tries to keep her writing off limits on the weekends, I was reminded of a set of my own crazy work problems last year.

Like Anne, I think the division between work and play is very important for a self-employed freelance writer. The problem is, if you don’t work, you don’t get paid–and once I get used to being paid on a fairly steady clip I like to keep the run going as long as it will last.

Before the holiday season 2007, I was running myself into the ground. I worked 10 and 12 hour days, weekends and evenings. My problem was that I had taken a long series of smaller jobs for lower pay instead of working fewer gigs for more money. I felt trapped by the steady income–not enough from one individual client, but steady enough to make excuses for when all lumped together.

Oddly enough, circumstances forced me to cut out all the low-payers (which all had vast demands on my time far out of proportion to what was being paid). Once I ditched the time-wasters, I found myself earning much more on a single gig than with all those other jobs combined.

Recently I find myself back in my old weekend-writing habits, but these days it’s because I have been devoting more time to personal projects. I don’t feel anything near the stress I had last year, and my financial position at present is fairly sound. Who knows how long it will last, but in the meantime I am trying to set myself up to get my pet projects moving while I still have plenty of income to sock away. This holiday, I expect to be up to my eyeballs in work again–but this go around the time investment will be worth the return.

The moral of the story here, at least for me, was learning when to cut out the gigs that ask too much of you without giving enough in return. Now, when I start feeling the stress and the “Why I am bothering?” feelings, I just move to cut the ties and be done with it.

Got a low-paying time drain? Dump it, and you might just find that getting a better paying gig comes much easier when you can take the time you wasted before and use it to advance your career another step. Think carefully before you make the jump, but weigh the time investment versus the low paycheck and see how you feel. Cheers to Anne Wayman for a bit of Sunday afternoon inspiration and for the knowledge that somebody else out there is also toiling away on a weekend afternoon when the sun is shining and I really ought to be outside.