by EM Prazeman
Are you contemplating quitting your day job to freelance full time?
On January 1, 2016, my coworkers ordered a giant cheesecake. We celebrated my insanity. I said goodbye and started writing full time.
Two months later, I have some things to report. Don’t worry; I won’t describe my rash.
My biggest challenges were the things I didn’t plan for, things that freelancers sometimes mentioned on blogs, sort of, but I was so zeroed in on replacing my income as soon as possible, I missed the underlying message.
About a week in, I started to get the first symptoms.
In a way I’m lucky that I manifest stress as psychosomatic disease and that I recognized that’s what was going on. But just because I knew I was getting sick from stress, that doesn’t mean that poof, the illness went away. Turning on the light doesn’t make the monster disappear. But maybe if you know how many arms and legs and teeth (and stingers and tentacles) it has, maybe you can do something about it before it sends you to the hospital.
So what stressed me out if it wasn’t mainly financial?
Despite the fact that many freelancers mentioned organization issues in their blogs and articles, it took me the whole first month and the better part of the second to figure out that I needed a larger work area and some grown-up office supplies. Who knew? I had a spiral notebook for notes, daily tasks and to track hours, I had a couple of Excel files to track financials, and I had my giant calendar of awesome on the wall to remind me of upcoming events and projects.
It wasn’t enough. Not even close. My marketing activities increased and became more sophisticated overnight. I generated more complicated task lists, and I didn’t have the experience to prioritize them properly. Steep learning curve, that. Now, my book notes are separated by book, and my to-do list has its own notepad. My income and expenses are logged in separate notebooks and compiled into Excel files once a week. (Ahem. Most weeks.)
I also tried to do too much at once. Suddenly, because I theoretically had more time, I wanted to update my websites, which meant coordinating with my very busy webmaster in Germany. I became more active on Facebook and Pinterest, and I decided to get a smart phone so that I could participate on Instagram. I had a convention to attend mid-February. At the very, very last minute, I managed to get my books in on consignment with an awesome book dealer there. I contacted libraries to see if they’d be willing to carry my books. And of course I wanted to be involved when a local writer had a book release. I want to be supportive and active and out there, not just because I want to sell my books but because I love my community of writers. We share in each others’ successes, and our hearts ache when any one of us is struggling. But that participation level is time consuming and can be emotionally draining.
Now I’m in the middle of a book show. Ouch.
On a good day I can write over ten thousand words. I have yet to have a ten thousand word day since I started writing full time, which is fine. Those big word days wipe me out, and I almost always write half that the following day. Try to tell my stress monster that, though. Because not every day is a ten thousand word day, I must be slacking.
So I overscheduled, under-organized, and expected too much of myself. Taking baby steps and slowly increasing my workload would have been a much better, possibly less itchy idea. But even if you’re more rational and organized than I am, you’re still going to be experiencing a lot of changes at once.
This site has a free Stress Level test. It’s a useful tool that’s been around for a long time. My stress level as of this writing is 227. What’s yours, and what might it be if you decide to write full time?
Sometimes stress causes body changes that will require medical assistance. Here’s a good article that touches on that and gives some fantastic advice on managing mood:
I’m one of the lucky ones. My stress illness took the form of a rash, which is uncomfortable but manageable. It’s a thing, in case you didn’t know:
Here’s what I did:
I committed to going outside every day regardless of weather, even if my husband had already taken care of the livestock. It’s good for me to be an outdoor kitty from a few minutes up to a couple of hours every day. Gardening days are especially great for relieving my stress.
I practiced deep breathing. A lot. Our bodies are affected by our breathing patterns in ways that aren’t completely understood by science, but science has measured many of the effects of breathing on the body. Every time I noticed that my shoulders had bunched up and/or my jaw was clenching or my legs had started to bounce up and down, I stopped what I was doing and focused on my breathing. Give it at least 30 seconds. If you’re unfamiliar with focused breathing, there are lots of schools of thought. It helps that in college I practiced zazen and went to a Zen meditation retreat/clinic. If you don’t have any experience, here’s a good place to start:
I cut way back on anything that had sugar, dextrose, corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners. I also cut back on empty carbs, eating out, and (wah!) alcohol. I allow myself one or two of those things a day, in small portions. Not my favorite restriction, and I have to read labels on all the packaged food I buy, but it helped so much with my rash that I’ll keep on doing this until the rash is 100% gone.
Lastly, I’m getting in the habit of taking on a neglected household chore every couple of days. One day I put all my DVDs away and dusted the DVD racks. Another, I bought a small bookshelf and some office bins, and set up my seldom needed work-related stuff on it. Yet another day I cleaned off my dining table/desk, changed the tablecloth, and put everything back together in a more organized arrangement.
I took a day off. The whole day. I’ll do that again soon.
You get the idea. You know yourself. If stress starts to impact your life, do what helps you to relax, and try out some new strategies if the old ones don’t help. Be conscious of your choices and seek help when you need it. The things that help me might not help you. And don’t be afraid to seek therapy. You’re changing jobs. It’s not going to be easy. Let the love of writing guide you through the rough spots. Keep learning and keep growing, and you’ll get to where you need to be.
EM Prazeman writes secondary world historical fantasy with romantic elements. In other words, you get the beautiful clothes, the intrigues, and deadly duels with wit, rapier and pistol without the baggage that comes with the history of our real world 18th century. She’s a world traveler who prefers direct research like firing a flintlock firearm, paragliding, and sailing on a square-rigged ship, because it’s fun and because her readers deserve the best she can give.
“The world of MASKS is a fantasy world unlike any other I’ve encountered, rich with mystery, intrigue, and danger…. We all have our masks, and MASKS lifts the façades of its characters and its world to expose the ambiguous truths behind them.” – David Levine, Hugo Award Winning Author