Saturday, September 17, 2011

When Life Gets in the Way of the Writing

Coping with the rainy days.
Photo by:  Vlado

Life happens.  This is a fact.  And sometimes events transpire to take us away from our careers as writers -- maybe for a couple of days, maybe for a month or more.  As self-employed professionals, we don't have options like FMLA to fall back on, so what can we do to make sure we still have a career to return to?

Before a crisis ever happens, it's important to establish good record-keeping habits. You should always know which clients you are working for and when their deadlines are.  Don't try to trust this to your memory.  When the you-know-what hits the fan, the memory is the first thing to go and you are bound to forget names, dates and topics.  Do yourself a favor now and create a calendar of deadlines you can easily refer to and keep it updated.

When the Crisis Happens

1.  Check your calendar.  Do you have deadlines in the next few days?  Can you realistically get any of this work done?  If you are going to be away from your desk to deal with the situation, it is unlikely. It is also unlikely that any work you produce in the midst of the crisis is going to be your best, which means you would be shortchanging your client who is paying for your best work.  Additionally, having a looming deadline while you are coping with chaos is also likely to ratchet up your stress level and that's the last thing you need.  Work is important, but so are you, and you need to take time to manage your own needs.

2.  Contact those clients.  Send out an email to each client whose deadlines fall during this period.  It doesn't have to be long, but you absolutely must contact them as soon as you possibly can.  Let them know that you will not be able to make deadline.  You don't have to give them the gory details -- these are clients after all, not your closest friends.  If you give them all the details you are apt to scare them off.  However, it is okay to let them know that a personal situation has come up -- as long as this isn't something that happens every week.  If crises are happening day after day, you will get a reputation for being flaky, and you do not want that.  Clients are human beings, though, and will likely be understanding when you ask for an extended deadline because of an emergency.  Why send an email instead of a phone call?  A client on the phone may try to convince you to "just do that one piece."  In a vulnerable state, you may feel guilty and accept, adding to the stress of the situation.  It's harder to lay a guilt-trip by email.

3.  Enlist help.  Your clients may have their own deadlines, and you don't want to put them in a bind.  If any of the deadlines cannot be moved forward, the work must get done.  Contact any freelance writer friends you have and pay them to do the work.  Yes, you may lose out on some cash, but you will retain the client.  Services like Textbroker may help out in a pinch, but don't go too cheap.  Hire the best.  Your client deserves it.

4.  Stick to the new deadlines.  You've bought yourself some time to deal with the immediate crisis.  If you and the client have agreed on new deadlines, you absolutely must make those deadlines.  Try to push them back again and you will lose the client.  Get help if you need it, but do whatever you need to do to get the work done.

5.  Write.  This may sound contradictory to all the previous advice, and perhaps a little callous, but a crisis can provide incredible fodder for a writer.  Writing, after all, is what we do.  It's who we are.  If you have learned something from a crisis, pass it on.  Others will, eventually, cope with the same thing.  Even if all you write down is titles for future pieces, get them in your notebook.  You may even find it therapeutic to write out your feelings about what is happening, and sometimes detaching enough to write a "how to" article can give you perspective to cope with the unfolding chaos.  Plus, writing a little every day, even just a paragraph, will keep the gears well-lubricated and ready for when you get back to work.


  1. This is a great list - the sort of thing I sort of due intuitively if you know what I mean. Getting it down like this is truly helpful

  2. I hope people find it helpful. I think a lot of people don't consider the "get outside help" option. It's easy to feel really bogged down and overwhelmed when things crash in. It's not the ideal option, but when push comes to shove it could keep you a client. Thank you so much for reading!