After doing that for long enough, downtime makes you profoundly uneasy. What if that last freelance assignment was the last I'll ever get? Should I pick one of my former part-time jobs back up to supplement my income? It was a painful time, and there were a few times during the worst of the Great Recession when I went to bed hungry.
Now I make enough to pay the bills and service the debts I amassed from illnesses and other expenses during the lean years, but I'm at least at a place where I have enough confidence that I know how to get more writing clients if I need to. But there are times when work is slow. Maybe there are half a dozen articles waiting to be written, but they're not due until several days later. The old me would have pounced on them anyway, fearful that further assignments might not materialize. Now, however, I look forward to slow days and make use of them in ways that allow me to be productive without risking writing burnout. Here are 5 things you can try when work is slow.
1. Reassess Your Email Folders and Filters
Setting up email filters and folders so you can see at a glance if that email has come in from your editor with the links you need doesn't take long, and can make you far more productive. By the same token, some email folders and filters become irrelevant over time and can safely be deleted. Think about what you spend the most time doing on email. Do you spend too much time searching for messages from a particular client or editor? If so, create a dedicated folder for their messages and set up a filter to send all messages from them directly to that folder. Boom: no more searching.
2. Unsubscribe to Email Lists That Are No Longer Relevant
Sometimes gaining access to the resources you need for a writing assignment or a client requires opting in to an email list. It's a minor hassle, but one you typically deal with and move on. But over time, you can end up subscribed to email lists that are no longer relevant to your professional needs. Spending half an hour going through your messages, not to simply delete those irrelevant messages, but to click on the "unsubscribe" link and keep them out of your inbox altogether will make your email a much simpler, more pleasant place to be.
3. Review and Update Online Professional Profiles
How often do you update your professional profiles online? It's worth doing every six months or so. Maybe since the last time you updated your LinkedIn profile you landed a plum client or added a new skill to your repertoire. Maybe you had professional head shots made for some other reason (like for a book jacket), or are tired of still using that profile photo from 2013. Comb through your online professional profiles and make sure they're current and reflect your actual professional activities at this time. Things change, and sometimes the professional profile from last year can become stale more quickly than you think.
4. Engage Your Non-Literary Passion
5. Read or Play
I happen to like actual physical books, and in fact I live in my online bookstore, Hard-Boiled Wonderland. It's more of a book rescue than a profit-making enterprise. It brings in a little mad money, but mostly I do it because I like connecting with people who appreciate good books, even if that connection is only through the U.S. Postal Service. And I'll confirm that living inside your own bookstore means there is always good reading material around.
As for play, you do you. I enjoy taking my dogs to the dog park, taking long walks, hiking, or engaging in "thrift store therapy." Sometimes making a decent supper and inviting my children and friends over turns out to be the best possible way to spend time. Invariably I find that I'm readier than ever to return to writing when it's time.
I still get the slightest bit uneasy when work slows down. There will probably always be a tiny corner of my brain that worries that no more work will ever come in, but over the years I have learned to pay it the right amount of attention, and no more. Down time can be a real gift, and how you use it can ultimately make you a better writer, so you may as well embrace it.