Working remotely is the norm for many writers, and while it carries many benefits, it can also be lonely and hard. With no team-building activities, no lunch breaks with co-workers, and often no human interaction at all, it’s easy for remote workers to get burned out and depressed—something I’ve experienced myself as a full-time, work-from-home freelance writer.
You probably already know many of the reasons working remotely is so great. You can set your own schedule, choose where you work, and skip the commute. But for the days when it seems too hard, here are a few ways to combat the tougher parts of a remote career.
Enjoy a World of Opportunities
Have you considered that your work itself can help you survive the loneliness of remote work?
I live near Atlanta, but when I sent out Christmas cards to my clients last year, only two of them stayed in-state. The others were headed to Texas, England, Thailand, Colorado, and other places all over the world. Working as a writer is fantastic because the nature of the work lends itself to being remote—and that means you can work for just about anyone, leading to more diverse and enjoyable jobs.
If you could only work at jobs in your town, your options would probably be pretty limited, depending on where you live. With the advance of the internet and other technology, though, you have the opportunity to work for any company you want, no matter where in the world they’re located. The sky’s the limit—and I would much rather wake up and do something different and enjoyable every day than have to perform the exact same type of work for 40 hours a week.
Give Yourself True Vacation Time
The reason many writers work remotely and/or as freelancers is to enjoy a flexible schedule, but many of us seem to work more instead of less. When I chain myself to my laptop all day, I get lots of work done—but my mental health suffers.
Take advantage of the fact that you can set your own schedule (and the fact that since you work from home, you save money on transportation, eating out, and potentially child care). Intentionally carve out vacation time for yourself, whether that’s an afternoon to see a movie with a friend or an annual weeklong retreat in an exotic location.
During your vacation time, make sure to unplug, be fully present, and focus on enjoying yourself and relaxing. Don’t even talk about writing! Last year, I took a 12-day trip through Alaska. Before I left, I was panicked about missing so much work. But as soon as my plane touched down in Anchorage, I turned off my laptop—and besides one brief job interview via video call and one glorious afternoon to work on the novel I’d had to set aside in previous months, I didn’t turn it back on until I got home. It’s not an overstatement to say that those 12 days were the best 12 days of my life.
If you’re self-employed, it might be hard to convince yourself to take a vacation. I understand. As a full-time freelancer, I own my own business—so if I don’t work, I don’t get paid. No one is offering me paid vacation time. But it’s essential to give yourself time off every six months or so. Vacations might even make you more productive when you return.
According to Harvard Business Review, “All of us are too steeped in a productivity culture to value doing nothing. … But we’re losing out on crucial recovery time that our bodies and brains need—which is why vacations are so very important.” It recommends carefully planning a trip that’s in a location far away from your work and creating social connections on your vacation. If you do that, the article says, 94 percent of vacations have a good return on investment “in terms of your energy and outlook upon returning to work.”
If you’ve been waiting for someone to give you permission to take time off, consider this your writing on the wall.
Create Camaraderie With Fellow Writers
“In a remote company, it simply is a lot harder to create a strong culture,” says Jens Jakob Anderson, founder and CEO of shoe company RunRepeat, which has 50-plus employees who are all completely remote. “The best thing we do, I think, is our yearly meetup. … Everything is paid for by the company except souvenirs.”
If you work remotely, you’ve probably already experienced the lack of camaraderie that happens when you don’t have co-workers down the hall—and if you’re a full-time freelancer like me, meaning you don’t really have co-workers at all, getting that feeling of company culture is even harder.
In place of co-workers, consider contacting fellow writers and planning a weekend getaway. If you don’t already have a community of writer friends, find some through online networking groups on social media platforms or by attending conferences. I try to attend a writing conference every three to four months, and they’re always big highlights for me. Often, the time I spend eating lunch and socializing with other writers is even more enjoyable than the seminars themselves.
It’s also a great idea to find a mentor or an accountability buddy—someone who’s always available via text, email, or FaceTime during your workday. I have one of those, too, and chatting about clients and workflow all day long helps me get that feeling of camaraderie that I was missing before.
Figure Out Where You Work Best
I used to force myself to go to coffee shops during my workday because I knew I needed to be around people. But in the hustle and bustle of the shops, I couldn’t focus on my work. I finally realized I don’t just need to be around people; I need to spend time with people. Now, I only work at home at my desk, but I work hard and fast so I can leave in the middle of the afternoon and go out with friends or do volunteer work.
Maybe you’ve experienced a similar problem. Remember, just because all the other writers you know work in coffee shops or co-working spaces doesn’t mean you have to. If you can focus and be productive in that kind of setting, great!
But if not, you’re under no obligation to—after all, that’s the beauty of working remotely. I choose to work 100 percent from home because that’s where I focus best, because I have multiple chronic illnesses and going out less equals more energy, and because, well, I just don’t see any good reason to put on clothes other than pajamas.
As I learned, though, you still need to give yourself time out of the house for your sanity if you decide to work entirely from home. Here are a few things I like to do that are cheap, fun, and don’t take too much time away from my work (I try to do one thing from this list per day):
- Go for a walk and chat on the phone with a friend or listen to music.
- Meet a friend for a quick coffee or lunch break.
- Swing by the library and pick up some books to read over the weekend.
- Take an hour-long dance class once a week.
- Take my next-door neighbor’s kids out for ice cream.
Even doing things like getting a haircut, going to the dentist, or picking up your kids from school during your workday can help. Although they aren’t necessarily fun, they still accomplish the goal of getting you out of the house and interacting with other humans face-to-face.
Figure out where you work best, but if that’s from your home office, make sure you don’t stay there all the time—especially if you live alone.
Don’t Be 100% Remote
As a writer who works remotely, you can enjoy the opportunity to dream big and work for anyone in the world, all from the comfort of your own couch. But beware: Working completely from home might wreak havoc on your mental health. Make a point to take vacations, and on a smaller scale, to get yourself out of the house every day. In the long run, you’ll be glad you did.