Writing Habits: 9 No-Burnout Practices During a Recession


Man, what a year. A deadly pandemic, an explosive election, fires, floods: a pervasive sense of anxiety. It’s the kind of thing that can unravel all your good writing habits.

What are the writing habits that have carried you through this year?

Wait…are you just winging it? Hustling every day trying to keep up?

It’s understandable that you might want to withdraw from commitment, slip into bad writing habits, let your goals slide.

Understandable…but not useful.

Crappy times do carry psychological—and practical—weight. I write for many different publications, and regularly send out queries. It’s one of the essential writing habits to build your freelance career:

But over the last several months, more and more I’ve been getting responses like this:

  • We no longer have a freelance budget.
  • We’ve cut staff and might be a while getting back to you.
  • We are ceasing publication.
  • Or more often yet, no reply at all.

Sound familiar?

I’m no therapist, but I know some writing habits and approaches to avoid burnout.

Things may stay rotten for a while, but there are some coping mechanisms that can keep you afloat. And they don’t have to involve vodka and bon-bons for breakfast.

Looking for some writing habits to help you stay sane and be a productive freelancer?

Here are some often-overlooked methods to help you stay on track:

1. Meditation

I meditate for around 20 minutes every morning, and have done so for years. I’m an early riser, so this is usually before 7 a.m.

Want to give it a try? There are many meditation apps you can use, like…

Tip: Attending quietly to breath and letting thoughts traipse their merry way sets the day on a smoother path.

2. Project diversity

If possible, have multiple projects going, so you can turn to one when another is hindered.

Here’s an example. Recently, I was editing:

  • A client’s memoir
  • Writing my own memoir
  • Sending queries
  • Writing an outline for an online class on freelancing
  • Gathering materials for a long, short story.

Tip: Projects that are different in flavor and scope keep your mind fresh and engaged.

3. Exercise

How much time do you spend sitting?

If you’re a sit-in-a-chair freelancer that might be 6-8 hours a day for work + sitting for meals, trips to the store, and watching TV.

Exercise is a great way to clear your head, think about writing, and improve your mood. And it’s easy. You can:

  • Go for a walk
  • Ride a bike
  • Play an exercise video and follow a long
  • Take a class or go to the gym (if it’s open)

Here’s what my exercise habits look like:

  • 40 minutes at mid-day (mostly walking on the lovely local slough trails, biking local roads, riding a recumbent bike inside).
  • 20 minutes of light weights and stretching right after work.

Often I come back from these sessions with solutions to writing problems I was puzzling over. I’m lucky in that exercising has always seemed like fun to me, and never a burden.

Tip: Start small and work up—the excellent Atomic Habits methods can lead to cumulative successes.

4. Less distractions, more focus

Right now I’m writing this with just a Word file and my text notes file open.

  • No browser open
  • No Twitter
  • All notifications turned off, and…
  • I’m in my old Airstream office with my cell phone in the house.

Sure, maybe you’ll binge on movies and social media later. But when it’s time to write, focus on one thing…writing.

Tip: The world, with all its gorgeous distractions, will wait for you.

5. Broaden your interests

Partner this with the multiple-projects ploy, but aim for things outside the writing sphere. For example:

  • Don’t just read business or writing books
  • Read some fiction, classic and contemporary
  • Play games
  • Find a hobby you enjoy

I’m trying, slowly, to become a better photographer. I love to travel, which is tough right now, but there are lots of great virtual sites to take you away.

For a soothing mind-moosh, check out the live bobbing, mesmerizing jellyfish at the Monterey Aquarium. Jellyfish don’t give a damn about COVID-19.

6. Be thick-skinned

Just move on from rejection. Editors pass on material for myriad reasons…many having nothing to do with the merit of your work.

Tip: Pitch again—and again. Persistence will win out.

7. Measure

Track your progress. It’s something Carol Tice has been talking about for years. Find a system that works for you to track things on a monthly or weekly basis like:

  • Number of pitches sent
  • Rejections
  • Assignments
  • Income
  • Deadlines
  • Hourly rate

How do I measure my efforts? I use Charlie Gilkey’s free productivity planners to track projects. I use the monthly download, which can track:

  • Quarterly
  • Monthly
  • Weekly
  • Daily objectives

Tip: Consider making a gratitude practice part of your daily writing habits. Stop for a few minutes each day and write down 3 to 5 things you’re grateful for. Then reflect on those things when you need a boost.

8. Have a community

Freelancing can sometimes be a lonely endeavor. You’re working at home…alone…while the rest of the workforce mingles with co-workers at work and sometimes after hours.

Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to stay connected with other writers for support and encouragement. A few places I recommend:

  • Unemployable Initiative by Brian Clark and Jerod Morris (of Copyblogger fame). It’s a community of freelancers and entrepreneurs, a nice space where business advice and good cheer are shared and savored.
  • WriterUnboxed. It’s a site and resource for freelancers about the business and craft of fiction writing.
  • The Freelance Writers Den, which has an extraordinary wealth of expert advice for freelancers at all levels, on a broad spectrum of topics, plus a sterling, communicative community of writers who step up and help when help is needed.

9. Use your hands

Step away from the keyboard and stop typing. Sometimes you need a distraction or diversion to alleviate stress and worry that sometimes comes with the territory of being a freelance writer.

Here’s two suggestions:

  1. Download some coloring pages and color the detailed line art with crayons or colored pencils…it’s soothing.
  2. Pick up a rubbing stone. I have one near my monitor that  I grab when I need to stress less. I’ll get to the genie inside someday.

If that doesn’t work…I always make fancy cocktails on Fridays and Saturdays.

Create your own writing habits to move up and earn more

You can’t work all the time and expect to be 100% productive. Even the most talented and disciplined writers will reach a tipping point. If you want to win at freelancing and avoid burnout, create your own writing habits to help you be creative, move up, and earn more.

What writing habits help you boost productivity? Tell us about it in the comments.

Tom Bentley is a California-based freelance writer. He’s written for Forbes, the Los Angeles Times, Writers Digest, Vox, Popular Mechanics, WIRED and many other publications.

Grow Your Writing Income. FreelanceWritersDen.com


  1. empish

    Thanks for reminding me that I am not the only one dealing with all of this. You are so correct when you share about the importance of a writers community. That is one thing I am working more on than ever before. Also, I find that exercise is not just good for me physically but helps relieve my stress.

    • Tom Bentley

      Hi Empish. Our times are so troubled that you know we’re all dealing with vast stresses, and sometimes on multiple counts. Even though Zoom calls can be tiring or awkward, comradeship gained through them is a fine thing.

      As for exercise, I’m with you all the way: definitely a stress reliever, and good for the bones. And sometimes just strolling about lets your mind roam as well, and good ideas are unleashed.

  2. Gina

    It seems to me businesses need more help with content when times are tough to drive more customers. Maybe freelancers can focus on more targeted content for customers (versus volume). Or, content focused on keeping small businesses going – offer great deals to businesses we want to see survive!

    • Tom Bentley

      Hi Gina. While your comment doesn’t directly address the post topic about relieving burnout, it’s good that you’re thinking of ways to suggest and deliver more writing work. Good luck.

    • Gina

      Sorry. Tom! I was conflating this article with part of the email I got talking about having less work. I think burnout has my mind melting. Thanks.

  3. Tracy Hume

    Great post! It’s back to the basics, but it is so easy to let these foundational good habits slide. Thank you for your timely reminder! P.S. I use the free version of Insight Timer for meditation. I think it is a great app.

    • Tom Bentley

      Tracy, thank you. Yep, I can’t pretend to be unfailingly disciplined in all the processes, but as the book I praised, Atomic Habits, suggests, if you lose a day or a part of your positive structure, just start it again the next day—don’t overlay a new bad habit on what was good.

      (And you definitely have to reward yourself for your advances–I did mention the cocktails, eh?)

  4. Katherine+Swarts

    For me, #3 is the most habitual, and balancing #2 and #5 (without wiping out #4 under their combined weight) the biggest challenge. I for one could burn out just as easily trying to make time every day for eight projects and twelve other interests!

    (The blessing and the curse of many writers’ lives is being easily fascinated with “everything.”)

    • Tom Bentley

      Katherine, “balance” is definitely a key word here. You have to adjust to the rhythms of your work and life, because, obviously, they change. And I can tunnel to the center-of-the-earth (or Mars) information rabbit hole as well as anyone, following my own eclectic fascinations.

      But establishing a balance, while tricky (and ever in need of adjusting) is a great goal, even in the face of setbacks. Thanks for writing.

  5. Chris Peterson

    Hi Tom,

    Thank you for this article. I have been feeling burnout for writing lately. This is just what I need to re-sharpen my focus.

    • Tom Bentley

      Hey Chris, I hope it was helpful. Just trying a few of these things (and I try different ones often) can give you a sense of control and progress.

      One thing I forgot (which would have made the magic number of 10 suggestions) was something I try to do almost daily as well: I nap for 20 minutes or so after exercise and lunch. I often don’t actually go to sleep, but into a restorative “paused” state. I know a lot of folks don’t have the luxury to take a nap in the day, but if you do, it’s gravy!

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