Confucius famously said, "Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life." Clearly he wasn't a freelancer. Though a very beautiful thought in theory, it, sadly, doesn't always translate to the reality of pursuing your dreams.
I started writing before I knew it was a thing you could do. I started telling stories before I could write. Writing was my favourite occupation as a child and I would fill papers after papers with bloodcurdling stories of adventurers, wizards, orphans and whatever else crossed my imaginative mind. I finished my first full-length novel at the age of twelve. I didn't know it was a "novel" back then. For me it was simply a story that had gained momentum and grown out of the usual proportions.
It still lies somewhere in my desk drawer.
I didn't write for anybody but myself back then. Though my parents knew I was hauled up in my room writing, they probably know about 1% of my stories, for I didn't write to get their attention or praise. I simply loved escaping into my own worlds and concoct incredible story lines where I could dictate the way. Especially when I lost my ability to play Let's Pretend around the age of thirteen, writing became my key into a world I thought was lost to me. A key into realms where anything the mind can stir up is possible, where the limits are the rims of your own imagination.
When I entered university, I started writing short stories, mainly because I could squeeze a story into a boring lecture, and I did it to escape the boredom and narrow-mindedness I experienced at university, a place I had expected to be full of exploration and discovery.
I was wrong. Writing kept my imagination afloat when the boredom seeping through the process of writing useless academic papers seemed to snatch it away. When you rifle through my old word docs, you can clearly see which time of the week I had a particularly boring session, for there is almost weekly a new short story or poem. To sum up my childhood and early adulthood years, I was a prolific writer. Not a professional one, but my mind seemed to be an incessant source of creativity and wonder that gave birth to one tale after the other. Now, it's been almost three months since I have touched any of my personal writing and I feel I have to force myself to sit down and delve into my stories - it feels just like another chore, not an outlet. It has become another source of stress and unhappiness instead of being the refuge from it. So what happened?
About one and a half years ago I became a freelance writer. Most people look impressed when I tell them, and I guess it is impressive to many extents. However, quite ironically, the past one and a half years I have written less than ever before, and most of my personal writing just lies on the computer untouched. Where did I go wrong with this and how can making something your profession take the fun out of it?
Reflecting upon it, I have encountered a few key items that seem to have seeped out the fun for me, and I've come across a succinct and helpful article titled "Changes to Your Business that are Best for Your Health", first published on Honeybook.com and written by Emily Sullivan. In her article she shares some business experience of a creative professional and her suggestions how you can bring more passion and focus back into your work. Described in a brief and personal manner, the article shows not only compassion for the difficulties of pursuing your own passion, but also reminds us we're not alone in this. To read the full original article on Honeybook.com, click here, or you can read on and see how I implement some of her ideas onto my own creative reflections.
Your are not alone
First of all, I think it is helpful to any creative professional to realise you're not alone. Speaking to many other creative professionals, the issue of crumbling under your own business, sadly, doesn't seem to be so unusual. In fact, reading about creative professionals, I have encountered some who purposefully returned to pursuing their passions as amateurs rather than professionals because professionalism killed their creativity. Reading the article by wedding planner and makeup artist Emily Sullivan made me realise there are others who feel the strain of being a freelancer, too, and who, at some point, lost the passion for their respective field. She writes, "we pour our hearts and souls into our work, sometimes at a grave personal cost."
I guess one of my issues is the guilt I have for not feeling blessed having achieved what I know many others dream of achieving. I often feel apathetic, unhappy with my work life and like a failure. Knowing others also realise how much personal cost is involved in growing your business and, therefore, pursuing your passion, is a very helpful start.
What is my self-image as a freelance writer
Another reason why I may have fallen out of love with writing is that I actually don't pursue my dream in writing. I have always explored stories, tales and fictional worlds, but my everyday bread I earn with writing product descriptions, hotel profiles and flight routes. Yes, I earn my money with writing, and plenty of it is great fun and challenges me in fantastic ways, but I have not become the "writer" I set out to be. Why, you may ask? Well, I think there are two reasons for that.
First of all, I thought if I had a career in writing where I could design my own work schedule and daily routine, that would leave me with more time for my personal writing. Gross miscalculation. The last thing I want to do after sitting in front of my desk all day, writing for clients, is spending my evening writing my stories.
The other reason has to do with the mental image you have of yourself - or I have of myself. Being a "freelance writer" simply sounds cool and infinitely better than "teacher". When I entered the world of freelance writing, I promised myself I would only open my doors with article writing and then blend over to pursue my dreams - this, however, hasn't happened, as I simply don't have the time to grow an entirely different dream while keeping my young business afloat. I have to prioritise, and usually it comes down to prioritising the tasks that actually wash some money into the bank account at the end of the month.
You cannot do everything, focus on what is important
Relating to the last point in the paragraph above I found a useful business change suggestion in the article by Emily Sullivan. One of the four changes she suggests is titled "Focus on the Basics" in which she calls to take stock of your priorities and "limit appointments and events to the ones that will help you achieve your goals without overwhelming your schedule".
So in order to pursue your dream, you also have to be able to say no, and I think this is a lesson that is crucial, especially for young, aspiring entrepreneurs. In the beginning you're keen to take on any work for any client who deigns to work with you. This way, you end up doing a lot of work you don't like for little money, leaving hardly time to dedicate to tasks that would not only, in the long run, make your business better, but also your work more enjoyable.
With maternity leave coming up for me, I can take a break from professional writing and re-evaluate where my priorities should lie henceforth professionally. Maybe sometimes it is also better to pursue your passion as an amateur. Sadly the word, "amateur" has gained such a derogative reputation, but etymologically it loosely translated means "doing it for the love of it." I was most productive in my personal writing and blogging when I didn't pursue it as a professional career - when I was a teacher, nanny, entertainer or student. In short, when I got inspired by everyday events. Sitting at home in front of a computer all day is hardly inspirational and a great writer I personally know once told me, "in order to be a writer, you have to live a full life. Otherwise there are no stories to tell."
I think being a writer - or painter, wedding planner, singer, etc. - means finding a way how you can be most creative, which doesn't always mean making your main money with it. Prioritising can also mean realising that in order to be a successful writer, you also have to be a teacher, gardener, diplomat, or whatever it is you enjoy doing outside your passion.
Let other people and things be your inspiration
Self-image can be as harmful to creativity as lack of imagination. A distorted self-image that is driven by status and how you want to "sound and look" in front of others can mean losing your path. It took me one and a half years to realise that my creativity, in part, comes from interacting with others. Solitude and loneliness kill my creativity when practised to an overbearing extent, and I am too much of an extrovert to fulfil the image of the "lonesome writer who, Emily-Dickinson-style, sits in front of an adorned window, ensconced in her own thoughts and only in need of the company of her characters". I love to laugh, joke, fool around, interact and build relationships. I need it and it sparks my imagination. Which is partly the reason why I have never given up teaching entirely. Inspiring my students and listening to their everyday tales gives me fertile soil for my creativity that can best explore the nooks and crannies of other worlds when given an input from the real one.
Having your passion independent from your daily income also has the benefit that there is no outside pressure on achieving something, which brings it back to the basics. Re-evaluating why you loved doing your passion in the first place may be the key for me to remember why I do what I am doing - and it can also help realise that your passions may have shifted altogether, and it's time to do something new.
In short, having a life outside may be a crucial point to consider when you've fallen out of love with your passion. Relating back to the article on Honeybook.com, Sullivan has a section on how to keep your health in check despite growing a business. I think this relates closely to the point above. It cannot be all about work, work, work, for that takes the fun out of it. Having a well-balanced lifestyle with family, friends, a healthy and regular workout and a rigid routine is highly beneficial for your mental and physical health, but also in giving the spark back to your passion.
And establishing a routine that has specific milestones to reach every day is inasmuch crucial when you work from home, like I do. What let me spiral into a depressive episode was the lack of daily routine and purpose. I could get up at 10 am if I wanted to, I don't need to put makeup or decent clothes on. I don't have to interact with others if I don't choose to.
But we need these things to establish a sense of life purpose - at least I do. Knowing you have yoga class twice a week, or meditating every day at 7:30 am to get your day started, provides a much-needed routine where your work doesn't provide one (You can read about 4 hacks I try to implement for working from home here.). But healthy habits need to be enforced, demand rigid discipline and you can start with them any day. I slip more than I care to admit, but I impose them back on myself because I know, in the long run, they do wonders for me and my work. To sum it up in Sullivan's words, "don't wait for your body to send (you) a dramatic SOS. Start incorporating healthy habits today."
Take it one day at a time
Prioritising, as I wrote, is important, as is realising what you can do and what not. Sometimes the stopper to my creativity is simply a feeling of overwhelm because I don't know where to start - or the fear that I will never get everything done. Setting boundaries, as Emily Sullivan also suggests in her article, is a key instrument to shovelling free time for the essential things and to give a clear schedule. I have so many book projects on my computer and am paralysed by the many ideas that I end up pursuing none of them. Instead of trying to finish them all and thinking of publication and book tours, I need to simply start with one or two and, like as a child, write them for myself, not for publishers or fame. One inspiring quote from Sullivan's article pops to mind where she writes, "don't allow the world around you to influence your values or your self-image."
I deem this a fantastic summary of returning to pursuing the traits of your passion you love most and doing it solely for yourself and your enjoyment. This may sound a little self-centred and unmarketable at first, but when you provide something from you, the best you can give is the essence of it, not a distorted image of what you think it should be.
Unfortunately there is no formula how to re-fall in love with your passion - and I am certainly still working on getting back in love with mine. Who knows, maybe writing is simply not my thing anymore and I am going to set out finding new things that excite me, or it will come back to me once I return to the basics and prioritise.
Resources: Changes to Your Business that are Best for Your Health on Honeybook.com
Writer. Editor. Blogger. YouTuber. Freelancer. Traveller. English fanatic.