How Writing for Pleasure Made Me a Better Freelance Writer

DaydreamingAs a teen, I was scared of making money for writing.

When I began to take on little commissions in 2007, I wrote sponsored posts for $1 each — or even less. Sometimes all I got for a 300-word post was ten cents.

My family pushed me to make more money as a writer. But they went a little too far, and I developed a sense of guilt every time I caught myself writing for pleasure.

One day not long ago, I was on the verge of a mental breakdown. The thought of writing my assignments nauseated me.

Instead of diving right into client work, I decided to write something fun. Something for me. Here’s what happened…

 

Follow your muse

I wrote a personal blog post — and the effect was incredible.

I felt better, and the client work I took up later was better and easier to complete.

Turns out, I’d known how to become a better freelance writer all this time — but guilt was keeping me from doing it.

Here’s how taking time out to focus on fun writing helped me — and how it can help you, too:

  • Get in the zone. Sometimes it’s difficult to dive into an assignment topic when there are a thousand distractions around, from noisy neighbors to family chit-chat, or even a headache. Writing for pleasure helps me get into my writing and block out those distractions — so I can write faster.
  • Calm the muse and gain focus. Have you ever been sitting at your desk, unproductive, because you had other ideas running through your mind? I found it helpful to write about these ideas first — just simple drafts, not finished pieces — to declutter my mind and focus on the assignment at hand instead.
  • Refill the idea well. Letting my mind go and just having fun with writing is a huge trigger for good ideas. After writing something fun, I filled notebooks with headlines or notes I could turn into great client pieces.
  • Learn to see different angles of a topic. I enjoy role-play blogging. As a result, I often have characters talk about topics I’m not entirely acquainted with. This task gets me more engaged in the research and learning process — so at the end of the day, I know more about a topic than I would have with just assignment-related research.
  • Gain freedom to experiment. One of my role-play characters needed to write a white paper for their community. So I learned how to write white papers, so I could get it done. Bingo! There was a new product I could offer clients.
  • Keep a healthy work-life balance. A healthy day is not all about work. Like many of us writing for pay, I have to remind myself not to overdo it. Writing for pleasure keeps the writing part of my brain active without stressing me out.

I’m not perfect at letting go of the guilt. It still pops up. So, I set a goal to make room for all things I love every day, not just work.

Now that I’ve seen how my personal writing can help improve my productivity at paid freelance writing, I’ve made writing for pleasure a goal — not an indulgence.

Do you take time to write for pleasure? Tell us your approach in the comments below.

Luana Spinetti is a freelance writer, artist, and blogger based in Italy. She is the author of a fun (but realistic) 5-page comic: A Look Into A Freelance Writer’s Life.

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53 comments on “How Writing for Pleasure Made Me a Better Freelance Writer
  1. Danica says:

    Great Post Luana,
    I enjoy writing for enjoyment which is a creative way to get ideas for client projects. I am now learning to correlate the two. Thank you for your insights.

  2. Michelle says:

    What a great post! I definitely have trouble sometimes diving into my assignments when the subject matter has no real interest for me. Writing for pleasure sounds like a wonderful idea and I will definitely try it.

    I am now very curious about role-playing blogging. Do you have any links where I can see it in action? I want to know more. 🙂

  3. Nice post! I find writing for myself a useful warm-up. Working on something that is purely for me, even if for only half an hour, gets me out of my head and into the writing mode for the day (or at least the morning!).

  4. Terri Cruce says:

    This is a great post. I’m just starting out as a freelance writer so I still find myself drifting to what I want to write, rather than what I should be writing. And any writing at all keeps the juices flowing. Nice to know we don’t have to feel guilty about it. 🙂

  5. Willi Morris says:

    Luana this is such an incredible post…and right on time as I should’ve finished my blog for this week. Been too busy fretting about client work.

    • Same here! Thankfully I got two articles almost done, so I can write something for fun that has been itching in a while. Ahah. 😀

      Enjoy some free blogging, Willi!

    • Carol Tice says:

      So many mornings I get up all set to do some client project, but then I realize…I want to write my post for this blog. Just burning up to do it. So I do. And it goes really fast, and gets you rolling. I’m a big fan of writing what you’re really in the mood to write, anytime you can.

      • Agree, Carol. Once the muse leaves it’s hard to do things with the same degree of motivation… and sometimes with the same clever ideas, too.

        Guess that’s why your blog is always a fantastic read. 😉

  6. Getting outside your own experience is great advice to keep things from sounding the same day after day.

    A seminar leader said she warmed up writing silly stories about her neighborhood before getting to the serious writing…and the silly stories were what got published.

    A fresh view of an old job is just the refreshing needed.

    Thanks, Luana. A get better.

  7. Pat says:

    I was chiding myself for wanting to write something I just wanted to write this morning, while trying to prepare myself for jumping back into a big writing project.

    Reading this was perfect timing for me! I am going to write that fun thing before I settle in to work.

    Thank you! 🙂

  8. Luana, I think you’ve absolutely nailed it on the head when you talk about the guilt. I used to write for myself a lot, but then as the demands of my previous job increased I stopped. Since going freelance I’ve tried to take it up again, and even almost completed my first novel for NaNoWriMo but I haven’t done any more on it since November.

    But I always feel I must do my paid work first, even if I know there’s enough time to do both. I feel guilty if I don’t, and even if I’m doing something else my assignments still hover at the back of my mind.

    I strongly agree with you about the dangers of stress and burnout, so I’ve decided to be nicer to myself and give myself some fun (perhaps even before I start my assignments occasionally!).

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post.

    • I can relate, Elizabeth. Right now, that stupid guilt is attacking me for spending some time over these comments instead of diving into the client article I need to finish (and my head and eyes have hurt all day long, so relaxing a little in comments can only help).

      Sometimes you have to let go and just write what your hearts leads you to write. After that, writing for business comes easier (less stress to burden you).

      Thanks for commenting!

  9. I actually prefer writing for myself because there’s less pressure and I’m free to write about whatever is on my mind. Sometimes, when I want to get into flow, I’ll write a bit for my blog, and then start working on client’s articles.

    I started writing 4,000 word + articles for my blog and it’s a lot of fun!

    • I can totally relate, Timothy! I do the same: I write a draft for my blogs, get the creative juices flowing, then I start working on client pieces.

      Now that you’ve mastered long articles for fun, I’m sure you can do that for a client, too. 😉

      Keep it up!

  10. It is so important to write for fun. When we write for fun, we write about topics we want to write about, are passionate about and enjoy. That makes a huge difference.

    Work writing is just that – it’s work and sometimes it gets to the point where it becomes something you dread, particularly if you are writing about a subject you don’t really enjoy, or are constantly chasing deadlines.

    If writers do not keep up their ‘fun’ writing, then writing as a whole can become a painful chore, and we don’t want that to happen, now do we!

    • Absolutely, Deevra! And it can be dangerous, because when you get into survival mode, you can unconsciously self-sabotage your work in order to free yourself of the cause of dangerous stress.

      It happened to me, in the past, when I went through depression and other issues, and I was on the verge to give up freelancing.

      Writing for pleasure (plus therapy) is restoring my mental health quickly.

      We started freelancing as writers because we love it, so that’s a mood that needs to stay. 🙂

      Thanks for your lovely comment!

  11. Dan says:

    Very true. Since it’s always easier to write for pleasure, it’s a great way to knock out a mental logjam. I always find it’s easier to complete work tasks in the afterglow of writing something for pleasure that I’m proud to have created.

    • Dan, gotta quote you on that: “it’s easier to complete work tasks in the afterglow of writing something for pleasure.” Same here! 🙂 It makes things so much easier and stress-free.

      Thanks for your comment!

  12. Lorna says:

    Thanks for the interesting post Luana, guilt is such a killer. When I sit down to write I make a point of turning on my ‘inner mentor’ to quell the voice of the ‘inner critic’.

    Asking “What’s it for? What’s the true purpose of writing this piece?” helps me to align with a higher purpose such as being helpful or overcoming resistance. Much more motivational that my ego’s usual fearful nattering!

    • You are right, Lorna. I found it useful do that, too, when guilt begins to turn into panic or a headache, to tell myself what I’m doing is “practice for work”. And it can be! But then I’ll really get to relax and enjoy it, which puts me ‘in the zone’ (finally).

      I like the idea of an ‘inner mentor’ as opposed to an ‘inner critic’! 🙂

  13. Steph Weber says:

    Luana,

    I’ve never heard of role-play blogging. Can you explain a bit? 🙂

    Also, I can totally relate to feeling guilty when writing for pleasure vs something that will definitely pay hardcore cash. It’s been an ongoing struggle for me. Instead of wasting time feeling guilty, I’m just going to write my fun stuff! I think it will help my creative blocks too.

    Thank you!

    • Hi Steph!

      Role-play blogging is blogging in your fictional character name. It’s like ghostwriting, but you do it for your character, not a real person.

      Freelance writer Lauren Tharp interviewed me last year about this form of writing: http://www.thepennyhoarder.com/character-blogging/

      I’m working on a blog about character/role-play blogging. Had to launch last year but I got backtracked due to health issues. Will try to launch in May this year.

      Guilt is a killer, but once you dominate it, it’ll leave. Sometimes it pops up again, but I try to smile and play deaf to what it says. She’s ugly!

      Thanks for your comment! 🙂

  14. Evan says:

    I’ve found it works both ways–writing for pleasure taught me critical skills that I bring to my client work, but since going professional, my pleasure writing’s more fun and “effortless.” I write faster, and people seem to like it more.

    Others tried to warn me that writing for money would take all the joy out of the act. They must be working for the wrong clients!

    • Definitely, Evan! Good clients don’t take the joy of writing away from you. 🙂 They actually enhance it, ahah.

      I also noticed that I enjoy personal writing much more now that I have a clever toolbox from client work. Makes for happier moods. 😉

    • Elke says:

      I write both fiction and non-fiction.

      I do think fiction is harder to write – you have to consider so many levels (the senses, facts as well as a plausible plot, etc) – whereas non-fiction (NF) is just relaying information in an manner that is appropriate for the target audience.

      I write NF for magazines which I thought was despicable at first. But now I love it as it fairly constrained (must be based on information received in interviews.) It’s easy writing that pays well, thus allowing me the time to paint (and write fiction).

      I don’t think I can say my NF writing enhances my fiction writing in any way, but I do believe my fiction writing experience does significantly improve my NF writing.

      I also had a spell writing scripts (fiction) which has helped score a opportunity to make a NF film that will be shown at TV. I suspect these skills will also help somehow with my ability to enhance my earning capacity in relation to freelance writing…

      With advances in technology, most of us now have the option of deploying our writing skills in wholly new areas (NB. check out Sundance Film Festival entry made solely with an iPhone)

      • Hi Elke,

        I actually found my fiction writing to help with non-fiction, because it improves my storytelling skills, so important in copywriting.

        I agree that writing non-fiction is easier than writing fiction to a certain degree, because to write good fiction you need to know your characters inside out and the pre-writing phase can go on for months of years.

        Never scripted a film, but I’d love to hear more about your experience! 😀 Sounds really interesting.

        • Elke says:

          Hi Luana,

          In Australia, we have this site: https://open.abc.net.au
          Basically, it’s about documenting stories about everyday Australians -and helping citizens to produce their own stories – e.g. regionally-based professional producers offer writing, photography and film-making workshops.

          All this is funded by the government.

          The producers are instructed to ensure all have a chance to be fully included, and teach us to make short film, etc with whatever equipment we happen to already own, including mobiles and cheap cameras. We also have access to the producer’s own equipment for our first film if preferred.

          We are also taught how to edit on the less-expensive software, available on a pay per month basis ($30). The producer also assists with writing the script via a number of pre-production meetings – though since many of us are writers, we generally manage that bit on our own.

          The stories are posted on the site – and the better ones are shown on TV, read out on radio, etc. To date, films made with mobiles have appeared on our national TV network. The films are often also shown at regional film festivals.

  15. Goldie Ector says:

    I think I’m more attached to my idea journal than my other work. Those pesky ideas can really get in the way.

    It’s nice to see that others have struggled with striking a balance between writing for pleasure and writing for work. I think those of us who have gotten sucked into the content mills and bidding sites may have a lot of that just because there is so much work being done for such little pay that there’s no real time for writing for fun.

    Great post!

    • Thanks for commenting, Goldie. 🙂

      You are right– that’s another factor to make writing for content mills less than ideal. You become a production machine, not a human being providing a skills-based service. In the long run, it can damage a writer’s health, too (it’s what I depicted in that 5-page comic I have linked in my byline!).

      Idea journals… so far, the sweetest thing about being a freelance writer! 😀

  16. I enjoyed your article! Yes, I write for pleasure. I can’t imagine not writing. It’s just become so much a part of who I am that when something moves me, I write about it. Most of it never goes anywhere, but I always have a notebook with me although I can never seem to find a pen when I need it.

    • Leslie,

      Keep a pen or a pencil in your purse and in your coat pocket. 🙂 It comes really handy when the muse kicks in and you can only follow it.

      Right now, I’m working on my character blogs while I structure client pieces in the background of my mind. Helps keep anxiety at bay.

      Thanks for your sweet comment!

  17. Kristen says:

    I absolutely write for pleasure for the exact reasons you mentioned. For me, writing for pleasure definitely seems like a way to get my creative juices flowing and produce better content for my paying clients.

  18. Milla says:

    I like timetables. Whenever I start writing, I need to have a deadline time in order not to overwork. But then, I am also most productive. I don’t believe in writing for work and for pleasure are that different. I can always find something interesting or fun in any project.

    • Hi Milla,

      Timetables and planners always help. 😉

      Writing for pleasure shouldn’t be different indeed, but sometimes guilt can play nasty tricks on a writer’s psychology, as in “if I’m not making any money from this, I shouldn’t do it”.

      That’s why I wrote this post. It can help to fight guilt and feel the joys of writing again.

      Thanks for commenting. ^_^

  19. Gina Horkey says:

    Good for you Luana! I have to say that I don’t write for pleasure much at the moment.

    I did finally buy myself a new fiction book last week, so I can read for pleasure again (they kind of go hand in hand for me).

    I caught myself only reading business and nonfiction books (and come to think of it, that’s all I’m writing about too;-).

    I think it’s something I’ll have to plan to do more often (both the reading and writing for fun). It can’t all be work, right?

    I also agree that it will help the creative juices get or keep flowing:-) Thanks for the reminder!

    • That’s understandable, Gina! It happens to me, too.

      I have to say, that sometimes I find it really fun to read and write business copy. xD It has to do with the moods, I guess.

      And no, definitely it can’t be all work. 🙂 No matter how much I love robots, we’re no robots. We need time to recharge and have fun, to keep the creative juices flowing (and some healthy endorphines, too!).

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’m heavy into the fiction reading for pleasure these days…I need the escape! I’m currently reading all the 1000-page Game of Thrones books…because I’m insane. But I’m fascinated with how this guy can stretch out a story and still keep you reading. 😉

  20. I agree completely!
    Just have to manage my time better to actually be able to write for pleasure.

    • Kyle,

      Grab a piece of scrap paper and start planning! 🙂

      And enjoy writing for pleasure. It’ll give you new energy to write for clients and boost your motivation to write (for money AND passion).

      Thanks for commenting!

  21. Great post Luana

    I can relate to a lot of the things you’ve mentioned. I had a very similar experience, but regarding reading for pleasure rather than writing. While I was at university doing my English Literature degree, I don’t think I read a single book cover to cover for the whole three years of the course (not counting texts as part of the course).

    This was because of the feeling of guilt you mentioned – how could I justify reading for pleasure when I should be reading the books that were on my course syllabus?!

    Like you, I took the approach of making pleasure a goal – and this is something I definitely try to implement now in my writing career (even if it’s just taking the time to write a gratitude list in the mornings).

    Thank you for sharing your experiences 🙂

    • Hi Steph,

      I agree! I used to feel the same kind of guilt in school. It took me years to understand that there’s time for everything in balanced lifestyle and that duties shouldn’t eat our souls and turn us into production machines.

      I’m glad you’re back to reading and writing for pleasures. 😉 Enjoy it and reap the benefits, because they make work life richer, too.

      Thanks for your lovely comment!

      ~ Luana

  22. Amel says:

    Absolutely! Writing for “myself” gets the creative juices flowing and helps me put more focus into my paid writing assignments. Another thing I have discovered is that much of my personal writing can eventually be reworked into something saleable. No matter what I’m working on professionally, I always have something personal I’m doing on the side as well.

    • Amel,

      It’s absolutely wonderful that you can turn your personal writing into sales! 😀 Big kudos to you for that creative way to handle things!

      And you are right, writing for yourself can kick that muse really hard and get it to move.

      Have a great week ahead!

      ~ Luana Spinetti

      P.S. I also always have a couple of tabs open in my browser for personal projects when I get stuck on client work!

    • John Lee says:

      I had never thought of a role-playing blog. What a wonderful idea.

      • Thank you, John! 🙂

        It’s a fun and creative type of writing and it entertains readers. Only had nice experiences over the years (minus one, when a girl thought a character was a real person! But from that moment on, I made my disclosures even clearer.)

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