The moment I knew something was wrong my day already was booked, solid. I had a book-writing project to work on before sunup, interviews and reviews to complete before lunch and an evening of editing that would last past midnight. If I escaped my desk for fresh air and a glance at blue sky, I would be lucky.
But then an itch started down deep in my throat, past the point where coughing scratched it. A flood of morning coffee failed to drown the symptom; granola for breakfast just made it worse. By lunchtime, the odd dizziness accompanying fever joined in to knock me out of my desk chair and into bed.
Yes, folks, freelancers suffer illness, too. Not all of them, however, are prepared to handle it. As trouble sets in they could be like I was: enduring symptoms as well as guilt, the latter caused by my belief that inactivity at work meant lost income.
The trick then is figuring how to suffer in peace rather than panic. So, before considering a new project, freelancers also should consider what it takes to keep the money coming in when the work isn’t, particularly during illness.
To start, it helps to have healthy habits. A balanced diet and regular exercise should be tools of the writer’s trade because they help ward off problems and minimize the onset of others. Before my illness set in, weeks had passed since my last exercise; as a result, my back was sore from sitting all the time and my stomach had spread over my belt loops. Returning to exercise changed my mental as well as physical well-being — I could concentrate better and see more clearly the planning errors I had made that probably contributed to my illness.
Among those other errors was having a datebook that resembled an overstuffed suitcase, filled with too many projects and appointments and not enough time set aside for rest and relaxation. Sure, I love to write, but like the saying goes, “Too much of a good thing …”
Thus, I had to dispense with the mentality that caused the overloaded datebook. I had been piling up projects thinking that the more on my plate each day, the more money I would have in my pocket, not realizing that I was devaluing myself in the process. When billing for work, freelancers should look past the day’s expenses to the larger goal of possessing a lifestyle that allows relative comfort and benefits, such as insurance. Never ignore the possibility of becoming ill and losing a day’s worth of work, or more.
Finally, explain this larger goal to clients up front. Make it clear that good health and well-being means good work on a project. And if an itch in the throat turns into something worse, have no hesitation to call clients and explain the problem. In my experience, clients understand that sickness happens. Better that freelancers understand that, too, so they can keep the job and the life they love.
Tips from other sources:
* How to handle sick days as a freelance writer
* Freelancing during an illness
* Illness: The freelancer’s best frenemy
* Where can a freelancer find health insurance coverage?
* Employee benefits for freelancers
David Sheets is a sports editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and STLtoday.com, and president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at email@example.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, or on Facebook and LinkedIn.