7 Ways to Deal with the Isolation of Freelancing

One of the toughest things I had to deal with when I made the jump to freelancing three plus years ago was the abrupt difference between a fast-paced, adrenaline-charged atmosphere of a newsroom, and freelancing out of a quiet, solitary home office.

I missed the crackle of the scanner with whatever breaking news. I missed rushing out the door to the everyday stories of wildfires or house fires. I missed the excitement of getting a call with a kernel of a story. I missed my newsroom buddies.

I became depressed, but took steps to get myself out of it.

This is not an uncommon problem, with all the layoffs, downsizing, rightsizing, whatever you want to call it. I have great company — some very good journalists have made the transition from Main Stream Media to freelancing and had similar problems adjusting.

Here’s some things I’ve learned that may help:

Move your body. Once a day, at least, go move. Go for a 30-minute walk with the dog. Your dog will appreciate it and your heart will too. Even better, do what my friend and SPJ freelance committee chair Dana Neuts does and schedule an hour out of your workday to work out. It will give you more energy all day and bonus — up your metabolism all day — if you do it first thing in the morning.

Stay away from the fridge. Put a big “Stay Out” sign on your refrigerator and then stay out of it unless it’s breakfast time, mid-morning or afternoon break or lunchtime. Gaining weight from fridge proximity for home-based workers is not uncommon – make a conscious decision not to. I gained weight working out of the house, which didn’t help my mood. Spend an hour Sunday afternoon planning healthy meals that give you energy for the whole week, and have healthy snacks ready when you do get cravings.

Be a joiner. Network with your fellow SPJ members. Join Toastmasters and learn to be a better speaker. Join your local writers’ group(s.) Join a cycling, sailing, noodling or other interest group (really, there are places where they noodle.) Then — write about what you learn in those groups. My group of choice is master gardening, and it’s one of my favorite things to write about.

Take a professional development class. See what the local technology center or library offers to improve your still or movie camera skills, Photoshop or PowerPoint or other computer skills.

Get a post office box. And then go get your mail once a day. Gets you out of the house and it looks more businesslike to not be getting the mail at home.

Make yourself busy. Have a Query Monday and set a goal to write as many queries as you can that day. Some of my journo friends have Freedom of Information Fridays and make at last one FOI request for a story you’re working on each Friday. Come up with a theme for your day and it will help keep you organized and focused.

Get help. If you find yourself getting clinically depressed, don’t hesitate to get help. Talk to a professional therapist or psychologist. Talk to your pastor. Get together with friends. Don’t be an island.

Here’s what not to do:

No TV … unless it’s a channel that’s solid news like CNN. When I worked at The Associated Press, we had a bank of televisions on local stations. However, the sound was off and we only turned it up when we spotted breaking news.

No housekeeping, laundry or personal phone calls during work hours. I make an exception for cleaning the office, because occasionally my editor used to make me clean my desk and also schedule the occasional hour for filing or organizing your gear. If you need to make personal calls, set a timer for 15 minutes for your break and that’s all.

Good luck.

Carol Cole-Frowe is a veteran journalist and full-time freelancer, working primarily in Oklahoma and North Texas. Her website is www.carolcolefrowe.com.

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  • Rasa Gustaitis

    These are great tips, Carol. I’d add one more, from a friend who moved from investigative journalism to writing political novels: make sure you have lunch with a friend a few times a week.

  • Getting out of the house to work is a great option, if you have a laptop. I find that different surroundings snap me out of at-home mode and I can avoid thinking about housework as well as avoid the temptation of the fridge. Of course, there’s a cost to this: I’m a bit of a coffee fiend, and the coffee I make at home is better than most cafes in the area, as well as cheaper.

  • Organize, organize, organize. Even if you’re a chaos lover. My calendar is laid out like a train station timetable and I will confess I don’t always stick with it. But it keeps me on track, it tells me what to do when I’m tempted to slack off, and it helps me plan ahead. Loneliness isn’t an issue – I interview people all the time. So my human contact may be via phone, email, or a quick in-person chat, but it’s contact. My biggest challenge is keeping an organized schedule.

  • I like these suggestions. Some creative and practical approaches. In my blog post on this topic, I also recommend putting up a bird feeder and getting a dog or child who will make you leave the house with some regularity – and probably make you interact with others. Your post box is a good idea, though I get so little mail that I wouldn’t go more than once a month. http://blog.catchthesun.net/2011/04/typical-ailments-of-the-common-freelancer-and-how-to-treat-them/

    Editors in my city started a professional group, as an offshoot of our national organization editors.ca. We meet monthly to discuss work and listen to an expert related to our work. Now a few of us are meeting weekly for shared study – professional development, using the our national certification tests as a framework.

    The one thing no one told me when I started freelancing 16 years ago was that I would gain weight. Without that natural movement required in an office, and for commuting, those pounds creep up on you. I got a child and a few very active hobbies to help with that.

  • “Get a child”??? But getting a dog is a good idea, and one of my suggestions. Having a regular exercise routine is very important and can be a big help with combating isolation, since it gets you out of the house and into the real world, as well as off your duff.

  • Being able to do our work almost anywhere, thanks to laptops and other technology, is a great boon to the freelancer who feels isolated and cut off from the world. It’s also a good icebreaker; I’ve made a few new friends just by being out somewhere with my laptop or a paper manuscript I’m editing or proofreading, and having someone ask me what I’m working on. However, it’s also important to get out of the house/apartment without necessarily doing work. The brain needs a break and the body needs to move around!

  • Belonging to organizations like SPJ! But also: not subscribing to the daily newspaper, so you have to get out of the house every day to read it (well, if you still prefer to read the paper on paper); living in an apartment building and getting to know your neighbors, and/or an urban neighborhood with shops and restaurants in easy walking distance; having a dog, so you really do have to get out of the house at least once a day; joining and going to meetings of professional organizations, book clubs, hobby groups, etc. (and starting one if there aren’t any nearby); joining a church, synagogue; volunteering for a cause you care about, etc.

    Coping with isolation really isn’t that difficult, especially in the current electronic world. The trick is usually to be proactive, rather than sitting back and waiting for people and activities to come to you.

  • Jane Primerano

    Good blog, Dana. Freelancing can bring up the weirdest possibilities for conflict. I got an assignment from a farming publication to cover a new type of open-parlor milking operation. It was in Alamance County, NC, so I knew the possibility and called my cousin who has the best grasp of our huge extended family. Sure enough, the farmer is a distant cousin. . .of course I disclosed the fact. My editor got a chuckle out of the ridiculous number of people down there I’m related to. . .


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