You Can’t Write it All: How to Avoid Side Hustle Burnout

You Can’t Write it All: How to Avoid Side Hustle Burnout

Please, inspirational quote on Instagram. Remind me that Beyonce and I get the same number of hours in each day.

Oh please, internet guru. Remind me that if I have an hour a day for my side hustle, I’ll undoubtedly reap the financial rewards.

What happens when your side hustle is writing? And your day job (or any number of part-time jobs you’ve cobbled together) also requires a lot of writing?

In your case, an hour of free time might send you running as far from your laptop as possible.

Writing takes a lot of brainpower. It takes a different kind of concentration and mental energy than say, raking leaves or walking dogs. Not better energy; just different energy.

And if your 9-to-5 already uses some of the same skills you need to be a good writer, it’s too easy to get drained.

If you spend all day on the phone or in meetings with clients, interviewing business owners to ghostwrite their blog posts on the side is going to feel exhausting. If you’re a proofreader by day, the idea of editing projects from Upwork at night is probably going to make your eyes cross.

But since side hustle advice so often focuses on cultivating skills you already have, turning to your writing skills may feel like a natural fit — even if you already use those skills for eight hours each day.

Here’s why that natural fit may actually make earning your second income harder.

Side-hustle pro admits failure

Breaking news: I’m a case study for side-hustle failure.

My day job as a reporter stipulates that I can freelance to my heart’s content as long as the content isn’t in conflict with the work I do for my salary. (You’ve checked your contract or employee handbook for limitations there, right? Good.)

So when I took this job and gave up my life as a frequent-traveling, frequent-napping freelancer, I expected I would be able to do the same type of work during my time off.

I’d keep my content marketing clients with whom I had a great working relationship and a smooth workflow. I’d continue to write personal essays, integrating reporting elements like expert consultation, where applicable. And I’d write new reported pieces for the web publications on my bucket list.

side hustle burnoutThis is the part of the movie where everything stops and you hear the record scratch.

How was I going to to do reporting when I was already trying to pin down sources from 9 to 5 every day? How was I supposed to cultivate new sources? I can hear the outgoing voicemail message now: “I can be reached between noon and one and again after 5 p.m. Eastern.”

Wow, that sounds professional.

I even tried to outsource some of my research. When I had an idea but didn’t have time to do the initial research I needed to figure out my pitch, I enlisted the help of a researcher. I paid her for a few hours of work, and she delivered a document with key points, summarized news items on the topic and a bibliography.

It was money well spent on a subject area I’m still curious about. But I still wasn’t able to refine my pitch enough to have it land with the publication for which I intended it. And had they accepted it, how would I have had time to pursue the story on a deadline? I didn’t even have time to do my own initial reading on the topic.

So I made a hard decision: no more reporting outside of work, no matter how far removed the topic might be from what I write about there.

Instead, I’m sticking with nonprofit content marketing, which takes energy and concentration, but doesn’t require chasing down anyone to try to get a good quote.

It means my freelance work won’t be a factor in increasing my income this year. But it does mean  I’ll have some free time to work on personal writing projects. I can sketch out drafts of personal essays. I can work on flash fiction or short stories. The only deadline these projects will have are the ones I set for myself, and let me tell you, they are very generous deadlines.

So when you see an inspirational quote about how many hours Beyonce has, just remember that she has assistants. Her assistants probably have assistants.

That’s not you. I know, I’m bummed too.

How to hustle without burning out

If you’re working full-time and trying to freelance on the side, please stop lamenting the work you could be doing on a given evening, weekend, holiday or lunch break.

Instead, remember the following:

  • Writing is hard. Doing it well is harder. Don’t burn yourself out because you’re trying to write everything, everywhere, all the time.
  • Your brain needs space to breathe. You also need time with friends, exercise and fresh air, and probably to do some laundry on occasion. You are allowed to have free time that isn’t dedicated to your full-time job or freelance writing.
  • Don’t try to replicate your 9-to-5 job into a writing-related side gig. Use adjacent skills, not the same exact ones. The idea is to generate income while keeping your work fresh, not to get stuck in a rut because you have to come home from work and do the same exact work.
  • If the ideal reliable, income-generating side hustle for you isn’t writing, that’s OK. Dog walking and yard work can be great gigs, and the screen-free time may even help generate some ideas for your next writing project — whether that project is paid or not.

Day-jobbers and side-hustlers, how do you make it all work? Share your tips in the comments!

Filed Under: Freelancing


  • Cat Lover says:

    I get angry at myself when I don’t write when I could be. Thank you for making it clear that not writing 24/7 is a good thing. Books are not all life is.

  • Cecil says:

    I’m glad I read this article. I’m the sole reporter for a small-town weekly newspaper and who handles just about everything non-advertising related. I’ve always wanted to making a living from my writing – and I am – but it is extremely difficult to shift gears toward fiction and essays at the end, or beginning, of a long day. Now I don’t feel so bad in my frustrated ambitions. Thanks.

  • A much-needed article. Made me feel a lot better about writing. Thank you

  • Great article! My ‘9-5’ job was more like days, nights, and weekends. For nearly 30 years I directed, managed, and performed with a music and comedy improv troupe. A lot of it fed me in more ways than just financially. I learned, for example, to analyze the essence of various styles, which has allowed me to be a little bit of a chameleon when I write. However, taking care of the business aspects was an enormous drain, and client and actor crises got in the way of, well, everything. I retired in May. Amazing how my energy level and ability to concentrate have increased.

  • Thank you for this article. Finally! Someone understands! I am a busy freelance copywriter who spends her days writing for clients — sometimes working 12-hour days to make my deadlines. I also write books on the side. I self-published one middle-grade fantasy in 2016 and have been desperately trying to squeeze in time to write the sequel, and, frankly, I’m exhausted. I can’t give up the book writing. It has been my passion since I was a child. And, I can’t give up the copywriting, because I need to pay my bills and eat. But, I feel so burned out. My advice to people who write on the side — do something else for your day job!

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