Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

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How to plan a break from freelance writing

January 27, 2020

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Whether it’s a few weeks off for holiday travel or a month or more of parental leave, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to taking time off from freelancing. Unlike their corporate counterparts, freelance writers don’t have paid time off or parental leave benefits, but taking time away to recharge or bond with new family members can help them stay creatively engaged and productive. 

Here are some strategies for planning time off. 

Short breaks

Vacations or other breaks lasting less than a month require a lot less planning than a maternity or paternity leave. Decide in advance if you’ll check email sporadically or completely unplug while you’re away. If you’re planning to completely unplug, then you likely want to give regular clients a heads us at least a few weeks in advance. I like to check in with my editors, remind them of the dates I’ll be away, and ask that they send any revision requests the week before I leave or wait until I return. If I’m traveling but will still be checking email, then I consider it business as usual. I’m not an employee so they don’t need to know if I’m working from Prague or Paris. (The email schedule feature ensures that I don’t send messages at odd hours.) 

Decide if you’ll put up an email auto-responder. If you can time your vacation to a major holiday when your editors and clients are likely to be offline, too, then you may not need an auto-responder. Or if you’re only offline for a few days or a long weekend, that probably doesn’t necessitate an auto-responder either. Some freelancers don’t use auto-responders at all, because they feel that clients don’t need to know their whereabouts. 

As I’m preparing for a trip, I’ll generally pause my pitches starting at least a week before I leave. (I’ve found that even when I include a note that “I’ll be away X to Y date and would love to tackle this story before after that,” some editors have a way of assigning stories on a short turnaround as soon as I close my laptop.) If I have time to write pitches before I leave, I’ll save those drafts and schedule them to send a day or two before I return. That helps get the ball rolling on new projects for my return.  

Long breaks 

Longer breaks to care for a family member, recover from surgery, or welcome home a new baby may require more preparation. Some freelancers like to share the specifics with their clients, while others prefer to keep it vague. It really depends on the relationship with you have with your editors and clients, and that might vary from person to person. 

Understanding your cash flow is key for longer breaks, as this article in The Freelancer points out. If they have the energy, some freelancers try to frontload work earlier in a pregnancy to offset lost income later on when they’re officially on maternity leave. The Cut also addresses the financial realities of maternity leave for freelancers. 

Depending on how long you’re planning to take off, you may want to refer work to another reliable freelancer so you’re not leaving clients in the lurch. With any luck, that freelancer might return the favor once you return. 

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