An award-winning journalist shares her top tips for handling sick days as a self-employed professional and creative entrepreneur.
Last year, I lost my voice almost overnight and then the doctors found a massive cyst on my vocal chords.
It was all quite dramatic, really.
They told me that if the steroids didn’t work, I’d need surgery and that this surgery was a tricky one and that if I didn’t lose my voice completely, there would be months of voice therapy. The steroids, enough to knock out an elephant, thankfully did work and the cyst was toast and I got back to croaking again. I was able to eat, too, which was pretty special.
I spent the week curled up in bed—working intermittently.
Between whimpering like a baby (pain) and dragging myself between the bedroom to my son’s cot to the office to hospital, it wasn’t lost on me that I’d be much less stressed and find it much quicker to recover if I wasn’t obsessing about how much time (and therefore money) I was losing by missing work. If I had a full-time job, my sick days would be paid for. But because I’m self-employed, I get to foot the sickness bill.
Which made me feel even more crap.
As writers, as self-employed professionals, I’ve realized that it’s vital we prepare for these emergencies, these sick days, these periods when we’re just not going to be able to keep the money coming in.
Here are my ways of handling sick days and how I try to make them less stressful.
1. Plan for lost days
When you’re making an estimate of how many days you can work in a month, plan for the days when you have family emergencies, sick kids, or unavoidable parent-teacher meetings. This is in addition to the weekends and other planned holidays.
2. Take time to recover
I have this extremely unproductive habit of sitting in front of my computer with my head in my hands trying to work, but of course, not really getting anything done. Wouldn’t it just be better to go to bed, get up, and then try to tackle everything? It’s not productive for you to act like a hero or get stressed over things you can’t control, so stop trying to control them.
3. Ask for help
This is hard. I know, because as self-employed professionals, as writers, we’re perfectionists. We don’t like handing over control, especially when our names and our reputations are on the line. We’d rather do everything ourselves perfectly than relinquish control and risk someone else doing a just “okay” job.
But at some point—perhaps when you’re lying in bed unable to move—you’re going to realize that you can’t do everything yourself, especially when you have responsibilities outside of work.
That’s when you need to be able to ask an editor friend to proofread something or a journalist you’ve helped out in the past to help you now.
4. Have backup options for sick days
Speaking of which, you do have people you can call on, do you not? Even if you don’t end up using their services, it’s a good idea to have the names and numbers ready for people who can help you out with reporting, photography, writing, and hey, even babysitting, for an affordable fee.
5. Don’t leave things to the last minute
I’m immensely grateful that I didn’t get sick in the week that I had three deadlines, all of which I’d left until the last minute. I finished them, no problem, but had I gotten sick then or had any other kind of emergency to tend to, I’d have been in trouble. The only way around this is to factor these emergency periods into your deadlines. You may never end up needing them, but if you do, you won’t have risked relationships and further work by going missing one day before deadline (or sitting zombie-like in front of your computer at 2am).
How to Pitch: Pitching guidelines for 200+ publications
We know that finding markets to pitch your story ideas, understanding what they’re looking for, and making sure they pay an amount you’re comfortable with can be the most time-consuming and frustrating part of the job. So we’ve tried to make it easier for you.
Here’s a list of publications, organized by subject and with a note of their pay rates, each with a link to their guidelines.
Natasha Khullar Relph
Publisher, The Wordling
Natasha Khullar Relph is an award-winning journalist and author with bylines in The New York Times, TIME CNN, BBC, ABC News, Ms. Marie Claire, Vogue, and more.
She is the publisher of The Wordling, a weekly business newsletter for journalists, authors, and content creators.
Natasha has mentored over 1,000 writers, helping them break into dream publications and build six-figure careers. She is the author of Shut Up and Write: The No-Nonsense, No B.S. Guide to Getting Words on the Page and several other books.
Sign up for The Wordling
Writing trends, advice, and industry news. Delivered with a cheeky twist to your Inbox weekly, for free.