Freelance writing sometimes feels like embarking on a grueling mountain hike in scorching weather when you haven’t exercised in years and have a wonky left knee and lower back issues.
Trying to ignore the park ranger’s snarky comment about it being “a really intense hike…,” I hit the rocky trail with conviction. But after struggling for a mile, my enthusiasm dissolves. It’s too hard, too hot, too steep. Maybe I’m not fit enough anymore, and a "moderate jaunt" will have to suffice.
But I don’t give up easily. It takes six hours roundtrip on average, and by using simple mind techniques, I complete the hike in five, including a 20-minute summit break. I won’t let injuries, excessive heat, and a ranger's sardonic smirk keep me from achieving my hiking goals. Similarly, I’m not deterred by cynics who claim it's too hard to be a writer, so I apply the same process to writing.
Here are my five hiking hacks to break through writing blocks, doubts, and setbacks.
5 Ways Hiking Made Me a Better Freelance Writer
Take Baby Steps—Start Right Where You Are and Start Small
When I’m trudging up a steep incline and feel like heading back to the car and doing something less strenuous (like reading a book), I take a moment, breathe deeply, and talk my way into it. "I’m strong. I’m fit. I can do this."
I take the first step (which is always the hardest) and then another, starting with ten steps initially, with a 10-second break in between. This is manageable. I don’t look up at the path, groan at how far it stretches and lose heart. Instead, I concentrate on the small steps I’m taking now.
Apply this to writing. If you plan on writing an article pitch but are then plagued with self-doubt: "I can’t do this" or "What’s the point? It’ll never get published." Stop for a moment. Clear those thoughts away and force yourself to sit at your workstation, open a blank document, and start typing.
You’ve taken your first step. Then aim for 10 sentences. Then pause. Do another set. Repeat. Don’t stop for longer than 10 seconds. And don’t dwell on the whole piece and what a chore it is to finish, instead concentrate on each sentence, one at a time.
Step It up a Notch
Once I’m comfortable with 10 steps, I increase it to 20; 30, then 40, taking short rests in between each set. Soon, I naturally stop counting and resting, start getting into a rhythm, and am hiking for real. When I build momentum in this way, I don’t stop for more than a few seconds until I reach the summit.
The same applies to writing. Just get started, type your way into a rhythm, and then keep going until you’ve reached that goal, and don’t stop. Taking a longer than necessary break at this point can interfere with the process, halt the natural flow, and you may start doing something else—like checking Facebook—which makes it harder to find your writing groove again.
Try to avoid immediately proofreading what you’ve just written. Just get a rough draft down and leave the editing for later.
Pick a Goal and Go All the Way
My goal with hiking is to choose a challenging trail and complete the hike. Hiking would be unfulfilling to me if I turned back halfway. I won’t give up if I’ve told someone my intention. The same applies to writing.
Make a goal for each day (preferably the night before), tack it to your wall so when you sit down at your desk it’s the first thing you’ll see. Then stick to it as much as possible. You can also find an accountability partner so you can tell them your plans for that particular day and make a list of weekly goals.
If you start something, make a point of finishing it, however tough it may seem at the time. If you say you’re going to write two blogs on Tuesday, then make yourself do it. Use the technique above. Remember the most difficult but important step is writing the first sentence. And at least you’re not going to break a sweat or pull a muscle while writing, right?
Waiting is the hardest part of freelancing. Waiting for an editor to reply to a pitch, waiting for your piece to be published, waiting to get paid. Then there’s the almost irresistible urge to keep checking e-mail for a reply. Although I’m hoping hiking will make me thin and fit, I don’t weigh myself after each walk and expect some miraculous transformation, like slipping into my "pre-baby" skinny jeans.
I also don’t expect to be ready for extreme hikes without some prior training and strengthening. But I do have short and long-term goals, which I expect to crush. I now adhere to a specific daily workout routine and a clean diet. It’s a long-term investment in my own health and it’s becoming habitual.
Your writing career is similar. Nurture it. Feed it. Exercise it—so you’re ready for those K2-type assignments when they come. Make writing an everyday part of your lifestyle. If you’ve sent out pitches recently, stop checking for a reply every five minutes as it only causes frustration and doubt. Instead, shift your focus and create a daily routine. Get a dry erase pitch calendar for your wall (hang it in a visible spot), record when each pitch is sent and decide how long to wait before following up (two weeks maybe). Then let it simmer.
In the meantime, train those writing muscles—gather more ideas, research markets, read writing blogs, study how to pitch ideas that sell, and…write more pitches.
Reward Yourself—You Earned It
When I’m in the middle of a grueling hike, I think of the end result—satisfaction on reaching my goal. I also promise myself a treat if I finish. The reward system isn’t just for getting toddlers to clean their room. Maybe it’s relaxing in a hot bath, sipping wine by the fire, watching a favorite show, or reading a novel.
Whatever it is, hold that thought and when you’ve finished your article or hit send on that pesky pitch, enjoy the achievement and savor every moment of that hard-earned reward. Breaking through with writing—whether it’s an assignment with a local magazine or finishing a first draft of a novel, can feel as satisfying as completing a challenging hike or even conquering K2.