When you work as a freelance writer, you probably don't have someone who can fill in for you when you become ill. You might have deadlines set well in advance that can't be re-worked. And when it comes to chronic problems, you probably just have to find a way to work through things. Even the best laid plans could take a serious hit from an extended break.

I've been going through an issue along those lines for a while now. What I thought was just stress taking its toll on me (move, wedding plans, and some serious neighborhood issues), has escalated. It affects my ability to not only focus, but even stay awake. Client work takes much longer than usual. And my own sites, books, etc. have mostly taken a hit for months (although I've been forcing myself to make a little more progress lately).

I called my doctor to try to set up an appointment, only to find that they couldn't get me in for a month at best. And for a basic physical, which I'm also due for, they want me to wait three months. I find that insane. So I found another doctor. And I go for an appointment about my current issues tomorrow. I have a pretty good idea of what's wrong, and chances are good it's a simple case of needing medication. But trying to work through it for another month just to get looked at was out of the question.

So today let's talk about what your options are if illness strikes. While we don't directly get paid time off, sick time should always be factored into our rates. So you should be okay there if you only need a few days to recover (or it's time to charge more). I'm lucky in that I have insurance through my husband's job. But what about freelancer's who aren't in that position? Some basic preparation can make illness much more bearable. For example:

  • Seek insurance options for the self-employed. You might be able to do this through your local chamber of commerce, school alumni associations, or unions targeting freelancers or writers.
  • Set aside at least enough money to get yourself checked out if necessary. A few hundred dollars can go a long way towards having tests run and paying for prescriptions, assuming it's nothing too serious.
  • Get vaccines if you're high risk or in an area strongly affected by routine viruses, like the flu.
  • Don't work yourself to the point of exhaustion. You're just going to invite illness that way.

Doing these kinds of things proactively is your best bet. But that isn't always possible. What happens if your illness comes on suddenly, and you're already overloaded with work? What can you do then? Here are a few ideas:

  • Continue working, but cut back on your hours. For example, you might work four or five hours a day instead of eight. That gives you a chance to sleep in, take a break in the middle of your day, or take on any kind of rest you need to get better.
  • Eliminate some administrative tasks. If you have deadlines, focus on that client work, but allow yourself to let other things slide. Don't update your blog as much. Don't check email five times per day. Stay away from your social media accounts for a few days. Prioritize your tasks, and leave the least important ones alone until you're feeling well again.
  • Don't be afraid to take time off. You'd be surprised how understanding many clients will be. After all, they want your best work -- not something sub-par just because you were sick.
  • Know when to ask for help or outsource. For example, you might hire someone to take on some of your administrative tasks. I'm hiring a cousin to work as my assistant for a few hours per week, and she starts next week. She'll be handling admin and content creation for some of my smaller sites so I don't have to worry about them as much. I'll have more time to focus on client work and my publishing plan.  If you can't hire someone right now, consider partnering with another freelancer you trust. When you're sick, refer work to that freelancer so they can fill in and meet deadlines when you can't. Then they can do the same, referring projects to you when they need the break.

How else do you prepare for illness so it won't severely impact your freelance writing work? When something comes on suddenly, how do you deal with it? Do you take time off? Cut back a bit? Or keep plowing through? If you could do things differently, what would you do in the future?

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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Indie Writers, NakedPR.com, and BizAmmo.com.

Jenn has over 17 years experience writing for others, around 12 years experience in blogging, and about a decade of experience in indie e-book publishing. She is also an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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