How NOT to Die of Boredom on a Dull Freelancing Gig

This post was originally for my column, “Freelance by Lauren,” on the now defunct DIY Writing: A Writer’s Bucket List.

Illustration by Ramiro Roman
Illustration by Ramiro Roman

“…being bored is like being slowly boiled alive. It seems tolerable at first, but every day it gets more and more painful.” – Sonia Simone, Copyblogger

When I first read these words in 2011, I wrapped them around me, comforted in the fact that there was someone out there – someone I respected and admired – who felt the same way I do. Boredom is the worst. It isn’t simply a minor annoyance. It’s downright painful.

An acquaintance once told me that “only boring people get bored.” But she can stuff it. You can be the most interesting person on the planet and still get bored. In fact, if you’re interesting – someone with a mind full of thoughts – you’re more likely to get bored!

What this acquaintance didn’t understand was that boredom isn’t something you actively choose. No one wants to be bored and seeks it out; it just happens. Often, it will be completely out of your control to avoid it – like when it’s been thrust upon you by your career. I mean, really; what are you going to do? Not do the work you’ve been assigned?

As freelance writers, we have a lot of control over the projects we take on. However, every once in a while, we’ll slip up. We’ll take on the wrong client, with the wrong project. And we’ll be bored to tears.

 Seeing as you can’t give up on a project when you’re already under contract, you’ll have to push through the boredom and get your work done anyway. Here’s how:

1. Figure Out Why You’re Bored

You love freelancing. You love writing! So why is this particular project making you want to scoop your eyes out with a melon baller just so you can feel something again?

If boredom has numbed your senses, it can be hard to shake yourself from that stupor long enough to evaluate your situation, but I want you to try. Knowing is half the battle, and if you know what’s triggering your boredom, you can find ways to prevent it from happening in the future; or reframe the way you think about it in the present.

I go about this in the opposite direction: I pinpoint what I love about freelance writing and work backwards from there.

Writing makes me feel intelligent. But, to me, intelligence isn’t determined by how easily someone can achieve something on the first try. No, no. Intelligence is one’s ability to overcome challenges.

Therefore, when I’m bored, it’s because I’m not being challenged enough.

If your boredom stems from a similar source, the natural conclusion would be to seek more challenging gigs in the future. For now, try thinking of the boredom itself as a challenge – it will help make your current project feel more fulfilling (even if it isn’t).

2. Stop Thinking About How Bored You Are

This is a bit like being asked to not think about the knife in your side after you’ve been stabbed in a back alley. But it’s not impossible! I promise.

Leaving Work Behind’s Tom Ewer recently had this to say:

“If you find yourself working for an ‘I didn’t know his project was going to be this boring’ client, try to keep those thoughts at bay. If all you focus on is how ‘bored’ you are or how much you ‘hate’ the project you’ve taken on, you’re going to work more slowly. Instead, think how happy you’ll been when you’ve finished.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Speaking of how happy you’ll be once you’re finished…

3. Give Yourself Something to Look Forward To

If you’re stranded on a raft in the middle of the ocean, it’s easy to feel hopeless. But if you can see land – even if it’s far in the distance –  that’s a different story. Give yourself a shore.

Make a date with yourself to do something you enjoy. Set it for after the completion of this (boring) gig. You could treat yourself to a night off in front of the TV, you could spend some time working on your own writing projects, or you could do something else entirely.

You just finished an excruciating task! Treat yourself.

If Boredom Persists…

It’s one thing to have the occasional boring project; it’s quite another when you find everyproject “boring.”

Don’t worry. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you hate writing, or that you aren’t cut out for the life of a freelance writer. You’re likely experiencing burnout.

Even if you adore your freelance writing career, if you go for too long without a break, youwill get burned out. Take some time off as soon as you can.

Looking to the future, continue to seek out new, exciting clients who offer you more challenging prospects.

And remember: Boredom doesn’t last forever!

How do you keep yourself interested when a freelancing gig bores you?
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