Mountains Made from Pebbles – Low-Pressure Workflow

Oftentimes creative endeavors can seem like insurmountable challenges. When setting out to write a novel, the blank page can be intimidating, especially in the beginning stages. With other large-scale projects such as making a movie or producing a podcast, it can be difficult to know where to start, particularly if it is your first project of this magnitude. Large goals are intimidating and can feel like needing to move mountains in order to succeed.

It can be useful to think in terms of small, attainable goals, that remove the intimidation and pressure of daunting workloads. Mountains can be made from pebbles, and a shift towards this attitude can help you navigate through the daily process of achieving your large-scale goals. Thinking about your project in terms of daily output versus the big picture can help you manage your workflow in ways that can help you avoid stress, imposter syndrome, and the crushing feelings of inadequacy. The important thing is to get something done on a regular basis, however small. If you add a pebble to the pile regularly before you know it, you have a mountain.

Let’s say that your goal is to write a 40k word novel. The task can seem overwhelming, especially if you have never done this before. You’ve heard stories of authors writing books in three weeks, and you wonder how this is even possible. But how long something takes to accomplish has no bearing on the potential quality of the work. There is still rewriting and editing that will come after, but your focus should first be on getting that rough draft down because you can't start your editing stages until you finish a draft. In all endeavors, writing a book or otherwise, it is important to keep the drafting and editing stages separate. Trying to blend these stages will inevitably slow you down.

So let’s talk about achieving the rough draft; on any given day you probably write many texts and emails which amount to a substantial word count. But we never think of these outputs as word count. Yet you write all day. Try applying this method to working on your novel. Even if you make your daily word count goal as small as 100 words a day (around a paragraph) in little over a year you will have accomplished your larger goal of 40k words. Even operating with this low-pressure goal, it will only take around 400 days to complete the first draft of your novel.

But sometimes even the small goal of writing 100 words a day can feel overwhelming. That’s ok. Taking breaks should be a part of your work routine. If the work process feels like it’s going nowhere, or you just can’t find the energy to chip away at your task, it’s ok to walk away for a while. Sometimes it can even require walking away for long enough to regain objectivity, sometimes months. When working on an audio production ear fatigue can set in (or eye fatigue if working on a film), and it is imperative that when this happens that you give your ears (or eyes) a break. The mind works in the same way that these senses do, so to regain clarity about your project it can be necessary to stop and come back to it once you have had the time to cleanse your palette and approach the project with a fresh mindset.

Taking time away from your projects can leave one with a guilty feeling, but returning with objectivity will aid you in creating a superior product, hopefully uninhibited by the stress of achieving your goals. It’s ok to work in baby steps. After taking a break and returning to the work, we often look at the work through a new lens, and sometimes we’re horrified by the mistakes which now standout to us where we could not see them before. This is natural and part of the process. It’s ok to fail along the way, after all you have chosen to create a large-scale project. Failure is part of the learning process, and we learn as we go. Take solace in the fact that you can only improve, that your work will not get worse, and that if you persevere towards your goals they will be achieved. Throw a small stone in the pile today, before you know it you will have moved a mountain.

Rethinking Success

Success is qualitative not quantitative. In our era, where so much of our activity is based around the internet, it is easy to get bogged down by analytics and the desire for the rapid validation of likes and clicks. These systems of tracking engagement force us to focus on numbers and statistics rather than real life connection with our audiences and what the work actually means to them. Add click farms and bots to this mix and we find ourselves looking at sets of numbers that have little relevance to what’s happening in meatspace. As we let ourselves be driven by these numbers, we tend to forget that each number allegedly has a human being behind it, and it is connection with our fellow humans that is the true measure of success. It is better to have a few “real” fans than it is to have a multitude of clicks that don’t really amount to connection with the work.

When measuring the “success” of our endeavors, whatever they might be, several important factors are often overlooked: does this work make you happy, are you doing / creating the things that you want to see exist in the world, do you enjoy the relationships that you have with the people you work with… These are the truly important questions, because if you are doing what you love, then you are successful, and if you are passionate about what you do others will eventually become interested and begin to share your passions. When we love what we are doing then it does not feel like work. When we enjoy the relationships that we have with the people we work with then we have made meaningful connections, and ultimately connection is the true measure of success. 

Another modern misconception about success is that it is related to celebrity, or that we should strive for fame as an indicator of whether or not we have “made it”. Many of us creative types are introverts, so the prospect of being a public figure is a horrifying one. But success and admiration are not the same thing. Think of the many amazing, important jobs in the fields of the arts that are not public facing: editors, copy editors, casting agents, engineers, graphic designers, videographers, etc. Without behind-the-scenes jobs like these the humanities would not flow, and they don’t have to be tied into celebrity to make them worthwhile or a success. And despite what your work may be you can choose to opt out of the public facing side of the work, it is a choice not a requirement. As long as the work remains satisfying you’re doing fine and people will find the work eventually. It is perfectly acceptable to avoid bohemian notions that the artist must be on display along with the art. The internet has caused this to seem like a requirement, but it is not.

Still, as creators we desire to know how people respond to our work and this is where connection comes in again. It can be difficult to feel like you are operating in a vacuum and the time it takes to earn an audience can feel lonely and long. It is important to remember that fans are earned one at a time, and that each one of these people is important – crowds after all are made up of individuals. The idea of smashing overnight success is propaganda created by companies like YouTube, incredibly rare, and seldom long lasting. In reality, it takes years to build an audience, and this is yet another reason you should use your happiness and love for the work as a barometer for success – it is going to take a while, so you should definitely be enjoying the ride. 

So, when trying to find your success remember that every individual that you encounter in context of your endeavor is important and should be treated with respect. Engage when possible, and only to your comfort level. Request fan mail, start a Discord server to speak with the audience, book a live event where you can meet people, respond to comments, connect in the ways that you feel comfortable with. You may not get along with everybody, but you will make friends along the way, meet interesting people, and hopefully love your life just that much more. Ultimately, how much we love our work is what makes us successful, and when we love our work that love will spread and grow. 

Mailer's Syndrome: The Freelancer's Dilemma

Intriguing right? Never heard of it? That’s fair. The title ‘Mailer’s Syndrome’ is something I came up with in a comical attempt to help you realize what I am about to say has more than a tinge of seriousness attached to it.

As freelance writers, sending pitches and looking for opportunities are a part of our work. Most of this pitching is done via email. Emails to the freelance writer are more than a means to get information, the very livelihood of the writer depends on it. 

Now because I have graced myself with the authority to name this ‘syndrome’, allow me to talk a bit about myself in relation to this topic. 

Naturally I am not a social media person, I have created more than 3 Facebook accounts, 2 Twitter accounts, 3 Instagram accounts with countless “Forgot password’ or ‘username’ requests. However, early on as a writer, I found myself slowly growing obsessed with checking my mails as many as 12-15 times in an hour, in anticipation of responses from editors. I know, that was bad… with a big foot in extreme!

At first, I convinced myself that I was merely being ecstatic about getting a response, and that even if they were rejected, I just wanted to have my ideas acknowledged. But soon I realized that I was unconsciously motivated by a need to ‘just check’ for no specific reason. Even when I was not expecting an email from anyone, I’ll still want to check. I tried to interact with other freelance writers to know if this was normal. Many of these freelancers had either faced the exact same thing at one point or another in their careers or were going through it at the present, and for several reasons as well.

However, what we all had in common was the fact that we recognized that this habit was doing more harm than good. For the sake of this piece, I have listed out some of the consequences that apply the most to freelancers.

  • Checking emails and stress:

According to studies, approximately 92% of employees show elevated blood pressure and heart rate when handling emails at work. The studies proved that there was a spike in anxiety and stress levels when employees wake up to their emails. When employees feel they should check and respond to emails in their spare time, they become emotionally drained. A dilemma arises, as they cannot separate every other part of their lives from their work, and thus could cause negative effects on the individual’s health and well-being.

  • Checking emails and reduced productivity:

Statistics from Business Insider, show that more than a third of Americans check email regularly throughout the day. According to an AOL survey, 47% of respondents said they feel the need to check mail constantly, 25% cannot do without it for more than three days, 60% check mail on vacation, and 59% even in the toilet. During the study, work in the office, scientists found that 70% of e-mails recipients responded within six seconds after receiving, and 85% within 2 minutes.

  • It takes time to recover:

According to a massive study by McKinsey, employees are distracted from work every 10 minutes on an average, this is about 56 times a day. The study also states that it takes about 25 minutes to concentrate on the task again fully. Thus, on average, about 2 hours spent on the recovery of concentration accumulates in a day. 

When I realized that this was a real problem, I did the only reasonable thing I could think of, I took a break from checking my mails. That was by far the hardest thing I have had to do in my journey as a freelancer. However, it was completely ineffective! After 2 weeks, I was right back where I was before I took the break. So here is the first advise for you, stopping isn’t the solution. At best you join the steadily growing pool of extremists on one side of the wall.

Researching further, I tried to find out is there was a way to reduce the amount of time spent checking our mails, yet not reduce our effectiveness. I found a Harvard Business Review about time management quite useful. The methods prescribed include (emphasis are mine):

  • Turn off notifications and schedule time (about 5 to 8 minutes) every hour to check email
  • Move every email out of your inbox the first time you read it
  • Use the search functionality with search operators to re-find emails (manually searching takes longer)
  • Set up just two email folders and use shortcuts to archive emails there
  • Avoid processing irrelevant or less important emails individually

In conclusion, the pathophysiology of ‘Mailer’s Syndrome’ is primarily mental and emotional ending up as a full-blown madness that seems to thrive on a sane logic. However, as writers we must learn to watch out for it as we choose to be better versions of our writing-selves.

How to Deal with Rejection as a Freelancer

Rejection is something everyone experiences at one point or another in their lives. However, for the freelancer, rejection comes with the job description. Nevertheless, the feeling of rejection could be devasting. The disappointment that courses through our minds when doors are shut against what we feel is our greatest idea or the genius of our achievements yet and we are brought again to that point where we have to decide whether we are going to move forward or give up. 

Every freelancer should be familiar with this feeling, whether you are an artist, a writer, musician, or designer, that feeling of having to start again is what every freelancer encounter often. You probably have held a piece in your hand and savored your genius only to have no attention paid to it at all.

Well, you are not alone. The thoughts that now run through your mind once filled the minds of freelancers you probably look up to now.

In this article, I will be talking about how you can handle rejection, outlining things you should know and can do to help you go through the phase bravely while forging forward.


  • Start Here: Get Used To It!

If you have decided to stick with freelancing, you have chosen to become a competitor. One of the most important conclusions you must come to and settle with yourself early is that you will face rejection, most definitely. Your ideas might still be looked down on, rejected or flat out ignored. It is hard to come to terms with this, but possible rejections come with the job.


  • Value Dreaming.

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

-Eleanor Roosevelt

Have you allowed yourself daydream about having your work accepted or published by a prominent organization? You most likely envisioned what the pay would look like sitting in your bank account, you probably even planned a budget around that imaginary milestone payment. Got you!

Believe it or not, dreaming is an important part of the creative process. As childish as it might seem dreaming happy thoughts is good for you on two basic levels. First, it helps your body release happy hormones that basically prepares it to give its best, motivating it to push the extra mile, even allowing it to give up its cravings. Next is that it motivates the mind to allow creativity. It helps us to become better versions of our creative selves.

However, when rejection comes, there is a tendency for us to shut off this ability because our expectations have been with an equal level of disappointment. Most people are scared to fail. Don’t slip into this, instead, allow yourself daydream about the possibilities of the future. How the next idea would be your greatest hit yet.


  • Before you allow the rejection to overwhelm you, why don’t you take a closer look at things. 

Rejection could work constructively for you, or it could destroy you, depending on how you see it. It could act as mirror reflections of how much you have improved, what you are doing better and what still needs to be worked on.

For example, you pitched an idea for an article to an editor. The editor responded to the pitch but rejected it. But the editor responded right? 

Well instead of looking at the pitch as an utter failure, why don’t you pay attention to the fact that the editor actually responded.

That could mean that something about your pitch caught his/her attention. It might be the format, the structure, something about the way you introduced the idea or even the idea itself, whatever it is, what matters is that you caught their attention.

When you find out exactly what you did right, then you can replicate it in another pitch or using another idea. This way, you are encouraged to strive to be better.


  • Give Your All; Move Forward; Repeat.

As much as you daydream, you have to learnt to anticipate rejection. Accept that no matter how good the piece is, or your pitch is, there is a possibility that it will be rejected. With this mindset in place, you will be able to give your all only to the present project. Once you send a pitch, let it go! Move on! Start working on another project immediately. Keep yourself busy.

Rejection is inevitable for every freelancer but choosing what each disappointment will mean to you is the best way to ride on without flinching while reaching to be better.

7 Health and Wellbeing Tips for Creatives

1. Keep your workspace tidy

Our workspaces will become messy at some point (a lot of us spend the majority of our day there). Research has found that mess can create stress and clutter can even stifle creativity! I’ve found that this can also include digital clutter, consider closing some tabs by bookmarking them for later. This can help you focus on one task at a time.

2. Stay Hydrated!

Fill your cup or bottle with water before you get to work. Many creatives then find that the use of apps or alarms for reminders are helpful, it doesn’t have to be any more than every hour or two to be effective! One app that I’ve seen be fun and helpful to creative and geeky types is Plant Nanny.

3. “Eat like an artist” - Health Promotion Programs

Did you know that “Eat like an artist” gets used to encourage people to eat a variety of foods? I know a lot of artists who would find that to be absolutely laughable! The point is though, make sure that your food is naturally colorful. Different colors signify didn’t nutrients!

Once you’ve got your snacks, portion them out like a palette. Put a small amount next to you if you like to snack while you work. Some people like nuts, boiled eggs, hummus and veggies, fruit, or even roasted veggies like broccoli for a savory bite.

4. Take short breaks to move your body

Your body will thank you once you come out of your creative trance, you can again use an alarm or use getting up to go to the bathroom as a prompt. Stretch your hands and neck every other hour, maybe do a couple of squats before sitting back down in your chair or even do chair exercises once back at your work space. In Geek Girl Strong’s “Wellness for Geeks Who Sit” workshop we sit down and stand up ten times to get in some “chair squats”!

Additionally, you can go on walking meetings, or go on a walk during your phone calls!

5. Practice breathing/mindfulness exercises

Just checking in with your breath can help you check in with the rest of your body, this may get you to drop your shoulders, take that sip of water, or even notice that you’ve been squinting at your screen.

6. Give your eye a break

On that squinting note, if you create on screens consider not looking at more screens during your down time.

7. Check in with your posture

I’ve worked with many creatives who sit curled up on their couch for the entire day only to finally unfurl and realize that they have made a terrible mistake.

Instead, put the screen at (close to) eye level so that your head isn’t hanging over for long periods of time straining your neck and upper back. You can do this by putting books underneath a computer screen/laptop or ensure that you have a work easel appropriately sized for your needs.


Remember, health/lifestyle changes are most successful when we make small changes over time. So rather than trying to overhaul everything you’re doing right now, consider choosing one item from this list to focus on. When that feels easy to accomplish, choose another to add on! Consistency over time makes the biggest impact on our wellbeing. Now go take care of yourself, so that we can enjoy your work for years to come!