I’ve operated a writing/editing business full time for 14 years as of last April, and the truth is I’ve probably had one real vacation in all that time. After I started the business on April 5 of 2004, I still had travel credit with my previous employer. I took the kids to San Francisco. And then – nothing, until this week. My first real vacation in a decade and a half.

That’s not to say I haven’t had time off during those years. It has just been small amounts of time and usually on the spur of the moment. (I love that flexibility.) And it’s also not to say that I haven’t done some work during this vacation. After all, I’m sitting here writing this blog! I’ve also done some work for a couple of my best clients. Since San Francisco, I just haven’t had an extended vacation until now.

So, I had to think about this — should I write a blog about how to take an extended vacation when you’re a contractor? Or should I write about how to get by without taking an extended vacation? The truth is, your own situation, work style, current work and clients will dictate when and how you can take vacation. All I know is this:

When you are writing/editing contractor, you have to find a way to take some time off.

We can talk about why this is important in another blog. You can probably guess the answer: if you don’t do it, you will burn out and/or the quality and speed of your writing (and your sanity) will suffer.

It’s not going to be easy! If you are truly determined to make a go of this writing/editing career, you will never want to say no. You will always want to check your email and text messages and instant messaging to make sure your clients don’t need you right now. You may never think you can take vacation (as I did for a long time).

You probably think I’m going to suggest you just do it and let go of your OCD message-checking during the time you carve out for yourself. But I’m not. It’s a fact of life that your clients may leave you for someone else permanently if they need a writer during that specific time period and you’re not available. So, it’s a balancing act.

  • You and your family must realize you likely will have to do a little work while you’re gone.
  • You must clearly communicate to clients when you will be on vacation, so they know when to leave you alone unless it’s an emergency.
  • You should plan ahead and complete projects clients know they will need while you’re gone. This also helps ensure you have the hours you need to offset the cost of not working during a vacation.
  • After all that, you have to make sure your most important clients know you will be available anyway, especially for them, if they need you during this time.
  • On the other hand, you might decide to tell every client you are completely unavailable. It might be worth spending that time on yourself or with your family — especially if your current clients are not accounts you particularly care if you keep.

How strong is your relationship with your writing/editing client?

This is how a client defection happens: The client will find they need something written while you’re gone, so they contact another writer they know — or someone who is referred to them. They work with that writer on the current project. When you return from vacation, it may be difficult and time-consuming to fill you in, so for at least a certain period of time they will decide to work with the other writer. If that writer’s skill is similar to your own, this tendency to stick with the status quo can mean your client gravitates toward the new writer more often. If the other writer’s skill is better than your own, you may find your assignments from the client dwindling or even stopping cold.

Part of the reason I felt confident taking vacation at this point in my career is that it’s hard to find other writers or editors with my skill level, and my current clients know it. Also, my biggest marketing writing/editing client is very used to working with me, and the “barrier to entry” for another writer is pretty high.

A writer/editor’s vacation balancing act depends a great deal on the strength and nature of the relationships with clients. I have worked with my biggest client nearly every day for three years. I have a strong relationship with this client. He knows me well enough to realize I need a serious vacation and values my work enough to wait for me. However, we have been in touch during this entire time, and I have stopped my vacation twice to complete a couple of small projects for him that were critical to his business.

In fact, it gave me some peace of mind to know he was willing to interrupt my vacation to ask for my help. That proves to me how much he values my work, especially because we have another writer on our team. That writer was able to fill in the gaps, but my client obviously still values my skill and knowledge of his business enough to ask for my help, even when I’ve said I’m not available. It also takes away one more opportunity for the other writer to take my work. Lol!

Organizing contact from writing and editing clients during vacation

Once you have decided which clients you are going to be available for during vacation, there are some tricks to keeping that client work from taking over your relaxation time — which we have already established is very important to the quality of your work! Here are my best vacation preservation tips:

  • Tell the client you will have intermittent online access and you will check emails twice a day. This prepares them for a slower production pace when they do need something from you during vacation. It’s a little harder to do with instant messaging and smart phones, but you can simply explain you will be away from your phone.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask if a requested project during vacation can wait. You can judge by your client’s reaction whether or not this is a danger point in your relationship with them. Sometimes, they just need a reminder that a project is not so important it can’t wait a few days. If the little voice in your head or heart is telling you a client is desperate or dangerously annoyed, it may be okay to carve out a small amount of time from your vacation to get the project done and earn those brownie points. Don’t feel inordinately pressured, though. Put your foot down where it’s appropriate.
  • Establish a clear work time for projects completed during vacation, so your traveling companions know when they can expect you to go have fun. (Your relationship with them is also very important.) This also forces your brain to settle in and work during work time, so you can completely relax during fun time. If you are on your own, do this anyway. There is a reason you are taking downtime, and if it ends up not being downtime you’ll be double bad-off at the end of the vacation.
  • Make sure you take all the tools you need to comfortably work. Don’t try to write a 1200-word blog on your iPad or smart phone. If you can, bring your regular work tools: laptop, extended keyboard, mouse, favorite squeezyball, etc. It helps to have all of your customer files online where you can easily access them.
  • Guard your ability to connect to the Internet with your life! This might mean paying extra money for a reliable hotspot from your cellular provider. (This is also valuable to help guard your clients’ confidentiality.) It might mean researching ahead to ensure your campground or hotel not only has Wi-Fi, but that it is working reliably during the time you will be there. It might mean upgrading your phone before you take off on vacation to ensure you can use it as a backup and see instant messages from clients without having to crack open your computer. A smart phone makes it much easier to deal with client messages quickly and unobtrusively. I also have an Apple watch, so I can see in about one second whether a notification is something I have to attend to.
  • Nurture an ability to switch agilely back and forth from “work mind” to “vacation mind”. This may take some conscious thought and mental discipline, but you will get better at it. Switch your work brain on for 15 minutes to proofread a press release, then switch off the work brain and switch on your vacation brain to enjoy an hour on the jet ski.

In general, successfully carving out a vacation and managing writing/editing client relationships while you are on vacation has to do with communicating effectively, planning ahead, and intentionally allocating and limiting work time.

If you still don’t think you can take the risk of planning an extended vacation, you may be perfectly satisfied with one or two days here and there. If you carefully plan according to your clients’ usual work schedule, they may not even know you’re gone!