Don’t Hate the Side-Hustle

The side-hustle is getting a lot of grief these days.

Having a side-gig is getting blamed for everything from millennial burn-out to the accusation that we’re turning our hobbies into jobs because of online/offline peer pressure (and thus hating our hobbies for being our jobs).

And while it’s true the entrepreneurial mood right now is focused on eradicating the toxic “always be hustling” culture we were taught to adore in the first fifteen years of this awful new century, the fact is, gigs and hustles and multiple hats are part of our culture and our economy now. Let’s be real: we live in a very disappointing simulation most of the time. Ah, 2019: wage stagnation, financial inequality, and an expectation that if we need anything in an emergency, or even the very basics of healthcare, a for-profit corporation will handle it… providing your job still fits into their latest business plan. We should be so lucky as to have a passion we can monetize, if that’s our society’s status quo.

So don’t hate the gig economy, hate the game — then learn to play it well. Start off by knowing thy enemy: it’s not the work.

Photo: Brianna Santellan/Unsplash

The root cause of both burn-out and of hating your passion-turned-job is a lack of balance, not simply the monetization of hobbies.

Cross-stitch pattern "don't quit your day dream"

Photo: Brianna Santellan/Unsplash

Here’s the thing: there is nothing more important than work-life balance. While it’s really common to get burn-out just from working your nine-to-five, it’s also true that side-hustles, even the ones you are passionate about, can easily upend whatever tenuous grasp you might have had on work-life balance–especially when they’re added to a nine-to-five day.

When I was working a full-time job and writing fiction and freelancing and trying to ride just a couple of days per week, my life was a series of precariously balanced appointments, with meticulously monitored commute times to make it all possible.

I had to give up freelancing, but even that wasn’t enough. I barely had the energy to write anything after work, I didn’t have time to work out so I could feel healthy and good about myself, and getting to the barn was an exercise in resilience and not going crazy in traffic jams.

One person calling “Hey Natalie, quick question?” from the office next to mine at 4:03 PM was enough to mean that, fifteen minutes later, I was sadly slogging out to my car to drive home, knowing I wasn’t going to get to ride that night. It was absolutely important that I stick to my timetable, from leaving my apartment at 7:20 AM to beat morning traffic, to getting out at by 4:10 to almost beat evening traffic. A few minutes’ diversion either way meant an extra 20 minutes or more of time stuck in the car, while daylight waned. (Orlando notoriously has some of the worst traffic in the country, so that was part of it.)

I don’t know if keeping to that strict timetable was work-life balance or a slowly soul-numbing descent into hell, but either way, once my full-time job was over, I realized I didn’t have to clock-watch in order to get to the things I loved. So I turned back to my passions and sorted out what parts of them I could monetize (or in some cases, hyper-monetize) and found actual control over my day. It is my day, after all.

It’s all about balance. Photo: Thomas Peham/Unsplash

Of course, there’s work to be done at balancing all of my side-hustles, turning my work day into one big succession of hustles.

At first I asked: can I write for a certain website I enjoy writing for and produce a novel in 90 days and pick up a freelance social media campaign and plan travel and teach riding lessons and have a family life? It turns out that no, I can’t. I’ve been back in the hustle life for less than two months and I’ve already had to make some adjustments to my expectations of myself. I had to do some calculations, figure out the ROI on the work I was doing, and choose to prioritize the work paying the highest ROI and eliminate the work paying the lowest.

As a result, I’ve now completed the first draft of a novel in record time (six weeks, thank you for asking!), booked some very cool vacations for some very cool people, started teaching riding lessons so we can rock a new generation of horsey kids, started working out (I can run three miles now without stopping, thank you for asking!), and spend what is probably too much time with my family, no seriously, I think they are tired of me.

And what I love most? This can change. I can change this up tomorrow. I could add a freelance gig, pick up a part-time job so that I can remember how to interact with other humans, jump on a contract and work in an office for a few months making something cool happen, write another book, write a series of short stories, start a podcast (okay that probably won’t make any money) — but the point is, my life is mix-and-match right now, and I’m running around the candy shop, picking my favorite flavors.

Let your hobby earn you some breathing room. Let your passions run your life. Let your side-hustles give you new meaning.

Just keep it balanced. You can do this.

The Internet gives us the opportunity to market ourselves with almost no effort. Want to sell your dressage-themed cross-stitch pillows, but don’t have time to market them? Start an Instagram and a Facebook, and spend an hour on Saturday evening scheduling posts for the week while you’re ignoring Netflix. (You’re on your phone anyway.) Tag some horsey influencers and ask if you can mail them a couple. There, you did some marketing for the week. No craft shows, no tack shop cold calls, no fuss. Now you can get back to ignoring Netflix in peace.

The gig economy is here and we can let it empower us, or we can let it burn us out. What we can’t do is deny it exists, and that it’s taking over our lives. How are you going to hustle it?

PS: if you’re marketing dressage cross-stitch pillows, I want to see them. And if you’re making something awesome – contact me! I’m going to start a monthly feature on equestrians with side-hustles!

The Writing Process Blog Hop

My good friend Linda Benson, who writes lovely fiction for animal writers, was kind enough to tap me for this blog hop about writers and the writing process (which is why it’s named The Writing Process Blog Hop, and isn’t that just convenient! We are creative people, we writers.)

Linda Benson's Cat Tales series

Linda Benson’s Cat Tales series

Be sure to go say hello to Linda Benson, who writes for animal lovers of all ages, with works ranging from dystopian fiction (The Girl Who Remembered Horses) to contemporary fiction (her Cat Tales series), and blogs at LindaBenson.blogspot.com.

This blog hop is timed very well, as things are getting very exciting around here! Here’s why… in the very first question!

Question 1: What am I working on? The final edits of my new novel! I am in the production phase, almost ready to release Ambition to the public.

I’ve been writing and rewriting Ambition, in some form or another, for several years. At one point it was actually in present tense. I have a great hint for any writers considering taking a present tense novel and making it past tense: don’t ever do it! What a nightmare that was. I’m still finding leftover typos from the changeover.

But Ambition is worth it to me. I had an idea in my head, of a girl who couldn’t afford to be an event rider and wasn’t going to let that stop her, who had an idea of what her horse could be and wasn’t going to let anyone take him away from her, and it wouldn’t let me go. So every time I read through a draft and shook my head and said “this isn’t it,” I just set it aside, wrote something else, and came back to it.

And this time I decided I wasn’t quitting until it was well and truly done.

So now it’s done — the cover is being designed, the final copy-edits are on its way — and it should be on sale in just a few weeks. It’s going to be incredible to finally have this book out there. I hope that it resonates with readers as well as Other People’s Horses did. Because I’m working on the next book in the Alex and Alexander series now!

Other People's Horses: Book 2 of Alex and Alexander

Other People’s Horses: Book 2 of Alex and Alexander

Question 2: How does my work differ from others in its genre? My equestrian fiction stands apart because it isn’t genre fiction. Try finding adult fiction written about the horse world that isn’t a mystery or a romance — it’s very hard to do. And horses aren’t merely the backdrop to my books — they’re a huge piece of the narrative. I’m writing for horse-people, and for adult horse-people in particular. I love a good pony story as much as the next person, but someone forgot to write about what happens when horse-crazy kids grow up. Well, I am one of those kids. So I’m writing our stories.

Question 3: Why do I write what I do? I write the books I want to read. It goes back to the previous question: no one else was writing contemporary fiction for adults in the horse world. There is plenty of Young Adult, but very little for the rest of us.

The same goes for my three Historical Romance novels. I like romances, and I wanted to create a few with strong equestrian settings. Isn’t everything better with a good horse?

Babies on the loose! Ocala live oaks co-star. Flickr/Christopher Stadler

Babies on the loose! Ocala live oaks co-star. Flickr/Christopher Stadler

I’m also utterly in love with my settings, and that has a lot to do with how I write. I write about horses, but I also write about Florida rather obsessively, and some other favorite spots, like Saratoga, that really speak to my soul. I couldn’t write a sterile paragraph about a Florida afternoon — there’s too much to admire and love and fear all at once. So I’m not one to shy away from trying to paint an Ocala sunset with words or describe the way the air tastes just before a thunderstorm. Instead, trying to find words for those things is one key component of why I write. I love them too much to passively observe them. I want to own them.

Riding Apollo, a spotted draft, on patrol in Central Park, New York City

Riding Apollo, a spotted draft, on patrol in Central Park, New York City

I’m looking forward to adding New York City to the geography of my books, after spending so much time riding in the parks as member of the NYC Parks Department’s mounted unit. I have a very exciting idea in my head about a young woman riding in Brooklyn’s own Prospect Park — but that’s all I’m saying right now!

Question 4: How does my writing process work? Slowly. Well, not quite. I’m actually a very quick writer. If you’ve ever seen people doing those thousand-word hours during National Novel Writing Month? Yeah, I do that in about fifteen minutes when I have my blood up. And those tend to be my best pieces. If I’m not writing at about a mile a minute, I’m usually thinking too hard, and not getting what I want on the page.

And that means edits.

Many, many edits.

I’m an obsessive writer, always looking for the perfect turn of phrase. That means that my books can take a very, very long time to reach completion. I have started doing a very thorough outline, which helps: Other People’s Horses only took me about six months, thanks to my outline. Ambition, on the other hand, never had an outline — and it’s taken three years.

So while I’m capable of doing something like a magazine write-up in about twenty minutes, send it to the editor, and go on about my day without another thought, my novels are a long, drawn-out process, with plenty of sleepless nights, lots of self-doubt, and moments of sheer terror while I’m waiting for someone to finish reading a sentence and tell me what they think. Writing novels: it’s just so fun!

And that’s all from me this time! Next week you’ll see blog posts from authors Christine Meunier and AnnaLisa Grant. In the meantime, go check out their blogs and their books. I think you’ll find there’s a little something for just about everyone!

Christine Meunier writes about horses in many facets from a home base of Australia. You can visit FreeReinSeries.com to learn more about her children’s equestrian books, and equus-blog.com for everything equestrian, from book reviews to horse health!

Free Rein Series

AnnaLisa Grant has a successful Young Adult series in The Lake Trilogy, and she has recently released her first New Adult novel, Next to Me. She blogs about the writing life at annalisagrant.com.

The Lake Annalisa Grant