Courtney M. McSwain, Writer

Anatomy of a Freelance Writer’s Life: Hustle Less. Give More.

Give Tattoo Image

A permanent reminder to hustle less and give more.

Lately, I’ve been struggling with energy—finding it, keeping it, restoring it, conjuring it up, making it feel welcome enough in my home so that it decides to take off its coat and stay a while. Yet energy has eluded me, and it has taken me three whole months to figure out why.

I entered 2013 under the theme: “The Year of the Hustle,” but I never stopped to define what the word “hustle” actually meant. Subconsciously, I think I equated the word “hustle” with the idea of constantly writing, going to events, shaking hands, making deals and kissing babies all on no sleep. After all, when people talk about starting their own businesses or becoming “solopreneurs” that’s the picture they paint. Yet, no one ever talks about how they get the energy to do all of that.

Now, I’m no sleuth. I’ve worked my share of long hours for school and jobs. But for some reason, maintaining my energy level as a full-time writer has been harder than I ever thought it would be. Part of the struggle has been settling into a work rhythm that allows me to balance writing with all the other business-y stuff that freelance writers have to do. Not finding that balance has also led to low energy levels and an inability to write at a pace that I’m satisfied with. The result has been not pitching enough, not writing enough, not networking enough, not shaking enough hands, not kissing enough babies—not doing enough of the things I thought I was supposed to be doing as a “hustler.” Not living up to the expectation that I set for myself at the beginning of the year led to feelings of guilt and disappointment, which further depleted my energy and has taken away from my writing. To get myself back on track, I’ve spent the past few weeks trying to process those feelings and figure out how to turn them around. Finally, I was blessed with an epiphany:

I’m not a hustler.

Here’s the breakdown.

I’m a gal with limited energy resources. Some people get energy from being here, there and everywhere.  Going from a meeting to a networking event to a happy hour and back to a conference call gives them a sense of purpose; that model of hustling actually keeps them going. For me, it does the opposite. Working in hustle mode diffuses my energy and I’m not able to give 100 percent to any one thing.

I shared my struggle with some sister friends a few weeks ago and we all started talking about how each of us maintains our energy throughout the workday. My friends shared how they restore their energy when they are feeling drained, and I began to ask myself—what really replenishes my energy?

A lot of times when we think about energy, we think about it in a physical sense—the endorphins we get from exercising or the vitamins we receive from eating healthy foods. Maintaining high levels of physical energy is critical to a freelance writer’s life. But there is another kind of energy that is just as important. It’s more of a creative and emotional energy that generates enthusiasm and endurance for one’s work. It’s the energy that allows writers to overcome disappointment, guilt or fear and just start putting words on a page. After talking to my friends, I soon realized that my primary struggle has been a lack of emotional energy, or the restoration thereof.

Asking myself how I could restore my emotional energy on a daily basis led to the realization that I am most energetic and creative when I’m focused on giving to others. Therefore, giving, not hustling, should be the model for my freelance writing life.

Eleven years ago, I spent a year serving in AmeriCorps, and it was one of the happiest, most creative years of my life. It was my job every day to think about how I could be of service to others. In the process, I learned a great deal about myself without even realizing it. I wrote poetry, built wonderful friendships, discovered my passion for educational equality and social justice, and I learned how to live comfortably in my own skin. Similarly, a few years ago, I served on the board of a nonprofit community service and civil rights organization. During my tenure as the director of communications, I stayed up late nights writing press releases, creating newsletters, updating the organization’s website and doing the best job I could because I knew it was for a cause bigger than me. My focus wasn’t on how tired I was, but rather on how I wanted to be there for my friends and an organization whose mission I believed in. Without expecting it, I received renewed creativity and an ignited entrepreneurial spirit that, in fact, contributed to my eventual leap into freelance life.

These experiences taught me the power of giving for the creative mind. Writing is emotional work, and no matter how emotionally healthy one is, anxiety always has a way of creeping up and blocking productivity. But giving requires that we turn attention away from our own worries and onto the well being of others. That action of turning attention onto someone else actually pushes anxiety away, leaving our hearts open to receive the positive energy that the world has to offer—energy that we need in order to create. By staying in a constant state of giving, we are continuously pushing fear away from our hearts and leaving ourselves open to be more creative.

When I get excited about something, I can’t sit down, and coming upon this epiphany, I found myself walking around in circles in my apartment. I couldn’t wait to figure out how to incorporate giving into my business model. I even got the word “give” tattooed on my wrist so that I’m always reminded that giving, not hustling, is the key to my creative practice.

As freelance writers, it’s important that we embrace who we are in business and in art. Every person’s hustle is different, and your hustle might not look like someone else’s hustle. In fact, you might realize that you’re not a hustler at all.


P.S. I’m working on some specific ways to incorporate giving into my writing life and business, some of which will hopefully benefit you! I’ll let you know when I’ve got it all figured out.



  1. Caribbean Phoenix says:

    I can so relate to this Courtney and you’ve give me an epiphany of my own. Thanks for the great perspective!

    • Courtney M. McSwain says:

      Wonderful! Glad to share something others can relate to:) Best of luck on your journey!

  2. Wow…couldn’t have said it better myself…Thank you!…I’m thinking matching ‘give’ tats?! LOL Keep doing what you’re doing…

  3. Wow! I couldn’t have said it better myself, thank you! I’m thinking matching ‘give’ tats?! LOL Keep doing what you’re doing.

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