Chop Wood, Carry Water: Why It’s Okay for Freelancing to Feel Like Work

freelancing is hard work

If you freelance for a living, you might be shocked and disappointed to learn that the work you fought so hard for feels like…well, work. And that means that something is very, very wrong. Or does it? In fact, it’s okay for the freelance life to feel like work. Here’s why:

A Humble Approach

Have you ever heard the phrase “chop wood, carry water?” It’s a Zen proverb that goes something like this: Before Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. You could easily sub in the words “going full-time freelance” for Enlightenment—and the message is a healthy one for freelancers to absorb.

Truth be told, freelancing is hard work. If you think anything else, you’re setting yourself up for some serious disappointment and a harsh reality check. That said, there’s a certain humble satisfaction in a job well done—even if it feels like a lot of chopping and carrying.

Artists Work, Too

Our culture loves to lie about the process of creating art. We tend to focus on the finished product instead of the often messy, ugly, and painful process that comes first—and that creates misconceptions that can be damaging to freelancers. Reality check: All artists work. All artists fail. Learn to embrace and even love those two concepts and you’ll be well on your way to a satisfactory freelance life. The more you resist, the less happy you’ll feel, even once you’ve freed yourself from the unfulfilling rat race.

Your Work, Your Life 

As a writer, I tend to be a bit over-invested in my art. More often than not, it feels like not just what I do, but who I am as a person. A few weeks ago, I was bemoaning a creative setback to another writer. Her response surprised and then inspired me. Don’t forget, she said—your work isn’t who you are. “Writing isn’t life,” she wrote, reminding me that in fact my family, my friends, and my health are what matter most.

When we take the leap and start freelancing full-time, it can feel like we’ve put our entire lives on the line. But that mentality can make even routine rejections, setbacks and realities feel daunting and disappointing. Remember—even if you’re an artist at heart, work is work. And that’s okay.

Erin Blakemore FOLLOW >

Erin Blakemore is a library school drop-out, historian, freelance writer, and author of the award-winning The Heroine’s Bookshelf (Harper). She dishes about books, history, and channeling your inner heroine at