The key is to look as pretentious as possible. Dump your contacts and wear your glasses that day, or buy the kind with plastic lenses if you have to. Order some kind of obscure tea instead of the coffee you so desperately need. Don a beret if you have one. Anything that aggressively demonstrates that you are DifferentTM.
I’ll admit, even though I’m making fun of the overwrought writer aesthetic, I am also guilty of wearing weird outfits and unnecessary accessories to feel like a “real writer.” The great thing about freelance writing is that you don’t have to go into an office every day. The worst thing about freelance writing is that you don’t have to go into an office every day. Most days, you sit around the house in your underwear and an oversized sweatshirt, typing away in the dark. Going to coffee shops or libraries or neighborhood delis are the only times you get to dress up and look like a real person.
Okay, you say, but is it really necessary to dress up in such an aggressively hipster way? To which I say yes, it is. Many writers have a hard time believing that what they do is “real work.” You aren’t a blue collar worker or a white collar worker—you aren’t an any collar worker. You’re a sweatshirt-wearing worker, and sometimes it can be hard to take yourself seriously.
So we overdo it. They say you should dress for the job you want, so we go out and we wear whatever it takes for us to feel like “real writers.” Whenever I put on my combat boots and layer a chunky sweater over a sundress, I hear a little voice in my head all day long that says “Fuck yeah, I am providing a valuable service because I have a marketable skill.” You just don’t get that vibe from your underwear (or maybe you do, in which case, kudos).
But if you want to feel like a “real writer” without dressing like a walking cliché, I have a few actual tips:
- Dress in layers. Every coffee shop I have ever been to keeps the room at approximately 2 degrees Fahrenheit. Once I’m there more than an hour or two, my wedding ring is slipping and sliding up and down my finger like it’s December in the Arctic.
- Wear something that is only slightly uncomfortable. The whole point of leaving the house is to escape the slouchy vibe you’ve created working at home, so try to wear something you wouldn’t lounge around the house in. But don’t swing too far the other direction. It’s hard to get work done if all you can think about is how you’re slowly losing feeling in your feet because your skinny jeans are cutting off circulation.
- Bring snacks. You should always buy something from a coffee shop if you’re going to be there for a few hours, but you shouldn’t have to eat a full meal there. You’re okay to eat small things like a granola bar or grapes in the shop, but if you pack a full meal (also totally cool) it’s courteous to go eat in your car. Or better yet, find a nice park! Which leads me to my fourth tip…
- Take breaks. Real writers do not sit at their laptops pounding out brilliant ideas for hours on end. They are dedicated and set goals for themselves, sure, but if you don’t take a break away from your screen every now and again, you will give yourself carpal tunnel and possibly temporary insanity. Find a local park, a cheap ice cream shop, a bike path, anything to let you step out of work mode for 30 minutes or so at lunch time. Afford yourself the same luxuries as your friends with desk jobs.
- Make sure you enjoy writing at least 25% of your work each day. If you have a particularly boring or grueling assignment and you’ve decided to just work on that and only that until it’s done, it will probably take much longer than necessary. Working on something you hate might make you question why you’re even doing this job, and you may start wondering how you even ended up in this career, and what if freelance writing just isn’t for you, what if you’re just a huge impostor and you’re not a writer at all?
And that’s how you end up in a hipster coffee shop with terrible lighting wearing a fedora.
If you don’t have any paying work that you enjoy, then at least try to journal or write letters to friends for an hour or so at some point. Just make sure you do some enjoyable writing every day.