This week we are excitedly switching gears and talking to Croatian-born writer Jana Marie who now resides in the Canadian Prairies.
Through her writing, Jana Marie examines the interplay between self and society as she works to both illuminate and explore the power of contemplative thinking. Her recently completed two-year project, 100 Mindful Days, which combines teachings from the worlds of personal development, self-care, and wellness, will soon be her first book.
We are deeply appreciative of her insight and know you will be too. Thank you Jana, for sharing!
Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance writer.
Truthfully, I found myself in the world of freelance almost entirely by accident. It was certainly something that I’d thought about, in a distant, wouldn’t-it-be-nice-to-do-that sort of way, but it was never really a concrete goal or definite interest of mine until I started working 9-5.
When I was working 9-5, I felt small, stifled, and completely replaceable. It felt like all I was doing was taking up space, and it didn’t seem to make much of a difference whether I put in a 10% effort or a 110% effort. I was deeply unhappy, and I was also very confused.
For perhaps the first time ever, I really started to appreciate the value of time. I could finally understand all of those quotes about the shortness of life, something which I had never been able to wrap my head around before simply because I had never felt that way. Time, to me, had felt infinite; it seemed like I had an endless amount of time to pursue my dreams, travel the world, and do everything that I wanted. But, when all of my time was suddenly being taken up by my job, I realized that wasn’t the case.
When I started to add up all of the time that I spent getting ready for work, commuting to and from work, actually being at work, and then dealing with the effects of work on my physical, mental, and emotional health, I realized that I really only had a few good hours a week to myself. And, once I realized that, I realized that there was no amount of money they could pay me to keep living that way.
Can you tell us about your writing process?
As I am increasingly coming to realize, very little writing gets done if I’m not properly taking care of myself. Robert Henri, in his book The Art Spirit, does a great job of capturing this sentiment. When talking about his process as an artist, he says, “I spend six to eight hours a day in actual painting and the rest of the time getting ready for the work.” That's exactly how I approach my own work.
I need to make sure that I’m staying in a mindset which fosters writing. That doesn’t mean waiting to be inspired — it means making sure that I keep myself physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy. And the easiest way I’ve found to do that is by creating and sticking to a consistent routine.
For instance, I wake up at the same time every day. My alarm goes off at 6:50am, and I’m walking the dog by 7. I leave the house at 8:15 and arrive on campus around 8:45. It’s about 9am by the time I’ve picked up a coffee and settled into my writing space. I then spend the next 2 or 3 hours writing until I begin to feel weary, which is when I’ll stop for a break and go get some lunch. After lunch, if it’s nice out, I’ll spend some time reading outdoors before going back to my writing for the rest of the afternoon.
What is perhaps the most crucial part of my day, though, is my evening walk, which ideally lasts for between one and two hours. It’s during that time that I mentally unpack and process the day, letting the things that I’ve been working on start to marinate and co-mingle with other, often-unrelated thoughts. I watch the sky change. I think about my place in the world. I think about our place in the world, as humans, and how incomparably small we are in the grand scheme of things. It really helps me put things into perspective and not get too wound up in all of those trivial, day-to-day stressors which can sometimes take up a lot of our energy.
All of that contributes to my writing. On days when I don’t follow my routine, I feel deeply untethered and don’t have a lot of motivation to see things through.
Do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?
I’ll often hear a lot about the way in which our personal lives are coming in second to our work lives, but I really don’t think that has to be the case.
This is something which has been said many times before, but it’s worth repeating. If you take a look at the phrase ‘work-life balance,’ you'll notice that ‘work’ is first. It’s not ‘life-work balance’ — it’s work-life balance. That, to me, says a lot. It says that the priority is still work, and that, if there’s any room left afterwards, life will just be squeezed in around the edges. If that’s the story we keep telling ourselves, that is precisely what is going to keep happening.
I had a much more difficult time finding a balance between my personal life and my work life when I wasn’t working freelance. Back then, it felt like I had no life at all, which was a big part of what made me decide to pursue a freelance career. I didn’t want to spend my entire life looking forward to the weekend only to be so exhausted from work that I didn’t get to do much during that time anyway.
These days, I no longer feel the need to strive for a work-life balance because I no longer feel any tension between my life and my work. It’s a symbiotic relationship: my life feeds my work, and my work feeds my life. The two need to work together in order for either one to function.
My advice to anyone struggling with maintaining a balance between their personal life and their work life would be to spend some time genuinely re-evaluating their priorities. For starters, make a list of the most important things in your life. Then, make a list of all the things that are preventing you from devoting more time to those things. I think you’d be surprised to discover just how much can be trimmed away.
What is your favorite thing about freelance?
There is a wonderful quote by Federico Fellini that I so often find myself returning to: “If there were a little more silence,” he says, “If we all kept quiet… maybe we could understand something.”
I need a lot of time to myself, and I need a large part of my day to be spent in quiet, still spaces. I wasn’t able to have either of those things when I was working 9-5. Back then, it didn’t feel like I had any agency or personal space. There was no breathing room, and there was always someone who needed something else from me.
I don’t think it’s possible for us to be our best selves if we’re constantly being inundated with noise. And so, without a doubt, my favourite thing about working freelance is the tremendous amount of mental space it allows me to have. It’s amazing just how much of an impact a bit of breathing room can have on your overall well-being.
The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:
Patience, curiosity, and commitment.