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7 Tips For Managing Your Freelance Writing Work

managing writing workBy Bill Swan

One of the big things, a huge thing actually, when taking on new projects is to make sure you have the time to complete them all properly. And I have no idea how to tell everyone out there how it would work best for them. But I do know that what I was doing up until recently, wasn’t the best way for me. So I’ll just go from personal experience and you can take it from there.

The whole thing began with me wanting to write. I wanted to write for anybody so badly that I was applying for jobs, projects, forums and any other thing which looked like writing. I found one, then another, then five more; and then it just got really busy. Now, when you still have a part time job you’re working along the way (have to pay the rent somehow right?), and the scheduling between the job and the project deadlines are clashing – well, it isn’t fun time at the zoo basically. To put it simply, eight hour days and eight hour writing sessions leave very little room for much else, including sleep.

Here are a few lessons I learned over the course of time, which I hope will help anyone else out there who comes to this crossroad:

  1. Don’t take on so many assignments to where it becomes a chore that has to get done. You will start to loose the “want” of writing and it becomes a need other than your own.
  2. Don’t ever think problems won’t show up. Schedule changes, rewrites, and computer issues do happen – and usually without notice. Always, and this becomes very apparent very quickly, always give your deadlines a padding of at least two extra days in case of problems.
  3. Don’t get frustrated over little things. The fact that you over estimated yourself is a little thing. The fact that the cat keeps wanting to say hello in the middle of a deadline rush, is also a little thing. If the computer crashes, or you lose the internet on the day of the deadline, that could be a problem.
  4. Stay in communication with everybody. I don’t know how many times I’ve been told by people on the other end of the email that they appreciated my efforts to at least acknowledge their emails. And people do understand if you email them ahead of deadline to let them know of any delays. Silence will hurt more than a missed deadline.
  5. Don’t kill yourself getting things done. If you like a busy schedule, that’s one thing; but if you find yourself continuously looking at 2AM trying to push through a deadline, there’s a problem.

  6. If the writing isn’t fun anymore – it’s time to stop. No, not stop writing, I mean stop and take a look at why it isn’t enjoyable anymore. If you find yourself writing just to meet deadlines, or just to make money for the week, then it’s time to either re-evaluate the projects you are taking on or the amount of work you are taking on. You’re either working too many low paying projects, or you are just taking anything that comes along.
  7. Keep the freebie work. I know it doesn’t pay money, but I’m guessing the writing didn’t start out being about the money. The free by-lines help keep up the enjoyment of writing, and can be good self promotional stuff as well.

I realized all this when things started crashing down around me over those earlier days. I not only missed deadlines, but dropped one project and had another client ask why he thought he was always at the bottom of my “to-do” list. This is when I discovered I had to sit back and re-evaluate what I was doing. Next, I realized that my blogs, and the by-line work that I loved doing had been put away and almost forgotten. The writing had become more work than writing, and this is never a good thing.

How do you manage your writing work?

Bill Swan is a freelance writer. His website is William Swan Writing Services.

{ 23 comments… add one }
  • Elizabeth West March 7, 2011, 2:59 pm

    I wish I’d read this earlier; my Internet is freaking out and it’s making me unable to post my content work. I hope it gets resolved soon. I can post them at work, but still.

    Scheduling is a bear when you have a job. Lately I haven’t had time for my own stuff, i.e. blog posts and my latest WIP. I’m about to take a blog challenge so will have to post in April every day but Sunday. I’m actually looking forward to that, not just because it’s fun but it will force me to be more diligent about time management.

    • Bill Swan March 7, 2011, 8:05 pm

      Just don’t make the time constraints too restrictive to the point where you hate the keyboard. It is easy to say I’ll just write every day but Sunday but it is much more difficult to establish over time.

  • Carol Silvis February 17, 2011, 6:56 pm

    Great tips. I also set deadlines for myself a little ahead of what I’m assigned. If a deadline is too far away, it can lead to procrastination.

    • annew February 18, 2011, 1:36 pm

      Procrastination? Who me? lol, good point Carol!

  • Carol Tice | Make a Living Writing February 17, 2011, 1:48 pm

    It’s always a tricky balance for me between booked enough and overbooked. Lately overbooked has been winning…but I’m trying to cut back!

  • edna February 17, 2011, 1:17 pm

    Thanks for the tips. I struggled with most of your list when I started writing more and taking online gigs. Organizing and perfectionism are two things I still find challenging but I’m more more careful with the amount of work I take on, so that’s helped my stress level.

    I’ve also made an effort to do marketing and writing in fields I have experience in so I can be more productive and have less of a learning curve. I took on a project about African American hair and was totally lost 🙂 Had to give that project back which was a wake up call.

    Any other tips on staying organized would be welcome!

    • Bill Swan February 17, 2011, 2:32 pm

      That’s another issue I ran into. When you take anything that comes along you often wind up thinking “I’m sooo lost with this”. The money you gain by pushing through with subjects completely foreign to you doesn’t compensate for the potential damage to your reputation or quality of work.

  • Nina Lewis February 17, 2011, 12:16 pm

    This has come at a perfect (or maybe not so perfect) time! That 4 AM finishing up a job did not make me a happy camper. So, I’m learning…

    I do have a question. How do you handle a client, who e-mails an assignment and wants it completed by the next afternoon, when you have other projects that have come in first?

    • Carol Tice | Make a Living Writing February 17, 2011, 1:47 pm

      I quote them my rush rate, usually at least 1.5 times the regular rate…because rush work costs a premium fee. Otherwise, you’re letting their problem become YOUR problem…instead of letting their problem be your opportunity to earn loads. If they don’t want to pay more, I pass.

      • annew February 17, 2011, 2:11 pm

        I’ve been told that rush rates can go as high as 5 times the regular rate… I don’t take rush work because I hate it, but for those who don’t it’s a lucrative revenue stream.

  • Tui Cameron February 17, 2011, 11:56 am

    Helpful tips – thanks! I am always looking for ways to juggle projects better.

    The communication one, especially, is so important. I have been involved in projects where a writer simply quits communicating. It really leaves everyone in a lurch.

    One thing that helps me a lot is to keep track of how long it takes me to write a certain kind of an article (including research time.) Now, if i have a 4 hour chunk of time in front of me, I have a good idea of how much writing I can reasonably fit into it.

    Doing this showed me that I was expecting more from myself than I could reasonably churn out at first. While the actual writing may take me X amount of time, I would forget about time required to add photos, edit, and fact check, and so on. It all adds up!

    Also, over time, I have gotten much quicker at certain kinds of articles. I have a repeating gig that used to take me a solid 4 hours, but now only takes me 2 hours or less.

    With writing, we do not always see that we have improved, so this kind of feedback really boosts confidence.


    • annew February 17, 2011, 12:07 pm

      Timing projects blows me away. I know how much time, usually, it takes me to do clients work… but my own? That’s another topic.

  • Cindi February 17, 2011, 11:41 am

    Very practical advice. It is so important to recognize that “more” does not always equal “better.” Thanks for listing practical steps to do that.

    • annew February 17, 2011, 12:10 pm

      The whole issue of more and productivity is an interesting one!

    • Bill Swan February 17, 2011, 12:31 pm

      One of the problems writers face is that many people looking for writers tend to think more is better – but then have to reverse themselves after the damage from “bulk” work has been done.

  • Holly Bowne February 16, 2011, 10:45 pm

    Excellent advice here. Although, sometimes you do have to write to pay the bills, it’s so important to keep the “passion” you have for writing alive!

    • annew February 17, 2011, 12:12 pm

      Glad you liked Bill’s article Holly.

  • Rachel @ Pen Meets Wallet February 16, 2011, 8:34 pm

    Great tips. I love the suggestion to keep writing for free as well. All writers, no matter if they are fiction, non-fiction, freelancers or ghost-writers, need to make creativity a part of their writing routine to some extent or else risk developing a mundane tone.

    I would add to this list to fit reading in there as well. The more you read, the better you write, and the better you write, the less you need to edit.

    • Bill Swan February 16, 2011, 9:23 pm

      I actually forgot about adding the need to read. I do try to read something daily, but tend to overdo it and realize two hours later I still have work to do.

      • annew February 17, 2011, 12:15 pm

        Always more to do it seems.

    • annew February 17, 2011, 12:18 pm

      Are there any writers who don’t read? I’ve had one or two hire me as a ghostwriter for their books, but writers? Good point.

  • Susan K. Proulx February 16, 2011, 5:26 pm

    Great tips. I’ve also learned to manage the time by recognizing my best work is usually that first draft, which needs lots of work. But we tend toward perfectionism as writers and that’ll bust your deadline.


    • annew February 17, 2011, 12:20 pm

      Lol, Susan, perfectionism will kill you!

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