My discipline? Sometimes I doubt it exists. Although I’ve been writing for years, last Sunday an acquaintance of mine described how she had spent an hour practicing dance, two hours practicing the piano, and would have spent several hours practicing golf. The golf had been interrupted by rain, which was the main reason we were together.
“You’re really quite disciplined aren’t you,” I said feeling anything but in comparison. She demurred and I spent several minutes arguing silently with myself about whether my discipline means I get enough done.
Fortunately I’ve trained myself to get off that self-criticism pretty quickly. It just makes me miserable and I believe we’re supposed to be happy. Besides, it was Sunday which is one of the days I allow myself serious downtime.
What does my discipline look like?
Obviously, since I support myself writing, I do get enough done. Maybe not because my discipline is in place every single day, but because, on the whole it’s enough.
Even with the obstacles, the life of a freelance writer is full of freedom as you can work from nearly anywhere in the world. For this reason it is one of the most coveted positions a person can have especially if they find the right clients. Writing for clients allows the freelancer to learn about topics that otherwise they would have never researched.
Being a freelancer does come with obstacles that most people might not think of. The benefits of working at a traditional job like receiving health benefits but rather having to pay the high premiums is one example. The other larger issue is during the beginning of your freelance writing career it can be difficult to predict monthly income. Setting a budget is far more difficult for your personal life if you are unsure of how much money will be coming in. The following are obstacles that most freelance writers encounter as well as how to overcome these things or eliminate the problem completely.
Productivity Is Low
It can be difficult to remain productive if you don’t have a decent work environment. Because of this, you should do your best to create a dedicated space in your household where you keep your office supplies. This doesn’t have to be a full home office; it can be a space in the corner of your kitchen or bedroom.
If you’ve been writing for any length of time it’s time for you to think about what you want from your writing now.
That’s because as the pre-Socratic Greek Heraclitus is reputed to say, “change is the only constant.” (Personally I suspect he got that idea from someone else. There really isn’t much, if anything, that’s truly original – a topic for another time.)
Simply wanted to be paid
If you’re at all like me, when you first started writing all you wished for is to be paid as a writer. And after devouring Writers Market for years, and sending out at least a small bale of queries, (what’s the cyber equivalent of a bale?) it finally happened. My first writing sale was a booklet for Hazelden about how to have fun after you sobered up, and it’s still in print and I still get tiny royalties every quarter.
The worst advice I’ve ever received about writing was and occasionally still is “don’t.”
You probably recognize most of these – any one of which could qualify as the worst advice:
- Don’t count on writing paying the bills
- You need a regular job
- Writing is so insecure
- You’ll never make any money writing
The list could go on.
Nay-sayers give the worst advice
Nay-sayers give the worst advice, always telling people that whatever their idea is it’s no good. However, those who always discourage people are pretty up front – their pessimism for themselves and others is straight forward. If your Uncle Joe is a true nay-sayer he’s always going to say don’t do it, whatever it is. Saying you want to be a writer is bound to elicit his worst advice. One way or another he’ll tell you don’t risk it.
I have some problems with my poor attention to detail. I’ve known this roughly forever. It shows up in a variety of ways.
Apparently I was either born with or developed early my ability not to see things like a messy house, or car, or tottering stack of papers until suddenly I do. I’m often surprised and even though I recognize the mess as mine feel surprised by it when I do spot it.
Although I learned to varnish the brightwork (woodwork) on boats, it required mastering a certain focus that doesn’t come to me easily. And I’ve not found a way to transfer that focus to other situations.
This lack of attention to detail also shows up in my writing. Those of you who’ve followed me for a long time know I’m prone to typos. I often don’t see them, although I find them easier to spot on my desktop monitor than on my so-called smartphone.
Dictating changes, but doesn’t eliminate the errors
I watch my men friends type on that tiny mythical keyboard with some amazing accuracy that my smaller fingers just can’t seem to get.
Your mental transition to freelancing is the true key to your success.
You can have the 6 months income saved, what you consider the perfect computer and home or other office space. You can even have one or two clients already paying you, and still your attitude can get in the way.
In fact, if you don’t believe in yourself and your writing you’re unlikely to be successful as a freelance writer.
What is the right stuff for the mental transition to freelancing?
First of all, there’s no certain formula, or criteria that will guarantee you’ll make the transition to freelancing successfully. What worked for one person will not always work for another. That said, it is possible to point out a direction for your thoughts and feelings that may be helpful. Here are what I consider the three most important: A strong desire to freelance; some comfort with uncertainty, and self-knowledge and self confidence.
Strong desire to freelance
Look, in some ways having a regular job is mentally easier than freelancing, particularly in the beginning. The regular job is predictable, and so is the paycheck. Switching to freelancing is hard. If you’re a writer, you’ll need a different skill-set to build your freelance writing business. You’ll need dedication and discipline.
Can you write when you’re suddenly in a bad mood? While I can force myself to get a few words on the page, it’s way harder than it needs to be and I know I’ll have to rewrite everything. It’s tempting to quit and go to bed and eat cookies for the rest of the day.
Over time, I’ve come to realize that I’m the one responsible for all my emotions, good, bad, and indifferent. Sometimes I wish I didn’t know this and would rather blame you, someone else, or something else. But a truth is I can change whatever emotions I’m feeling right now into some other emotion if I’m willing.
In other words, it is possible to change your bad mode into if not a good mood, to something more up tone that will let you not only write but get on with the rest of your life in a positive way.
That includes moving from happy to sad as well as the other way around. Here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way.
Emotions are often a habit
How I feel is often habit. That is, I’m likely to have a certain reaction to almost any event that causes me to feel anger, boredom, love, joy, etc. For example, I’ve deliberately formed the habit of smiling at babies and letting that lighten whatever mood I’m experiencing. But many of my feelings are the result of unconscious habits.
Invoicing seems to baffle more than a few freelance writers. I know because I get questions. Not only that, my article Sample Invoice for Writing & Editing Work continues to get a high number of visits every week even though it was written ages ago.
My hunch is it’s not the mechanics about invoicing or even setting up a reliable process for making sure it’s done on a regular basis that’s the problem. Both of those invoicing procedures are important in running your freelance writing business or any freelance business.
No, I think something else is going on about invoicing
When freelance writers have trouble invoicing I strongly suspect it’s because they have money issues. These issues tend to fall into three areas:
If you follow this blog you may realize I love flat fees.
Like so many things in life, flat fees do have some potential problems.
The biggest, in my opinion, is that you may end up charging your client less, sometimes significantly less than you would have if you were charging them by the hour.
This came up in a comment to the article 4 Reasons Freelance Writers Should Always Insist on a Deposit, when Claudia, whom I know to be a dynamite editor, said “… The difficulty comes from not being certain, even though I have established decent measures of how many pages per hour, for instance, how much work and time I’ll actually expend, because the manuscript given me to edit is still incomplete.”
Do most of your writing clients really know what they want? Of course, mileage will vary. If you’re working with managers who often hire freelance writers, the chances are those clients really know what they want.
On the other hand, someone who has worked with few or no freelance writers often has lots of misunderstanding s.
For example, those who want books ghostwritten are classic for not knowing what they want. They know they want a book, but they have little idea how a book actually goes together and what’s actually required in terms of time and effort. The same is true of the executive of a small business who suddenly decides she wants a blog. Unrealistic expectations abound. They are sure they can get rich or increase their sales with ease.
Vague assumptions are perhaps the first clue they have no idea how to define or spec a writing job. They think they do, but because they don’t understand how writing actually gets done or what the writer needs, they can be difficult to work with. These seven questions will help your client know what they want and you to get crystal clear on your assignment.
1 – What is the writing for?
Every piece of writing has a purpose, and that should be made clear. Why do they want you to write it in the first place? Knowing this will help you understand your client’s goals.
2 – What does your client want it to accomplish?
Is this an advertising or direct mail piece that’s supposed to sell a product or service? Or perhaps it’s to get the firm or someone in the firm publicity. Is it to provide background information of something tighter and more specific? Is it to be a ghostwritten piece, and if so, whose voice should the writer use?