Tuesday, November 4, 2008

How to Make a Writing Schedule and Stick to it

When my friends and I have our “what did you do this week?” conversation, they roll their eyes when they hear that I went shopping with my wife, I read a book, I had a nap. Oh, and somewhere in there, I wrote and sold articles.

Although I enjoy doing many things during the workday (that my friends cannot do at their “regular” jobs), I do have a schedule that helps me get the paid work done. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have the freedom to do those other things.

Schedules aren’t bad

Creative people often shun schedules as a regimented controller, preferring to let their whims help them complete their writing tasks. I’m a creative person, but I used to work in a highly structured sales environment, so I know what can get done with a well-thought-out schedule. When I became a full-time writer, I took with me the strict adherence to a schedule that helped me become a successful writer instead of a struggling one.

Making a schedule and sticking to it

If you want to make a living as a freelance writer, having a schedule and sticking to it is one of the keys to being successful. Without it, you end up defaulting to what is comfortable and easy to do. Here are some tips to help you make a schedule and stick to it:

Use a short-term/long-term planner combination. One of the best planner combination is a daily planner and a monthly calendar, or a weekly planner and a quarterly calendar. This way you can see what you need to do right now… and what deadlines are coming up.

Set goals. Rather than fill your calendar entries with “work on book” and other open-ended projects, fill your calendar with specific projects like “complete 2500 words in 2 hours” or “outline next chapter in half an hour.” If you fill your day with goals and add rewards to each goal, you’ll find your writing will improve and your jobs will increase. Set goals to send your resume to a certain number of companies in an hour. Set goals to research, outline, and finish an article in a specific amount of time. Then, strive to achieve and improve on those goals!

Make sure you have a due date. Writers will tell you that jobs without due dates don’t get done quickly. When you have a job from a client who says, “just send it whenever you’re done,” create a due date and stick to it.

Devote at least a quarter of your time to marketing. This often-overlooked tip will make or break freelance writers. Many professionals fail because they are strong marketers out of the gate but when work picks up, their marketing slacks off. Once the projects are done, there is nothing else to do. Having too much work is a risk that is easier to deal with than having too little work.

Break down assignments. When you get a job, break it down into the tiniest steps possible and assign due dates for each step. It’s easier to work ahead than to try and catch up.

Devote half an hour to improvement. Whether this means that you read the dictionary or head to the library to browse, you need to get better but you don’t have an HR department scheduling training sessions for you. You’ll get more jobs because of it.
Devote an hour to unpaid/low-paying jobs. There are two kinds of unpaid jobs you need to do: The kind you can do well already but should do to keep your name out there and to balance out the karma in the universe. The other kind of unpaid/low-paying writing is the kind that you don’t do well but would like to improve, since the experience will help generate a portfolio of clips.

Prioritize your jobs. When you are finishing up your writing for the day and you have your list of tasks to do tomorrow, pick the top 3 jobs. Then, the following day, make sure those get done before anything else.

Do the hard things when you’re at your best. Figure out when you are at your very best, and spend the first part of that time on a hard job you’re reluctant to do, and the rest of the time on something creative you enjoy doing.

Rewards. In the “real world,” people complete the tasks that make up their job in order to get paid… and to keep from getting fired! As a freelancer, it’s easy to put off the projects you don’t like, so get them done by giving yourself little rewards: a chocolate bar or a nap or getting off early and going to the mall.

One of the reasons you chose to become a freelance writer is the freedom it brings. But without a little structure, you have chaos, not freedom. A chaotic workday does not help you accomplish as much or enjoy your job as much. A workday with structure gives you the freedom to get the work done, get more work done, and maintain a lifestyle you want to live!

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