Being a freelance writer can have its perks and its pitfalls. I have the freedom to go to lunches and throw laundry on during the day, but every piece of freedom I grab takes away from the time and effort needed to finish a project.
It can quickly become chaotic if you’re not careful, and all the boundaries between professional life and personal life can blur.
Early in my career, I didn’t have a grasp on how to arrange my life in a healthy way. I’d write on vacations or late into the night because I hadn’t managed my time well, or in many cases life had just simply gotten in the way. (Two decades of my writing career was also spent raising kiddos.)
Back when I was younger, I could rise early or stay up late and get it done.
Pretty soon, though, I knew that this lifestyle wasn’t sustainable for me. I couldn’t have Deadline as my constant companion, following me around like my shadow, insisting I pay attention to it every waking second. (And oddly, in my dreams sometimes too!)
Over the years, I’ve developed my own process to try to stay organized and sane. I’ve mentioned before that I divide my word count goal between the weeks I have available, to help me stay on track.
But there are also other steps I take to keep myself organized and disciplined on my road to finishing a project. Here are a few:
Handwritten Action Steps
There are dozens of apps out there to keep you organized, and many really good ones too. But what has been tried and true for me is the simple, handwritten list. I keep a nice, square, roomy notepad right by my computer and add things to my daily “get done” list. When I’m finished I cross it off. There is something about writing it down that allows me to remember it and keep returning it to. I don’t have to pull up an app, open a planner, or even turn on my computer. It’s right there. It is also gratifying to physically mark it off. These are my daily tasks. And when I don’t finish something I move it to the next day’s daily task.
There are two apps that have been helpful to me when I’m juggling multiple projects:
Basecamp – This has a free version that allows you three different “folders.” I began using Basecamp when I started working for Skit Guys Studios. It has a clean look which is easy for me to focus on. Each Basecamp folder allows you to set up “To-Dos,” “Folders for Documents,” “Calendars” “Messages” and use other handy tools. So one of my three is called “Freelance” and this allows me to keep track of projects and all the necessary info I have for them. I often have small and big projects running together so trying to keep track of all of these in my head is not a good use of my head space! Basecamp does a lot of the heavy lifting for me, including reminding me of when deadlines are due. Unlike my written task list, Basecamp gives me a nice snapshot of the overall picture of my deadlines and projects, and allows me to store important documents in one place.
DeClutter – This little app surprised me. I thought it was little pricey, but I use the heck out of it. DeClutter stays hidden at the top of your computer (or side, whichever you prefer) and quietly keeps track of everything you’ve copied, whether websites or info. You’ll be surprised by how nice it is to pull it down and see it all on the clipboard for you.
But even handier is the simple way it allows you to keep notes. It’s basically there for you to “jot down” anything you need at a moment’s notice, rather than pulling up an app or trying to pull up the file you need to make the note. To me, it’s like a scrap piece of paper that’s always ready for you, and always organized as well.
Butt in Chair
It’s difficult, I know. When I’m working on a large project, I often break it into different timed segments. I’ll set a timer and work for a straight 25 minutes without checking phone or email or getting up. Then I’ll take a five- or ten-minute break and reset my timer for a different amount of time. Working in small, targeted bits of time, rather than an endless sea of time, helps my brain buckle down and work. You can get apps and actual work timers to help you with this, or just use your phone like I do.
Arrange Your Time
I’m best in the morning, so I use morning times to hit my heavy creative projects, the ones that need the most brain power. In the afternoon, I try to work on administrative things, like returning emails (though I often start the day clearing my Inbox of all the clutter). Some, however, begin getting creative in the afternoon and evening. Know when your sweet spot is so you can try to arrange your creative time wisely.
Fix Your Mindset
If you’re interested in being a professional writer, then you must begin to think like one, no matter what stage of the journey you’re in. Take deadlines seriously. Work like you’re under contract with a publishing house. Speak with others in a language that reflects your intentions in life. Instead of treating it like a hobby, treat it like a job: “I’ll call you after I get my work done.” Once you get that first contract or job, you will be expected to work like a professional, not a hobbyist, so you might as well begin to treat yourself like the pro that you know you are.