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Tips for Staying Ahead of Your Freelance Writing Work

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While having a regular freelance writing gig is nice, can you keep up with the ongoing need for fresh content?

Can you balance the workload with other projects?

Say you have a client who has you blogging weekly or even daily. Have you found it easy to come up with simultaneously original and useful content each and every week or even every day? In some saturated niches, it's not always easy producing regular content.

Here are some tips you can use to to blunt the edge of writing dry spells, if they happen--or prevent them altogether.

Before starting this post, I had not completed a single article or post in over four weeks--my longest dry-spell since I started to take blogging seriously in 2005. This was mostly due to recently getting into non-writing and long-term writing projects. So while I did earn some income, my concern was for what would happen when those projects ended. A creative dry spell has a habit of perpetuating beyond control if you don't forcibly do something to get out of it.

General Planning

Planning is an important part of managing your freelance writing career. If you have a regular writing gig, you might find that trying to come up with new ideas every day isn't all that easy. You can do your best, but you might feel as if you're perpetually chasing your own tail, trying to get a new article done on time. Instead, take some time to plan out ideas now that you can leverage later.

  • Keep an article idea bank. I prefer using a mind map, but any sort of list will do. Just don't censor yourself. Get everything down and filter later.
  • Leverage other people's work. If you read someone else's article that inspires you, record that idea as well. Maybe you can come up with a way to supplement the conversation, instead of rehashing it blandly.
  • Write a few paragraphs. Do this for each idea in your idea bank, but only if you feel like it at the moment. If nothing comes to mind, write a short bullet list for each idea, describing what you think the article will be about. This helps you to later to recall your thoughts.
  • Let the ideas brew. You might find that you don't presently touch your idea bank, but when you have a downturn, the list will come in handy, and some of the ideas might have fermented into articles in your mind. Sounds crazy? I've been using this technique for years.
  • Reorganize the ideas. Here's where using a mind map trumps using a linear list. If the ideas in your bank are not generating complete articles in your mind, it's time to reorganize the ideas. One of the beauties of a mind map is that you can easily cluster and reorganize your ideas into groups.

    You might find that an idea you previously thought of as a full article is really better as a section of a larger article. Using a mind map for the reorganizing is far more dynamic and simpler than looking at a large block of half-finished articles. A mind map catalyzes creative thinking because you are working in concepts. (Something about "not seeing the forest for the trees" and such.)

Mind Map to Refine Your Plans

In fact, mind mapping used properly is so productive that I'm reemphasizing this technique. It was due to working on longer projects (ebooks and books) that bumped me out of the blogging and article writing mindset.

My article bank had many ideas, all in various degrees of completion, though nothing seemed to want to finish itself. Finally tired of of this lack of progress, I created a mind map and started clustering and reorganizing related ideas. The net result was far more clarity on what I actually wanted to write about. Clarity leads to articles being completed.

Batch Your Tasks

When you're in a rut creatively, it's easy to dawdle and turn to Twitter or Plurk or a similar service thinking that maybe commiserating with online friends will help. Usually it only makes you feel better, not more productive. If you can't get any creative work done, consider your other tasks.

Darren Rowse of Problogger recently talked about the phenomenal productivity gains he made when he started batching together related tasks. He applies the method for both creative and administrative tasks, but the method effectively utilizes your current mindset to complete the most suitable tasks. This is a very effective method--one that you might find you've done subconsciously in the past.

Leverage Productivity: Go With the Flow

On the other hand, you might have days where your creative juices are just flowing and you don't want to stop. So don't. Here's where your idea bank comes in very handy. Use your creative mindset and write as much as you can. Consult your idea bank if you have to. If you go through your entire idea bank, spend a bit of time to fill it up again.

In a similar vein, you might find that certain days of the week or certain times of day are more productive and/or creative than other times. For me, my productivity sweet spot is in the morning. If I hit a watermark of 1000 words by 11 am, I seem to have a very productive day overall no matter how many breaks I might take later. The morning zone is a catalyst for me.

Of course, this is only on certain days. As for creativity, I'm far more creative on weekends. This is possibly a leftover subconscious mindset from all the years that I did my creative writing on weekends, after a long week of work. This may not be the same for you; you'll just have to find when your most creative and productive times are.

Balancing a Daily Writing Schedule

Here's a very loose and general approach that I use--not quite a working schedule but close:

  • Cut back on alloted hours per project. Force yourself to be efficient. This increases your effective DPH (Dollars per hour).
  • On the days you feel most productive, write extra articles or map them out for later completion. That is, write in blocks, as Darren's article suggests.
  • On less productive days, add reference links and edit your writing.
  • While you should follow a general daily work schedule, at any given hour of the day, go with the flow. Work on what feels most productive to you.
  • If you're not getting anywhere with billable work, first take a short break. Then try research, administrative or personal tasks--whichever feels most comfortable. Return to billable work later. Consult your idea bank if you have no pressing project to complete.

Overall, write when you're most relaxed; plan when you're agitated, anxious or non-creative. On weekends, plan ahead for the next week, instead of trying to find your creative footing over and over every day.

Final Thoughts

If you've hit rough spots in your work, maybe it's time for a temporary change. Learn to balance your creative and non-creative tasks to get the most of your productive times. It's difficult in a global village setting online, since colleagues from around the world might be IMing you, possibly asking you to vote on their great article--which could disturb your flow of creativity.

Don't be afraid to say no, or even turn off your IM clients. If your colleagues can't understand that they're disturbing you, they're probably the type who never returns favors. So pick your communication times just as you would your writing times.

Now to be practical, if you're a freelance writer, it's still important that you write everyday--even if it's not for a client or for publication. But if you reserve your most productive times for paid work, you will leverage productivity peaks. You also reduce the chance that you'll hit a dry spell.


Photo by net_effekt.

Editorial Note: A few times a month we revisit some of our reader’s favorite posts from throughout the history of FreelanceSwitch. This article was first published August 17th of 2008, yet is just as relevant and full of useful information today.

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