Freelance Feast Time: Six Tips for Surviving the Busy Times
guest article by Janel C. Atlas
Freelance writing is a world of extremes. We’ve all had weeks so dry we
wonder if it will ever rain again! But what about the opposite problem
freelancers face? The feast in the proverbial feast or famine?
As if on cue, all the editors start calling, e-mails
barrage your inbox with assignments, and clients are beating down your door,
begging you to let them hire you. And let’s not even mention that half-finished
book manuscript gathering dust on the corner of your desk. Just like that,
you’ve gone from boredom to busyness.
Don’t panic. When this happens, take a deep breath and see
this busy time for what it is—a sign that you're a successful and sought-after
freelancer! Read on for six tips from experienced freelance writers.
In the movies, writers’ desks are always messy, with
stacks of papers, dirty dishes, and unidentifiable objects taking up every
square inch of space. Some freelancers work well in those conditions, but I’ve
found that a quick clearing of my desk never fails to help me feel fresh.
Clutter on the desk equals clutter in my mind.
But don’t stop at straightening your desk; organize your
information, as well. Work out some kind of filing and record-keeping system
that enables you to get your hands on what you need—fast!
At the top of each page, I organize the details of what
each project entails, so that I can focus on the writing instead of on
remembering things like word count, contact names, and due dates. Just
remember that whatever you write down frees up space in your brain for the
Do it now
I work best in the evening, after ideas have been
simmering all day as I care for my baby. Then, when she goes to bed, I settle
in for a good chunk of work time. Each writer must find out what time of day
is his or her most productive, and then carve out that time.
Lori Widmer suggests breaking your workload into morning
and afternoon sessions. “I'm freshest in the morning, so I'll often work on
the most pressing thing for a few hours in the morning,” she shares. Then, “in
the afternoon, I'll return phone calls or work on smaller projects, just to
get them going.”
During that prime time slot, avoid procrastinating
(reading emails, surfing the Internet, or reading market listings).
Procrastination only breeds more stress.
If you’ve got good ideas and are ready to start, how do
you prioritize your work? Often, this is a psychological question. I prefer to
complete a short, simple assignment before tackling a large, complex one. That
way, I get something accomplished, can check it off my list of projects, and
feel good about myself.
Other writers prefer pounding away at a larger project
first to get a chunk completed before moving on to the littler ones. Whatever
your preference, when you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s wise to make a complete
list of all of the projects ahead of you.
“I work from a list of projects, and prioritize them,”
shares Anne. “I assign the approximate amount of time I'm going to spend on
each one each day; having a plan keeps me from going crazy!”
Lori agrees that making lists is big help in prioritizing
work: “I look first at the deadlines. I organize most of my work by deadlines.
The next step is to look at things that need expert input—interviews are a
high priority. I usually try to schedule those before I meet other deadlines,”
Ask for an extension.
I hesitated to include this possibility, simply because
it may be viewed as a cop-out. But even the most successful freelancers
sometimes have to ask an editor or client for an extension. Lori says, “I
would say one of the only times a writer should ask for an extension is when a
key source is unavailable until a later date. I've had that happen, and I've
pushed back on the editor, who has been more than willing to wait until that
source was available.”
Another valid reason to ask for extra time, suggests
Lori, is when family emergencies arise. “While I try to be there for my
clients, I have to put my family first. And good clients understand and
respect that,” she says.
So while it’s certainly not the first step you should
take, know that if you’re completely overwhelmed and can’t possibly get
everything completed on time, asking for an extension may buy you just the
time you need to get things done.
Pick up a good read.
When you’re supposed to be writing but you’re
encountering a frustrating block, lose yourself as a reader. Devon Ellington
says that she “reads as much and as widely as possible.” This helps keep her
ideas and style fresh.
Someone once asked fiction writer Barbara Kingsolver
whether she wasn’t worried that reading other books while she was writing
would influence her. Kingsolver retorted, “When I’m writing, I read Dickens
and Shakespeare and George Eliot and pray like crazy that they will rub off on
Even during the busy times, make it a priority to keep
reading, preferably something similar to what you’re working on. Stuck on a
narrative resolution? Read your favorite short stories. Can’t get web content
to sparkle? Visit a dozen high-traffic sites to get some ideas. Chances are,
you’ll come back to your work with some fresh ideas and inspiration to spare!
Leave your desk
There’s no doubt that there’s something to be said for
sitting at your desk for hours, pounding away at the keyboard, working like a
maniac to get everything done. But while it may seem counter-intuitive, many
freelancers share that a few minutes (or even longer) away from the desk can
be just the thing they need to push through a busy time.
You may decide to take your work with you. Devon has
found that changing venue can sometimes help her find new words and
perspective. “If I usually write at home, I'll write on the beach or in a
coffee shop or in the park or at the library,” Devon confides.
There’s no doubt that the busy times in your freelancing
career may seem intimidating. However, as many others have found, there are
many ways to push through the flood times and come out on the other side
having learned a lot about what makes you tick. Learn about yourself—what
pushes your buttons, when you work best, and what helps you accomplish the
task ahead—and construct a plan. “Without a game plan that works for your
specific personality type, it's going to be frustrating for you as a writer to
get your work accomplished,” says Lori.
And whatever you do, remember that these times are the
good times. They show that you are a successful writer, and inevitably, the
frenzied time will pass and you’ll be left hoping that business picks up again
Janel Atlas is a freelance writer and editor. You can
find out more about her at her website,