Why Writers MUST Write for themselves

None of the writers that I know ‘fell’ into writing. It’s not a job you generally stumble into to pay the bills, or because your Dad has a friend who has a sister who can get you a job. Most writers start off as writers quite simply because they love writing. They love the feeling of pouring your thoughts onto a blank piece of paper to make something substantial, something that can elicit emotion and inspire ideas. Why then as a busy freelance writer is it easy to fall into a ‘writing is a chore’ mind-set?

I guess like anything that pays the bills there can become an element of the ‘must’ about your writing and anything that becomes a ‘must’ can feel like a drag. Certainly on a rainy Wednesday afternoon with three deadlines hanging over you and an article about ‘the best ways to care for your pet chinchilla’ staring out from your screen writing can start to feel like an odd form of torture.

That’s why I think that as busy as you are, as tired as you are as thoroughly irritated with the sound of your fingers tapping over the keys as you are, you must, must, must carve out time to write for yourself. Write about what you love, write in a style you love, publish it online or don’t but make sure you do it. Writers are by their nature creatives, but for many writers who need to pay their rent they won’t always have the luxury of writing what they enjoy. By taking just a few minutes a day to write a little of what you love you can keep the creative fires burning.

For me that might mean a few scribblings before bed time or the first few pages of a novel that I probably won’t ever finish.  If you love to write, WRITE and occasionally do it selfishly and only for you.

Freelancing and Work-Life Balance – Is it Possible?

So at some point you took the plunge.  You decided to become a freelancer, you quit your job and burned your bridges by sending an email around the office telling everyone what you really think of them (just me?).  You had a vision of being a freelancer that involved long days creating kick ass pieces over a latte in a coffee shop.  You would spend more time with your kids, partner, friends and generally be a more balanced person.  Maybe you would finally take up Yoga or Pilates or whatever other life affirming pastime you have been dreaming of.  Then you actually start working for yourself and work takes over your life.  You won’t mean it to, you never intended it to, but you suddenly find yourself replying to emails at 11.30 pm and drifting off during conversations with loved ones as you think about your next marketing strategy.

It figures that you are going to much more invested in your own business than in a role working for someone else.  After all if you don’t succeed it can mean going a month without a wage or struggling to meet your bills.   But, and this is a big important but, if you do not create some boundaries for yourself you will go insane.   You need down time, your body needs time to relax and perhaps most importantly the people around you need a little of your undivided attention.

This is all clicked for me one evening when sat on the sofa surrounded by electronic devices and pretending to watch TV with my better half while actually doing half a dozen work related task.   Suddenly my normally very placid and lovely boyfriend snapped at me to ‘stop looking at a screen for 10 seconds!’.   OK, so first I was angry at him, couldn’t he see I was trying to build a business, improve our lives and achieve something?!  But after the steam cleared a little, I realised we had been playing out this scene most nights for the last fortnight and I had largely been ignoring my family the entire time.

In answer to the title of this post I do think it is possible to freelance and build a work-life balance but you really have to set yourself some boundaries and then stick to them.   The key one for me is to set a start and close time for work related stuff.   This will probably be longer than office hours so maybe eight till eight.  I don’t need to be head down working hard for all of this time but this is the period in which I will answer correspondence, carry out admin tasks, research and generally actively input into my business.   You may think that you just can’t wait to respond to the article request about the rise of the boyfriend jean but I promise that you can and more importantly that you should.   Remember no one expects a 24 hour service from their freelancer and if they do they should be paying you a bathtub load of cash for it.

Another key skill is to learn how to prioritise.   It’s really easy as a new freelancer to get so excited about any job coming in that you treat everything as a code red priority.   As you start to get busier that is simply going to lead to you being burnt out really fast.  Look at the urgency and timescale of every task and give it a deadline and slot of your time accordingly.  Of course on occasion this will all go out of the window and ten super urgent things will come in at once.  That’s ok, everyone is going to have a rush now and again but if you try to implement a decent system of organisation and prioritisation 80% of the time you will feel much more in control.

Finally, remember why you started this whole freelance adventure in the first place.   What did you hope to achieve and gain?   It’s a little cheesy but pin these up in your home office or workspace and reflect on them now and again.  If your aim was to see more of your kids and you are actually seeing a helluva lot less of them then you need to reshuffle and re-evaluate.  Freelancing can be the path to a great career and a great work-life balance but it’s really easy to get side-tracked by all of the minutiae of running your own business so tread with care.

Newbie Freelance Writer Tips

A brand new website calls for a brand new shiny blog.  So here it is!  I must admit that given writing is what I do for a living I have been procrastinating far more than I ought to about what to feature in my first post.   I write so much more productively with a brief!  But now having put digital pen to paper I thought it might be fun (sort of!) to look back on the embarrassing mistakes I made as a newbie freelancer and try and dredge up some tips to share with you all about starting out as a writer.

1) You will have to work for free (or very close to it!)

If you are starting out as a brand new shiny freelance writer you have a problem.   That problem is you have no portfolio, or in other words, a lovingly curated collection of your published works to share with potential clients.  So when you are starting out be prepared to work for peanuts at sites like fiverr.com or for free.  One of the best ways to do this is contacting local businesses or calling in favours from family friends.  I remember thinking that a decent introduction letter and a couple of pieces I had knocked up in word would get me high paying work – it didn’t and unless you are very lucky it won’t for you.  Start small and build, with a bit of luck and some writing smarts you will move on from this low paying stuff pretty quickly so hang on in there.

2)You will make mistakes (Just try and learn from them!)

Starting to write professionally you will learn that there are some things you don’t know.  A grammatical error you have made all of your life only to get pointed out by a grumpy client or missing a brief by a million miles and having a contract cut short.   Criticism is tough to take, especially when you are pouring your heart on soul into something, but take a breath and listen or read criticism then take some time to reflect.  OK, so occasionally you are going to get a completely impossible client who is just plain mean but most of the time criticism has a basis and learning from it will make you a better writer.  I say this as someone who has nearly thrown her laptop out of the window on multiple occasions – BREATHE people!

3)Write what you know (or can learn REALLY fast)

I see a lot of freelance bio’s that say the author can write about anything.  Well maybe they can write about anything but I would bet my house that they can’t write about everything well!  I have learnt through painful assignments that I cannot write about techy stuff.  My brain cannot process it and I can only produce the musings of a 6 year old on anything vaguely techy.  I have accepted that my niche in life is lifestyle writing so make-up, dating, essentially all the fluffy stuff.  I’m ok with this because I know I can write about this stuff well.  So find your niche and do a really, really good job, not only will you have a lot more fun you will sell a hell of a lot more stuff.

4)Try a variety of platforms

If you have started to look into this freelance writing stuff you will know you can sell your services over a variety of platforms and sites.  My advice is try a few and find two or three that work for you and concentrate on them.  For me peopleperhour.com and the jobs board at problogger.com have been fruitful but there are a ton of options out there. Spreading yourself too thin will make it difficult to build a strong profile and in honesty is just confusing.  Try some on for size and see what works for you.   Over time you may build up direct clients (which is ace) but for most of us a presence on these platforms is necessary to make a living.

5)Do not give up (and you will want to allll the time)

Starting up as a freelancer is frustrating, hard work and at times just a pain in the backside.   You will have days where you are struggling to scratch together an income and you wonder if it is worth the effort.   You will have a lot of these days especially at the beginning.   I honestly believe that with some hard work and lots of enthusiasm you can make it as a freelance writer.   I am still not all the way where I want to be with this writing business and sometimes I beat myself up.  The rewards of freelancing are immense, set your own schedule, come into contact with a whole range of great people and do a job you are passionate about.   I think these rewards outweigh the hard stuff – so keep going – it will be worth it!