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Increase Your Writing Productivity By Breaking Down Your Day

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     “As a freelancer, do you ever have the time/energy to work on your own writing projects?”

     Joe asked this question on the blog about two weeks ago. I thought about it during vacation and decided to write a new post with my answer.

     As a full-time freelancer, it often gets difficult to slog through thousands of words every day while sitting at the dining room table. Unlike a proper office, I never get to pack up and leave. Even when I’m not working, I’m still in the same house, in the same space, and I can still see my work area.

     These are my top tricks for breaking up the day and maintaining focus while working on multiple writing projects. These tips are for all writers, not just full-time freelancers.

Time

     The easiest way to break up the day is with time. Don’t just set aside time to write: set aside a specific time. Make it a permanent part of your calendar and as non-negotiable as your job. Work from 9-5. Spin class 6-7. Write 8-9.

     If you have an unpredictable schedule, you can still use the clock to increase productivity. Set aside 15-minute chunks multiple times a day or week. Even the busiest person has at least 15 full minutes a day to devote to working on a story, whether you’re writing in a notebook during lunch, typing on your phone on the subway, or talking into a tape recorder as you drive.

    I start every morning by checking out Twitter and replying to email. Then I make my coffee and work for two hours. I take a break to play with my dog and take her outside. Then I work for another two hours, and repeat until I’ve finished my to-do list. For me, the placement of the time chunks is not as important as the number of them. I might finish my work early and have time to work on a non-writing project. I might have a morning appointment, so I simply work later into the night. My two-hour chunks allow me to focus on my work because I know I’ll have a break to take care of other stuff.

Space

     Multiple studies have shown that you get the most restful sleep when you use your bed for sleeping. Not reading, not eating, not watching TV. Use the same principle with writing.

     Set aside a space just for writing. Be serious about it. Don’t browse the web or eat lunch in your writing space.

The deadline chair

     Half of my dining room is set aside as a work station. In my living room, I have my deadline chair. I only use the chair when I need to work in a hurry.

     Separate furniture isn’t a necessity for a writing space. Turn your favorite chair sideways when it’s time to work. Choose one seat at your kitchen table for eating, but sit in a different place when it’s time to write. This small change in perspective kicks your brain into writing gear.

Entertainment

     Use multimedia to get yourself into the writing mood. Runners have a running playlist. Put together a writing playlist that suits your current project. Grooveshark lets you create playlists without purchasing each song. You can play movies or TV in the background instead if music isn’t your thing.

     I have multiple playlists on Grooveshark. Strangely, I do my best editing work to loud, fast, angry music like Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson. If I’m working on dreamy poetry, I’ll play Sarah Fimm and Tori Amos. If I’m just plodding away on a general assignment, I try to pick songs and artists with upbeat, dancey music, like Beyonce, the Pussycat Dolls, Ke$sha, and Shakira.

     One caveat with using a multimedia playlist: check your final draft to make sure no lyrics or dialogue sneaked into your work.

Topics

     This one is a bit controversial and harder to pull off. If you find it difficult to balance your work with your own writing and your personal interests, you may want to pitch articles on topics separate from your favorite areas.

     As a freelancer, I write a lot about writing, editing, social media, businesses, technology, and taxes. I specialize in the intersection of these topics. 

Costume and crafts

     However, I also have personal passions for video games, arts and crafts, and making costumes. I choose not to write professionally about these topics. I don’t need to monetize everything I do or like. Everyone has multiple interests: reserve a few just for fun.

 

 

What are your tips for breaking up the work day and increasing your productivity?

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Three Important Lessons Learned from Freelance Writing

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      When I tell people that I’m a freelance writer, they immediately have a bunch of questions for me. Where do I work? What do I write? What kind of money do I make? Can I get them a job? Everyone (from cab drivers to business owners to drunk tourists) wants to know.

      I see the light in their eyes as they imagine putting words to paper, seeing their books in stores, and receiving praise while the money rolls in. Every time, that bright light turns into careful consideration when I explain the reality of a freelance writing career.

1. It’s not you, it’s them. But it’s on you.

      This is something I didn’t figure out until I began my freelance writing career: your ideas are only half of writing. Whenever you are writing with the intent to publish, you are writing for other people. These mysterious and faceless people determine the success of your work. They must be able to understand your writing.

      Reader comprehension trumps personal expression. Do I hate it when my carefully constructed sentences are deleted or shortened or ripped apart? Of course I do. But I just shrug and move onto the next assignment. It’s nothing personal. 

 

2. Being your own boss means kicking your own ass.

      My income comes entirely from freelance writing and copy editing. I literally cannot afford to take it easy. Sure, there are mornings when I want to lie in bed and watch TV, and days when I want to ditch work and go to the zoo. That’s the worker side of me. The boss side doesn’t allow it.

My boss is like a separate character in my head who tells me what to do. If there are a ton of deadlines coming up, she tells me I need to stay in and work late. An article I really don’t want to write? The Writer can whine and cry and sulk at the keyboard, but the Boss stands over her shoulder with a grim smile and says, “Write.” She’s not mean, though. I do get vacation time and days off, but I have to earn them. Just like time off from any other job.

3. Panning for gold means throwing out a lot of dirt.

      It doesn’t matter what I write: I throw out material every time I create something. If I’m lucky, I’ll just ditch an introduction and a few sentences, then write new material. If I’m having an off day, I end up throwing out more words than I use.

      Right now, I’m writing in WordPad. I put the good material at the top. If I don’t think a paragraph fits here, but it might work somewhere else, I put it at the bottom of the document in a sort of writing graveyard. This article has 378 words in the graveyard, not counting the few paragraphs I scribbled by hand and the sentences deleted forever.

      When I’m writing for myself, I don’t mind a big graveyard: I can work the material into another post. If I’m writing for someone else, it’s time-consuming and counterproductive to have a graveyard bigger than the finished document. However, I have no hesitation about killing off paragraphs. The more you write, the less attached you are to individual sentences.

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