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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?

Five Freelance Writing Tax Deductions

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     It’s now the month of May, which means you should push April’s tax troubles out of your mind for another 11 months, right? Not if you want to be a financially savvy freelancer. Start keeping track of your deductions now for a fiscally fruitful year. 

     Here are the top five categories of tax deductions related to freelance writing in the US. If you have insight on another country’s laws, email admin[at] popularsoda [dot]com. Check with your tax professional to make sure you’re claiming all appropriate deductions (and avoiding problematic ones).

1. Office Supplies

     What writer doesn’t keep a pen and notebook handy at all times? These expenses are generally tax-deductible. 

Collection of Notebooks

To keep everything kosher, consider buying “work” notebooks separate from “fun” notebooks, then use work notebooks only for writing directly related to work. Outlining plots, planning blog posts, and writing short stories are tasks related to the business of writing. Making grocery lists and keeping track of doctor appointments are not.


2. Tools of the Trade

     Remember when Duotrope went paid and everyone freaked out? Well, it turns out that a Duotrope subscription is actually tax-deductible. Do you use Scrivener to outline your books? That’s deductible, too. You may also be able to deduct your subscriptions to writing and publishing magazines like Writer’s Digest: magazines, journals, and newspapers used solely for business purposes are tax-deductible.

 

3. Professional Memberships

     Memberships to professionals organizations (like the Editorial Freelancers Association or American Copy Editors Society) can be expensive for independent freelancers. However, the cost of these memberships is tax-deductible.
     
     Pick one to three organizations to join. Fewer organizations means you can be more active in your chosen groups, leading to a stronger professional presence and a better return on your (tax-deductible!) investment.

 

4. Classes, Conferences, and Conventions

     These are actually two separate categories, but they often overlap. Expenses related to education that “maintains or improves skills needed in your present work” are deductible. If you’re a traditionally published author looking to take a class on digital publishing, that’s deductible. Similarly, if you’re a writer who wants to take a class on editing, that class should be tax-deductible because it improves your writing work even though editing might technically be a different field.

Conference photo

Breakout session at ACES 2013.

If you join a professional organization and want to go to a writing-related conference, you can deduct some of your expenses. Conference registration fees are almost certainly deductible. Check with your tax professional about travel expenses like hotels and plane tickets. Meal expenses are generally deductible if you are going out with a business associate; meals for yourself are usually not. One quick tip: take pictures of receipts with your phone so you don’t have to worry about holding onto those tiny bits of paper.

5. Self-Publishing Expenses

     If you’re like most self-publishing authors, you pay for your own editing and book covers. If you’re smarter than most self-pubbers, you deduct these expenses from your taxes. Fees associated with maintaining your professional website may also be tax-deductible. Tax deductions shouldn’t be used to justify expensive services out of your price range, but deductions might ease your mind about the cost of (completely necessary) editing and design fees.

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     Keep in mind that the IRS stipulates that these expenses must go toward a legitimate business venture that has a realistic chance of making money. That is, if you pay for the noteboks and conferences and covers but you never actually publish a book, you can’t deduct writing-related business expenses. Just one more reason to stop dreaming and start publishing.

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Do you have insight on another country’s freelancer tax structures? Got another question about freelancer finances? Send us a tweet @popular_soda.

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