P / P Master Class is a series of writing advice for aspiring writers.
Read tips below on how to sculpt your freelance writing routine
I’ve had a string of emails from young students and aspiring writers asking questions about how I broke into the writing industry. Before I can explain how to become a full time professional independent writer, author and journalist, I have to talk about time management and discipline. Since it’s the holidays and it’s too busy a time to give in person workshops, I’m going to be sharing professional advice on Publikprivate.org.
People who know me now think of me as a “morning person,” but the fact that I consistently get up early was totally circumstantial.
I’ve lived bi-coastalally for at least a decade. I would spend a 2-3 years in California (Los Angeles or the Bay Area) or on the East Coast (New York or Baltimore/DC) working, lecturing and writing. I learned how to wake up early by living in California which is three hours behind/earlier than New York. If my NYC or east coast deadline was noon, my deadline was 9am in California. Back then, there were times when I didn’t write my first draft until the morning of, so I would have to get up between 5am and 7am to write and hand in my article on time.
After a couple of years of having 9am deadlines, I naturally learned to get up early. The process wasn’t forced, it was motivated by the fact that I wanted to keep my job. It wasn’t something I was actively training myself to do. So, when I arrived back on the east coast, I’d get up between 8 and 10 am every morning and was able to focus on my work while living alone.
Now that I live in a family environment with a partner and have access to a larger kitchen and home in general, I began to really focus ro create a disciplined and consistent morning routine that started between 7:30am and 8 am every morning.
Time Management & Discipline – It’s Not What You Think
Don’t just go with the flow in the morning – even if it is working well, you can always do better.
I started shaping a strict discipline though household management. I’d get up around 8am and immediately make a pot of coffee, clean my kitchen (and sometimes bathroom) and cook breakfast. I know this seems simple and old-fashioned, but if you want to be a freelance writer, you’re most likely going to be working from some form of home office. So, essentially you’ll be going from your bed straight to work without a commute.
I personally started looking at preparing breakfast and cleaning my home almost like a military discipline. Since I don’t jog in the morning or have a formal exercise routine, cleaning is my way of staying in shape, getting my heart pumping while providing a healthy, clean environment for myself and the other members of my home.
By the time I’ve made coffee, cleaned, cooked and took out the trash, my mind is sharp, my body had been active for 30 minutes to an hour, and I am ready to sit down and work on a tedious work project.
Your home IS your office.
If you don’t have a designated place to write and work at home, create one. Buy or attain a desk, and keep it organized. An office with papers, files and mail all over the place is not going to make you feel prepared to truly focus on what you have to do. It’s ok to work in your bed if you enjoy doing that, but make sure you make the bed before you get back in, maybe take a shower. Try not to work in your pajamas. Have accessible, comfy clothes you can change into before you get to work.
Getting up early is essential.
I am very aware of the “night writer” and the “day writer”. Some people are naturally nocturnal, but it is very likely as a freelancer, your editor or project leader works in a newsroom or is active and available to answer emails between 9am-5pm. It’s very important to have your first emails and replies in to your boss between 9:30am and 11am. That’s when they’ve had time to get their coffee and finish their own routines.
All successful professional writers, editors and content professionals have morning routines.
There’s no way anyone can write, edit, fact check, dig into a spreadsheet or work on an app from home without having something that sharpens their minds so they get can through the day with making little to no mistakes every single day.
When I make a small blunder with a publicist or editor, I usually say: “So, sorry! I haven’t had my coffee yet!” I usually get the reply, “I totally understand! No worries at all.”
That’s a freelance professional’s way of saying, “I haven’t quite clicked into work-mode yet because I haven’t completed my morning routine.” Any pro (freelance or staff) would get that and give you the benefit of the doubt or a time extension if you’ve been previously consistent.
Avoid asking for time extensions.
The only time I ask for an extension is when I’ve worked past 6pm or 7pm, hit a mental wall and know I would be more effective if I had some downtime that evening and a good night’s sleep. Many times, because I have a reputation for being efficient and (hopefully) my work has been good so far, I’ll get the extension because any pro writer, editor or content professional knows one is most effective after they’ve rested.
It’s not exactly well-being, it’s professionalism.
Health and freelance work should go hand in hand. An excuse like, “Sorry, I went to an event and had a late night last night. I only slept for three hours!” is telling your boss you’re not making your work responsibilities a top priority. When you agree to write an article or take on a project, you’re expected to be prepared and sharp until the job is completed. After that, do what you like!
Even if you’re a parent, childcare excuses only go so far.
Many times, your editor or boss has one or more kids and still manages to do a great job. It’s ok to express that you’re having childcare complications or a family emergency once or twice, but if your boss is in a senior position, they’re most likely over 30 or 40 years old and have lived life and balanced a family for some time (this can be considered a generalization, but this statement comes from personal experience with many colleagues). If your boss can find their stride, they expect you to as well.
I have had some editors tell me, “Sorry for the delay in response, I had to pick up my kid and had a busy week.” That’s totally understandable and fine, we’re all human, but as a freelance writer, you’re expendable and replaceable. You’re not on staff, you don’t have a salary – so you’ve got to be that much more reliable than those who are staff at a publication, media firm or literary agency – not better, but someone they can trust.
Get up early to get ahead of competition.
If you think you’re the only freelancer who wants to work with a reputable publication, literary agency or media company, you’re sadly mistaken.
Strive to be “the one to work with.”
This means getting up early and replying to emails quickly, being sharp enough to turn around short deadlines (I’ve had deadlines that were as short as 45 minutes!). If you’ve been consistent and people start calling on you to work with/for them instead of the other way around, it’s because you’re seen as reliable. Their expectations are HIGH. Don’t lose your footing because you wanted to sleep in on that one Tuesday morning.
Wait to rest until the weekend.
I try to write everyday and prep for the next week on weekends, but I also take it slowly. I go to coffee shops and read, and spend time with friends and family. I get groceries, cook dinner and watch movies…but because I get up early every day of the week (today is Sunday and I’m writing this piece…but I slept in until 10 am.) But I chill a bit more and let those in my home rest on weekends.
Don’t let your routine get in the way of other’s lives.
You’re a writer. You don’t need company, you need discipline and space to work. So, if you get up in a cranky mood and pick a fight with a family member or let your attitude disrupt the vibe of your home…even if you live alone, you’re not helping yourself. You’re creating a toxic work AND home environment. Keep it peaceful. You signed up for this career. It’s no one else’s fault or responsibility in regards to what you take on.
I hope these tips help. This is all real talk from personal experience and from learning from professionals around me. Good luck on your routine and your career! More to come!