5 Ways to Balance Freelance Writing Jobs and Personal Projects

5 Ways to Balance Freelance Writing Jobs and Personal Projects

As a freelance writer, you probably came to the work because you wanted to make a living doing something you love. But with a growing client list and an active workload, it’s easy to lose sight of your own writing dreams and put your personal writing projects on hold.

As a freelance writer and editor, I take on many projects spanning a variety of topics. And during good stretches when work is rolling in steadily, I’m shifting course every hour or so, keeping several clients happy with small daily progress.

But what’s good for the bank account isn’t always good for my creativity. After a morning spent laying out ad copy for a newsletter, writing a blog post on Medicaid expansion, and line editing a memoir, I have little left in the tank to devote to my personal writing projects — the work that led me to this writing life in the first place.

How do you give your best work to your clients while also maintaining the emotional and creative energy you need to make progress on your own writing? Here are five strategies that help me enjoy both a successful freelance career and a satisfying writing life.

1. Avoid thinking of “their” work and “your” work

Maintaining a line between client projects and your own will leave you competing against yourself all day long!

I need to put my best writing and best effort into all the work I’m doing and take pride any time someone wants to hire me.

When I was young and in love with the idea of a life of words, I never imagined that I would spend hours each week researching and writing about health care. But when I learn to accept the freelance work I do as just one piece of a growing portfolio, I see my clients’ success as integral to my own.

2. When possible, accept only clients whose work you believe in

When you believe in what your clients are doing, you won’t resent investing some your best writing toward their success.

Recently, I accepted a new client whose mission includes educating healthcare professionals and the general public about the importance of exercise. As someone who is committed to healthfulness, I was glad to be part of their efforts. Another organization I work with seeks to highlight the important role that our work plays in our lives … a belief I hold dearly myself.

When I understand and value the overall mission of the people and organizations I work for, my efforts on their behalf never feel wasted.

3. Let the work you are doing for others inform, instruct and improve your own work, and vice versa

Sure, if money were no object you’d rather spend your days penning novels or crafting screenplays. But the work you do for clients can help sharpen your writing skills and leave you better prepared when you do sit down to your own work.

When a client hired me to improve the readability of some technical language in the company’s promotional materials, I was reminded of the importance of keeping my audience in mind when I write.

The research skills and close reading I employ every day as I attempt to explain new healthcare laws for another client help me become a better reader and researcher for the essays I enjoy writing.

[bctt tweet=”Writing for clients helps you do a better job on personal writing projects, says @charityscraig”]

4. Be realistic about how much work you can accomplish each day and plan accordingly

If your to-do list is still lengthy at the end of every day, you have a problem. The solution may be as simple as planning your day differently or looking at your calendar in larger chunks.

When I tried to plot out many tasks in small chunks of time throughout the day, I always fell behind. Eventually, I realized that changing gears every hour is more tiring for me than working on related tasks for longer stretches. To capitalize on this knowledge, I’m learning to batch related work (like emails and phone calls) as well as set aside larger sections of my day to move some larger, single tasks to completion in one sitting.

This strategy means I may not get to each client’s work every day, which works just fine according to my arrangements with them. However, this system requires me to stick to my plan, because if I’ve blocked out only one afternoon to do all of a client’s work for the week, there’s less room for interruptions or last minute changes.

5. Regularly assess which type of work you do better at which points in the day

Knowing yourself and your work habits is an important — and often overlooked — part of planning your day. For instance, I find that morning hours work best for me to draft new content or read complicated documents, while afternoons are fine for responding to emails or phone calls.

Also, freelancing involves much more administrative work than I ever imagined, like keeping track of receipts, sending invoices, logging mileage, etc. Rather than spreading this work throughout my day, I try to batch it together in one lump during the afternoon when I can hold my focus only a few minutes at a time.

As your workload fluctuates or your family grows or your body ages, your work habits might change. Anytime you feel a slip in your productivity, go back and take another look at how you feel at various times throughout the day and adjust your schedule accordingly.

Find a balance that works for you

I’ve heard many writers talk about the mysterious thing that happens when we take advantage of the opportunity to write — more opportunities seem to follow. Don’t underestimate what can come from work done well, whether it’s a report for a client or an ebook you’ve written for your own business.

When we give our best writing and our best selves to every job — in other words, when we see all the work as our own — our writing will improve and our writing lives will become more satisfying.

How do you balance your personal writing projects with writing for clients?

Filed Under: Freelancing
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  • Patricia @ Pollywog Creek says:

    Excellent advice, Charity. For over 4 years, I freelanced for 2 magazines that drained me. I often didn’t connect with my assignments. I was frequently asked to write about subjects which I neither cared about or had experience with, so the research was laborious, boring, and time-consuming. When I was offered a position with a new magazine with a more attractive mission, I resigned from the other 2 magazines and I couldn’t be happier. I’m still required to do research, but it’s interesting and inspiring. And I’m able to tackle subjects that help me, as well. I think where I’m falling short now is both No. 4 and 5. If I’m ever going to find the time and energy to devote to my personal writing projects, I need to plan differently.

    • Charity Singleton Craig says:

      Patricia – Thanks for sharing your experiences. We don’t always have the luxury of choosing our clients. I know I don’t. But the further I go, the more important I realize it is to align my clients with my overall goals for my writing life and my freelance business.

      I am constantly working on numbers 4 and 5 myself. At some point, we have to realize we each have only 24 hours a day. But there are many things we can do to make the most of our hours!

      Thanks again for stopping by!

  • Elke Feuer says:

    Great advice, especially #5. I used to have one client, but recently acquired a second, and my existing client asked me to write articles for other sections of the magazine. Yay! I also write books, and have a business and full-time job, so I’m constantly having to review my schedule to find a balance that works for me.

    At the moment, I carve out time for both personal and client projects. It’s so easy to push aside your personal projects for clients, so I make sure to give them equal priority when planning.

    • Charity Singleton Craig says:

      Elke – Thanks for your comment. I find, like you, that the more client work I take on, the more important number 5 is. It’s not always possible for me to batch all of my work, but the more I do that, the easier it is to plan my day for maximum efficiency. Also, planning ahead helps, too. If I let deadlines slide, then whatever is urgent has to take top priority.

      I agree that it’s so easy to push aside personal projects. For instance, one day this week I wasn’t feeling well. So I took a few hours “off” one morning. As I made up the time, I had to concentrate on client work because I have expected deliverables. I do try to give my work equal priority in general, though.

  • Jesse LaJeunesse says:

    I admit that as someone just starting out, this does scare me. I worry about being sucked in towards either direction, either too much focus on my personal projects or too much focus on work projects. This is all solid advice, and I plan to come back and read this article again once I have more work, and see if it has a different meaning at that point.

    • Charity Singleton Craig says:

      Jesse – I think you are a step ahead by realizing the balance will take work. I’ve been doing full-time freelance work for about a year now, and I have to come back and reevaluate on a regular basis as my client load fluctuates and the deadlines for my personal work come and go. I think one of the most important things I’ve learned in this area is that I need to give it attention so either personal or client work doesn’t get away from me.

      Also, I use a tool called Todoist to help with task management. It makes batching and prioritizing, as well as setting deadlines for myself, really easy.

      Thanks for your comment. Best wishes as you move forward into the wonderful world of freelancing!

  • Genevieve Van Voorhis says:

    This is such a helpful article. Particularly #4. Most other freelancers have suggested blocking out little sections for each project every day, and that just doesn’t gel for me. I could definitely see myself being more productive if I allotted less frequent, longer chunks of time for each project. I also appreciated what you said not differentiating between “your work” and “their work” and carrying over what you learn from project to project. Sound advice. Thanks!

    • Charity Singleton Craig says:

      Thanks, Genevieve. Writing articles like this always creates the possibility that other people do things differently. It sounds like other articles you have read haven’t connected very well to your own work style. I’m glad some of the things I am learning — and I’d like to emphasize that I am STILL learning these things — are helpful to you.

      One of my larger clients regularly sends me positive feedback from their own clients on the writing I do for them. That really helps me feel more invested in the work I do for them. Trying to eliminate their “mine” and “theirs” really is an important part of my own success as a freelancer.

      Thanks for your comment.

  • Adam Zetterlund says:

    I really love the fifth point of this article, particularly where you’ve recommended taking the time to look at your day to pinpoint where things are going downhill. I’m fortunate to have a large contract with a single client currently, which gives me some leeway in prioritizing personal and work projects. I often try to keep myself in the 9-5 mentality for paid work, while personal projects come before & after “traditional” work hours.

    I’m going to rethink that approach so I can focus on those pesky admin tasks during my lulls and work on personal stuff when my brain is still fresh. Todoist also sounds like a great resource!

    Great advice & recommendations Charity!

    • Charity Singleton Craig says:

      Thanks, Adam. I’m glad this was helpful. Your particular story has a key element to it in addition to evaluating yourself at different times of the day. You also have to evaluate your work. A person who has lots of small clients may have to do the best he can in batching like-types of work. But for one larger client – like you have and like I have – it makes it a little easier.

      Just the week I am tweaking my schedule a bit based on my own advice! As I said above, I’m still very much learning about these strategies. I’ve employed them enough to know that they work for me, but I have to constantly shift and adjust as my workload and life changes.

      Thanks for your comment, Adam!

  • Katharine @ Katharine Writes says:

    Thanks so much for this post — it was just what I needed to hear this week! Figuring out how to divide up my time to leave space for my passion projects is something I definitely struggle with. But of course, having time for those projects is the reason I wanted a non-traditional career in the first place! I particularly appreciate your advice about how you divide up your work; trying to do a little of everything each day leaves me exhausted too. Time to reassess how I divide up my to do list…!

    • Charity Singleton Craig says:

      Katharine – I’m so glad this was helpful. Like you, I sometimes resent the flexibility of my work, even though it’s actually a perk. I think the key is taking control of our time rather than letting our time control us. Thanks for your comment. Best wishes as you tweak and reassess this week!

  • Jenelle says:

    Great input and right on time. Appreciated 5. Regularly assess which type of work you do better at which points in the day. Balancing all our priorities can be tricky. Best wishes!! Jenelle

    • Charity Singleton Craig says:

      Jenelle – I like that phrase “regularly assess,” maybe that, more than anything, is what I would recommend to all writers trying to build a sustainable writing life. Thanks for your comments!

  • Joe Orozco says:

    Excellent article. I’d been looking for a long time for a piece that could share some balance between freelance and creative writing. Here’s my question though: How does one go about marketing oneself as a freelance writer and fiction author? I have both a personal site and a business site, and the thought of maintaining two separate blogs, two separate Twitter feeds and the like to cater to two different audiences feels overwhelming on top of my full-time job and freelance accounts. Eventually I’d like to move full-time into my freelance gig, make that my primary source of income as I work at publishing, but I don’t know how to balance it all without driving myself crazy. Any thoughts would be welcomed.

    • Charity Singleton Craig says:

      Hi Joe – Thanks for your comment. It is quite a feat to balance freelance work, personal writing, PLUS a full-time job for you! Oh my goodness. You are doing well!

      I hope others might chime in with their experience, too. From my perspective, the marketing work you do for yourself for each of these areas may end up looking much different for each type. Remember that social media, web presence, etc. are all tools for a strategy of communication. Depending on who you want to communicate with (i.e. either your readers or your clients), you may find that a blog, a Twitter feed, a Facebook page, etc. are not necessary for both. I have one website that primarily focuses on my personal writing — which has a broader audience — and also has a page for other services I offer. My freelance business is entirely referral, so I just need a place to point people who might wonder what I do. Because I maintain a short list of ongoing freelance clients, I don’t use traditional “marketing” techniques to communicate with them. I just email or call or meet with them. And since a lot of my clients come from among people I know, when they see my personal work and enjoy it, or they see me on social media just being myself, it makes them think about me as a freelancer they might want to hire or refer.

      My experience might be very different from yours, of course, but I think you could use some of these same principles. It’s basically the simple strategy of identifying who your target audience is and then finding the right the best tool for speaking most directly to them. Of course, this is the question everyone is asking and the strategy everyone is using. I don’t mean to oversimplify.

      Thanks for a great question. I’d love to chat more about it if I can be helpful.

  • Sandra says:

    Exactly this here is something that has always scared me. I’m afraid of multitasking and I’d rather dedicate my time and effort doing one task and doing it good rather that doing many jobs and slacking them off.

    • Charity Singleton Craig says:

      Sandra – Thanks for your comment. You raise a really valid point. I think it’s great that you know yourself well enough that one thing at a time works better for you. As for balancing your time, though, I think it depends on what that “one thing” is. If you only work 10 hours a week for a client, then you have more hours that you could spend on a personal project. Now you are doing two things, but giving each its time. Mounting evidence suggests that multi-tasking is a myth, and all we are doing when we think we are multi-tasking is task-switching, and very ineffectively at that. So stick to your guns in doing one thing at a time. But know that some of your work might allow time for other projects, too.


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