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?