Ever gotten to the end of your day and realized you didn’t get a single useful thing done for your writing career?
It’s so easy to do.
But if you’re going to earn well as a freelancer — and not end up clocking 100-hour weeks — it’s important that you use your time productively and wisely.
You’ve got to learn to say “no” to the activities that don’t really move your writing career forward. ()
You need to spend the bulk of your time on the stuff that matters. Writing. Marketing. Building your network of friends and colleagues who might know somebody who needs a writer.
How can you cut through the distractions and concentrate on what’s important?
Here are the five biggest time-wasters writers complain to me about, and tips for getting rid of each:
1. Social media
You could spend all day on Facebook or YouTube or whatever you frequent, watching funny videos and supporting your friend’s charitable campaigns… but you need to climb out of this time sinkhole to get some writing done.
The fix: Consider writing on your desktop instead of in the cloud on a dashboard — I use for blog posts, for instance — and then turning the browsers off. If you don’t have the discipline to do that on your own, use a tool such as to make them shut off for a period of time. If need be, lock your computer in a safe and write first drafts on a pad of paper and use the telephone to call prospects.
Many new writers end up frozen and not moving forward because of two super-unproductive head trips: worry and overthinking.
You’re worried you’ll make a misstep and then . Or that you’ll waste time going in the wrong direction. Or that you’ll come off as a noob to that editor. So you do nothing.
You keep reading and reading about freelancing until your head is spinning and you can’t decide on anything. There are so many options! Paralysis sets in.
I often hear from new writers:
“I’m still figuring out my niche. Once I do, I’ll start marketing my writing.”
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
The fix: Realize that everything you write builds your career, because it gives you experience writing and dealing with clients. I’m hard-pressed to look back and think of a gig I did that proved to be a total waste of time. Also, as you gain writing experience, you’ll learn where your best-paying opportunities are. The marketplace will point the way — some types of writing gigs will pay better than others, and you’ll go in that direction.
So pick a path that interests you, get out there and start writing, even if it’s on your own blog to start. You can improve and course-correct as you go. The only mistake you can make is not writing and marketing.
Writers love to wait for things to happen. Wish I had a dime for every time a writer told me:
“I sent a query letter, and it said to allow 6-8 weeks for a response, so I’m waiting to see what happens.”
“I have a conference coming up I plan to do some marketing at, so I’m waiting for that to come. Then maybe I’ll be able to get some gigs.”
The fix: Be a writer, not a waiter. Don’t wait-and-see about anything, ever. It is just a waste of your precious time.
Instead, move forward immediately, as if that thing you’re waiting on is never going to happen. Send that same query letter to three more places right now — yes, even though it said not to do simultaneous queries. Or write the next query letter.
Do some quick online or local in-person marketing while you wait for that big conference date to arrive. Your career will move forward faster, guaranteed.
4. Battered-wife syndrome
It’s easy to get all excited about new-prospect nibbles and spend lots of time on them. Then, when they drop the bomb that they’d like to pay $5 an article, it’s too late to turn back. You want to take the gig just to justify the time investment.
It’s all too common for freelancers to latch onto the first client who comes their way, and then never let go. Even if they’re obnoxious, or it isn’t the type of writing you really want to do, or they don’t pay well.
It’s easier to take the abuse from the devil you know than face the scary-scary unknown of finding that next client. Meanwhile, precious time is being wasted that could be spent finding better clients and making more money.
The fix: Realize that there are lots of users out there, and that it’s up to you to set healthy boundaries. Qualify prospects carefully when you first meet, so you don’t waste time and end up feeling you ‘have’ to work for a client you know won’t be a good fit.
If you’ve got a loser client, start laying your escape plan. Start with the low-hanging fruit of marketing — tell your existing network you’d appreciate client referrals (LinkedIn’s InMails are great for this), ask former and current clients for referrals, or go to live events to broaden your circle. As soon as you can replace them, give notice and say goodbye.
While I’m a strong proponent of just putting it out there, sometimes you really don’t have the knowledge you need to pursue some aspect of freelance writing.
Maybe you want to be a direct response copywriter, or do technical writing for software companies. But you have no samples, need to up your writing skills for that particular writing type, or don’t know how to find clients.
The fix: You can take forever trying to figure out these kind of things on your own — or you can take a shortcut and get some help. Find a book, a Webinar, or a mentor you trust and learn what you need to know. It’ll really pay off in the long run.
If you’re frittering the days away and can’t figure out where all the time goes, consider logging your activities for a week. Get some hard data on how you spend your time. That will give you a starting point for identifying and eliminating your biggest time-wasters.
What do you waste time on? Leave a comment and share your top time-waster — bet you’re not alone!