Once upon a time, I was hitchhiking in St. Joseph, Missouri, when a man waved me over from his white pickup truck. He gave me a proposition: “Fifty bucks a day and a place to stay.” I did the math and it sounded good—after all, I was on some type of ill-advised Kerouac odyssey and this was right up that alley. My hotel bills were eating my savings and camping in tornado-prone territory wasn’t exactly my idea of a good time.
Anyways, what was the job? Laying asphalt. How hard could that be?
Geez Louise, that was the most labor-intensive job I’ve ever worked in my life! Between dodging a dump truck full of acrid-smelling tar or shoveling heavy loads of the stuff in place while being berated by a 9-year-old driving a steamroller—all while roasting in the hot sun—I soon realized just how hard work could be. I lasted five days, took my $250 and hit the road for greener pastures…
You may be scratching your head to the relevance of my story, but here’s my point: if there’s anything about freelance writing that holds true, it is that the job is intrinsically easy. While it is a profession that’s tied to deadlines and can be mentally-draining while finding work, the fact of the matter is that this profession is piece of cake.
Sort of. What makes it difficult, however, is that most freelancers don’t make it easy on themselves. Because we don’t normally have colleagues to compare notes with or milestones like promotions to gauge our progress, we can figuratively be laying down blacktop in parking lots instead of tapping out articles with our feet propped up on the couch.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some ways that freelance writers can make their lives easier!
Find What Suits You Best
What constitutes easy is all relative to a writer’s abilities. For some, cranking out SEO content that’s written along stringent guidelines can be easier than publishing serialized chapters on a regular basis. And vice versa for those with creative inclinations.
If you find yourself struggling with assignment after assignment, or dreading the day that your client assigns you more work, you may be ill-suited for the task. Remember, there are many opportunities for writers out there. Don’t ever feel that you’re stuck in one facet of writing. If you’re curious about some of the options available to freelance writers, check out our article here.
How to Spot the Hassle
When looking for easier work, bear in mind that part of the simplicity is dealing with the client. I’ll give you a recent example:
I was hired by a company to edit one of their client’s memoirs. By the time I was onboard, that client had canceled the memoir project, but I was offered a much larger assignment: courses on post-life planning, complete with an ebook, education materials, and so forth. A switch in the workload should have tipped me off, however the new proposition was more lucrative. It was a big undertaking, but it also paid well. The client sent over the documents, which I completed a rough copyedit and composed a style guide for. I had noticed that a lot of the material was missing: there was no outline, and the supplemental material that was mentioned in the work was not provided to me.
Yikes! I emailed the client and I received a response FIVE DAYS LATER. During that time, the previously mentioned deadline passed, leaving me in a confused limbo as to my best course of action. Worse, this jeopardized my other projects: should I take on new work to fill the void, or wait out for the client to reply?
With the reply, the client provided more materials. I gave them a cursory look and found that the material I had copyedited beforehand had COMPLETELY changed, with new additions and chapters completely removed. I finally broke down and did what was sensible: I said that I’d have to no longer participate in the project. The kicker to all of this? I still haven’t heard back from the client…
I found I was frustrated not so much at the client, but at myself. I didn’t spot the hassle soon enough. If I had, I would have been able to take on easier work that actually paid me.
It’s been said before, but trusting your gut is important. My mistake was not listening to the little whispers of doubt. Call it cognitive dissonance, but sometimes chasing after lucrative paychecks can blind us to how much of a pain in the neck a client actually is. Another insight to consider is that when you take on a client’s project, you also take on the client. If they’re not organized, you won’t be. If they “ghost” you during the assignment, they’ll also do the same when it comes time to pay your invoice.
One of the biggest challenges to simplifying my freelancing is organization. With deadlines crisscrossing and workloads varying per client, the work can seem more insurmountable and time-intensive than it actually warrants.
For me, I find that creating a work-only email account creates a work-life balance that helps me separate that which is personal and that which is work-related. However, I go one step further and create a mixed-email account, with both my personal and work emails being forwarded to this account.
Why does this work? It all comes down to time. As a freelancer, organizing our days into a semblance of normalcy can be difficult, with dinners spoiled by a client’s demanding email, or a personal email sidetracking the progress I was making on a client’s project. Subdividing my day into 3 segments helps me compartmentalize my life.
- During work time, I only check my work email.
- During breaks and time I allot to being off-duty, I only check personal stuff.
- The mixed-email account, however, let’s me take care of both, which I tend to use when I’m only half-working: typing along to episodes of Game of Thrones or researching new freelance opportunities while BS’ing on social media.
Furthermore, the workload itself tends to get lost in the mix, with some clients contacting me through email, phone, or in person. How do I cope? I use Trello.
Trello is an organizational system and collaboration tool that uses “cards” placed on “boards,” much like a virtual corkboard. These cards can relate to anything you like, but I use them to make my freelance writing easier, compartmentalizing each aspect of my freelancing. For instance, I have one board with my freelance projects labeled with deadlines. When my participating clients want me to work, I find a card shared with me on my own board. The client attaches notes and the related attachments, and boom, off I go to the next assignment. Best of all, Trello can be configured to automatically update me when projects are due.
Best of all, I’m not tethered to my email accounts and clumsy calendars. Give Trello a shot and you’ll soon be steering your clients towards this awesome tool. (And, if you’re like me, it’s really satisfying moving the cards from “In Progress” to the “Finished” pile.)
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The point is that the real challenge freelance writers face is the stuff right under their nose. We can be our own worst enemies, making our work more difficult than it should be simply by taking steps to ease our workload. Try out the suggestions in this article. Don’t work hard, work smart. Make it easy on yourself.