The Renegade Writer

Writer, Know Thyself!

I’ve been freelancing full time for 15 years, and I just made a major discovery about the way I work:

I cannot — simply cannot — write on a day when I have even one phone call scheduled.

I’d long ago resigned myself to the fact that if I have an article due, I’ll write it on the weekend because I can never get it done during the week. It never occurred to me that the phone calls that broke up my day were the culprits.

But as I was talking to a friend about it, the pattern became clear: If I had a phone call scheduled (unless it was very first thing in the morning), I wouldn’t be able to start writing because “Hey, I have a phone call coming up soon, so why bother getting started on this article?” Even if I had four hours to spare!

So my new M.O. is that when I have a deadline, I’ll keep a day or two before that totally clear of mentoring calls and interviews so I can get the writing done.

Do you have any ways of working that are not yet at the level of consciousness…any patterns that aren’t working for you but you can’t put your finger on what they are?

Think about a work problem you’re having and see if you can’t define what it’s really all about.

For example, do you put off starting your assignments because you’re afraid of interviewing? Do you neglect to market because you don’t like coming off like a pushy salesperson? Do you sit on revisions as a passive-aggressive way of punishing the editor for asking you to change your work?

Then, brainstorm ways to get around the issue. In the interviewing example, you could figure out ways to psych yourself up for interviews, hire someone else to do them for you, hire a transcriptionist so at least that burden is lifted, talk to a coach about it, or figure out a type of writing you can do that doesn’t often require interviews (copywriting, anyone?).

Don’t be like me and suffer for 15 years because you’re subconsciously creating obstacles for yourself!

How about you? have you made any major discoveries about your habits that have helped you improve your work? Let us know in the Comments below. [lf]

Aug 30, 2012 Advice, Observations, Personal yammerings, Self improvement

25 Responses

  1. I’ve learned to start working on assignments as soon as possible. Freelance writers never know what issues can come up, so it’s best to get started ASAP.

    I usually begin working on an assignment as soon as I get it. Clients are pleased when I deliver well before the deadline.

  2. Linda, I could so relate to your observation about phone interviews. It’s especially disruptive when you psych yourself up for an interview at a certain time and then the source flakes out (which isn’t unusual).

    My trouble is (and I think this might be partly a function of the high volume of articles I write and the number of sources that requires), it feels like my sources dictate the schedule so I’m sometimes at their mercy. If my editor has her heart set on a certain CEO and that CEO is only available at 8am on a Monday, then I suck it up and make that happen.

    I’d love to schedule non-interview days for writing but it would be tough to get the interviews I need. One solution I’ve been trying to implement is to pursue stories that don’t require 3-5 sources each. For instance, one of my editors love when I write Q & A’s with interesting people and it’s much easier to schedule an interview with one person and focus on them than track down four people. And those stories are much more efficient on an hourly basis. The key to that format is finding interesting people and asking interesting questions.

    • Yeah, I don’t write as many articles these days so I don’t worry as much about loads of interviews. However, I do a lot of phone mentoring, but these are easier to schedule into my work hours (which, as of next week, are 1:30 – 5:30 weekdays — that’s it!). We’ll see how that goes… But i know what you mean — I’ve done my share of interviews at 8 pm because someone can only talk after work, weekends, etc.

  3. I find that I cannot revise articles until the day before they are done. I also find it’s easier for me to jump around when writing rather than write start to finish. I love highlighting sections where I am hoping to revise or expand my writing. I think having that text like that makes me feel more motivated when I’m writing.

    I’m with Bree – get started early. This is especially true when it comes to interviews. Contact people as soon as you can.

  4. Jennifer says:

    I completely agree about starting as soon as possible and lining up those interviews as soon as you can. I do the same. But as a daily newspaper reporter, I had to learn how to hammer out a story quickly even on days filled to the brim with interviews. And sometimes now I still have to do that, based on short deadlines or whathaveyou. Having a few days to do nothing but write would be an amazing luxury!

    • Interesting…I know most writers write and do phone calls on the same day, but I just can’t focus if I know something else is coming up in my day. I kept wondering who I would put off writing articles that were due early in the week until the weekend. I just hired an assistant to help me schedule phone calls and do other tasks, and I blocked off the day before each deadline as “writing day” so she won’t schedule any calls those days. We’ll see how that works! Fingers crossed…

    • Suzanne says:

      Second that. I was a newspaper reporter for four years and actually need the adrenaline rush of looming deadlines to finish anything. I have a full-time job right now and haven’t started to freelance yet, but these are all great tips to keep in mind. Thanks!

  5. Mandy Harris says:

    I’ve been tracking my hours and productivity for just this reason. I created an Excel sheet and make comments about what goes on any given day. I’ve realized Thursdays are tough for working because I have a Toastmasters meeting right in the middle of it. I recognize it gives me value for my business (networking plus the speaking practice), so I opt for the meeting while relegating Thursdays to marketing rather than writing for clients. Another tough day is any Monday after a weekend during which we traveled or hosted guests. I generally schedule those as days off while simultaneously trying to problem-solve the resulting low energy levels. Tracking also helped me realize the importance of healthy living–when I start slacking on exercise, eating well or managing stress, my productivity inevitably dips a day or two later.

    I love your post! It’s helpful to know that I am not the only one who has trouble scheduling my productive work-times!

    • I love how you tracked your time! I always want to do that and then don’t last more than a day because I work in such a scattered way, my time logs look like: “12-12:13: Answered e-mail. 12:13 – 12:20: Posted guest post on blog. 12:20 – 12:39: Researched sources.” Argh!

      I totally agree about the healthy living. I have runs with my trainer scheduled in twice a week, and then try to do one yoga class and one Pilates class or private session per week. And guided meditation on my iPod whenever I can. So helpful in staying productive.

  6. Great post Linda. It’s interesting how we all have our little mental hang-ups. I’m not sure how to fix it, but I have a terrible time getting started writing. Once I do, then things seem to flow and I ask myself why didn’t I start sooner? I’ll find numerous other chores to get done before I put myself in the chair. I’m glad to see I’m not alone in my quirks. :-)

    • Hm, I have that same hang-up! I have SUCH trouble getting started, but I’ve found that if I can just get myself to open a Word doc, format it the way I like, and maybe write my byline, I’m all set to go.

      • Suzanne says:

        My philosophy on this is called pulling strings, as in from a ball made entirely of string. I write one thing that I know about the story. Anything. It could be that Joe Shmoe started his landscaping company after receiving a botched job on his own landscaping. That’s one string, and when you pull that string, it will lead you to another — maybe more detail about the botched job. Pull that string by writing it down, and then pull another and so on until the story frames itself in your mind. Everything leads to something else. It’s just a matter of getting started. I might erase half of what I originally wrote, but this method takes the scariness out of the blank screen and helps me get into the flow. I don’ t know. It helped me, maybe it will help somebody else.

  7. Ruth says:

    Thank you so much for sharing, Linda!

    I thought I was some kind of freak for having quirks like this.

    I’m learning that I have this law-of-diminishing-returns thing happening with my writing. After about 30-45 minutes, my writing starts to suck exponentially. If I write an article in short burst it only takes a few hours. If I try to do it straight through, it can take like 12. It’s really, really crazy. I used to beat myself up about it because I felt like I *should* be able to crank out a piece in one sitting, but it’s just not how I’m wired…


    P.S. You might want to try Syncd time tracker. You can clock in and clock out and just analyze the categories later. When I first started out, I found it was a good way to see when my time was going.

    • Interesting! I find that once I get going, I can crank out a whole article without stopping, usually. We all have our own hang-ups, as Wade said above!

      Thanks for the Syncd recommendation…I’ll check it out.

  8. I’ve found that I have to break up interview blocks and writing time with a nap. I’ll do interviews in the a.m., eat lunch, take a short nap and then I can switch gears to write.

    Also, if I go to lunch with a friend or have a business meeting, I’m pretty much checked out for the day so I know not to schedule those around deadlines. Just as white space works in my writing, I’ve learned I *must* incorporate it between project types.

  9. It’s wonderful when you think something is a deep dark secret, and then you read about it online!

    After returning home after work, my plan is always the same: chores, a sit down, something to eat, then write. If anything comes up in between those list itmes, the writing doesn’t get done. Everything else always does, but not the writing. I need to wait until I spend evenings alone, but when that DOES happen, it will be fun to see what stops me when I’m alone! I think it’s the plan that’s at fault.

  10. J'aime says:

    Thanks, Linda, this is a really important topic! It’s great to let go of how I “should” be working and instead focus on what makes it easier for me to work. I’m always surprised how difficult that is, and how long it takes me to figure out.

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