5 Timesaving Tips for Freelance Writers

I started work at noon today and finished just before 22:00. I didn’t put in a solid 10 hours, but I spent at least half of that time working very hard. I’m exhausted from the effort and proud of the work I produced.

But, after I submitted my article, I realized I spent all day working for $50. Admittedly, I wasted time this afternoon because I knew I was going to finish well ahead of deadline. And truthfully, I feel like I was fairly compensated for my work. I accepted this particular project for reasons other than money, and it wouldn’t be appropriate to ask for a raise in this situation. But, it’s not possible to support our life and loans on $50 per day in Connecticut.

With that in mind, I’ve been tweaking my work habits over the past couple of weeks, and I’ve come up with a number of ways to write blog posts and articles as fast as possible. I’m not talking content mill speed here, but fast enough that I can earn a living even on days I’m only writing $50 blog posts. I hope my tips will help you maximize your earnings, too. Let’s get started…

1.  Use split screen (or dual monitors) as much as possible.

My life changed for the better when Apple introduced the split-screen function to OS X. Now, even on my 15” laptop, I rarely have just one full-screen active window. Everything is so much simpler when I can work on two programs side-by-side.

It always was possible to do split-screen, sort of, even with just one monitor. Simply arranging your most-used windows next to each other can make you more productive. But split screens make work so much faster, particularly on a laptop.

No longer do I continually click the wrong window and lose my place. And, I can take advantage of the full screen without the dock getting in the way. Sometimes, I have two versions of the same document open, particularly when I’m trying to edit and change formatting at the same time. More often, though, I have Word or Safari open on one side of the screen, and my note-taking app on the other. And that brings me to my next tip…

2.  Use software designed to make note-taking easy

Forget flash cards and notebooks. Forget trying to keep bookmark folders organized. Research is so much easier with a dedicated program. It makes organizing a breeze. And even more importantly, you will be able to access information so much faster. Each of the programs I use is worth a full post, but for now, I’ll just touch on the highlights. These are my favorites:

OneNote – I keep one notebook going, and have several different tabs, including one for blog post ideas, one for each current writing project, and one catch-all tab for completed writing projects. Everything is all in once place, and all my research is accessible. I can reorganize it as much as I need.

I prefer to highlight text in Safari and send it to OneNote with my browser extension. If I choose to send the entire page this way, the program takes a screenshot. If necessary, I can then extract the text from that screenshot. But, it’s not perfect, and it doesn’t preserve links.

If I want to preserve the links within the text, the only way is to copy the text and images and paste them directly into OneNote. This usually takes 10 or 15 seconds more, but it means that I have an almost-full webpage in OneNote. When I go back to review research, I can click on links which take me back to the source, or on towards new information.

Evernote – I used to use this program regularly. But I got lazy, and now my notes are a mess. Instead of trying to organize years worth of junk, I opened a new account. The browser extension is robust, and it works faster than the one for OneNote. Articles format nicely, but if I don’t want the entire page, it’s easy to highlight a selection instead.

I have nothing bad to say about Evernote, but for some reason, I have never taken to this program. Last week I used it for a research project and was pleased with the results, but I usually click on OneNote instead. My biggest gripe is the small limit on data transfers. Even with infrequent use, I regularly get “locked out” until my data resets the following month.

Pocket – last but not least is my all-time favorite program, Pocket. Last year, I was in their top 1% of users and read the equivalent of some enormous number of books; right now, I have 1,349 unread articles.

By sending links to Pocket, I don’t lose them when I close tabs and windows, or when the email drops out of sight in my inbox. Pocket is not the best for research, but I use it to read everything else. It’s simple to make notes, add tags and share articles, all without opening the program. It’s always easy to find what I’m looking for, even with a free account, because the search function is excellent.

3.  Summarize articles as you read them

When I read an article that’s worth saving into OneNote, I always add a quick one-sentence or paragraph summary at the top of the page. This allows me to find critical information and helps jog my memory without having to scroll through the page. Frequently, my summaries end up verbatim in the final article.

If you work on tight deadlines, you know research for blog posts is nothing like researching a college paper. Summarizing the articles allows me to save time without cutting corners.

4.  Don’t forget to use outlines!

My 20th high school reunion is coming up in May, and until recently, it had been almost that long since I made an outline. But when I began freelancing, I picked up the habit again. As I research, I make a rough outline in Word of all the topics I need to address. If I happen to come up with a good line, I type that into the proper section of the outline, too.

I rarely write from beginning to end. Instead, I can jump back and forth between sections of the outline. The other day, I was working on a painfully boring story. I outlined it from start to finish, then went back and started writing the section that most appealed to me. When one paragraph was complete, I looked for another section that I could stand to write. Soon, I had tricked myself into drafting the whole piece, one paragraph at a time.

Take plenty of breaks – do something else at least once an hour

This final tip seems counterintuitive, but it works. Writing is tough. It may not look that way to an observer, but I find myself drained if I write more than 8 hours in a day. To keep myself focused, I stop once an hour. Sometimes I just run to the kitchen for a glass of water, but usually, I take a quick walk around the block.

I find I get more done with regular breaks than if I try to work in one large block. After a couple of hours without a break, I find myself frequently staring off into space, or staring blankly at my screen. Getting away for even a minute is refreshing. I don’t get so tired, and I’m able to get more done.

I hope these tips help you increase the speed of your writing. Don’t get me wrong – speed isn’t everything. But, working fast allows you to earn more and have more free time. What ways do you pick up the pace? Let me know in the comments.

5 Timesaving Tips for Freelance Writers

A few housekeeping updates

I’ve been honored to have readers since the very first day this blog went live. The traffic has been consistent, and it means a lot to me that so many of you are interested in what I have to say. So, with that in mind, it’s time to make a few announcements.

  1. This blog will no longer be anonymous. Initially, I didn’t want any connection to my former career. I never enjoyed the practice of law, and I planned to build a new life from the ground up. Since starting as a freelancer, though, I’ve discovered it’s a good thing to advertise. Clients feel better knowing my former profession because they then know I’m intelligent, driven and well-educated. Soon, I’ll be putting my full name on the site, too, as a form of advertising for my freelance work. But, I don’t plan to do any marketing which includes my maiden name or any significant references to my old practice. I want my freelancing to stand on its own reputation.
  2. The name and appearance of this blog will be changing. I have a new name which reflects the lack of anonymity here. I have also hired a web designer, and over the next few weeks he will be helping me transfer my data over to a self-hosted setup. Downtime should be minimal.
  3. There will be a posting schedule. Starting April 1, 2016, the official post schedule will be weekly. Every Friday, come back for a new post about freelance writing. Friday posts will be filled with useful tips and helpful information. Personal posts will be less frequent, and may appear any day except Friday. Personal posts will be about my feelings and experiences as a freelancer. I am not, however, going to share my weekly or monthly income reports. It’s helpful to know what other freelancers charge, but I’m not comfortable discussing my actual salary.
  4. This will not be like other writing blogs. I’m not going to shy away from earning money, but I’m also not going to use this as a place to sell goods and services to my readers. I am not opposed to affiliate links, and they will show up here and there. But I don’t plan to sell useless e-books, coaching, or any other service that is just as likely to be a scam as it is to be helpful. I’m still smarting after being ripped off by another blogger and his $37 “ebook” filled with typo-ridden blog posts. Yep. That’s not gonna happen here. (And please note that I don’t feel all bloggers are scam artists. In fact, last night I purchased five different ebooks from two different freelance writing bloggers. Not everyone is a con artist, but it can be hard to tell who is and who isn’t without first spending the money.)

My freelance career has been going well, and it’s time to make this blog a priority. Don’t be surprised by the changes over the coming weeks. I’m so excited to share everything with all of you. Guest posts will also feature here from time to time. If you have something you want to write about, drop me a note or leave a comment.

In the meantime, let me know what questions you have about freelance writing. I already have some great Friday posts scheduled for April, but I plan to also address as many of your questions as possible.

A few housekeeping updates

Procrastination, Self Esteem and Freelance Writing

Procrastinating was my biggest problem as an attorney. I never met a deadline I couldn’t miss; even the strictest litigation deadlines were no match for my dedication to putting things off. I lived in a constant state of worry, and although I managed to avoid getting into trouble, I always expected to be called out. I hated myself for it, but no matter what I did, I couldn’t bring myself to get the work done.

 

Over time, I realized that my problem wasn’t so much procrastination as it was self-esteem. I never felt confident as a lawyer. I spent my final year of law school studying overseas, and as a result, I missed a lot of opportunities to intern and take clinical courses. While law school is in many ways unrelated to the practice of law, I did inadvertently miss some good opportunities to gain experience and confidence.

 

After law school, I went straight to the “firm” I had worked at since college. There, I had no opportunity to find a mentor, or to advance. I worked for a stereotypical attorney who expected the largest amount of money for the least amount of work. Of course, everyone wants that to some degree. But as I became more capable with the law, he started taking on clients with cases I didn’t know how to handle. I was expected to do the work on my own, with few resources available. He never took the time to teach me what he knew, and he made it clear I wasn’t to ask for outside help.

 

I muddled through as best I could. But in most areas of law, there is no guidebook, telling a clueless attorney exactly what to do and when to do it. When guidebooks were available, they were priced out of my reach and my employer’s willingness to pay. I researched and observed as much as possible, and I called friends and acquaintances for help far more than I felt comfortable.

 

With several exceptions, I never got used to flying blind. I’d panic before returning phone calls, knowing that I was about to reveal my lack of knowledge. Simple pleadings took hours as I desperately searched for forms. Court was a nightmare of startled comments from judges and mediators wondering how such a clueless lawyer ended up in front of them. I know a lot of it became exaggerated in my mind, because my clients and boss always gave me good feedback, but I was definitely not known for competence.

 

I am not so scared as a writer. There are technical aspects to all writing, and some forms of writing are beyond my skill level simply because I have no experience with them. But I am comfortable with the craft of writing, and with time, I know I can learn any style to at least a basic level. Right now there is plenty of work that suits my level of skill and interest. I may need to research a topic, but once I have the necessary information, I know exactly how to proceed.

 

I suppose I have some fears of rejection, but when it comes to writing, I am confident in my abilities. I fear edits because they are annoying, sometimes pointless, and sometimes embarrassing. But I don’t fear someone saying something negative, because I do know I can write. There may be an occasional spelling or grammatical error, especially in my own blog posts and comments, but I don’t doubt my skills. I have proven, over a lifetime of education, exams and accolades, that I know how to write well. With practice, study and training, I will become even better.

 

But, recently I noticed myself trying to procrastinate. And in analyzing it more, I see that once again, confidence is the culprit. Those old fears are coming back because I’m working again, and my mind somehow expects work to be miserable and scary. I’m not sure what I’m afraid of, but there’s a voice telling me that I don’t know what I’m doing. A voice tells me nobody will like my work, and I might as well not start, because I won’t know what to do.

 

Fortunately, I have enough experience and self-awareness to quiet that voice. I know I can write, and I know most of my clients will be happy with what I produce. If I start to panic, I only have to remind myself that my client is not expecting a dissertation or technical manual. My clients want work in the voice of me, the person they hired.

Once I remind myself of my capabilities, I find all inclination to procrastinate goes out the window. I have turned some assignments in on the due date simply because they took a long time, or the deadline was tight to begin with. But if I have free time, I find myself using it to get my work done. If I turn an article in a week early, the satisfaction of that is rewarding enough that I am motivated to keep working.

 

To me, there is no better feeling than being able to work with a deadline. No longer do I have that dread and shame hanging over my head. Instead, I’m in a career that suits my skills, and I believe in my abilities. I can quiet that voice of doubt because I do know what to do. Just sit down and write, that’s all there is to it.

Nobody is immune from procrastination, of course. This afternoon, I planned to finish editing a piece. But, it looked nice outside so I first went for a walk and then took a shower. Then, I sat down, finished my editing, and submitted the work. Ahead of deadline, again. It feels good.

What do you do to beat procrastination? And, what horrifying mistakes have I made in this post? Please let me know in the comments below.

Procrastination, Self Esteem and Freelance Writing

Freelance writing and the importance of time management

This past week was a disaster. There was enough success to keep me motivated, but I also had a lot of struggles. Fortunately, most of the issues were problems of my making, and everything ended up okay. If nothing else, I’ve learned that time management is key. Even the best plans can fall apart when something unexpected happens. And in my case, the unexpected seems to happen quite frequently.

I started writing when I couldn’t wait any longer to go back to work. I had been unemployed for about 30 months, and towards the end of that period, I felt desperate. I hated sitting around doing nothing, but I also knew I wouldn’t be able to go to an office at the same time every day. I looked for various office jobs, but every time I decided to submit an application, something happened to remind me that I wasn’t ready.

Freelance writing is the perfect solution for my situation. I love what I do, and I can work the hours that fit my schedule rather than having to work when someone else expects it. If I need an hour or two to nap or to fight off nausea or pain, there’s nobody to stop me. If I want to start writing late in the afternoon and write through the night, I don’t have to check with anyone.

This week, though, I had an enormous workload. I knew how important time management was going to be, so I carefully planned my schedule. My biggest project was due on Friday; I figured I would be ok, and even get a day off on the weekend, if I worked on it for about 6 hours a day, every day. The smaller projects were all due the following Monday, and I left myself enough time to work on them, too, as long as I got the big project done on time

Unfortunately, I didn’t count on life getting in the way. First, my husband wouldn’t leave me alone. He has trouble coping when we are apart, even if we are just in different rooms, and for two days at the beginning of the week, he interrupted me three or four times an hour. Unsurprisingly, that led to a lot of aggravation and a couple of fights, and I ended up a day behind schedule.

Even then, I expected to get my large project done on time. I believed I could push through the last couple of days to catch up. But, then my health gave out me. Thursday, I was exhausted and needed to go back to sleep for three hours in the early afternoon, and the rest of the day went by in a barely-productive fog. Friday, I was gripped with nausea, and the thought of sitting in front of the computer for 12 hours was almost unbearable, although I did manage to do it.

On Thursday morning, my largest client told me it would be ok if I needed to work into the weekend. Even at the beginning of the day, I believed I would finish before the original deadline, but by Thursday afternoon, I knew I was going to need the extra time. I let him know, and of course, he was all right with it, but I was embarrassed and felt I looked unprofessional.

I pushed through all the nausea and lingering exhaustion, and finally finished the big project on Saturday evening, about 24 hours after I originally planned to submit it. My client was happy, and I’ll be entering the next phase of that work soon.

Originally, my plan was to take Saturday off to relax, and to get all my smaller projects done on Sunday. After the delay, I decided instead to rest on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning before getting back to work around noon. But, things changed once again on Sunday when I got out of bed feeling unwell. I spent the morning throwing up and then collapsed in bed until 5:00 P.M.

By Sunday evening, I was feeling better, and I got back to work. I had managed to research during the week and had all the material I needed for the projects due on Monday. By midnight, I had written, edited and submitted everything that was due.

Early last week, I knew my deadlines would be difficult to manage. So, I put all the due dates in my calendar and set up reminders so I would be sure not to overlook anything. However, I pushed all the due dates ahead by five days, so what was due on Friday showed as due on Monday. Then, in the midst of everything else going on, I completely forgot what I had done.

So, when I was submitting my projects on Sunday night, I glanced at the due date, and, of course, realized I had tricked myself. That tactic has never worked for me in the past, but for some reason, it worked nicely this time. Instead of getting things submitted just a few hours before the deadline, I got everything in at least five days early. I am slightly ashamed to admit I forgot, but pleased that I accidentally made myself look responsible.

This week, I am going to relax a bit. I don’t know if stress caused the increase in nausea and vomiting, but I do know I’m not 100% ready to work just yet. I still have a few short articles to finish up, and my big project will soon enter a second, easier phase. Instead of bidding on new gigs, I’m going to focus on the work I already have and give myself time to relax. It’s better to do that than to burn out when I’ve just barely begun.

Some of my hours this week will be spent looking for a few good time management programs. Right now, I’m using Wunderlist and Outlook. The combination works well enough, but I want something more robust. And I know I need to put more effort into planning out each day, so I don’t find out at the last minute that I can’t meet a deadline. While I always knew time management was critical, this past week illustrated it for me in a way I’ve never experienced before.

How do you manage your time as a freelance writer? What do you do when the unexpected happens in the middle of your busiest weeks or months?

Freelance writing and the importance of time management

Just say no to bad freelance writing gigs

My freelancing career started with a bang. I have been busy nonstop since I wrote the first entry here last week. Within hours of creating a profile on Upwork, I landed two high-quality jobs. I’ve been working hard and earning money ever since. More on that later this week.

I took the weekend off, but couldn’t stay away from my laptop. I spent quite a bit of time sorting through gigs on Upwork, and I have to admit my initial experience was skewed. At times, the site almost seems like the seedy underbelly of the freelance world. Cheating abounds, with offers left and right from high school and college students desperate to avoid doing their own work. Bloggers want free sample posts from every freelancer applying to ghost write, and with so many applicants for each gig, they won’t need to pay for writing for a long time. Business owners have ego trips as they describe all they ways they can harass the assistant they plan to hire for $2/hour. I’ve seen people offering $5 for a 2,000-word essay due in 12 hours, and $10 for five articles, each requiring research. It’s definitely not all sunshine and high-paying gigs.

Still, there are an unbelievable number of writing jobs that do pay well. I’ve applied to about ten so far. It takes a lot of time because I write a proposal from scratch for each one. Most people have a template, and I will admit to copying a few boilerplate sentences to provide contact options. But, I have read over and over that business owners can tell when someone has a form, and I don’t want to lose a gig because I couldn’t take a few extra minutes to write something unique. I make sure the extra time I spend is worthwhile by only applying to the jobs I feel I’m suited for, that I could happily do as described and at the rate offered.

My effort paid off this evening, and I got a response from someone looking for two 1,000-word articles. My nerves took over, and my stomach leapt into my throat as I began to go back and forth with this potential client. Soon, though, it became clear that they were… Let’s go with strange. Part of this was a language barrier, but there was also something odd about the way they presented themselves. They were too aggressive for my liking, and I knew I’d end up resenting the way they treated me. I was getting aggravated before I even had the job.

During a lull in the conversation, I searched this person’s name on Google. The results made it seem that they were who they claimed to be. Their Upwork profile, too, showed that they had spent quite a bit of money on freelancers. I was making a good impression and felt if I pushed, I could probably get the work. But instead, I wrote a note saying I was not the right person for the job and I wished them success in the future.

It was hard to walk away from the chance to earn a chunk of money. But all I could see was trouble looming ahead. First, the person was pushy, slightly rude and insulting, and altogether not pleasant even via instant message. Second, the job they described was nothing like the job they posted. Rather than writing a few articles, it looked like I was going to be writing content for an entire website. I knew it would take weeks. And, while the person was probably quite intelligent and capable, I had a hard time understanding their written English. Even worse, they couldn’t quite understand me, and clearly misunderstood two very simple questions.

As a lawyer, I had my share of bad clients. Usually, the money they paid in legal fees made up for all the abuse they dealt. But Upwork is a race to the bottom when it comes to both cost and quality, and I knew this individual wouldn’t be paying me enough to make the trouble worthwhile. The person looking for help comes from a country much-maligned around Upwork for the low cost and low skills of the local freelancers. This is one situation where I think they will be better served by paying the low rates charged by their fellow citizens, simply because they need someone who speaks their native language rather than English.

I am too new to the field to start knowingly taking on nightmares. I don’t want stress and insults on a job that won’t even pay my electric bill for the month but will probably take a significant chunk of my time. I don’t want a job that takes hours of unpaid time to negotiate when I could spend those hours doing so many other things. In fact, while I was going back and forth with the first person, another offer came in: an already-funded contract with no negotiation whatsoever, from a reputable employer based in the USA.

I hit accept and sat back from the computer for the evening.

What makes you want to say yes or no to a gig? How much negotiation will you do for a tiny one-off gig? Let me know what you think in the comment section below.

Just say no to bad freelance writing gigs

Welcome!

Welcome to The Anonymous Blog. My name is Kris. I’m not trying to be anonymous for any mysterious reason. It’s simply part of an experiment. You see, I’ve had some bad luck in the job market, despite an excellent education and excellent qualifications. Right now, I live in poverty. Not the kind of poverty where I can only buy two pairs of pants instead of three, but real, stomach-growling, shivering, terrifying poverty. I didn’t grow up poor, and I never expected I would be. It has been rough for a long time. But, at the beginning of the year, something changed…

I decided to work from home.

You’ve probably seen all those “Work from Home” ads, where you can make $3,000 a week doing apparently nothing. I’ve seen hundreds, and never followed a single link. I still have no idea what they are about. They sound too good to be true, and I don’t want to end up on a mailing list that never lets me go. Any job requiring me to spam Facebook is a job I want nothing to do with. And, even if I wanted to put money into selling something like Tupperware, I wouldn’t have the money to get started.

But, I know it can be done. Even before “the internet”, my aunt made her way as a successful freelance journalist. I’ve watched her career over the years with mild interest. I never thought it was the job for me, but she has a lot of freedom, and she seems financially secure. Friends I’ve made here and there, too, have established, successful online careers. Some work for themselves, some don’t. Acquaintances without half the qualifications I have are killing it in their chosen online fields. So clearly it can be done.

But how?

I’ve decided to become a blogger and a writer. My background is in liberal arts, I have a few style guides on hand, and that’s about it. Beyond that, I’m going to learn as I go. I’m not going to pay anyone $37 for a scummy ebook. I’ve done that before, and will not make the same mistake again. I’m not signing up for survey sites, or sites guaranteeing leads, followers and fame, or even a temp service. Instead, I am going to stumble around and make mistakes. I’m going to talk to people. I plan to utilize plenty of free resources in this undertaking. And of course I will share it all with you.

Right now, I’m overwhelmed, intimidated and scared. I’m reading, writing, and absolutely devouring all the information I can find. Already, I know writing and blogging is not a job for everyone. It can be mysterious and frightening and overwhelming and stressful. Fortunately, I know it’s the right job for me. I’m a strong writer, and I’ve honed my skills through years of education and practice, both personally and professionally. I’ve been online and building websites since 1995.

I’ve already spent some time working from home, especially as a product tester. I haven’t earned any money yet, but it’s been satisfying. Today, though, I got my first paying gig through a site called Upwork. I created a profile there about 24 hours ago, so I know very little about it. But, getting that contract was a sign that it’s time to start documenting to journey.

I want to take you on this journey with me.

I’m going to share my thoughts, hopes, and fears with you as I become a writer. I’m going to tell you all the tips and tricks I’ve learned. I’m going to share my successes and failures with you. I’m going to post everything. Not because I love sharing everything about my life, but because I’m skeptical.

Yes, I’m skeptical. I still feel like working from home is too good to be true. And that’s where my anonymity comes in. I don’t want this blog linked to my other writing projects, or my Amazon profile, or my former career. Instead, I’m going to build it organically. No advertising, no paying for followers, no ghostwriters. Everything you see here will be built through reading, writing and commenting on other blogs and social media sites.

If you’re reading this, I’ve already been successful.

You found my little place on the internet, and you want to know what it’s all about. I hope you’ll stick around to find out. Over the coming weeks, months and years, this site will become a valuable resource for others who want to start careers as bloggers or writers. This site is starting from scratch, as a free WordPress site with no budget. My career is starting from scratch, too. I have $8 in my bank account, so there’s really nowhere to go but up. Wherever my career goes from here, it’s going to develop naturally, without me taking a single masterclass or paying for any information.

Thanks for joining me. I look forward to seeing you soon.

Welcome!