I was brought up with a strong work ethic. My parents both worked full-time and through their example, I believed that you had to work really hard for what you had.
So when I first embarked on my freelance writing adventure, I assumed I had to write as much as I could for as long as I could, if I wanted to be successful.
Trying to conjure up pithy, articulate and witty at 9.30pm were nigh on impossible. My head was fuzzy after another hectic day playing mum, writer and domestic goddess. Words lacked natural flow. Stilted sentences were faffed with for way too long. I had no clue what I was even trying to say.
Trying to edit novels, blogs, and non-fiction manuscripts at night caused headaches, confidence dents and frustration.
For a while, I fell out of love with my craft. It felt like piece work. I was burnt out and close to waving my white flag at the nearest recruitment agency who’d snap up my secretarial expertise instead.
But I knew I couldn’t return to that path.
So I stopped playing this silly forced writing game and took a step back.
In a last ditch attempt to crack this productive code, I started to set my alarm for 6am and write for 90 minutes before the children needed to get up for school.
It didn’t take me long to see that what I could produce in that time, not just in terms of quantity, had promise and flair.
I became much more relaxed and confident. Something clicked. I fell in love with writing again. My muse fell in love with me. We reignited our passion.
Here are the rules I live by now.
Write when your brain is fresh
My brain works quickest and at its most creative when I first wake up. So I grab a cup of writing fuel – Yorkshire Tea, splash of milk – and switch on the laptop as early as I can. I’ll break to give the children breakfast and wave them off to school, and then start again.
Write in 90 minute batches
After about 90 minutes my posture is pretty bad. The conversation between brain and fingers is peppered with longer pauses. I think about what to make for dinner, what time the children are coming home from school, and whether I’ve emptied the washing machine, or even put a load in. So I stop. Regardless of whether I’m mid-sentence. I’ll pop down to the kitchen to make another drink, check the washing machine, or go for a walk.
Avoid the Internet at All Costs
Even at the age of 45 I can’t be trusted not to pick up my phone and swish through emails, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram when I’m supposed to be writing. It’s an affliction, I confess. And the only way I can control this is by switching off the internet. I have tried putting my phone in another room while I work but then I’ll get teased into distraction when a Facebook notification pops up on my laptop.
Have Short, Manageable To-Do Lists
I’m sick of Post-It Notes. They curl up at the edges, they get stuck on things they shouldn’t and just when I think I’ve dealt with one, another yellow flash appears in a sheaf of papers I’d forgotten about. So I’ve upgraded to a whiteboard. On the left I have a prioritized list of client work and in the middle, I have my own content tasks. If I’m in a relentless deadline tunnel, I’ll allocate 60-90 minute slots, and put the really important ones in red pen. It’s all pretty high-tech here. Best part of the whiteboard? Crossing through the list and feeling smug – it’s important never to wipe off the completed task; always draw a line through it.
Ignore the Phone and the Door Knockers
If you’re answering the door to take in other people’s parcels, smile at the religious, or say ‘no thank you’ to the men who want to sell you fish from an unmarked van or block pave your drive, then you’re losing precious writing time. Your flow will suffer. My best advice? Ignore the whole ruddy lot. If you’re waiting for a parcel, of course, you must answer the door, but always check from a spying corner of your window before opening the door. And never, ever, under any circumstances, become the parcel keeper for your neighbours. It’s too much, believe me. Oh, and you can ignore the phone, too. Remember why answerphones were invented?
Check Emails & Social Media at Designated Times Only
Again, don’t encourage interruptions. Check your emails and social media pages first thing and last thing. Have a look at lunchtime if you’re really obsessed. But don’t dip in and out of your inbox or your Twitter feed and risk your word count/creative quality. You’ll get oodles more done this way.
As freelance writers, how lucky are we to do something we love and get paid for it? Don’t fall out of love with your passion by listening to the ‘You have to work hard for success’ myth. Stay focused. Write fresh. Ignore distractions. And the success will come.
Has this resonated with you? Leave me a comment.