What does it look like to be a full time freelance writer? I documented the ins and outs of my last week of work for this post – and it’s less 4-hour work week and more 40-hour work week (minus a few hours). But despite the seemingly regular ‘office hours’, freelancing is anything but regular.
A week in the life of a freelance writer
Similar to the question regularly posed to new mothers, I’ve been getting asked: “What do you do all day?” so I thought I’d write a post about how I spent last week, which is fairly typical of how I spend most of my weeks as a freelance writer.
Because it’s dull, I’ve left out most of my social media activity, but I probably spend around 30 minutes to 1 hour each day ping-ponging between Twitter and Facebook. And I also spend way too much time checking email, rather than processing it.
On Sunday evening I tend to plan out my week. I use Kelly Exeter’s grid to allocate my tasks for the week into four squares. I tend to have tasks that sit under ‘projects’, ‘blog’, ‘writing’ and ‘bits and pieces’.
This lets me neatly section off all the things I have to do in a week according to what category they fit into.
Kelly takes it one step further and does a daily schedule, but I found that when I did that I went way over time on some tasks and under on others.
What I tend to do is pick three tasks for each day from my grid and work on those. If I have a daily to-do list any longer than three I tend to lose focus.
8.30am – 4.45pm
I arrive at my co-working space at 8.30am with tub full of biscuits for the cookie jar.
It’s my first day back at work after last week, where I felt like I was a 90 year old woman with a head cold, conjunctivitis and varying other aches and pains. I’m still not feeling 100 per cent, but I have deadlines this week so have rallied and pulled myself together to get dressed and out of the house.
Checked and replied to emails until 9am and then called the doctor for appointment (I want to make sure I’m not dying of some ghastly disease).
Planned out an article I’m writing for a trade magazine – I’ve started planning each of the longer articles that I write, and I’ve found that working out where I’m going to introduce case studies and what transitions I’m going to use always saves times in the writing stage.
Had an hour-long telephone interview for a research project I’m doing, and then emailed the research manager an update on the project.
Worked on a new blog post for the week, replied to a new potential editor and emailed a new editor who was looking for writers (I saw the callout on one of the Facebook groups I’m part of).
Went to the doctors (it’s not a tumour – just a virus).
Starting writing the article I planned out this morning. Followed up about invoices (I started this week with $3,000 in overdue invoices) – I’ve been paid twice for one invoice and not paid for another with one publishing house.
I followed up with a case study about an interview, then called it a day at 4.45pm.
9am – 4pm
Working from home today. On the days I work from home, I try to give my partner at least an hour in the morning to exercise or study before I start work for the day.
While he’s studying, my kids watch 20 minutes of Octonauts and I spend 15 minutes working on a ‘best of’ article that’s due tomorrow for a food publication.
Start work in earnest at 9am.
Work on the trade magazine article that I started yesterday (it’s due on Thursday), and wrote approximately 1,000 words.
Finished off another article due on Friday – wrote approximately 400 words.
Followed up with an editor of a food magazine who said she’d give me a brief last week about an article due next Monday. She got back to me with a full brief, so I emailed interview requests to 5 – 6 chefs.
Got a proof (this is a PDF version of an article soon to be published) from a magazine – I read through for any mistakes and answered two queries the sub editors had. I emailed the four case studies to let them know when the article is scheduled to run.
Started and finished writing a 400-word press release as the first piece of four pieces of content about trauma for an insurance company I am working with.
Finished up at 4pm.
I did half an hour or so of work after dinner of emailing people to confirm interviews for the next day as well as compiling file of images for the ‘best of’ story I’m writing.
9.30am – 4pm
Working from the co-working space today. Cookies going down well – less than one third left in the jar. People are appreciating the wholemeal, low-sugar offering of this week’s cookies (last week I made double caramel cookies and I think I may have contributed to some serious tooth decay and heart palpitations)
Filed the ‘best of’ story (plus images). Even in the last 6 months I’m noticing that more and more editors are requesting that I also source images to accompany articles.
Worked my way through 29 new emails.
Received one new commission from an editor reaching out to me (article due COB tomorrow).
Invoiced for six articles.
Put a callout for case studies on various Facebook groups I’m part of for a blog post I’m writing about writing for inflight magazines – spent a fair bit of time responding to answers and emailing follow up questions.
Re-read this week’s blog post before it goes live.
Finished off trade magazine story – emailed to my partner to read through and check.
Phone interviews x 3 (sent off for transcribing via Rev)
Sent off questions to 3 interviewees via email
Started and finished 800 word article for the insurance company about trauma
Received my second request of the week about offering mentoring for freelance writers. Started developing an intake form for mentoring clients (let me know if there are any freelance writers out there who are also keen!)
Started working on the commission I got this morning and that’s due tomorrow.
Internet down in the town where I live so chaos ensues. Read my partner’s uni essay, which is due on Friday and fixed up his comments on my trade magazine article that’s due tomorrow.
8.30am – 4.30pm
Working from home today.
Read through the trade magazine article that’s due today and sent it to the editor.
Read through another article that’s due tomorrow and sent it to editor. Editor replied to say they are now asking writers to do meta descriptions, abstracts and heading variations for all their articles, and requested me to do this for this article too.
Completed the food article that was assigned yesterday and submitted it.
Went for a 1 hour walk (this is a rare occurrence, but I’m trying to get some fresh air during the day)
Invoiced for 2 articles.
1 hour Skype call with three other freelance writers – one of my favourite parts of being a freelancer!
Back and forth with an editor about a new story for an inflight mag (that got commissioned – hooray!)
Working on extra information for a pitch for another editor.
Followed up with an editor about another pitch.
Sent two requests to case studies for interviews.
Tried to think of pitches for a regular editor I write for but after half an hour of reading different websites, I came up absolutely blank and gave up.
30 mins spent reading an ebook on freelance writing.
9am – 12pm
I work a half day each Friday and my partner has the other half to study.
Checked bank account – got paid the overdue $3K.
30 minutes phone interview with case study.
Back and forth with an interviewee about where and when content will be published
Emailed questions to another interviewee.
Invoiced for one article.
Reviewed proof of food article scheduled for publication in a few weeks.
Editor asked for more information and an outline on a particular pitch – I did that (fair bit of research involved).
Emailed editor to check appropriateness of case studies for an article I’m writing for her.
Started writing feature article (wrote 600 words).
9am – 11.30am
While my partner takes the kids swimming, I use Saturday mornings to do a little bit of catch up work.
I wrote a 500 word article for the insurance company and started on another article for them.
Scheduled my Twitter for the coming week.
That’s it! That was my week. Does your freelancing week look similar or different from mine?
OK, so my work week looks NOTHING like yours. Mine goes something like this:
3.15am – check a few emails while settling bubba
6.30am – re-read the emails i checked during the night because i can’t remember them..
9.05am – put play school on and attempt to write a blog post
9.15am – bubba wakes so post gets left until later…
12.00pm – put bubba to bed for day sleep, rush to computer to work on blog post
12.35pm – is that the baby?
And so on and so forth….
And I’ve just realised i call you on Saturday mornings often during your "work time".
I want to implement a cookie jar 🙂
With a schedule like that you are amazing for getting anything done in your week Michaela! And that definitely deserves a cookie jar all of your own. Don’t stop calling on Saturday mornings – your chats are always a welcome break!
Thanks for sharing such useful information each week. I was just wondering what method you used to record your phone interviews.
Hi Ann Marie, thanks for your comment – glad to have you here! If it’s face-to-face I record my interviews on my iPhone, if it’s over the phone I use an Olympus voice recorder with a ‘telephone pick up’ (like an ear bud that picks up both ends of the conversation).
Well that is a productive week! Great info. I would be interested in how you "plan out your articles" as well as how you source or take images for magazines & how the process works from you to published work. Thanks for sharing Lindy. x
Thanks Lisa! I might write a post about how I plan out my articles, but basically I look through the transcripts and highlight which quotes/points I’m going to use from each interviewee and then think how each point may sit in the whole article, and which will be the ‘link’ or transition to the next part.
In terms of sourcing images, I often have to ask case studies or contact venues for photographs.
A productive week indeed, I am taking notes! I’ve got a large-ish project on at the moment so I need to do better. Honestly, this week has not gone well. Too much messing around with home stuff and chasing the puppy round the garden while he drags the washing through the mud. I need to stop being distracted, deadlines are looming and it’s starting to get urgent. I very much like Kelly’s grid. I tend to use one long list at the moment and I end up going over it to see which are the most important things. Sectioning things off a bit would definitely help. But I wouldn’t want one of those terribly complicated systems; something simple works best for me.
I can totally understand your reluctance to do work Claire – a puppy must be the ultimate distraction! I found with a long list it takes me ages to decide what to prioritise, but with Kelly’s grid it’s easier to see what I have got on and what 3 things I need to focus on each day. Here’s to a more productive week for you (and lots of puppy cuddles).
Hmm, I tried to post a comment then think I’ve lost it – a great win (not) for my productivity!! I’ll see if I can remember what I wrote! Thanks for this post, Lindy. Your week is much more productive than mine – I get more distracted by life/kids/life. There are some similarities – I love that you get your partner to read your drafts – I do too (SO helpful!). Also that you keep your case studies informed about publication. I read this post after back and forth texts/emails with a case study about how she can read her profile piece (she’s legally blind so it’s not straightforward). I know some writers leave their case studies to find publications themselves, but I like to facilitate this more (especially when there are big delays etc). I used to use this 4-section list system (I didn’t learn it from anyone else, it just seemed to suit my multi-tasking life). I now use Trello but largely just wing it – keeping the list seems to take more time than doing it sometimes!
It’s really helped me this year having four full days to dedicate to freelancing, last year I was totally distracted by life and kids too Vivienne.
I really try to let case studies and experts know when articles will be published – I think it’s good practice and it also means you’re keeping a reciprocal relationship open with them.
I love that you already had a 4 section list system – ahead of the curve!
I’ve just recently taken the plunge into freelance full-time and am still trying to give myself a kick up the butt every morning to get going.
I’d love to be able to get into the day time working routine but faff about so much I end up not really getting started till about 11am. Then have to work a few nights a week after the kids have gone to make up for it.
Have you any tips for getting your A into G in the morning?
Ooo, maybe that’s a whole new blog post!
Were you able to start earlier when you had a ‘regular’ job Linda? I find that deciding the night before the three things I’m going to work on the next day really helps me focus.
Some days (like today!) I definitely find it hard to get started (usually when I don’t have impending deadlines). I know some people give themselves 5 – 10 minutes of faffing and set a timer and when the timer goes off you start work. Do you think that would work for you?
I always have a list of things to do, but might cut it to 3 things a day and see if that works. A timer is also a great idea. I do use the pomodoro method for writing but it’s the getting started early in the morning that gets me. A ‘faff-timer’ might just work!
I love that name – a faff-timer! Good luck with it – let me know how you go.
My gosh. SO useful to see this laid out. The hardest thing for me as a freelancer is organizing my willpower to fit the work requirements that I have set for myself. Meeting external deadlines is "easy", but meeting any deadline that I’ve set myself…. so hard. If I worked at my business even 20 hours a week with focus, so much more can happen. Thank you, thank you.
Thanks Annie, so glad you found it helpful. To be honest, I’m very similar – external deadlines? No problem, but like you I find it much more difficult to stick to the deadlines I set for myself. Good luck and let us know how you go!