5 Tips for Becoming a Happier and More Productive Freelance Writer

It's one thing to enjoy the freedom freelance writing offers. But sometimes we still get overwhelmed. Deadlines loom, payments might seem to take forever, and our to-do lists could occupy a mile-long scroll. Fortunately there are some things you can do to make yourself more productive than ever, and even happier in your freelance writing work.

Here are five tips to help you become a happier and more productive freelance writer:

1. Make a plan.

If you don't already have a business plan and marketing plan, create one. If you have one but you created it a while back, update it. Your business plan and marketing plan act as road maps to help guide you through the day to day aspects of managing your freelance career. It's a whole lot easier to reach your destination when you know where you're going.

Need some help? Consider using my one page business plan or one page marketing plan templates for a quick start.

2. Get organized.

Some people claim to work better when surrounded by clutter. I used to be one of those people. Then I truly got things organized and I realized what BS that was. As much as I might have known where things were in my mess on my desk, the simple truth is that clutter can mentally weigh you down whether you realize it or not.

Give yourself a cleaner, more organized work place. Give yourself some time to get used to the change. And see if you feel better and can get even more done in a day after a week or two goes by.

And remember, that doesn't only mean cleaning your desk -- bookcases, storage areas, and even your computer files count too. Still hate it after a few weeks? Well, it's not that difficult to clutter things up again. So have at it.

3. Find your most productive work time.

Just because you've always called yourself a night owl, it doesn't make it so. If you have flexibility in your schedule (as in you're not already committed to another full-time job or family obligations that set your work hours for you), try a few different work schedules. And give them each a week or two so you can adapt.

Try working in the evenings. Try working early in the mornings (there's no way around the fact that your mind will always be freshest before you've gone through the rest of your day, so if your schedule allows for this, I highly recommend it). Try a mid-day schedule too. Figure out when you truly work best -- when you can get the most done in as little time as possible while maintaining whatever level of creativity you need for your freelance career.

4. Get paid up front.

Even if you're not comfortable having clients pay you in full up front, at least collect 50% of your project fee before starting. When you have a significant portion of that money on-hand, you don't have to worry as much about deadbeat clients stiffing you on payments for work you've already done and for time you can never get back.

Not comfortable changing payment terms with existing clients? Then make that your new term going forward for new clients instead.

5. Re-evaluate your rates.

One of the biggest downers is to work hard and feel like you're not being fairly compensated for your work. You can get that working for an employer in a 9-5 job. You don't need it as a freelance writer. If you're not earning enough, raise your rates.

Yes, that might mean completely changing your target market. But if you made a mistake and targeted the wrong market to begin with, it's better to change things up now than remain unsatisfied and have to do it down the road anyway. Not sure what you need to charge? Our freelance hourly rate calculator can help you figure out the minimum you need to charge for your freelance work. (Just click the link near the top to use the advanced mode.)

Remember that there are many little things you can do throughout the course of your work day to get more done and be happier in the process. The above ideas are a just a few of the bigger tasks that can make a long term difference.

You could also create daily to-do lists and schedules to keep you on track, surround yourself with things that make you happy (plants, fuzzy slippers while you work, a nice candle, motivational calendar, or whatever works for you), or even allow yourself a nap or walk or some other kind of break mid-day if it brings you back to work feeling refreshed.

The point is that if you can be happier or more productive in your freelance work, you should take the time to figure out what's going to work for you and then do it. There is absolutely no reason any freelance writer shouldn't thoroughly enjoy their work.

How are you going to increase your productivity and happiness as a freelancer? If you have other tips or ideas, feel free to share them with our other readers in the comments below.

Note: This post was originally published on October 26, 2010 and was updated and re-released on the currently-noted publication date.

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14 thoughts on “5 Tips for Becoming a Happier and More Productive Freelance Writer”

  1. This is good advice. Also, always make time to write something just because you enjoy writing about it. Money isn’t the bottom line and writing about something you want to write about will make some of the more mundane jobs easier to manage.

    • Well, money actually is the bottom line for many writers (including in most of my own writing projects). And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. After all, freelance writing is a business, and in business you strive to make money. Besides, earning well through your work means you can set aside more free time to pursue other writing projects sheerly for the love of it. But yes, loving what you do absolutely makes the job easier. 🙂

  2. Excellent list Jennifer.

    In my field (writing for textbook publishers) I usually accept payment upon completion for the first project I do for an editor. Once she’s familiar with the high quality of my work, I have great success with 50% upon signing, 50% upon completion.

    However, I’m in a field where the client always pays me (large companies with hundreds of millions or several billion in sales). This is not the best strategy for other freelancers in other fields.

    • Oh wow. I don’t think I could handle textbook writing. I could barely stand reading most of them. 😉 If that’s a normal payment system for that area, that might be perfectly fine — especially since you’re getting 50% on signing for future projects. Do most new projects with an editor lead to more work with them, or is that an area of writing where you’re constantly working with new folks? And hey, as long as you know you’ll always be paid (and always be paid on time), there’s certainly nothing wrong with being a bit more flexible on the initial terms.

      • I get more projects from a new editor about 95% of the time. I have 5 or so editors for whom I’ve done 20 or more projects. And to clarify, I don’t write the textbooks themselves: I write the lecture outlines, student study guides, instructor’s manuals, and other supplements that go with the textbooks.

  3. Is this the new, gentler Jenn? LOL – Fuzzy socks? Candles? Full-time jobs? LOL Loving it!

    Yes, I’ve made freelancing work for me – I’m trapped in a time frame, but I make that timeframe work by surrounding myself with the stuff that I might normally enjoy if I were able to just relax and kick back…including fuzzy socks and candles!

    As far as a workspace, I totally agree with you that workspace makes a huge difference, and not just for writers. My classroom is papered in movie posters just to hide the ugly institutional walls – the kids love it. My office at home is getting a revamp this summer – hoping to build in a desk with cabinets and a huge set of built-in book shelves. I already have three giant windows in the “library” that used to be my dining room. 😛

  4. I’m super organized, and this post reminded me that I need to organize my desk. The papers are going everywhere. I just bought a new desk calendar, a purchase that motivated me to clean up my desk!

    My workspace is in a dark corner of my finished basement. The lighting is awful in my late 1950s home. So my husband installed a cute, Ikea light above my workspace, so I can actually see what’s on my papers without having to squint or get up and move to a better lit part of the basement.

    So, my suggestion is to have adequate lighting in your workspace. It’s simple. But it brightens my day!

    • Oh my goodness. How did I forget about the importance of good lighting after my trek across multiple towns to 14 stores recently just to replace my office lamp with one that would work for me. lol Excellent addition!

  5. I’ve only had one deadbeat client in my career, so I am cautiously optimistic that it was a one-time horror.

    #2 Getting organized is huge! Honestly, if I don’t have a clean desk I cannot be creative. The rest of the house could be falling apart (in fact it almost always is!), but if I have papers strewn about and files that need filing, I can’t get the writing done until it’s all tidy.

  6. I’m a little late to the party with this post, but I’ve been so busy being a happy and productive freelancer ! 😉

    These are some great tips, and they inspired me to take action on redesigning my workspace. It hasn’t been entirely conducive to my productivity but I’ve let it slide since I’ve recently been able to go from no projects and career hiatus to fully booked with a waitlist. Nonetheless, I’ve taken the time to be a more productive and happy freelancer, and I’ve had such a great time reorganizing.

    I’ve also taken the time to write out a business, marketing and financial plan in a very informal sense. I simply wrote down bullet points in my word processor, printed them out and put them in my planner. With all the businesses I’ve run, writing a business plan has always been crucial to the goal and I’ve gotten *too* good at it, if that makes sense. But I went ahead and wrote things down, because keeping too much in your brain just can’t be good for it.

    Getting paid upfront the rates I want has been the absolute most terrific thing as of late. I advertise rates of about $.30 per word on my website but for many incoming gigs I’ve been able to start at $.50 per word and add on for any additional needs. My clients have all been perfectly happy with my rate quotes, and have paid instantly. That certainly has made me more productive, and even with editing and other-than-writing-activity time included, I have managed to earn some hellacious hourly rates. I mean, rates that made my eyeballs want to pop out of my head 🙂

    Anyhow, y’all listen to Jenn. She knows what she’s talking about!

  7. About the rethinking of the rates: It’s true in other ways, too. When I was working myself to the bone, I realized I could have half that amount of work and still make money if I’d just raise my rates. I did. It made all the difference. Now instead of fretting about bringing in six or seven projects a month, I can do four and get the same amount of money without threatening my time off on weekends.

    • It’s that all-important “work smarter, not harder” concept I wish more freelancers acted on. It would save people from that mentality that they have to churn out dozens of articles every week just to earn enough to get by. No. You can write one or two and earn just as much, if not more, if you know how to target the right markets. Less cramming. Less stress. More sanity.


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