How I Became a Productive Freelance Writer — After Failing in Year One

Carol Tice

plan b strategy option alternative planning business symbol black board isolatedBy Kim Jansen

When I graduated from college, I knew a 9-to-5 position was not for me.

I had dreams of becoming a happy, productive freelance writer — working at my own pace, toting my laptop to my favorite coffee shop, paying my bills with my ideas…

But it turned out that I knew nothing about freelancing.

See, in college, I landed some pretty impressive internships. I thought “My luck will transfer over to post-grad life. I’ll never hurt for work.”

But I was wrong. The only places I knew to look for work were content mills.

Several months and $20 later, I realized the work was painstaking. And frankly not worth it. I had to pick up other jobs. A stint at Macy’s. Teaching music classes. A restaurant position.

All the while, I still tried to freelance, but time kept running away from me. A year flew by, and I’d earned basically nothing from writing.

Getting organized

This year, I gave myself one more chance to get my freelance writing business off the ground before I officially called it quits. And I’ve been succeeding.

How? All it took was a new way of approaching my freelance writing business. Here’s what I do differently now:

  • Schedule each working hour. Before I would slack on my to-do list and only complete one task. Now I have an old class schedule sheet I found; I make copies and can fill out every hour from 8am to 9pm during the week, but I only plan one day at a time. This way, I prevent some of that pressure a full week schedule gives me, but I actually complete most of my tasks by being specific.
  • Spend time improving my craft. I want to continue delivering impeccable content to my clients, so every morning I spend 30 minutes on free writing, vocabulary and grammar, and sentence structure exercises. I also find that doing this every day clears my brain for the heavier client assignments and makes writing easier overall.
  • Avoid content mills and bad websites. It’s easy to get wrapped up in Google searches of “freelance writing jobs” and hunting for opportunities on Craigslist. It never worked for me, so I just started avoiding it altogether. It opened up hours to market myself to jobs that would actually pay well.
  • Invest in professional development. Not only am I a member of Freelance Writer’s Den, but I also subscribe to several top-notch experts in the writing industry, and I carve out an hour every day to learn from these experts.
  • Stop researching magazines and companies — and start pitching them. Maybe it was fear of rejection, but I used to waste a lot of time trying to find magazines I could pitch. But I never pitched them. Research is still important, but now, armed with the know-how on writing queries, I actually pitch. Sometimes I get nothing, but I wouldn’t ever get anything if I didn’t pitch.

Now that I’ve learned to become a more productive freelancer, I’m seeing growth in my business. I’ve made money through my own blog, had several posts published to use as clips, and done paid projects for a couple of clients, all within weeks of starting these methods.

How do you stay productive? Tell us in the comments below.

Kim Jansen is a freelance writer who loves working with clients in the retail, wedding, small business, and music industries. She blogs about friendship over at Savvywifey.com.

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30 Comments

  1. Ivy Shelden

    Hi Kim!

    Great read. This is a good reminder to me that I need to start scheduling my time better. I still have a full-time job and am trying to get ready to transition to free-lance writing when I have my second child in October.

    I usually do a lot of my writing and learning in longer bursts, with periods of nothing (besides day job, parenting etc) in between! I realize I could probably get a lot accomplished if I schedule a couple of hours each day.

    I get a bit of a sinking feeling when I think about resigning from my FT job in a couple of months, and reading about your success gives me hope that I will still be able to pull in some income fairly quickly if I get organized! Thanks again!

  2. Peggy Carouthers

    Awesome tips, Kim. I’ve definitely found scheduling to be an effective way to get more done. I also tend to fall into the researching markets forever trap, so I appreciate the reminder to just pitch already. That’s been my motto this week.

    Also, nice site redesign, Carol! Loving the new look.

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks, Peggy! I think we’re going to tweak it a bit more, but I’m excited to finally have this up — long time in the making.

  3. Kim

    For those of you asking for writing exercises: once again I’m pretty old fashioned about the way I do it. I like to make sure I’m spending writing time away from my screen; it helps my eyes and my brain. If you’re wanting online exercises, I’ve always appreciated the Purdue OWl site. I’ve used it since high school for bibliographies and all sorts of things. Here’s the link:

    https://owl.english.purdue.edu/exercises/

    It has grammar, punctuation, sentence structure – everything technical. Granted its target audience is college students, but it’s still helpful.

    I also recommend creative writing exercise sites. If you have strong creative writing skills, it transfers into strong business writing and magazine writing – even if your content has to be cut-and-dry, it’s still valuable to know how to weave stories into your content.

    Like I mentioned earlier, though, I like the old exercises from books. You don’t have to spend a lot of money; I went to Half Price Books and found writing exercise books for less than $10.

    Below is my list. A couple of these I collected from college courses, and I still use them.

    Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin. This is a creative writing book, but I love pulling it out and doing the exercises from time to time.
    Random House Webster’s Pocket Power Vocabulary. Not that our goal is to transcend a reader’s intelligence. But a 10 minute exercise that grows my vocabulary and helps me find the perfect word for a sentence.
    The Art of Styling Sentences by Ann Longknife, Ph.D., and K.D. Sullivan. If you can only buy one book, this is the one.

    I use some others, like What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers, and The Oxford Essential Guide to Writing.

    I also spend around 10 minutes every day freewriting, meaning I open a journal and I just start writing whatever comes to mind. Sometimes it makes no sense, but that’s okay. I just want to get my creative juices going; this daily practice also ensures I’m doing writing for myself. Every writer needs that.

  4. Karen J

    Great post, Kim ~ thank you for the detailed information on your “day”.
    I (and my mental “But I don’t know how to do it” blocker-monster) would really appreciate seeing a screen shot of a planner page or two (yours, too, Tara Lynne and Tricia, and anybody else who uses this “granular” planning technique 🙂 ) Driving time and prep time are both major “Damn, I forgot to allow for that!” issues for me.

    Hmmm… writing this just inspired a new blog post, and a major Life Ahah! Thanks for the noodge, in all directions, friends!

  5. Linda H

    Hi Kim,

    Thanks for these tips. They really encapsulate what I want to do and your timelines for daily writing, development and work tasks is perfect for my dedicated writing days. I’m going to copy these and start using them to keep me aligned.

    Every freelancer needs to know the value to organized days and prioritized time. Your productivity goes so much higher when you prioritize and organize then stick to it. And your list of tips is a perfect outline for a very productive day.

    Love the idea about the exercises too. Those are
    critical for great writing.

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