Handy Hints for the Freelance Writer #2

Make an agenda. I know, I know. This sounds terribly boring and business-like but I promise you, nothing will help you appreciate those little pockets of writing time more or make you use them more wisely.

The first step to planning  your agenda is to make a list of your writing goals for the week. I’ve banged on about goal setting before, but that’s only half the battle. If you don’t set aside time to work on those writing goals, you will find that you’ve frittered away weeks and weeks without making any progress.

Next, take a diary, one page per day, and block in the time when you are doing essential, non-writing activites: time spent at work, college, the gym, whatever. Already you might be shocked by how little time appears to be left over. Maybe you should take a seat before you do the next bit. Block in the time when you are eating dinner, grocery shopping, doing the laundry, seeing friends and family. Have you written absolutely every essential activity other than writing into your diary? Great. Not a lot of blank space left, is there? Now do you see how an agenda makes you realise how precious your writing time is?

Now try to prioritise your writing goals. I always find this tricky. Some of them may already have deadlines attached. Others, though there’s no official deadline, may be important because they could raise your profile or earn you some money. Once you’ve roughly sorted your goals into some kind of order of importance, insert them into the blank spaces in your diary. There may not (probably won’t be) time for you to do everything you wanted to that week. The agenda is a useful aid in setting realistic and achievable goals. Look at the writing goals you don’t have time to work on this week. Decide if they are important enough to be rolled over into next week’s agenda. If they are projects that will always be sitting at the bottom of the priority pile, you might just want to scrap them.

I’ve been doing the agenda thing for a couple of months now. It took a while to get to grips with. At first I was hopelessly unrealistic, thinking I could squeeze in a two hour writing session between finishing work and going to a writer’s group. I forgot I would have to eat and have a shower, and those things take time.

I’m gradually understanding which types of writing work best at different times of day. Blog posts I can do late in the evening, the earlier I start work on articles the better. Generally early afternoon is a slump period for me so I try to schedule in breaks then: meetings with friends, trips to art galleries. (Don’t forget to schedule in time off. It’s extremely important for your physical and mental well being but something that’s easily neglected).

An agenda can help you beat procrastination. I’ve identified the things that distract me from writing, the internet (times a million) and watching DVDs, and I make time for them in my agenda. It’s easier to resist online fact-checking for an article in the middle of writing it when you know you have set aside time to do it later.

The key to a good agenda, I think, is to be flexible. I scribble things out and shuffle things around, try to roll with the punches. Sometimes I can’t concentrate on the project I’m supposed to be working on so I reschedule it and move onto something else. I’ve always believed that it’s better to write something than nothing.

Do you schedule in time to write? How do fit writing in around other responsibilities? Any tips on how to beat procrastination?

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6 thoughts on “Handy Hints for the Freelance Writer #2

  1. It’s nice to be reminded of how to keep good habits.

    I don’t call it an agenda but I do stick to a weekly plan of action. Sometimes other priorities present themselves, and I’m pretty fluid about change, but I protect my writing time and I get done what I want to do.

  2. Hi Rachel,

    ‘Weekly plan of action’ sounds a bit more proactive than ‘agenda’ so I might start calling it that instead. I like the idea of protecting my writing time. I don’t always manage but I’ve been getting better at it since I started scheduling in time to work on different writing projects.

  3. Have never scheduled in time to write although I tend not to be a very organized person in that way. There have been times when I’ve made lists to help me get organized but I’m not consistent. Guess I’m hopeless. I obviously have no tips on how to beat procrastination but I try not to be too hard on myself when I do.

  4. Sadly, having an agenda generally doesn’t happen as well as I would like. For me, I find blocking out 15 minute power work/writing sessions throughout the day the most efficient way to get some things done. I turn on my timer and dive into something that I want or need to get done. Most of the time I can finish in the time allotted, sometimes I need longer. Being aware of generally how long a task takes is very helpful.

    Great blog, look forward to reading future posts.

  5. Laura, I always get into a terrible mess when I make lists. I end up with lists of writing tasks, lists of household tasks and lists of all the lists I have! Still, it is very satisfying when you finally get to cross something off.

    Talli, good to know making an agenda works for you. I’ll keep it up!

    Hi Tsuchigari, thanks for stopping by. 15 minute power sessions sounds like a good idea. I usually schedule in 1 to 2 hours for a task but with so much time the danger is that I’ll start daydreaming. I guess the less time you have to do something the harder you work.

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