“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” ~Stephen King, On Writing.
Say what you like about Stephen King–the man has written a lot of material. His big secret to success? Actually getting out there and doing the work!
The main difference between a successful writer and an unsuccessful one is action. Or, as Jeff Goins once said, “Bad writers quit. Good writers keep going. That’s all there is to it.”
You might be the best writer in the world, but crap writers will beat you to the punch every time if they try and you don’t. Why do terrible books get published every year? Because the writers who wrote them took action to get them published. That could just as easily be you!
How badly do you want it?
The 10 Key Steps to Taking Action as a Freelance Writer:
- Set realistic goals.Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’ll have two clients by the end of the week if you’ve never taken on a paid gig before. Or that you’ll have your novel written and in a publisher’s hands within a month. You’re just going to end up frustrated and feel like a failure when it doesn’t work out as you’d planned. Try focusing on one client per day.
- Break your goals into smaller chunks.Copywriter Matthew Kimberley once said, “Overwhelm is a result not of having too much to do, but of not knowing what to do next.” He recommends working backwards, and breaking each goal down into smaller steps.If one of your end goals is to get more subscribers to your newsletter, your more immediate smaller goals might include setting up an opt-in page on your website or planning out a freebie that you could offer to entice sign-ups.
- Take breaks, but never stop completely.When you become a freelancer, “burnout” will become one of your biggest concerns. It’s all too easy to get overworked.With no one to regulate us but ourselves, we can easily go on working forever–only stopping after it’s too late, when we’ve collapsed into a pile of sobbing writer goo on our office floors. Ugh. By taking breaks throughout the day (I like to set alarms!), we can let our brains & bodies recuperate in-between tasks. Just remember to get back to work after your break!
- Stay organized.Keep your physical desk top and your computer desktop clean. Give each client their own folder. Write down or save any crucial instructions. Outline your work ahead of time. Just like it’s easier to find where you’re going when you have a map, it’ll be easier to get your writing done efficiently if you organize your “route” ahead of time.
- Eliminate distractions.This goes hand-in-hand with number four. If there’s something in your life that’s distracting you that hasto be done: Just get it over with. Do it. If you know you won’t be able to focus without doing your laundry first, or without vacuuming, or without cleaning out your file cabinet, or without playing with your kid until they finally conk out for a nap…then go ahead and do it. Just make sure you’re doing things that actually need to be done, and not making up excuses to not do your work. The ultimate goal is to improve your work, not to avoid doing it entirely.
- Stay healthy.Eat, sleep, move around. Do the things that are necessary for you to stay alive. I need to set alarms to remind myself to eat, but I always make sure to do it. Since freelance writers don’t get sick leave or employee health insurance, we have to work harder than ever to stay healthy. You won’t be able to take action if you’re ill. Take care of yourself.
- Tell others…or don’t.Many self-help gurus will encourage you to get an accountability buddy. The basic theory is that if you tell someone your goals–or make them known publicly–you’ll haveto take action to see them through. And this works for a lot of things; however, this method depends a lot on your personality type. Research has shown that, for creative projects, telling people what you’re working on is often not the way to go. For example, as soon as you tell someone you’re writing a novel, you instantly start to lose your motivation to actually do it. If that’s the case for you, keep your projects to yourself. Learn which method works best for YOU and then stick with it.
- Write first, edit later. Editing is all about finding errors. And, yes, there will always be errors. But if you start focusing on what you’ve done wrong before you’ve even finished…chances are you’ll never finish. Save the editing for last.
- Get to know your best action times.Do you work best in the morning? Then you should do your work in the morning. Like many hypoglycemics, my blood sugar levels out at night. My brain finally kicks into gear in the late afternoon to early evening. So I tend to do no-brainer tasks during the day (like my “eliminate distractions” chores) and do my real work at night (it’s 9:10pm right now). Whenever I attempt to force myself into an earlier schedule, I spend a lot of time zoning out and feeling dopey. I might not have the most conventional schedule, but it’s the one that works for me. Find the one that works for you.
- Write.Stop making excuses and just do it already!
“The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.” ~Stephen King, On Writing.
What can I say? That book is filled with great quotes!
Now get out there and start writing!
Lauren Spear (née Tharp) is the owner and creator of the multiple award-winning LittleZotz Writing. She’s written hundreds of bylined posts helping freelance writers to become BETTER freelance writers. Thousands if you count all the articles she’s ghostwritten (but she’s not allowed to talk about most of those).