One type of writing can keep you from doing another if you don’t prioritize. So…How badly do you want it?
Like most writers, I love writing. It’s not just a job, it’s a part of who I am. Pretty much all I do is write! (Just ask my friends and family!).
What I do for work and what I do for fun is the same — the only difference is who I do it for.
But, the thing is, writing for my clients has always taken priority. Since I started freelancing, I’ve consistently juggled multiple clients, each with a wide range of needs. And it’s friggin’ awesome. But it’s also extremely time-consuming.
Finding the time to work on my own projects can be difficult; and, often, frustrating. In addition to these blog posts, I write fiction novels, short stories, poems, and non-fiction books. These unpaid/passion projects have to take a backseat to my “real” work, but they’re still oh-so-important to me. They have to get done, or I’ll go crazy I tells ya!
And I’m not the only writer who struggles with this issue. In order to write this article, I turned to the freelance writing community with a simple question: “How do you find the time to work on your writing projects?”
Here’s what I found out:
You Have to Kick Guilt to the Curb!
No matter how much we love our passion projects — no matter how much we need to do them — there always seems to be a feeling of guilt that comes with working on them. After all, they’re a luxury, right? These aren’t the writing projects you do for money, so they don’t “count” as important work.
Well, not with that attitude!
Your personal writing projects are important. But sometimes you might need a little extra convincing to allow yourself to think so…
“As a hustler still working to grow her business, I feel guilty spending time on my projects because they’re not ‘billable.’ Luckily, my mastermind group gave me a great idea that has really helped me. To trick my brain into spending time on passion projects, I treat my work just like I treat client work — I put it on my schedule and block out time for it just like I would a paid project. I used to just tell myself I’d get around to it when I had ‘free time,’ but I never had free time because I always book myself solid. By making my stuff a dedicated to-do on my list, I force myself to give it the attention it needs.” ~Kelly Gurnett, Cordelia Calls It Quits.
Like Kelly, I often have to “trick my brain” in order to work on my own writing.
“I schedule time for personal projects in the same way I schedule time for business tasks. I block off 30 minutes to an hour on my calendar and I allow myself to just focus on my own thing. It really helps me get to my own pet projects and writing when I treat it as something that has equal importance to what I’m doing professionally — after all, it IS of equal importance!” ~ Kali Allison Hawlk, Content Manager for Busy Businesses.
You’re going to see the word “schedule” come up a lot in this article. Fair warning! 😉
“It’s a constant struggle to not do paid client work first, but I know if I don’t do my own projects first, I’ll forever put them off. [It’s] my calling and my passion, and I owe it to myself to make time for it!” ~ Stephanie Halligan, The Empowered Dollar.
I have, and will always, put my clients’ needs before my own. Mostly because I like getting paid. However, Stephanie brought up an interesting point about priorities. What really matters most to you? Your personal projects are important. But it’s up to you to decide how important. And the first step toward doing that is to release your guilt.
Make Time/Make a Schedule
Remember my “fair warning?” Nearly every writer who responded to me talked about the importance of “scheduling it in” when it came to successfully working on their own writing projects.
Some keep a strict no-compromises schedule…
“Sunday night I take a look at the upcoming week and I schedule in a couple 1-2 hour windows to work solely on my personal/passion projects. No e-mail, no social media, no paid client work during this time. Actually adding this time to my schedule is hugely important — for me, if it’s not on the schedule, it’s probably not getting done!” ~ Alex Zamorski, Calamus.
While others are a bit more flexible…
“The first hour of the day is dedicated to my personal/passion projects, I usually find I am most productive on creative ventures then. If for some reason I lose that time due to ‘work’ commitments then I make sure that I take it back at the end of the day. Working from home makes this a lot easier to achieve, I will admit.” ~ Kylie Dunn, My Year of TED.
And most found their best action times to be in the early mornings…
“Right now I am waking up at about 7am each morning and spending an hour or so doing personal business and making breakfast before settling down to write. I usually take anywhere from 1 1/2 hours to 2 1/2 hours to get my 2k [words on my new novel] in. Once my 2k is in, I do whatever I want until it is time to go to work — usually respond to e-mails, check the internet, read, etc. If I don’t get my writing in before I go to work, it won’t happen. I am too braindead from my job to write in the evenings.” ~ Melissa Dominic, The Pocket House.
While still others schedule it in wherever they possibly can, working around their family’s day-to-day schedules…
“I write passion projects at night or early in the morning, when everybody in the house is already asleep. That way I can focus better. I also feel like I’m in the zone during those hours.” ~ Joy Collado, Joy B. Collado Writes.
I always work at night. But the nights I choose to work on my passion projects change from week to week. I usually aim for Tuesdays, but, depending on my clients’ needs, that’s not always possible.
Concede that no matter what you’re trying to write, it’s going to take longer than you want it to; but that’s okay — just get it done. Some weeks you might be able to schedule in a full day of writing, whereas you might only get half an hour the next week! But all of those chunks of time — all of those chunks of writing — add up.
Schedule in some “me” writing, even if it’s just a few minutes a week. Your novel or poetry collection may take a year to finish rather than the six months you’d hoped for, but at least it’ll be done.
Don’t Let Inspiration Slip Away
Inspiration will often hit you at the most inopportune times. You might be neck deep in a copywriting project due tomorrow, but you’ll suddenly have that flash — that moment of “I know what to do!!” — of inspiration for your young adult novel. And yet…you can’t work on your novel at that moment! So what the heck are you supposed to do?
“I write for work all day, every day, so finding the time and inspiration to write for personal projects can be really challenging. To counter this, I always, always have a notebook with me. In addition to scheduling the time to write, the important thing for me is taking advantage of when inspiration hits. I’ve been blogging for over a decade, and quality over quantity is my priority. When I hit publish on a personal blog post, I want it to be something meaningful.” ~ Berrak Sarikaya, Amplify Yourself.
Ah, yes. The notebook. The writer’s best friend! I keep one with me at all times, too. As do many writers.
Write down your ideas as they come to you. Do not count on remembering them later. You don’t want to waste a single minute of the limited time you’ve scheduled for yourself trying to grasp at half-remembered inspiration.
Of course, problems can still arise…
“Scheduling time and keeping a notebook handy to catch ideas definitely help, but sometimes I still have writer’s block during the time I’ve scheduled. When that happens, I find changing my environment really helps. I always get ideas when showering and exercising. Also, if it’s a larger, ongoing project, I have to break it up and put the specific tasks on my to do list.” ~ Kari Hudnell, PR IS FUNDAMENTAL. NO, REALLY, IT IS.
But, as unromantic as it may sound, one of the best ways to keep a firm grasp on your writing inspirations — and your writing project as a whole! — is to simply stay organized:
“When I was working on my fantasy novel, I was working a full time job and blogging so I would work on my fiction writing on nights and my days off. Now that I’m a SAHM and freelancing, I blocked off days (usually Fridays) that are dedicated to my writing, making sure all my regular work for the week is done. With either method having an outline of my story and a to-do list of tasks helped me make the most of my writing time.” ~ Margaret McGriff, Freelance Writer and Social Media Manager.
Write at Your Best…and Your Worst!
For many writers, “mood” dictates whether or not they’ll sit down and write. However, for many successful writers, “mood” needs to either be ignored or be incorporated into their work.
Some writers schedule in their passion projects at times they know they’ll be happy, like on their days off:
“I’ve decided recently to start pursuing passion projects on my days off. I used to work in some way or another all 7 days of the week, which really started to screw with my productivity, attitude, and happiness. So… I decided to finally take that day off, but I found I still wanted to do SOMETHING, even if it was just ‘fun’ writing or home projects like decorating. So, my Sundays are now dedicated to writing, reading, and crafts. I still tend to work about a half day on Saturday, but already I’m noticing a difference in clarity of thought and motivation!” ~ Bree Brouwer, Phoenix Freelance Writer & Blogger.
While others write when they’re stressed:
“I write when I’m stressed because I know it’s a positive way to channel passion into something productive. [If] I don’t do enough writing, the stress gets out of this world! So I guess for me, it’s not always about making time but instead releasing my inner passion and letting her have her head.” ~ Loren Michelle Weaver, Paranormal Storyteller.
You know what’s really stressful? Losing your biggest client! But, you know what? When my two biggest clients laid me off in 2012, I used my stress-filled “free time” to finally — FINALLY! — complete my first young adult novel. And, in April of 2013, I got it published and went on a book tour. It ended up being a fantastic experience! (And it felt so darn good to have my book out of my brain and on paper!).
Of course, you’ll want to spend the bulk of your time marketing yourself and tying to “get back on the horse.” But that won’t take up all of your time (trust me!).
If you can take any time off to write: Take it! No matter what your “mood” is.
When writing is your hobby and your career, it can be hard to find the perfect balance. Hard. Not impossible. The real question is: How badly do you want to write for yourself…?
If you, really, truly, want to write for yourself, nothing can stop you — not even 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).