The Single Most Important Secret to Freelance Writing Success (Or, why I take 5-minute breaks, put myself on Starbucks® timeouts, and write terrible drafts)

There are a lot of traits that will contribute to your success as a freelance writer. Like your understanding of proper punctuation, grammar, and syntax.

Beyond that basic knowledge, one trait will be central to your success:

Self-discipline.

I’m tellin’ ya. Self-discipline is crucial to succeeding as a freelance writer.

After I explain this in detail, I will outline 3 specific strategies I use for excelling in the self-discipline arena.

SELF-DISCIPLINE

Self-discipline is the difference between winning and losing as a freelance writer. Hands down.

Being self-employed and working remotely awards you freedom. But—let me warn you—freedom without self-discipline is lost time.

Freedom without self-discipline is lost time.

Many freelancers complete projects at a predetermined cost (rather than an hourly rate). Why? Per project costs reflect the value of the end product. For instance, let’s say you charge $100 for a 500-word article. That means the value of every 500-word article you write is $100 (whether it takes you 30-minutes or 3 hours).

As you can infer, sometimes per project rates work to your benefit, other times they don’t. But by charging per project, you are incentivized to use your time well. And rather than say, “My time is worth X dollars,” you communicate that your end product is worth X dollars—just like a product at the store. This price structure generally makes the most sense for writers and clients alike.

Moral of the story: self-discipline is crucial to ensuring a 2-hour project doesn’t turn into a 2-day undertaking.

MY SELF-DISCIPLINE STRATEGIES

(1) Use the Pomodoro Technique. The Pomodoro Technique is a well-researched time management strategy developed in the 1980s. You set a timer, work for 25 minutes, take a 5-minute break, and repeat. While it’s super simple, it’s strangely effective.

While the Pomodoro Technique may not work for you, it’s important to understand what strategies do contribute to your success. How long can you work? How often do you need breaks? Figure out how to optimize your time.

(2) Put yourself on a Starbucks® timeout. Here’s the deal. If there’s a project I need to get done, I force myself to go somewhere (e.g. Starbucks®) until it’s done.

This works for a few reasons. It gets me out of the house and surrounds me with people who are (usually) being productive while adding much-needed pressure #closingtime.

You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.

(3) Write a terrible draft. Even when I don’t feel like writing, I still have deadlines. That’s why I force myself to write terrible drafts. (These usually take <30 minutes). As I write, I know the drafts are terrible. There’s no self-disillusion here.

BUT, when I go back the next day, I’m no longer starting from scratch. Thanks to my self-disciplined self, I have something to work with. *Pats self on back. Seeing words on the page is motivating. On day two, I’m ready to transform my terrible draft into content I’m proud to share with my client.

REAL TALK

You can be an outstanding writer, but without self-discipline, you cannot succeed as a freelance writer. Reflect on what you need to do good work and figure out how to optimize your time.

Ten months in, I’ve never missed a deadline. This is a top priority. My clients’ time is just as important as mine.

What are your self-discipline strategies? I’d love to hear what works for you! Drop me a comment.



Hey, I’m Laura. In October 2016, I quit my job (on purpose) and became a freelance writer (on accident).  Now I share my experience as a freelance writer for 20-somethings. Because contrary to popular myth, you don’t have to wait until you’re 50 to become a successful freelance writer. I’m happy you’re here.

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3 Comments

  1. This is great! THANK YOU! Can’t wait to read more of your content. As a (not freelance) writer in her early 20’s who is looking to expand into the freelance world this is great.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Casey! I’m so glad you find the content useful. I’m 25 and freelancing full-time, so it’s definitely attainable. 🙂 I look forward to hearing your thoughts and questions regarding my upcoming content.

  2. Outstanding! Self-discipline is critical in many other fields as well.

    I’ll also adopt your “write a terrible draft” approach, too. There are few things lonelier than an empty page.

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