Focus: Doing what you’re doing while you’re doing it


I don’t know about you, but I can sometimes get overwhelmed with everything I have to do. Currently, I am freelancing to earn a living and working on multiple projects generally, writing a novel, promoting novels I have already published, blogging, trying to get some reading in and if possible a little social media. Not to mention life in the real world.

And I have a tendency to wake up with thoughts of all the things I must get done in the day. My desk is littered with index cards of notes on projects, to do lists, changes in the novel, blogging topics, things I must remember to do. And I can’t remember the last time when I didn’t eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at my desk. Sometimes it seems like so much that I rapidly fall into apathy and opt to play computer Mahjong instead.

The trick is to only do what you’re doing right now

Somewhere along the path of my life, somebody told me the way to get things done was to do what you’re doing while you’re doing it. Meaning, whatever you are working on, give it your full attention. This of course, flies in the face of the multi-tasking mindset, which we all seem to believe is a more productive approach. Actually, it isn’t. Multitasking only enables you to do a bunch of things poorly and nothing well.
In these computer oriented, instant access times we live in, we have things coming at us at the speed of light. So many shiny objects, so little time. Right? So easy to get distracted. So easy to forget what you were doing.

And time management is a struggle for most of us, but I think especially self-employed individuals who must hustle and put in a lot of time to support themselves. And while there is nobody who has figured out how to make time stand still or stretch the length of a day, there are little tricks you can use to keep yourself on track:

Focus. Obvious, right? But that means turning off your email, possibly unplugging from the Internet and turning off your phone. Not quite so easy. Before you start your day, go for a walk, do yoga, meditate – or something that you find calming and takes you away from the noise. Even deep breathing will help. Decide what you’re going to do when you get to your desk. And then do it. Period. Do it until it’s finished. Don’t do anything else.

One thing at a time. Multitasking has created a whole generation of mediocre, dispersed people with the attention span of a gnat. Just say no to multitasking. Select your next project, task, job and do it. When that is done. Move onto the next. You will be amazed how much more you get done by not trying to do everything at once.

Lists. Lists are good. A lot of people swear by them. Some people don’t like then. Perhaps a calendar where you write it each task you will do within a specific time frame, works better for you. Or a series of rainbow colored post-it’s stuck to the wall next to your desk. When the task is finished the post-it is pulled and tossed in the trash. You could probably even get your phone to prompt you when it’s time to do a task. Me, I like index cards. When I think of something, I jot it down. Then I don’t have to carry it around in my already overstuffed head. When I’m done. I tear up the card and trash it. Easy Peasy.

Work by your own clock. Not everybody is a morning person. Some people function much better at night or late afternoon. Build your schedule and task list around your own body clock.

Reasonable expectations. One of the things that trips us up and can send even the calmest person into a tailspin is assuming we can do more than we actually can. You write a list with 50 items on it, then grit your teeth and swear you are not getting up from your desk until they are all done. At midnight, you’re still working on item 5. Try to make your lists/expectations reasonable. If you want to push yourself aim to do just a little bit more than you think you can. This will help motivate you to be more productive. But a list that even Super Man couldn’t do won’t motivate anyone.

Don’t beat yourself up – you’re only human

Everybody has their own process and preferences in how to approach their work. And it might take you a while to find what works for you. So don’t beat yourself up, if you feel you’re falling behind. Just do the turtle routine, right? Slow and steady wins the race. Do what you’re doing while you’re doing it and I promise that you’ll find you are actually getting more done.

How about you? Is time management an issue? Are you overwhelmed by all the things you need to get done in a day, a week, a month? How do you handle the problem. Feel free to give us your tips and tricks in the comments.


The Never-Ending Client

Occasionally, as a freelancer you will encounter a client that stick to you like lint to felt and may be frustrated by what to do. I recently had a client who hired me to do a small job which I turned out for him in a couple of days and which he said he really liked. However, rather than paying the balance due, he kept coming back with little niggly things. Could I change the emphasis on this? Could I shorten it to accommodate more formatting tags. Each time, I did as he asked but he kept coming back. Again with little things.

But little things add up

The problem wasn’t the requests so much as the client’s apparent refusal to accept that the work was done. He felt he could freely change his mind and I would willingly continue to make changes ad infinitum.

Coming from (originally) the hospitality industry, the concept that the customer is always right has been ingrained in my mind. So my tendency is to bend over backwards to accommodate my clients and make them happy.

However, there comes a time when you must put your foot down and gently tell your client you fulfilled your end of the bargain. It’s unfair for the client to keep adding things to a job that strictly speaking weren’t part of the agreement.

What to do

If you have such a problem with a client the following may help you:

1. Before you take on a job you must define the parameters of the work. A contract should do this for you.
2. Resist the urge to keep working until the client is happy. Of course you want your client to be satisfied with your work and you should always strive for that. But some people will take advantage of your good nature and have you working forever on a project because they changed their mind mid-stream.
3. Gently get the client to accept responsibility for changing their mind. In the kindest yet firm language you can muster you need to remind the client what the agreement was and the parameters of the work established before you began. And show them that you fulfilled your end of the agreement.
4. Worst case scenario, refund their money. No freelancer likes to do this, especially if the work is already done and has been given to the client. However, it may be better to give a full or partial refund rather than have a noisy, complaining client out there in cyberspace trashing your rep.

One of the pitfalls for freelancers, especially when first starting out is that they are so happy to get a job that they often don’t take the time to specify the parameters of the work and find themselves in this situation. However, if a job that should take four hours ends up taking twelve hours then you can easily end up making less than minimum wage.

In my case whenever I run into a snag like this I review my policy and terms and refine them to include the snag so that they don’t reoccur. Freelancing like any business is a matter of trial and error and refinement.

In the meantime, here is a decent sample of a contract you may want to use as a template for freelance writing gigs.

How about you? Have you ever had a never-ending client? What happened? How did you handle it? Did you change the way you operated your business because of it? Feel free to share your tips in the comments.


So you want to be a freelance writer, eh? One way to get started

I’m an author and hope one day to be a household word in the mystery genre. From my lips to God’s ear, right? Anyway, I also make my living as a freelancer. A few days ago an online bud told me she wanted to start freelancing and asked if I had any suggestions on how she could start. And that’s how this post came about.

The following tips/suggestions are based on my own experience and what worked for me. There may be hundreds of other ways to approach freelancing and nothing is written in stone. I’ve always found that where there is a will there is a way, so if you have a better approach, feel free to mention it in the comments or just do it your way.

1. Subscribe to Funds for Writers and Writers Weekly. In my opinion, Funds for Writers and Writers Weekly are probably two of the best newsletters for freelancers because they have articles and listings for work, contests, etc. And reading the newsletters will just help you get the mindset. There are millions of other newsletters but I recommend you only go with a couple; otherwise all you’ll do is read newsletters.

2. Decide on a niche. You don’t have to have a niche – I really don’t. However, when I first started I did a lot of writing for lawyers. I was once upon a time a legal secretary so have a basic grasp on the law and the more you write about various types of law (or any subject) the more you understand it and can write about it easily. If you have a particular expertise or experience in a topic or field specializing in a niche may work for you. If you are a jack of all trades or get bored easily, you don’t have to specialize.

3. Practice writing in that niche on your blog or start a blog specifically for that niche. If you do decide to specialize and you have no clips you should either 1) start writing posts about that niche on your current blog or 2) start a blog specifically for that purpose. A free blog is fine, what you want to do is to be able to practice writing really good articles/posts and also to have samples to show prospective clients.

4. Add a “Hire Me” page to your blog. Whether on your current blog or in the case that you set up a separate blog for your niche writing put it on that blog. You don’t have to make the page fancy or sparkly – just an easy to read and navigate page that tells the prospect what you can do for them and how they can reach you. The page should be written from the viewpoint of ‘what I can do for you’ – which can be a little tricky because you have to write in such a way that shows you are competent but doesn’t sound like you are bragging.

5. Read “Breakthrough Advertising” by Eugene Schwartz. You can get it at Amazon but yes, it is hideously expensive. You may be able to find it in a used bookstore. Or possibly check it out from your local library. You may also be able to find it here but if at all possible get  your hands on it and read it.  I won’t blow smoke up your skirt, this book is huge and not an easy read. You won’t zip through it like a novel or even the usual book on writing techniques. It will take a while to read and you may want to read it several times because there is so much information in it, it is truly mind-blowing from a copy writing point of view. Schwartz is one of the most famous copywriters ever. In the copy writing world he is still a god. Personally, I learned more about writing from this one book than any other book I ever read about writing.

If you can just get the basics, you will understand how to write anything because all copy writing is written for the purpose of sales. Period. There is no other reason it is written. No matter what anyone says that is the truth. Websites, business posts, business blogs, magazine articles, etc, all written for the purpose of marketing/ selling something. Anyway, Schwartz is a genius and even if you never do copy writing you will gain a lot of insight into human beings by reading his book and it will make you a better writer. I promise.

6. Stay away from writer mills or other sites that requires you to sign up and bid for jobs. You get paid peanuts and they put you through the ringer and you can’t use any of your work for clips/samples. Do not ever sign up with a writer’s mill. These sites are typically in it for the owners to make money while the writers make peanuts, and truly get nothing out of it. They can’t approach clients privately. They can’t use their work as samples. And the editing process is ridiculous. And above all else they do not value writers. So stay away from them. Likewise craigslist for writer gigs. Many of them are scams but even the ones that aren’t have thousands of people applying for the same listing – so your odds suck. Although you can find things from time to time, generally speaking it will just drive you mad.

7. Study and understand SEO . If you don’t understand the basics of SEO then you need to either find a simple, easy to understand book or a website that you can learn the basics from. Generally, writers aren’t expected to do the SEO/keyword research but you must understand how to use keywords in your writing and why you’re doing it – and to do it so it isn’t just paragraphs of text with keywords stuffed into it.

8. If you don’t have one set up a PayPal account.  It is free and very easy to use. I get a lot of work from people outside the U.S. and I couldn’t do that if there weren’t an easy way for them to make payment. You do have to pay transaction fees which sucks but they aren’t outrageous, and it’s a business expense so at worst it’s a wash. There are other similar services which may be better but I have had great luck with PayPal.

Suggested approach/sequence

This is based on the assumption that you have no experience as a freelancer:

1. Set up a separate free blog which you can use solely for the purpose of practicing writing good SEO articles in the niche/niches you’ve chosen. As I mentioned earlier you may want to write about work or fields in which you have a lot of experience and/or familiarity. For example, if you worked for human resources in a large company, you could write posts about that – tips, tricks, etc.

2. If you want to try to get work right away, you could approach people you know. Offer to help write their website, brochures, sales ads, instruction booklets, or blog posts for their blog.

3. You could also approach web designers – even better if you know them personally. Web designers always need copywriters because though they build the sites, typically they don’t also do the writing.

4. You could put an ad in the local paper, church newsletter, mention it if you belong to any clubs, associations, etc.

5. Or if you feel really ballsy. Google the niches you’d feel comfortable writing in and check out their websites and blogs. If the website sucks or their blog hasn’t been updated lately. Contact them (from the info on their contact page) and offer to write blog posts or help them improve their web copy. You get the idea.

So there you have a list of hopefully helpful tips in breaking into the freelance writing universe.

You may have noticed I did not use the word easy in the title or anywhere in this post – that’s because it isn’t easy. As with any other career, you will not become a freelance writer overnight. No amount of tips will bring that about. You should be prepared to supplement your income or maintain your current job until you are generating enough work regularly to provide the income you need.

And too, self-employment is not for everyone. It can be lonely. It can be stressful. And the only benefits you get are the ones you provide for yourself. If you are the type of person who likes security, freelancing might work better for you as a sideline. Or you might prefer a position as an in-house writer in a large corporation or marketing agency.

So how about you, fellow writers? Do you freelance too? Any good tips to share? Knock yourself out and feel free to add to the list.

Writer Chick
Copyright 2015

Quick and Dirty Tips for the Freelancer


I collect tips. Small, sometimes insignificant little gems that don’t mean much alone but in a list look pretty nifty. For your hump-day enjoyment, I offer the following:

1. A tall skinny coffee mug keeps your coffee hot longer than a short fatty. I didn’t believe it either til I tested it. It’s true.

2. Keep a jug of water on your desk to stay hydrated. Most of us don’t drink enough water. My solution: keep a jug that holds the daily requirement of water on my desk. If it’s there you’re more likely to drink it rather than lifting your lazy butt out of the chair and walking all the way to the kitchen for something else. Also, buy a humidifier. They’re cheap and replace the moisture that heaters and electronics suck out of the air.

3. Take a walk every hour. Really even if it’s just up and down the block it will refresh you, get a little blood circulating and maybe help prevent writer’s spread. Just set your phone to go off every hour and go.

4. Get the hell out of your jammies and take a shower. We all love working from home because we can work in our jammies or ratty sweats and nobody sees our bedhead hair, right? Except you, every time you pass a mirror. I promise if you get up, take a shower and put on some normal clothes you’ll feel more alert, probably be more productive and won’t scare the UPS guy either.

5. Give crap away. Most of us have too much crap. Not because we’re one-percenters but because everything is so available. I can tell you right now that half the stuff I own I don’t need, don’t use and is gathering dust in a closet somewhere. We avail ourselves too easily of shopping therapy when we’re feeling, bored, blue or denied. I say eat an apple instead. Plus crap equals clutter, equals a space that’s hard to work in, equals dust mites and more cleaning. Find your local thrift store, charity or homeless center and cart your crap over there. If you have a lot they might even send a truck.

6. Convert your files into eBook formatsCalibre  is free, easy to use and kind of fun too. The latest version enables you to do some light editing too. I use it to get a feel for how my books will look in the format and also for sending to beta readers so they can read the drafts on the eReaders rather than a big clumsy Word doc that has to be read on a computer. For actual publication though I recommend you find an eBook formatting professional.

7. Got the winter blues? Get a full spectrum lighting lamp. When they first came out they were expensive as hell but now you can get a decent one for about $100. That may seem like a lot for a lamp but these babies mimic actual daylight, which your body needs by the way, and can help chase away the winter blues. Also if you love sunlight like I do then it’s a no brainer.

8. Head stuff. Working from home has a lot of pluses but also a few drawbacks. You spend a lot of time alone. There aren’t others around to cheer you up or make you laugh or even notice if your breathing sounds right. A lot of alone time can easily dwindle into thinking time. That’s fine if it’s productive – if not, it will just mess with you. Therefore stop thinking/worrying about shit you can’t or aren’t prepared to do anything about. It will only give you a stomach ache and disturb your bliss.

9. If there is a way to screw things up, you will find it. Especially if you try really really hard not to screw up. It’s a fact of life – accept it, figure out how to fix it and move on. Don’t wallow in it or be embarrassed by it – nobody cares that you screwed up but you. You know why? Because they’re screwing up too. We all screw up. Every one of us. Figure out how to learn from mistakes and move the hell on.

10. Nobody owes you a living. Nobody owes you a review. Nobody owes you a job or a gig. Nobody owes you their time or energy. Unless you’ve provided a product or service for which they agreed to pay or otherwise exchange. So stop acting like you’re a victim because you didn’t get something you wanted. Just go out and get it. Yeah it’s hard. Yeah it will take some effort and work. But that’s how everybody else does it, why should you be any different?

11. Get off the maybe train and commit. You have a dream? You have a goal? Well I hate to break it to you but daydreaming will not make it so. Believe me, I am the queen of daydreams and I never got anything I wanted from daydreaming. You want to be a writer? Then guess what? You have to write. You want to be an entrepreneur? Likewise you gotta go out there and entrepreneur. Things don’t just happen because you want them. They happen because you commit to making them happen and you refuse to ever fucking give up. I know it sucks but it’s still true.

12. When you commit things do just happen (or seem to). It’s sad but people really don’t get that the answer to all the many things they want in life is about commitment. How many times have you tried and failed? And how many times have you just said, “That’s it! I’m doing this no matter what!” and somehow magically made it happen? See the difference?

13. Everybody looks good in pink and turquoise. Not together of course (well, maybe). But for some reason those colors flatter everybody. Seriously.

14. All of us have something to offer the world. Find it and offer it. You’ll be amazed by how glad people are that you did.

As always feel free to add to the list.

Writer Chick
Copyright 2015

What I Love About Freelancing

I was born an independent person – long before it was fashionable or indeed admirable. In fact, much to my mother’s consternation, I was a willful child. Though in my mind I didn’t think of myself as willful, I just knew what I wanted. Maybe this is the characteristic that has always made me a lousy employee but a great freelancer. Could be. While freelancing is not for everyone it can be a great fit for independent and adventurous souls.

1. No high heels. Indeed, there is no uniform for the self employed (unless you happen to be meeting a client) – you can work in your jammies all day and no one is the wiser. And you can save the high heels for clubbing or special dates.
2. No time clock. As a freelancer you make and determine your own hours. While typically freelancers work more than 40 hours a week, those hours are determined by work-flow, client needs and your own schedule. Yes, I’ve been known to go weeks without a day off, however, the choice was mine to make.
3. I determine my own fate. This concept may be scary to those who feel the need for security and predictability. Make no mistake, freelancing is risky and especially when you are first starting out can make you feel pretty nervous. It’s your show and if you don’t make things happen they don’t. On the other hand, you can shape your business to suit your needs, offer the products and services you want and serve the clients you desire. If you succeed, you also have the satisfaction of having created your own business.
4. I am my own boss. One of the things I have always found difficult as an employee is taking orders. I tend to be autonomous and rarely require heavy supervision. However in most employee/employer situations your boss feels the need to supervise. In many cases this works just fine, in some it can be counter productive because the supervision interferes with getting things done. As a freelancer, I am my own boss and can take the direction I feel is best in my work goals. Consequently, I have no one to blame if things go wrong, but myself.
5. I can take chances. In a typical job, there are a prescribed set of rules and boundaries on where and how you can take action. As a freelancer I have the freedom to take a chance on a new client, a different approach and creative problem solving. It may work or it may fail miserably but sometimes the experience of failing when you take a chance can lead to options and solutions you might never have developed in a conventional job.
6. I can be myself. Conventional jobs often require a certain persona as part of the job description, which may be strictly speaking not you. Depending on the industry you work in, you may be required to be very conservative or serious to impart the right image. Creative people in particular find this difficult and challenging and even depressing. As a freelancer you can be yourself, deliver your product or service in the manner that best suits you and not feel the need for a double martini lunch.
7. It’s stimulating. Being a freelancer is not something you can phone in. Unlike a conventional job where once you have the routine down you can more or less phone in your performance, as a freelancer you have to stay alert and be able to think on your feet. Which can sometimes be scary because let’s face it, you have nothing and no one to fall back on. On the other hand, you tend to feel a lot more alive, even when you are worried that you may not make the rent next month.
8. It’s all mine. There is something exceedingly gratifying in having your own business no matter how large or small. Whatever I have to show for my efforts belong to me. I can look at all I have and know that I have it because of my efforts, my creativity and drive. And there is an indescribable sense of pride I feel in that.

While freelancing may not be for everyone – it is for me. How about you? Do you dream of being your own boss? Creating your own destiny?


Copyright 2011