Stories

A Long, Strange Week in the Life of a Freelance Writer

By Nicole Dieker May 29th, 2015

Monday, May 11

It’s Monday morning. By the end of the week I will have written thousands of words, completed dozens of articles, and earned $1,495. But today I have to deal with the problem in front of me: figuring out where to go while a plumber smashes a hole into my apartment wall.

My apartment building has been having some leaky pipe issues, and it turns out the only way to reach the section of the pipe they need to fix is to break right through the wall. So I, in turn, need to make myself scarce. I write a Billfold article from my apartment before the plumber arrives and finish a Penny Hoarder article from Roy Street Coffee and Tea (one of the best coffee shops for freelancers in Seattle).

Then I go to Starbucks to tackle my Weekly Review, which I do every Monday, and usually takes two hours. (The Weekly Review is part of David Allen’s Getting Things Done productivity system, which I have been practicing since 2008—and I do mean “practice,” like yoga.) When you do a Weekly Review, you have to get to Inbox Zero—which means answering a lot of email—and you review all of your upcoming commitments and to-dos.

By then it’s 5 p.m., and I return to my apartment to try and air out some of the plaster dust from the brand new hole in my wall. I’ve got to write an outline for an Unbounce article, draft some questions for upcoming interviews, and write one more Billfold piece before I go to bed. All that walking around from one coffee shop to another slowed me down, and I don’t finish my workday until 10:30 p.m.

Articles completed today: 3

Today’s word count: 1,643

Tuesday, May 12

I have an 8 a.m. Skype interview this morning, so I wake up extra early to make sure I’m caffeinated and don’t sound like I just crawled out of bed. Doing interviews across time zones can be really awkward sometimes; it’s hard to explain to someone who is more famous than you that you don’t want to do an interview at 11 a.m. New York time because you’re usually asleep then.

However, due to my long workday on Monday and waking up a whole sleep cycle ahead of schedule, I end up taking a nap around 2 p.m. I rarely do this. I know it’s the freelancer’s prerogative to take naps whenever they choose, but I know that it’s just going to push everything else further back.

This turns out to be true. Even after waking up early, the 90-minute nap–and the fact that I have movie tickets for an evening screening of The Room (Rifftrax edition)–means I finish my work at 11:15 p.m. It’s really only about eight hours of work in total, but it’s spread out over the whole day.

Articles completed today: 4

Today’s word count: 3,648

Wednesday, May 13

Today I’m up at 8:30, and it’s a pretty typical day; I spend the first hour taking care of email, catching up on current events, reading my favorite publications, and drinking an enormous cup of coffee. Then I dive right into my Billfold work.

The Billfold runs a new story every hour, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and I’m responsible for one story every morning and one story every afternoon. Since The Billfold also runs on EST, I usually write my morning story the night before and my afternoon story before 11 a.m the next morning.

After that, it’s time to do a quick social media sweep and reblog anything I published that day on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. I watch the metrics on everything I write, and I know that pageviews increase after I post links to my work on social media.

Then it’s time for morning yoga, lunch, and finally taking a shower and getting dressed. Staying in my pajamas until noon is the worst part of my day, and it’s the part I haven’t yet figured out. So many of my clients work on EST that I wake up feeling like I’m already half a day behind, and it feels weird taking that morning time for anything else but working.

I answer any new emails that need answering and get back to writing. Today I’m also responsible for creating some original artwork to go in a slideshow. This wasn’t a skill I expected to include in my freelance portfolio, but many clients are interested in freelancers who can also create attractive header images and slideshows, so I’ve tried to level up my graphic design abilities.

I have a Lindy Hop dance class at 6 p.m., and I was hoping I could call that the end of my workday, but the artwork took longer than expected. I end up completing my work at 9:00 p.m.. Compared to the past two nights, it feels like I have an entire evening of relaxing ahead of me.

Articles completed today: 4

Today’s word count: 2,053

Thursday, May 14

At this point in my week, I’ve had two social engagements—the movie on Tuesday and the dance class on Wednesday—and it still feels like I’ve been working constantly since Monday morning. Freelancing is weird like that. Even when I take breaks in the middle of the day, it feels like I’m working all the time because I often end up writing well into the evening.

So today I sit down with my to-do list and try to figure out how to change that. This week has a lot of work in it; in addition to the 21 articles, I also have four interviews and a bunch of administrative work. There’s also the usual social media responsibilities plus replying to comments online.

I just finished writing an Ask A Freelancer column about how to avoid freelancer burnout and here I am, worrying about burning out myself. So I make a new plan: four big things per day. Two of them will be Billfold articles, because I owe The Billfold two articles every day. One can be another article, and one can be a revision. Or maybe one can be an article and one can be an interview. I start filling in next week’s freelance work spreadsheet with this goal in mind.

In addition to writing four articles, I complete one outline and find time to go grocery shopping. My workday ends at 9 p.m..

Articles completed today: 4

Today’s word count: 4,852

Friday, May 15

By Friday, I’m ready for a break. I don’t mind pushing work into the weekend if it means I can get an evening to myself, and that’s exactly what I do; I write three articles and then call it a night at 6:30 p.m.. I usually stop even earlier on Fridays, but I had a mammoth piece to put together by the end of the day.

Fridays are also the day when I do my weekly income roundup on Tumblr. I’ve been doing this roundup for three years, and it has turned out to be the best incentive system I could have created for myself. Every week, I want that number to be as large as possible, so it motivates me to complete my work on time and continue seeking out new assignments.

Articles completed today: 3

Today’s word count: 2,638

Saturday, May 16

The workweek isn’t over just because it’s Saturday. Before the weekend ends, I need to prep my Ask A Freelancer column, write the Billfold piece that’ll run 9 a.m. Monday morning, do a bunch of revisions on those slideshow illustrations, and finish writing one more piece that I didn’t want to tackle on Friday night.

I decide to split the work in two: Ask A Freelancer and illustration revisions on Saturday, Billfold and the remaining piece on Sunday.

On Saturday, the total work takes a little over two hours. Not bad.

Articles completed today: 1

Today’s word count: 880

Sunday, May 17

I hit the Billfold article as soon as I wake up, take a break to enjoy the day, and finish the last piece before everyone starts posting Mad Men finale spoilers on Twitter. I can’t really say much about that last piece until it’s published, except that it includes a lot of the interviews I’ve been conducting over the past two weeks and has taken a great deal of time and focus to put together.

But then my week is done! Just in time to start over again on Monday morning.

Weekly Totals:

Articles completed: 21

Word count: 18,434

Money earned: $1,495

Image by Alan Poulson Photography
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