ABCs of Freelance Writing: S is for Self-Discipline

Work to do Sometimes when I tell someone I’m a freelance writer, she’ll respond, “Oh, I could never work freelance. I just don’t have the self-discipline for it. I’d want to goof off all the time.”

I usually respond by saying that she’d be surprised how much she could accomplish—if only her next meal depended on it.

It never fails to get a chuckle, but it’s true. Some of the most free-spirited, schedule-hating people I know are fantastic freelancers because they know that buckling down for a few hours every day will get the bills paid. And acting like they’re self-disciplined for a while is usually more appealing to them than bending over backwards for The Man.

How to Master the Art of Self-Discipline

(Or better yet, how to wing it and get the same results.)

  1. Know your strengths and weaknesses. When you know what you’re bad at, you can beat yourself up about it compensate for it.
  2. Understand that creative time equals work time. Don’t mistakenly think that watching a cartoon can’t qualify as work. Sometimes it’s not so much about self-discipline as it is seeking out projects you are sure to enjoy. If the next article you write requires you to know Bugs Bunny inside and out, awesome! Put “watch cartoons” on your day planner.
  3. Use lists. Know what you need to get done every day, write those things down, and then start knocking them out one by one. You don’t have to tackle the list in order. You don’t have to finish all the tasks in one  sitting. And you don’t have to tell your client that you played Skyrim for 30 minutes before you did the final edits on his web copy. You just have to get your taks done  (and done well) when it counts.
  4. Have a mantra. My personal favorite is, “If I don’t work, I can’t buy things.”
  5. Have a plan. If you do goof off every once in a while or veer off course a little, it’s nice to have a plan to reference and get you back on track. Whether it’s a business plan or a list of goals write ‘em down’, type ‘em up, or tell your digital recorder all about it.

Are you a freelancer? What tips and tricks do you use to help you stay on task?


About Emily Suess

Emily Suess is a technical marketing writer by day and a freelance copywriter by night. And, no, she's not related to Dr. Seuss.
  • http://www.writingbyterri.com Terri

    This is a great post that so many can relate to. I absolutely love the line, “…she’d be surprised how much she could accomplish—if only her next meal depended on it.” This line of thinking is so true. In fact, it’s the whole reason why I quit my dependable pay check to freelance full-time. When I had another job, I had no discipline to freelance because I knew that no matter what I always had that other pay check to fall back on. Now that freelance writing is my sole income, I have no choice but to be on the grind and get things done. It’s amazing what you can do once you’ve eliminated all other options to get by.

    As far as lists go, I’ve found that creating a list too long is actually counterproductive to me. If I have a list with many items I find myself spending way too much time mulling over which I should do first. As a result, I began making lists with five items per day as opposed to one list with ten or more items or a list for the entire week. It has certainly helped me with staying focused and tackling each task.

  • http://blog.emilysuess.com Emily Suess

    Keeping the lists small is a fantastic idea, Terry. I have a tendency to be overwhelmed, too, by lists with more than 5 or 6 items on them.

    Along the same line of thinking, I prefer to look at my calendar by week, because if I see all the things I have to do in an entire month? My brain shuts down! :)

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  • http://www.maheshrajmohan.com/blog Mahesh Raj Mohan

    I totally identify with this post, Emily. I don’t hate schedules as long as I’m the one setting them, ;-) I mark all appointments, meetings, and conferences on my smartphone and have a backup wall calendar, too. That helps. But for me, the most important thing is what you listed as number one. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is the key to surviving this lifestyle. Keep on rocking!

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