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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?

Using the Force as a Freelance Writer & Editor

A guest post by Mahesh Raj Mohan

the forceThe Star Wars saga is my most favorite film series.  There are many scenes throughout the films (including the prequels) that resonate with me, but one of the most powerful moments occurs in the first film.  It’s near the end, when Luke Skywalker turns off his targeting computer during the Death Star trench run.

Logically, it’s a terrible move.  He’s operating a heavily armed starfighter while attacking the heart of the evil Galactic Empire.  And he’s decided to swap out a very expensive and precision-tuned targeting system for his nascent “Jedi” powers?!

And yet, Luke succeeds where the veteran Red Leader (who used the targeting system) failed.

I wish life could be like Star Wars  (lightsabersX-Wings! Jedi!)

But it isn’t (mortgages! home repairs!  annual physicals!)

As a freelance writer and editor, I use intuition and reason in equal measure.  You definitely need both.  But there are times when pure intuition (“the Force”) has been absolutely invaluable to me and my business.  I can think of four occasions this year where intuition either saved me or blared warning bells that I ignored (to my chagrin).

For you, my dear guest readers, I’ll distill three areas of the interview/prospecting process where intuition helps me during client engagements.  I call it (as of just now) the ACE Process:


I like to present a friendly, motivated, and professional attitude to clients and prospective clients.  I know within a few minutes of a phone call or in-depth e-mail exchange whether or not a prospective client and I are a good fit.  Some folks like to play mind games, or they just can’t be bothered with basic courtesies.  I’ve realized that I do not work well with such people.


Freelancers often walk a line between practicalities like keeping their homes/apartments heated and intangibles like maintaining their sanity.  There are times when it is necessary to take a lower-paying gig, but if the client requires the moon and stars to make a project soar, then I usually charge a fee commensurate with the amount of time it will take.  I take on projects by-the-hour, but I prefer to price by project, so there are no surprises.  Aside from a calculator, this requires a near-Jedi state of mind so I understand a client’s concept through-and-through.


Intuition is critical when I’m evaluating a project and timelines.  I ask myself if I really am the best writer for a client’s project.  If I can’t answer “yes” with any confidence, I usually decline or give a referral to writer/editors who have the necessary skills and background.

So if reason and logic fail you while you are navigating the Death Star trench of job boards, Google Adwords, e-mails, and referrals, think about switching off your targeting system, take a few deep breaths, and do what feels right.

And, remember … the Force will be with you.  Always.


Mahesh Raj Mohan is a freelance writer/editor based near Portland, Oregon.  His reviews have been published by Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper The Oregonian and Hugo-nominated website Strange Horizons.  His screenplay, “Indian Errand Day” is a 2011 Kay Snow Award Winner.

Photo  Credit: flaivoloka

Seven Secrets to Writing Success: A Writer-to-Writer Letter

A guest post by Angie Mangino.

writing successDear Writer,

I write to you today to share seven secrets that I have learned over the course of my writing career.  They have helped me, and I hope they will be of help to you.

  1. Always believe in your writing and in yourself.  Before others can believe in you, you have to believe first.  Stepping out in self-confidence goes a long way in opening many doors.
  2. Learn everything you can about your craft.  Then use what you have learned to write, re-write, and write again, to perfect it to the art that good writing is.
  3. Network with other writers, and learn from their experience, as you share what you may know.  There is no need for us as writers to re-invent the wheel.
  4. Listen to advice, but only follow the advice that resonates well with who you are, and with what goals you want to achieve.  Each writer’s definition of success is personal and unique.  Don’t ever forget that, or you’ll be overwhelmed and lost along the way.  Know yourself, be true to yourself, and define your own success.
  5. Once you achieve a little success, please don’t think you know it all.  There’s something to learn every day of our lives if our writing is to be up-to-date, strong, and effective.  Being rigid in one’s ways is how ruts begin.  Change is not a bad thing.  It can rejuvenate and inspire us to new heights.
  6. Read, read, and then read some more.  Read everything and anything you can get your hands on.  Good writing will teach you.  So, too, will poor writing, where the faults will instruct you as to where not to go in your own writing.   A writer who doesn’t read is starting down that slippery slope of thinking one knows it all.
  7. Other writers are not the competition.  Compete only with yourself to improve yourself with each new piece of writing.  Over the years, I have made some very strong connections where I learned from, and received help from, so many other writers.  I try to pass it on to other writers whenever the opportunity arises, as I am doing now by writing this to you.  If ever there is a way I may be of further help to you, know that all you need do is ask.

Wishing you every success,


Angie Mangino, a freelance writer since 1995, has published articles on a variety of subjects, essays, and book reviews.  http://www.angiemangino.com

She networks on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, and is always open to meeting other writers, firmly believing writers have so much to learn from, and to share, with each other.

ABCs of Freelance Writing: R is for Retainer


I’ve only needed a lawyer once in my life. When I met her the first time to discuss my problem, I decided immediately that I was going to hire her. She explained that she thought my particular problem would take about $800 to sort out, and that she needed to collect that amount as a retainer to get started.

I signed a contract and wrote a check without squawking, because I fully expected to pay up front.

She started work and billed me against the retainer I’d already paid. Time elapsed. The hours racked up. And, as it turns out, it took about $3,500 to sort out my little problem. (Don’t feel bad for me; it was worth every single penny.) Luckily for both of us, the contract I signed covered what was expected if it appeared the work would exceed the estimated hours.

I got billed again. She got paid again. She did more work.

How Retainers Work

Retainers are just a type of contract. The consultant, or freelance writer in this case, agrees to do work for a client who pays in advance. The specifics of each job are determined later.

So, you might know you’re going to be given a certain number of blog posts to write, for example, but you might not know the topics until the client calls you up after the weekly marketing meeting.

Retainers Work for Freelancer Writers

The retainer contract works to your advantage as well as the client’s, so don’t be afraid to try it just because it’s something the fancy lawyers do.

When working on retainer you still have the freedom to set your rates by the hour, by the day, or by the project’s clearly defined deliverables.

For example, you might receive a retainer of $600 to produce 3 articles each month. If the client has a particularly busy month and needs another article, this can be billed separately. (If the workload increases on a regular basis, consider upping your retainer.)

This set-up is win-win because you know you’ll have steady work, and the client knows he won’t be scrambling to find a writer.

Retainer Contracts and Client Expectations

Here’s the thing about a retainer: clients will expect you to prioritize their work. And with good reason! They’ve paid you upfront. Just keep in mind that if you take on retainer work, you need to be totally dedicated to communicating with your client and delivering on time. Put off returning calls or emails, and you could lose a client.

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