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July 2015 Round Up

A few highlights from my month:

A few highlights from around the web:

How has your July been?

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Freelance Musings on the Joy of Communication

Last week I travelled to London to run a workshop at The Training Gateway‘s Summer Networking event. I was reminded, as I always am when I work face-to-face with other people, that one of my favourite things about freelancing can also be my least favourite thing: independent working.

Like a lot of writers, I describe myself as an introvert. I’m an independent person and so the isolation of freelancing from home doesn’t phase me. I love having the freedom to set my own hours, pace and routines. For the first four years of my freelance career (before my daughter came along) I spent much of my working week sat alone in front of my computer. Whole working days would come and go without me talking to another human being. And you know what? I never had a problem with that.

In fact, it’s only when I find myself in a professional situation with other people that I actually realise what I’m missing out on. This will come as a revelation to precisely none of you who regularly work in partnership with other people(!), but there’s a real joy in being able to share and develop ideas in real life conversation. That joy is something that’s often lost to freelancers. Though we obviously do communicate daily with clients and other freelance colleagues, much of that is done via email or social media.

One of the other reasons I really enjoy facilitating training courses is that it gives me an excellent opportunity to take on another perspective. Teaching other people about what you do (last week it was a taster session on writing for the web) is a great way to remind yourself why you do it in the first place! For me, it’s simple: I love the written word. Writing is my passion, whether I’m working on a novel, a blog post, a feature article, website copy or a how to guide. Sometimes, though, I need to get away from my laptop keyboard and in front of real life human beings in order to remember just how much I love it.

So thanks to a day away in the capital and some interested delegates, I’m back at my desk this week with a renewed enthusiasm. There are more training dates in my diary over the coming months and I’m already looking forward to the next one. Solo-working is brilliant but I’m very glad that my job gives me the chance to work with new people regularly too!

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June 2015 Round Up

A few highlights from my month:

A few highlights from around the web:

How has your June been?

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The Daily To Do List VS the Weekly To Do List

As many of you know, last year I cut my working hours in order to spend time with my new daughter. Doing ‘the mum thing’ while continuing with my freelance career has been ideal for me, though at times it has felt like a slightly precarious balancing act.

There’s been some trial and error involved in fine tuning my working practices in order to be as productive as possible during more limited hours.

One of the most helpful changes was actually a very small one: I switched from a daily to do list to a weekly to do list.

I’m still using Nozbe, my beloved to do list app, but now I use the scheduling feature to make all my recurring weekly tasks appear on a Monday so they’re there for the week. I do the same with one off tasks and projects, as well as any little ideas that crop up. And… that’s it.

This works because:

  • My hours are less predictable now. I can’t always be sure how much time I’ll have to work on a certain day, though I know it will even out over the course of the week.
  • There’s less opportunity to procrastinate by spending time organising my list and scheduling certain tasks to certain days.
  • I can see how busy my whole week is going to be at a glance, which means no unhappy surprises at the end of the week.
  • When I can see everything that needs to be done I’m more inclined to make my week ‘top heavy’ and get more of my recurring tasks done on Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday.
  • There’s no option to physically put something off till tomorrow: tasks sit there on my weekly list until they’re done.
  • I find that I’m less likely to overestimate how much I can do in a week than how much I can do in a day!

In short, having a weekly do list rather than a daily to do list primarily works for me because it keeps things simple and easy to keep track of.

It’s strange how the smallest shifts can make the biggest impact on every day productivity!

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10 Ways to Make Yourself Feel More Creative

1. Take a walk somewhere pretty

2. Read something you admire

3. Do something practical with your hands (I like sewing, crochet and baking)

4. Visit somewhere new

5. Listen to some music (my current work favourites are Iron and Wine and Berlioz)

6.  Daydream

7. Sit in a coffee shop with a notebook and a pen

8. Open a blank document and fill it with words, any words

9. Watch the world go by from a park bench

10. Listen to creative people you admire (I love these talks by Neil Gaiman and J.K. Rowling)

*Header image by thinkpublic

 

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5 Myths About Freelancing That I Sometimes Wish Were True

There are a lot of myths about freelancing. Most centre around the idyllic lifestyle us freelancers are supposed to enjoy as we drift from coffee shop to coffee shop. Hardly any mention that most of us work extremely hard to sustain that lifestyle (and that it doesn’t always include coffee shops, boo!).

Here are five myths that I sometimes wish were true…

Freelancers don’t have to answer to anyone

Working on your own doesn’t mean you work in a total bubble. I may not have a line manager to report to, but I do have clients. The relationship may work differently, but those clients set deadlines, require work from me and hold me accountable in a very similar way.

Freelancers watch TV all day

Erm, no. Sorry. Though we freelancers do have more freedom to set our own breaks (and better access to the TV during them) we do actually have to get our work done. Though in theory it’s nice to imagine sitting on the sofa all day and marathoning Nashville/Game of Thrones/Scandal, in reality I imagine it would lose it’s novelty pretty quickly, especially when the work stopped coming in.

Freelancers have some magical way of motivating themselves

When I talk to employed people about being self-employed, many of them assume I must have some huge secret that keeps me motivated. The truth is that my motivation comes from pretty much the same place as theirs: a) I love what I do, and B) if I don’t work I don’t get paid. Sometimes I like to turn this one around and point out that their motivation seems pretty impressive to me: ‘you mean, you actually make the effort to leave the house in order to go to work?!’

Freelancers are desperate for a chat during the day

Yes, it’s nice to have colleagues. Yes, it’s nice to have a chat now and again during the working day. Most freelancers, however, are not sitting around feeling lonely during office hours. Instead, you’ll usually find us getting stuck in with whatever project we’re in the middle of. Let me tell you: chatting may be fun but you get an awful lot more done without it.

Freelancers earn a lot more money

Though freelancers definitely have the potential to earn more than their employed counterparts, sadly there’s no guarantee. Many of us are able to command a higher hourly fee from clients than we would from an employer, but it’s key to keep in mind that not all our work is billable. We have to find time for tasks like administration, finances and marketing on top of our client work and we don’t get paid for any of that.

Better go, I’m off for a TV session in my pyjamas. Oh, wait…

*Header photo by Brew Books
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A Quick Tip for More Successful Editing: Print it Off

The reality of being a professional writer is that don’t spend all of my time writing. In fact, I spend most of it editing, rethinking and rewriting.

There are a lot of different ways to approach this process: it’s all about finding the routine that works for you. I’ve developed my editing process through years of trial and error. It differs very little whatever I’m working on, from fiction and children’s fiction to client work.

One part of that routine has been particularly helpful to me, and it might work for you too. Here it is.

Don’t try and edit on screen: print it off.

There’s a lot to be said about having a hard copy of whatever it is you’re working on actually in your hands. Text that seemed fine on screen suddenly seems very different once it’s on paper. I think this is because once it’s printed out it seems like something real that you’re reading, not something you’ve written yourself. And there’s the secret really: if you can approach a piece of work as if it’s something that someone else has written, you’re well on your way to being able to edit it successfully.

When I did my Creative Writing masters course one of my tutors, the writer M.J Hyland, shared an editing tip along these lines. She suggested that we change the font to something ugly before we printed off our work. This might sound a bit silly, but the idea of making your work look different (or even unattractive!) helps to build that wall between the piece that you have written and the piece that needs an objective editor.

Some people like to use the ugly font trick. Some people believe in leaving a draft for a certain length of time. Some people like to hear their words read aloud. The real secret to successful editing is to find a way to separate yourself from your work. For me, the quickest and most effective way to do that is to get my hands on a hard copy.

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How I’m Building a Daily Writing Habit

It can be difficult to build a new habit. This is true even when the habit relates to something you really want to do like finish a creative project, become healthier or learn a new skill. That’s okay. We’re all human and we all struggle with self-improvement: especially when we have comfy sofas and tasty food and long Netflix queues.

My resolution for 2015 was to build the habit of writing creatively every day. My time is limited and in this season of my life I don’t have the time or space to sit down and dedicate hours and hours a week to work on my novel. I decided that I could, however, commit to twenty minutes per day.

I downloaded a chart to track my progress, printed it out and stuck it on the wall by my desk. (Here’s more about the chart I’m using). Then, I got stuck in.

The first couple of months went well. The idea of writing every day and recording my progress was a novelty, and I completed the ‘challenge’ on far more days than I didn’t. But by about March, that novelty was wearing off. I had a nasty cold. We went away for a long weekend. I just didn’t feel like it. My momentum was well and truly lost.

Happily, during the last four weeks I’ve got back on track. The main way I’ve done this is by being really strict about the exact time when I do my creative writing. For me it’s really helped to attach the habit to one I already have.

Here’s how it works: my daughter’s bedtime routine starts around seven. This routine happens every night because it’s a habit we’ve formed out of necessity. In order to maximise the chances of entrenching my new writing routine into my day, I’ve added it to the end of the bedtime routine. Once the little one is in bed and asleep, I go straight to my desk and fit in twenty minutes of writing time before dinner.

Of course, there are still days when I’m tired or busy or not in the mood. But it’s much harder to put off my writing time until an unspecified ‘later’ when I’ve carved out space in my daily routine for it. Plus, the fact that it takes place right after a task that I already do means that it’s much harder to lose track of time and forget about it.

This method is mentioned in lots of other posts about habit building around the web. You might like to read How to build a habit (with science not willpower), Happiness Experiment no.33: Do it after or The Beginner’s Habit Program.

*Header photo by Sam.

 

 

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10 Things Parenthood Has Taught Me About Productivity

1. Always do the most important thing first.

2. Be honest about what really needs to be done and what you can let go.

3. You can get a lot done in twenty minutes.

4. Almost all of us function better with a routine (even if it’s a very loose one).

5. It’s easier to build a new habit if you schedule it just after one you already have.

6. There’s a lot of power in a restorative cup of tea.

7. Seize the moment when you have it.

8. There are few things as inspiring as a walk in the fresh air.

9. A weekly to do list reflects human ebb and flow better than a daily one.

10. Schedule ahead whenever you can. (I’m still getting to grips with this one, which is why this is being posted on a Thursday instead of the usual Wednesday).

*Header photo by Denise P.S.

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Four Effective Ways to Maximise Your Blogging Time

Blogging can be incredibly valuable… but it’s also time-consuming. When I work with clients to improve their blogs they almost always ask how they can balance building an effective blog with the limited time they have available.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a definitive answer for this one. (My time machine is broken, sorry!) The reality is that if you want to build a blog that your audience will want to read, you’re going to need to dedicate a fair chunk of time to it. Luckily there are some easy ways to maximise your time. Here are four of my suggestions:

One: Use an editorial calendar

A lot of time can be wasted in simply deciding what to blog about. I don’t know about you, but if I don’t already have an idea planned when I sit down to write a post, I’ll loose time staring at the blank screen waiting for an idea to spark. There’s a pretty straight-forward way to get around this: use an editorial calendar. It doesn’t matter whether you use a super-organised plug-in, an old fashioned paper calendar or even just a scribbled list of post titles: making a note of ideas as and when they arise will save you time when you sit down to write.

Two: Keep a research folder

Here’s a tip: set up a favourites folder in your web browser to save web pages that will help you with your blog. This could include relevant news stories, useful statistics, stock images and other blog posts that have inspired you. Not only will you have those items close to hand when you start writing, you’ll also have a handy folder of inspiration should you need help coming up with ideas for your editorial calendar.

Three: Schedule in advance

I schedule most of my blog and social media content in advance. That doesn’t mean that I’m not engaging, it doesn’t mean that my content is less valuable and it doesn’t mean that I can’t make changes later on. What it does mean is that I’m able to maximise free time to make sure I have content ready to go when I’m busy. If you create and schedule content in advance, you can take advantage of a quiet couple of hours to ‘stock’ your blog with ready posts for the next couple of weeks. If you only blog in real time, you’re much more likely to get overwhelmed and miss posts completely.

Four: Introduce regular posts

Do you currently use regular post types on your blog? If not, you might want to think about it. This type of post can be a helpful way to add structure to your content creation and take out a lot of the guesswork. Regular posts, like my monthly ‘Round Up‘ posts, can be a great way to keep content flowing on your blog. They’ll help you fill your editorial calendar, can be quicker to write as you’re using a familiar format, and provide consistently valuable content for your audience.

I’m always on the look out for new tips for effective blogging. If you have a trick I haven’t mentioned here, why not pop it in the comments?

*Header image by Ryan Johnson

 

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