Writers live and die by due dates, otherwise known in this career field as deadlines. There’s a reason writers have deadlines. From what I know of most of us, we have a tendency to procrastinate.
We won’t call it procrastinating, though. It’s giving our brains a rest. It’s letting our creativity reboot. So what if it means watching cat videos on YouTube, right?
Yeah, sorry. If you’ve got a project that needs to be done, you’re procrastinating. That being said, not all procrastination is irresponsible. Sometimes you have to put other projects off, whether for your own mental health or because another project is more important.
If you want to survive as a freelance writer, you have to learn to prioritize.
When I first started working for myself nearly two years ago (Wow!), I wasn’t sure I’d ever get to the point where I needed to prioritize my projects. I didn’t actually believe I’d have enough to keep me busy. And at first, I was right. But the more clients I signed and the better my novels started performing, the more I had to do. That’s why it’s so important to set your own deadlines.
Part of setting deadlines is knowing how efficiently you can work, and that varies from person to person. But what matters is understanding that deadlines will keep you on track.
But don’t just throw out a due date without thinking about it. It’s something you should consider very carefully, and it’s always wise to figure in some buffer time as well, just in case. Because you never know what might happen between the day the project is assigned and the day you think you can get it finished.
Something will always go wrong. Projects will always take longer than you expect. And if you aren’t prepared, you’ll disappoint your clients with late results, and you might even lose your client as a result.
Deadlines must be based on priority
Every project you’re working on should have a priority, regardless if that project is work-related or not. Everything you do should have a ranking system so you can know where it falls in the grand scheme of what you’re trying to accomplish on a particular day.
Recently, I had to make some tough decisions about my project priorities. Remember how I said projects won’t ever go the way you expect? That’s what happened. I reached a Friday with four projects in the works, one of which was not important. That left me with three projects that needed to be done. Two were of milder importance, but one was huge—my latest novel needed to be finished.
So you can guess which one I had decided to focus on, right? The novel. Of course.
And then, my biggest client dropped a project on me that had to be done by Monday. And it wasn’t just a quick little editing job. No, it was massive.
Know what I did? Yeah, I pushed the deadline on my novel back in order to work on the project from my client.
Why? Two reasons:
- One, I own the publishing company that’s releasing my novel. I’m one of the co-founders, and since I’m the production manager for all the titles in the company catalog, I know the boundaries of what’s possible.
- Two, the project for my client offered an immediate paycheck, which I needed (just being honest).
That’s how I prioritized my projects in that instance. My client’s need was more important at the time than my editor’s need for the novel. And it all worked out. I finished my client’s project over the weekend to their satisfaction, and the following week, I finished my novel and delivered it to my editor only a few days late.
There’s no rule to prioritizing projects as a freelance writer. The same is true of an author. You can’t make a list of hard and fast rules. And as much as people want to say it’s not about what’s screaming loudest, sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s about what will actually provide you with money to buy groceries or pay your rent.
When you work for yourself, you have to prioritize more than any other job you’ve ever had.
Either way, don’t go into freelancing expecting that you don’t have to prioritize. When you work for yourself, you have to prioritize more than any other job you’ve ever had.
The only other alternative is trying to do everything all at once. And that, my friends, is the fast track to burn out.
Prioritize your projects first by their deadline. And if that doesn’t work, prioritize them in the way that will provide you what you need to live. Those are the best guidelines a freelance writer can get.