How to stay motivated as a freelance writer

If you are a freelance writer, it might seem like the odds are stacked against you sometimes.

Like other freelance professionals with no employer, you are unlikely enjoy the security of a formal contract. Then there’s the unpredictability that comes with freelance work and, like many other jobs, the need to put in long hours.

On the flip side, there’s the freedom of being your own boss and working hours of your choice, opportunities to develop your writing career along a chosen path and financial rewards for those who are successful.

So if doubt or despair occasionally kicks in – how do you stay motivated? In this article, we’ll look at ways to keep going as a freelance writer; from day-to-day tips to long-term career advice.

Set yourself targets

A freelance writer lives a life of deadlines. The most important thing is to meet them consistently. But aside from the deadlines set by your clients, how about the deadlines you set for yourself?

Freelancers don’t have a boss telling them when to arrive at work, when they can take a break, and when it’s home time. This can be a both blessing and a curse. Failure to plan your day can leave you lacking a clear structure and lead to work pileups. You may also find yourself at the mercy of client deadlines, rather than having the satisfaction of controlling your own time.

Some freelance writers find that setting their own targets makes them more productive and organised, while keeping them motivated.

So, how is this done? You may wish to set targets according to time. If hours of 9am-5pm fit in with your lifestyle, you could set a simple target to work these hours each day. If your hours are likely to vary due to out-of-work commitments or working for clients in multiple time zones, you could set the target in hours – so a target of say, seven, eight, or nine hours a day – depending on your workload and how much time you have.

You may prefer to set financial targets. Let’s say, you won’t stop working each day until you have reached a money goal of £100 per day? This objective might not be set in stone. On some days, you might exceed the target if you have the time, and on others, you may not have enough work to reach the target.

The key thing with both time-based and financial targets is that you stay disciplined. The challenge of meeting these targets can keep you motivated on a daily basis, and the structure provides you with clear direction and a method of organising your time.

Prepare for peaks and troughs

If you are writing for various clients, you may have enough work to fill most days. However, even writers with numerous sources of work can expect quiet weeks or months.

Waiting for work might leave you disheartened and constantly checking your emails in the hope of new orders. When work does come through, you may receive several jobs in close proximity, leading to the pressure of meeting multiple deadlines. As a freelance writer, too little or too much work can add to the strain.

The truth is, these peaks and troughs are part of the job, and you should expect them.

When work orders are sparse, try not to twiddle your thumbs and have other activities to get on with. This could be a personal blog or website that you are developing, or approaching potential clients with your experience and capabilities. Having a plan for when you don’t have work is almost as important as the plan for when you do.

And if a work deluge comes, it’s time to ‘make hay while the sun shines’, as the saying goes. Ensure that your clients have realistic expectations, and if you have limited capacity, be honest about it. Most clients will entertain the idea of pushing back a deadline if you explain the situation. Be prepared to put in longer hours during these periods, and when a quiet time comes, be sure to take a break.

Accept constructive criticism

As creatives, we writers can be protective of our work. We might think we have delivered a piece of content perfectly, ticking off each requirement in the brief. When a request for changes comes, or feedback that is less than positive, there can be an urge to fight our corner.

The truth is, a writer is a service provider and is there to deliver a product (the content). Within reason, a client has the right to request changes be made to the content they are paying for, as long as they aren’t rewriting the brief.

Have thick skin, and even if you don’t agree with the feedback. Some of the feedback you receive may be constructive – especially where new niches and topic areas are concerned – and help you to provide better content in the future. Remember, it may actually take more time to dispute negative comments than it would to make the required changes!

Create a productive workspace

In today’s ‘digital nomad’ era, the life of a freelance writer can be made to look glamorous. It’s a familiar image – the freelance writer working from a stylish city centre cafe with laptop, croissant and coffee, or kicking back on a beachfront deck chair with their computer in hand.

Being able to work from wherever, whenever is a freelance writer’s perk. But these kinds of locations are not always the best place to get work done. Many of us work from home, which is cheaper, and guarantees reliable internet. But residential writing also comes with its pitfalls: Distractions.

If you haven’t found a productive workspace yet, this could be getting in the way of your writing career. Frustration at not being able to get work done is a common demotivator.

Take steps to create a workspace which works. That might be a desk area in the corner of your living room, a dedicated study, a coworking space that gives you 24-hour desk access for a reasonable price, or a private office. It’s vitally important to identify a location where you are most productive.

Devote some time to business development

We touched earlier on using quiet times when you have no jobs to your advantage. One way you can do this is business development.

It can be easy to get caught up in writing project after writing project, without an eye on the bigger picture. This can lead to your writing career plateauing instead of progressing, leaving you feeling dispirited.

As a freelance writer, you are essentially your own salesperson. Whatever your level of experience, use spare time to develop your career and contact potential clients.

This could entail approaching businesses in the same sectors as clients you have already written for, sending your CV to copywriting agencies, or replying to requests for content on platforms such as People Per Hour, Fiverr and Upwork.

Develop niches

Another obstacle to career progress is a failure to develop niches. Being a jack of all trades is useful as a writer but may only take you so far. Strengthening your credentials in specific areas can really open doors.

Developing a niche often happens by accident. If you have done a lot of work for a client in one industry or marketplace, you are already on your way to becoming an expert writer in that niche. Be sure that you adapt each approach you make when looking for new clients, showcasing the experience you have and the content you have written in that particular niche.

Be ready to embrace other skills

You are a writer, but that doesn’t mean you can only be a writer. Don’t limit yourself. Your freelance writing career could lead you in directions you didn’t expect, and ignoring these opportunities could result in stagnation.

Content has many related fields. For example, in the modern day, a large share of content is required for search engine optimisation (SEO) purposes. As you learn how to craft content that is optimised for Google, you are already starting to develop your SEO knowledge, and this could result in the chance to do more SEO-related work.

Advertising and public relations are two other services which require written copy, and which may offer you future pathways. Then there are your writing niches. If you have built up a considerable knowledge of a subject, sector, or service through writing about it, you may wish to pursue opportunities in this area.

Have a pricing structure, but make it flexible

Money is a major motivation behind any job. As a freelance writer, there may be times when your cash flow isn’t as healthy as you would like. You could also be dismayed at the remuneration you are being offered by clients for jobs you think you should be better rewarded for.

How can you balance this desire for a satisfactory income with the need to price your work at a rate acceptable to clients?

It helps to have flexibility as a freelance writer, and an understanding of the marketplace. Certain work sources, such as copywriting agencies or job posters on boards, may have their own pricing structure and rates. This leaves no room for negotiation, and the decision on whether to take on the work is with you.

In other cases, you may be asked to provide a quote or send your rates to a client who is interested in working with you. For this purpose, it makes sense to have a price list that you can send to clients.

There is nothing to stop you from adapting this pricing structure to the prospective client you are talking to. For example, if you are dealing with a multinational company which requires content in a niche you are experienced in, you may wish to choose higher price points in line with market rates. If you are talking to a start-up or small business owner, their expectations may be different, and so you could reduce your rates accordingly.

It’s important to think smartly when it comes to your pricing structure. You don’t want to price yourself out of the chance to work with clients, but at the same time, you should remember the value of quality content from a knowledgeable, skilful copywriter.

If you encounter a disagreement over pricing, don’t let this discourage you. Unfortunately, we can’t always ‘meet in the middle’. Have realistic expectations and be completely transparent with your pricing from the start.

Don’t forget to take a break!

For any freelancer, the risk of burnout is real. Receiving a lot of work is a positive thing, but with no annual leave to fall back on, some writers forget they need to step off the writing treadmill once in a while.

A good break can recharge the batteries and leave you refreshed, allowing you to return to your keyboard and deliver sparkling copy.

Try to plan your breaks at least a few weeks in advance. Not only will this allow you to plan ahead, alerting clients that you will be away, but it also gives you a target to work towards.

After all, what’s more motivating than the thought of flying off to sunnier climes, or just putting your feet up at home for a well-earned breather?

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