Ask Me Anything: Scheduling & Sourcing

Mike Dougherty asks,

How does a freelance writer best schedule their time?

Very carefully! I know that many writers use very different systems of managing their time: some people like to spend only a certain amount of time a day working on client work, while others ascribe to the philosophy that there are 24 usable hours in every day. I think it’s important to find a system that works well with the times you do your best work as well as your own habits. I know I can’t stay in a chair for more than an hour, for instance, so I schedule around that.

I can give you a quick run down on how I schedule my days. I have a basic schedule that I start from: I plan to spend four hours a day on client projects, two hours on my own projects and one hour on marketing. I know about how long most types of writing projects will take me and I generally try to schedule about four hours worth of work each day. I rarely have less and I often have more, which means I’m taking time away from my personal projects or marketing. I don’t, however, write down on a calendar that I’m going to work on Project X from 9 AM to 10 AM and switch to Project Y from 10 AM to 11 AM. Instead, I just focus on what is listed on my task list and work my way through it. This allows me to get up and wander around for five minutes every hour or so without having to make special accommodations in my schedule.

However, that really is just what I do. I know some freelancers work much better with a more regimented schedule and I know a few who think that I plan out my day too much — they just sit down with a list and see what happens. It’s up to you to find a comfortable schedule for your own writing. Once you find it, though, stick to it. Make it a habit. You know you’re doing it right if a day away from your schedule makes you a little bit uncomfortable.

Jennifer Vaughn asks,

I’m curious to know what your sourcing/research process is like after you land a piece of writing.

While there are some differences in the articles that I pitch to editors and the long-term blogging assignments I don’t necessarily need to pitch for, I do handle certain parts of my research for both.

When I’m developing a query, I try to have at least one source that I already know will be able to work with me on the piece before I even pitch. I make a note of who that person is in my query, along with their relevant expertise. If, after my query is accepted, I need more sources, I follow these steps:

  • I check my contact list for anyone who would be a good fit.
  • I post a note on Twitter about who I’m looking for — but I don’t hold my breath. Twitter is great for tech-heavy articles and certain articles involving marketing. But otherwise, unless you’re looking for someone at a specific company, it can be tough to find a relevant source.
  • I submit a request to HARO. Even my truly obscure requests get at least one or two answers from prospective sources. I’ve had more than 70 responses for broader requests.

I’ll also do a couple of searches online to find other information and resources. Wikipedia is not a source, of course, but it can be a good way to start tracking down articles and websites that have mentioned your topic in the past. On certain projects, I’ve even been known to request books from the library. My district allows me to place a request online: they’ll find the book at whatever branch it was last turned in at and then deliver it to my local branch.

Once I start getting notes and interviews together, I tend to email them to myself. I use Gmail, so I can search for specific pieces of information very easily as I’m writing. That’s also why I like email interviews for a lot of the topics I work with.

Have a question about the business of freelance writing? Ask it in the comments and I’ll answer it next Saturday!


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  2. Kathryn Lang   •  

    Okay – I want to know how you end up with eight hours for writing. I have yet to be able to make that happen around my home. 😀 Maybe I should just run away.

  3. thursday   •     Author

    @Kathryn, I can go into depth on how I protect my time from everyone who wants a chunk of it next Saturday, but a lot of it is the fact that I can prioritize my work. I know that’s not always possible for freelancers who also have a day job or kids at home, but even there, I think that being able to protect your time from other demands can be very important.

  4. Jennifer Vaughn   •  

    Thanks for the insight – it’s amazing how much legwork can be done online nowadays. I find this comment interesting “I do handle certain parts of my research…” Does that mean there are times you, personally, don’t do the research?

  5. thursday   •     Author

    @Jennifer, I do take on some projects where clients have specific materials or sources they want me to use. In those cases, I often just get a file full of research for the project without doing any legwork myself.

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