I’ve read quite a few interesting “day in the life of” posts lately and thought I would give it a shot.
I hear often that people don’t understand what it is I actually do. It’s a common refrain among freelancers and people who primarily work from home – that there are a lot of misconceptions about what it means and how it works.
I’ve experienced this in a number of situations ranging from the comical (an elderly family member who couldn’t be talked out of the notion that porn is the only thing on the Internet and therefore I work in porn) to the infuriating (the person I’d just met at a social gathering railing on me for 10 minutes about how writing isn’t a “real” job and she at least “does” something with her life).
So what does an average day in the life of a freelance writer look like? I have no idea, really, but I can tell you what it looks like for this freelancer. On a typical day, I’ll write anywhere from 2,000-7,000 words, sift through 15-20 emails requiring some level of attention, dedicate at least 20-30 minutes to some other administrative function of running a business and try to be Super Mom. I won’t always succeed – not hardly – but I try!
Hit snooze, wander down the hall to tell the kids to get up and start getting ready for school, and promptly return to bed.
Curse the morning sun (unless it’s winter, in which case I long for what I’ll curse when it finally comes back around). Stumble out of bed and follow the wafting scent of delicious coffee to the kitchen. Thank the coffee gods for automatic timer brew machines. We don’t do fancy, one-cup beverages here – it takes too damn long.
Think about how nice it would be to sit and enjoy a steaming hot cuppa on the deck. Make kids’ breakfasts and lunches instead. Take the dog out. Yell at children to stop fighting and get dressed. Patrol for illicit morning video gamers. Run back upstairs and brush teeth/wash face/throw hair in a ponytail if I’m not going to have time to shower before noon. Hustle kids out the door to the bus stop. Chase dog who wanted to join them. Throw in some laundry.
Hook up IV and mainline half a pot of Nabob on the deck. Again, in winter, this changes, but only slightly – I sit at the bar table in the kitchen and look forlornly at the deck covered in several feet of snow, instead. Or I shovel the blasted laneway.
Read CBC news. Instantly feel anxious about world affairs. Scan Techmeme, Mashable, AdAge and select company blogs for what I might have missed overnight. Review emails from last 8 hours.
This is when I water my flowers. This is when I should water my flowers. We have a ton of flowers now – on the front steps, hanging from the veranda, planters by the back deck, in the back flowerbeds. I’m finding a lot of pleasure in gardening in the few short months we’re able to here – a sure sign I’m getting old, I know. I don’t seem to find so much pleasure in it that I remember to keep everything alive, though. I might remember to do the watering every third day or so, leaving my poor plants in a perpetual state of distress, on the brink of dehydration and looking something like this:
I’m glad I had kids and pets before I attempted gardening or I would never have had any faith in my ability to keep anything alive. Thankfully, the kids and dog get watered more often than the gardens.
Take Man-Friend to work (who is so named because we aren’t married, but I feel strange talking about my “boyfriend” at this age). He doesn’t drive and used to cab it, but I realized it’s probably a good thing for me to leave the Batcave every so often. This is as good an excuse as any. I’ll also pop by the bank or run other errands if I need to at this time.
This is technically the start of my work day – well, it’s the start of my writing day. Reading news and emails are work, too, but this is when I get down to business.
…right after I catch up on a bit of social networking. I know people recommend that you set aside specific blocks of time for Facebook, Twitter, etc., but truthfully I have them open in tabs all day long. Hey, I get new business this way. I also think that just getting it out of the way helps clear my head – I won’t be thinking about checking my Facebook if I already have. Plus, it’s staying open, anyway.
Make a note to self: work on self-control and focus.
Chastise myself for falling down social rabbit holes and review my calendar for the day. I use colour-coded Google calendars to organize my day by individual client, then by task. I also have calendars for personal appointments, school activities, extracurriculars and anything else that might require my attention, because if it doesn’t make its way into my calendar, it’s probably not happening.
Start by tackling any time-sensitive projects. I usually have at least one of these per day, whether it’s a news piece I’ve been asked to write, or a project approaching deadline.
Answer the phone – 9 times out of 10, it’s my mom and something is on sale at a grocery store. Or she sent me something on Facebook and wants to make sure I got it… you know, in case Facebook is intercepting our messages. That other time it’s a telemarketer and as much as I want to screw around with them and waste their time, my time is worth more to me. Okay, once in a while I’ll screw around with a telemarketer. And then I’ll tell myself that was immature and I need to focus.
Underline text on my note to self: work on self-control and focus.
Other than that, I’ll pretty much write head down, with laser focus, aiming for 2,000 words down by lunchtime. I’ll kill off that pot of coffee by 11.
Unless one of the kids had a dentist appointment, or someone got sick at school, or a friend got a flat tire, or I have a meeting scheduled (which happens about three times a week for 30 minutes to an hour), or something else otherwise tears my attention away and says, “Uh, uh. Not now, sweetheart. You’re going to have to make this up later.”
At this point, I’m either feeling pretty good about what I’ve accomplished so far… or I’m not. It doesn’t much matter, it all needs to get done within the span of this 24 hour period regardless of how I feel about it.
I’ll quickly review my calendar again and read over any project notes or emails about the writing I’ll be doing in the afternoon. It’s super helpful to let things percolate over lunch – once I sit down to write again, I’ll have a good sense of direction.
Image Credit: Cincinnatti Transit Blog
This is the time of day I like to pack up the laptop and either eat lunch at home (more than 50% of the time) or head downtown. I may meet a friend for lunch, head to my office with a lunch in tow, or go out for lunch by myself. I have a few favourite haunts: The River Cafe, Frog Ponds Cafe and Coffee Culture. Because clearly, I’m going to need more coffee.
If I’m out for lunch with a friend, I’ll typically eat way too much and feel fat and lazy afterwards, wanting nothing but to come home and finish my work day on the couch. Lunch alone in a cafe means I’m spending the rest of the afternoon hogging a table while I work away. I’ll get a drink and a cookie around 2 or so if anyone gives me the stinkeye. Usually, though, I just return home to work.
Hopefully all of my time-sensitive work is out of the way – if not, I’ll finish that up now. Then I can dig into an ongoing project, like writing a teaching guide for literacy educators or designing an online course for youth entering the workforce. Come to think of it, my business writing usually gets precedence in the morning and education waits til afternoon. I think I might be more creative in the afternoon. I should ask my friends on Facebook what they think about this theory I have…
Capitalize letters on my note to self: FOCUS. Double underline.
Get to work. I might write another 2,000 words here, or review what I wrote in the morning and make any necessary edits before submitting them to clients. Or both.
Switch hats and become my own admin assistant. If I have anything left to do after dinner, I don’t want it to be contract writing, bookkeeping or invoicing. I used to be terrible at running the business side of my business, leaving everything to the last minute, so now I spend a bit of time on that side of things each day. It’s made it much more manageable over the last three or four years.
Unless, of course, I have any appointments, meetings, unexpected situations with the kids or the dog or my mom or what have you, in which case whatever I was going to do gets bumped back.
Around this time every day, I have to stop and evaluate how much I’ve knocked off the to-do list for the day and see how much I’ll have to cram into the evening. I have a hard and fast rule about not working when the kids come home from school – not since my oldest son, then just six years old, asked me if they could please, please just come home after school, because they didn’t like daycare and missed me and were so tired. This is one of the biggest benefits to owning my own business and freelancing – I could do that for them. It’s been a few years now and I can’t imagine going back.
Once every couple of weeks or so, I’ll realize I have a truckload of work left to do. On those days, I ask the kids if they want to go visit Nana (my mother). I know they’ll say yes. And I know she’ll say yes. And that will buy me a few more hours of work time without the working-mom-leaving-my-kid-in-daycare guilt. Oh, I know daycare works and is even a necessity for a lot of working parents, but it didn’t work for us. They made me feel SUPER guilty. And the time we get to spend together after school is really important for me, as much as them. They’ll only be this young once.
Finish up whatever I can and get to the bus stop. In summer, I love this. In winter, I probably have to run home and shovel again and will curse Mother Nature the entire time. If I run out of time, I’ll plan on vaulting the car off the road and over the snow as best I can.
Review and respond to any new emails on my phone while waiting at the bus stop. No emails? Social media time, where I’ll inevitably offend someone or make someone else uncomfortable (it really doesn’t take much), but hopefully make a few people laugh. No one laughs enough anymore.
3:45 to 8 pm
I can’t even describe what this looks like on an average day, because it’s constantly changing. Swimming lessons. Soccer. Boy Scouts. Visiting friends. Going to the park. Playing in the yard. Doing homework. Cooking dinner and forcing everyone to sit together and talk about their day, or grabbing something to go (I know, I know – awful) if we don’t have time to get home and cook. School Community Council meetings. Walking the dog. Youth groups. Junior weightlifting classes. Gardening. Laundry. Dishes. Cleaning rooms. Grocery shopping. Whatever wild and crazy (or completely necessary for survival) things we can get into.
Brush teeth, showers, pyjamas, stories… bedtime! But not for me. I have to remember to tuck the kids in once, then tuck them in again once they’re really settled, or they’ll come downstairs and accuse me of forgetting to tuck them in. Apparently you have to wait half an hour after they actually go to bed or something. I don’t get it, but they love it, so I’ll do it until they start kicking me out and banning me from their rooms and telling me only babies get tucked in. I think we have a few years left.
My kids are readers, so I’ll clean up the collection of books all over the bed on this second trip up.
If it’s summer and nice out, Man-Friend, Koda (the dog) and I will retire to the deck, possibly to indulge in a Corona or three – if he’s not at baseball or stuck at work because someone decided to push their luck and golf until it was past dark, then expected to be fed.
In winter or when it’s raining, we’ll settle in for some FOOD channel or A&E shows. I’ll even watch it, if I’m done my work. Typically, I’m half-watching while I finish up anything that didn’t get done throughout the day. I’ll save these drafts to review in the morning.
In the last three months, after-dinner hours have also included working on a draft novel as part of a mentorship program I’m in that runs until August. My mentor is an absolutely wonderful Canadian author and playwright named Betty Jane Wylie. She’s helped me more than she’ll ever know and is teaching me not to be so hard on myself when I can’t get everything done. Sometimes my mentorship work or longer term (not time-sensitive) projects get pushed to the weekends. It all gets worked in somehow.
If there’s any time left on any given day, I’ll try to write something for my small business marketing blog, or maybe update my LinkedIn or website, or write something for the PWAC Ontario blog, or attempt to catch up on School Community Council business, or any of the other million little things that come with having a business and raising a family.
I usually tell myself to go to bed around this time, but it never happens. I’m something of a sadist, I guess, and instead read the news again before bedtime, just to make sure my anxiety levels haven’t returned to safe levels throughout the course of the evening. Sometimes I’ll take a book and go sit on the deck and read, even if it’s so cold I need a blanket. Or I’ll flip through Facebook and Twitter again to see what’s up. But sleep? Not yet.
Around this time, I try to think of my 3 Good Things, as well. This is where I go over my day and pinpoint 3 good things that happened, an exercise my sister got me onto a few years ago. It helps, trust me, when you spend a lot of time in a routine (or are prone to depression) and it seems one day is just like the other. Lately, I’ve had to expand it to 3 Good Things About Work and 3 Good Things About Life/Family/Home, because I felt guilty if all the good things were about the kids and not Man-Friend, or about work and not the kids, etc.
There are way worse problems than having too many good things.
Give it a try, you’ll like it. Sit for five minutes and consciously go over your day. Remember three things that made you happy. That’s it! You don’t even have to write them down. Just take the time to do it.
On a really off day, I might just be finishing work at midnight. Thankfully though, those days only roll around once a month or so. Those are the days when each and every word hits the page only after being wrestled and cajoled and finally kicked out. They’re rough days and they suck, but they’ve become less frequent.
Just before heading to bed, I’ll go over my calendar again for the next day. Like I said, I like to let ideas stew around in my brain so I can get right on my projects when I sit down to write. I’m also incredibly forgetful, though, so it also helps to run through my emails and make sure everything I need to do made it into the calendar.
That’s about it! Things never adhere hard and fast to a schedule planned out by the minute, but that’s about what the average day looks like in the life of this freelancer.
Of course, it’s difficult to get time away when you own a business and people rely on you getting things done. However, we still take off a few times a year – if not to get away from work, so I can at least have an office like this for a few days:
I also travel quite a few times a year to conferences, which are usually somewhere awesome like this and bring more adventures.
It’s a good life, writing for a living about what interests you, what you’re passionate about and what you’re good at. If you love your craft and are okay with the inherent instability of building a business, take a chance and give it a try. It won’t happen overnight, but the Internet and social media have massively leveled the playing field, removing geographical and other barriers. It’s allowed me to work with clients across North America on projects I love, building a good business while actually making more time for my kids instead of sacrificing their youth trying to claw my way to the top of some corporate totem pole.
Every day as a freelance writer is different, but that’s the beauty of it. I know I’m going to wake up wanting to do what it is I’m going to spend my day doing and go to bed thankful that ten years ago, I stopped listening to the naysayers and went for it.