Recently, my good friend, Jessica Price, posted about looking for thoughts on how people coped with anxiety/depression/feeling overwhelmed in the face of writing a project, along with holding down a freelancing job and managing to hit deadlines. This reminded me that in my previous Free Freelancer Advice article, I’d promised to touch on writing projects. So, bear with me as I give some advice on how to successfully get words onto the screen!
Structure Your Work
I’m going to once again reference my last article. This one: Starting a Project
It’s important to have structure to your work, before you begin. Some people find that checklists help in keeping track of the numerous things you need to write; I find that I do well formatting my documents in a way that shows me what I need to write. The structure of your document can help immensely with the mental hurdles of actually getting into the groove of writing. There’s no exact science to this, and you’ll have to find what works for you.
I find that if I have wildly different topics under the same umbrella project, I do well to separate them into different documents. In cases where I have a single larger project, I tend to use headers in a single document with crude [[WORD COUNT COMMENTS LIKE THIS]] text to indicate how many words I need to hit in those sections, along with any appropriate notes. If I come up with an idea that fits into a different section, I’ll quickly jot a line or two of text to that effect in the appropriate section.
Hint on Organization: Sometimes, I find that an entire paragraph I’ve written gets moved from one section to an entirely different one, because I’ve found a train of thought lead me down a rabbit-hole and I ended up writing about a different facet of the topic in question—this happens a lot when writing about Ecology vs. Habitat/Society for monsters. What’s important is getting the words onto the page, moving them around to the appropriate section is as simple as highlighting text and dragging it. This happens once the writing process actually begins, but by having a generic structure, you know the general breakdown of your project and can determine a starting point/starting header to work from.
Potential Pitfall: Make sure if you use placeholder text, to ALWAYS keep it highlighted. I recently submitted a project that I thought I’d thoroughly reviewed, to be told I had “A Thing” listed under material components for a spell. Mistakes happen to everyone folks, so be sure to learn from mine!
Taking a step back from the actual document, the place where you write is critical to how you write.
I can’t write at home. Some days, I wake up and tell myself that I can, and inevitably fail to do so. I find that a removed location generally works best to remove any potential distractions from my writing. A friend of mine runs a local IT company, so I’m blessed with some excellent work space to do my writing out of, while still having a ‘work atmosphere’ around me. There may be some distractions where I write out of, but they also keep me grounded in the idea that the writing I’m dong is work. That understanding helps fuel me in getting projects done. While creative writing is an overall enjoyable exercise, it is work, and I find it’s important to recognize it as such.
Hint for a Classic: I’ve found—no matter how cliche—that coffee shops work wonders for this. One of my favorite haunts for writing outside of the office, is the Starbucks built into a nearby Chapters outlet. By prefacing my work with a walk around the bookstore, I recharge some of my creative batteries and get the inspiration to move ahead. When I did a lot of travelling, this was also incredibly helpful, as most cities tend to have a coffee shop in a bookstore.
Reaching Out to Others
The times I get most creative, are when I have discussions with others about my projects. Even if it’s a side Facebook conversation, or immediately after reading a long email about a project, I find myself energized to write. No matter how talented you are (or think you are), there are always different ideas from different people just a quick call, chat, or email away.
It’s important to know who you can talk to about a project. The best people are other freelancers working alongside you on the same project. Most companies will make it a point of calling out —likely in the outline—other freelancers you’re working. If possible, try to find out about contacting these people. Be respectful of their privacy and desire to converse, but many times, you’ll find someone just as eager to talk about your project as you are. People like this are the best to converse with about a project, because you’re all in the same boat and mutually want the project to succeed and be awesome.
There’s also creatives outside your project. You need to be really careful here, as it’s possible these people are not under an NDA (non-disclosure agreement, for those not familiar), while you are. Still, there’s many facets of project that you can discuss without breaking NDA, and sometimes it helps to talk about a project in a generic sense. A lot of times, I’ll end up in discussions with friends about characters in an adventure I’m working on, and some of those character’s traits will come out as a result of those talks.
Finally, there’s the people who assigned you the work. BE SMART WITH THIS. I don’t want to ward you off from talking to the people who’ve hired you, but you also need to understand that these people hired you to write a project for them. They did not hire you to drag the words out from them and for them to verbally write a project for you. This goes back to that whole discussion on freelance writing being ‘work’. Most developers or project managers are more than willing to give guidance and spitball some ideas on your work. Just remember that most of your exchanges here will be entirely professional and should be formulated around questions/thoughts about critical pieces of your work.
Hint for Support: Form a ‘freelance support group’ for your work. I’ve got several Facebook and Skype conversations with random titles that include different groups of freelancers and writers who I have the pleasure of working with. I use these to share information, and to bounce ideas off of. These groups are fantastic, even if just working on a single project. Use features like the ‘group conversation’ in Facebook to manage these, as it’ll keep things nice and organized for you. Right now, my latest group goes under the code-name of ‘Scaly Grandma’ (thanks for that, Robert).
Turn Off ALL THE THINGS
You’re likely w
orking off a desktop or laptop—if you’re not… that’s another problem. There are programs on that computer which will distract you. Shut them off. Shut them ALL off.
For me, the internet is a major dragging force when writing. Instant messengers and social media are a continual drain of productive time, so I’ve found that I need to close them all down when working intently on a project. That’s not to say I won’t leave them open and engage while writing, but when I want to ‘dig into’ something, I’ll turn those tools off. In fact, I’ve found the best solution is to disable the internet; disconnecting my wireless connection and leaving myself with with a place to write.
See, during the writing of that last paragraph, I went to Facebook and responded to about three different messages—FOR SHAME!
Lately, I’ve been turning off all my internet-related distractions for set periods of time. I’ll force myself to write for a full hour without the presence of the internet. Of course, this depends entirely on the project that I’m working on. Rules-related writing often requires a lot of specialized searching, and so I need to access websites where such data is available. I try to do these types of searches and ‘plotting’ before I enter my ‘TURN OFF ALL THE THINGS’ period.
Hint: Most laptops have a button for Wifi. Press this button to disable your wireless connection and a good number of your distractions will vanish. Just be careful if you have bluetooth headphones, as doing that will cause those devices to stop working!
This sounds obvious, but it’s really not. Sometimes, you just need to sit down and start hammering out keys on the keyboard.
You’ll judge yourself while doing this. You’ll probably hate and judge those first words more than you’ve hated yourself for going to that one all-you-can-eat restaurant (you know the one). But this is important. It’s like a dam breaks open, and more and more words pour out. The thing about writing, is that it’s an endeavor that feeds off itself. The more you write, the more you want to write and the more you find out about the topic you’re writing. You basically learn about what you’re writing by actually writing it—crazy, I know!
Earlier, I wrote that I didn’t work from home. It’s actually kind of a lie… I do work from home. I work from home after making progress on a project, because by the time I get home from my office space, I end up having more ideas that demand to be put to the screen. This excitement overcomes my normal impediment of working from home, and I’ll gladly ignore everything else in exchange for the time to throw down more words towards the project.
Hint for Freelance Days: Wake up early. Get a coffee (or appropriate beverage) and snack. Spend some time doing something that inspires you. It could be walking, listening to an audiobook/podcast, reading, or walking through a book store. Then sit down and write for a specified amount of time (1 hour is a good benchmark). From there, you’ll be able to judge how you can continue the process for the rest of the day.
Hint for Freelance ‘Evenings’: Make sure you’ve eaten something recently and have gone to the washroom (this avoids later distractions). Have a nearby drink while working. Spend a small amount of time getting inspired (see above). Then jump in for your time. These are best accompanied by cutting yourself off from other media distractions, if only for the first 1/3 of your time, just to get you in the zone.
Breaks Are For Winners
Now, once you’ve got some words on the screen… Sometimes, you need to take a break from the growing pile of words in front of you.
Lately, I’ve been front-loading a lot of projects, so I finish the majority of the text well before the deadline. By doing this, I intentionally give myself a solid ‘break’ from the writing process. When I come back to finish up the document, my brain reads the text as though it were new, and I catch a lot of mistakes. If you don’t have the time for this over a long period, even taking a few hours away from the screen after a long marathon of writing can help.
Hint for Revisions: If you’re re-reading text you’ve written, change the font. By doing this, your brain reads it differently and it helps you pick out mistakes that you may not have noticed in your ‘Arial standard’ writing.