Whether you want to write for your favorite game company, for a community content program such as the Dungeon Master’s Guild, or to self-publish, there are a few basic changes you can make to your routine, process, and mindset that can save you a lot of time, money, and headache in the long run.
Track Your Time
In 2018 I was introduced to Toggl, a free time-tracking cloud app that can be accessed from your web browser or mobile device. Alternatively, you can always jot down the time you spend working in a spreadsheet or in your planner/journal. I use it to track how much time I spend on a given project and each portion of that project, such as outlining or drafting or finding new clients. It’s been super useful to be able to look back and see how much time different assignments actually take me, and then be to able to forecast approximately how much time I’ll need, whether I can hit a deadline, or whether it pays enough to be worth my time. It’s also helped me gauge how much is “too much” in terms of day job, freelance, and social commitments. Time tracking can also help at tax time, depending on what you’re deducting on a Schedule C (internet, phone bill, etc.).
Schedule What’s Important
Knowing that something takes ten hours to complete won’t help if you don’t have ten hours to spare that day/week/month, and the sooner you block out your calendar, the sooner you’re realize if you’re at risk of missing deadlines. Rather than waiting and hoping for the mood to strike me, I’ve had a lot more success putting my freelance or personal work on the calendar and sticking to that schedule. Knowing when you plan to work on a project and when you’re free can also help free you up to say “yes” to impromptu social outings. Finally, don’t downplay the importance of actual, honest-to-god downtime, and schedule it in if you have to. I’ve blocked off my Friday evenings just to play games and relax, and I can enjoy that time knowing that it’s actual relaxation, not procrastination.
Ask for Help or Ask Questions
You can avoid a lot of anguish by becoming comfortable with the fact that you might not know everything. (In fact, be wary of anyone who claims to have all the answers!) If you’re working with a producer/developer/editor who commissioned you to do work, err on the side of asking questions if you’re unsure about their expectations or the job assignment. If you’re working independently, find yourself a writer’s group or a Discord community for the type of work you’re doing or the game system you’re working in, and reach out when you need to and chime in when you can. If financials aren’t your forte, hire a tax accountant, or look for free workshops to help you understand how to report freelance income, calculate expenses, and pay estimated taxes. Getting the answers you need early on could mean that you have less work to redo in the long term, or that you have fewer taxes to pay in at tax time.
Say “No” Sometimes
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard is from Derek Sivers, who explains that if something doesn’t inspire the response of “hell yeah,” it probably isn’t worth pursuing compared to your other priorities. Taking on too many things definitely contributes to our overall sense of “busyness,” and it can be easy to lose sight of what you really want to do. Let’s face it, it can feel great to be invited onto a podcast, onto a project, or to a convention, but if you aren’t thrilled by the experience, reconsider whether you accept the offer next time. Time is a finite resource for all of us, so make sure that you spend it doing the things you really love.
Appreciate What You Have
Have you ever gotten stuck in what Brené Brown calls the scarcity mindset of “never enough”? Have you ever foundered on reaching your creative goals while focusing on some variation on the following?
- “My blog/podcast/social media page doesn’t have enough followers or supporters yet.”
- “The projects I’m working on aren’t high-profile or lucrative enough.”
- “I need this computer/software/reference book in order to be creative.”
These concerns aren’t insignificant, but they can crowd out and overwhelm the things you already have to be grateful for. Freelance and self-employed writers always have to be hustling, always have to line up the next project before they’re finished with the current one. But by always looking forward to the future, you can neglect the present. If you’ve been freelancing in order to earn some fun money, don’t forget to actually have fun! If you’re freelancing in order to make ends meet, you can try to enjoy the friends and connections you’ve gotten to make and enjoy the projects that you’ve gotten to work on. If none of those things are enjoyable to you, that’s a hint that you might need to find something more fulfilling than writing professionally.