The Struggling Writer

The chronicles of a freelance writer as he tries to make a living.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Motivation for Freelancers

Every freelancer needs motivation. Some people are just naturally ambitious but they are rare.

The rest of us need a kick to get going. Different freelancers use different methods: goals, rewards, motivational plaques, or whatever. Each of us needs to find our own way. It's great to get inspiration from other people's methods, but if something doesn't work for you, drop it and move on.

I've found two good motivators: deadlines and numbers.

Deadline pressure gets me to work, but only at the last minute. I have a history of submitting minutes before the deadline even if I've had weeks to work. Until the end is near, it's easy to make excuses. The flaw is that inevitably everything goes to hell the day before, and suddenly I don't have any time. I've had weeks that I wake up at 4 am to finish things on time. I've also rare occasions that I've handed things in late, which is inexcusable for a freelance writer.

The other flaw with deadline motivation is that it doesn't help with marketing and without marketing there are no deadlines.

The second motivational system that works for me is numbers. I'm a geek and I love charts and statistics and it's always good to use your strengths. I track my work on a spreadsheet, look at monthly performance, and set goals accordingly.

That system works well for me and has changed over time. At first I was just trying to match performance. Well that's just silly because then I never grow. So I set monthly goals to beat past performance by 10% and that worked better.

That was fine for a while. Most of my work is subcontracted web content. I get plenty of work handed to me, I get paid quickly, and it was easy to track the work performed. But I struggled with how I should track things like career development or applying for new contracts. These are important but don't pay, so how do I include them in a payment-based system?

The answer is that I pay myself my hourly rate for these tasks. Of course there's no real money changing hands, but it makes it easy to convert hours to money and keep my existing goal system.

This is the first month that I've had a goal high enough that I've had to start using it. It gives me the chance to read books on writing and business planning. It rewards me for hunting down contracts or getting involved in writing forums again. Even updating this blog has now become a paying proposition, even if that pay is all in my head.

I've said before that most motivational techniques don't work with me because I see the man behind the curtain. This method is still hand-waving and smoke, but it's a sleight-of-hand that I'm willing to suspend disbelief for. I don't know why it works on me, but it does and that's all that matters.


  • At 10:49 PM, Anonymous Ashley said…

    Amazing. I share the exact same lazy love for writing, and the despicable habit of handing things in minutes before deadline. I wonder just how many of us there are out there... Each of us individuals could do such great things if we firmly decided to do them and worked at them, but ah, we're just so laaazy...

    It's pathetic. Thinking about it often makes me feel like punching myself. :D

  • At 9:04 AM, Blogger Andy said…

    I think there are a LOT of us out there, many of whom are quite successful. I find that encouraging because it illustrates that we can make a living at this. A dedicated freelancer can make six figures a year while a lazy one will have to settle for less. That's fine with me. When I read about Carson Brackney's $125k challenge a while back, I remember thinking, "If I know how to make $125k per year, I'd work 1/3 as hard and settle for $40k."

  • At 8:41 AM, Blogger Trekin4JC said…

    Thanks for the tips. I love to write. I feel the burning desire to write no matter if it is ever published, but I hope to be published one day.


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