3 Things I Learned as an Accidental Freelancer

accidental freelancer

"Think and grow rich" [you wish], "Manifest your dreams," [yeah, right]. Have you ever read books or articles with similar topics and dismissed them as nonsense?

I have. BUT…

I was in for a surprise. A few weeks ago I thought it might be interesting to do some freelancing in the future. 

Little did I know that this thought was like putting up a sign in the sky. 

Just a month later, I became an accidental freelancer.

I was asked to translate some extended German texts and write some non-fiction stories in English for a large magazine. The pressure was on to complete the next edition within ten days. I had to work in an office with people around me who were getting more and more uptight the closer we got to the printing deadline. 

 I learned three critical lessons doing this gig.  

The 3 Lessons I Learned

1. Use this software to write faster

As a freelancer, you are paid either by the word count or by the hour. In my case, I got paid by the hour. 

I hunted around for a perfect time tracking app and found Clockify. The basic app is free but you can pay for more complex functions. 

It was the first time I used a time-tracking app, and it was a unique experience. As soon as I pressed 'start,' I was seized with a sense of urgency. I knew I had to produce something by the end of the day, and the tracker galvanized me into thinking faster and writing chop-chop.

Now that I have completed this gig and have returned to writing blog posts or working on my new book, I am using a time- tracker as well to keep myself focussed.

2. Discover your best productivity rhythm

As I had to write throughout the day, I noticed that I work best in 30-minute bursts until my focus weakens. If I then take a 5-minutes break and walk around or do some exercises, I can quickly recharge my creative batteries.  

It seems that my personal rhythm is close to the Pomodoro technique which recommends working in 25-minute blocks with 5-minute pauses.

What is your best productivity rhythm? 

If you're not sure, download a free Pomodoro app for Android or iPhone and see how this particular rhythm suits you.

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 pay the bills?

3. How to write an article fast

I usually take my time when writing a blog post. First, I do some research and make some notes. Then I put together some thoughts I want to cover. 

When I then start putting the article together, I often feel overwhelmed by the details my research has unearthed and it can take me a long time to get some sort of order into the chaos of thoughts and words. 

When you're working in an high pressure situation, like I did during my stint of a freelancer, time is of the essence. Other people, like the designers were waiting for my results while my time tracker ticked on inexorably. I was forced to find a way to throw something onto the page in short order. 

My usual mode of writing didn't work so I started creating a skeleton of each piece before starting to write in detail. The most important step of creating a skeleton is to define the natural order of your piece.

Create a listicle with a subject order

If you want to write a post with a list order (like this one), determine how many different points you want to cover and then put a heading to each point. You can then fill in subheadings and explanatory text for each point later on. 

Create a story with a temporal order

If you write a post with a story, you need to follow the temporal oder. Let me explain. As a freelancer, I had to write a story about a guy who is cycling around the world on a home-made bamboo bike. There were a raft of subtopics in this story: the idea behind the trip, the difficulties of the trip, building the bike, what the guy learnt from his tour, what challenges he faced on the tour, and so on. 

If you are working with story, list all these subtopic on the page as individual headings. Then take a good look at your list and determine the temporal order. For example, Building the bike needs to come way before the subtopic, What the guy learnt from his tour, agreed?

Shuffle your mini-headings around until you have a logical order. Then write a short paragraph under each of the headings. Once your piece is close to complete, consider how you want to start it.

Sweep in, don't creep in

You need to grab the reader straight away. Look for a powerful scene to start your piece. Sometimes this is difficult to find. For example, when I researched the guy with a bamboo bike, all I could find were Instagram entries that read like these ones: "I found a good place to pitch the tent on the hill." "Then I rode on." 


 I dug deeper and found a dramatic moment to start the article:

"We'll have to saw through the frame of your bamboo bike to see if you are carrying drugs." The Indian border officials frowned. For a moment, the cyclist considered turning back. Here on the border with India, his dream of riding around the world seemed to be in jeopardy.

If you want to use a story, look for a bit with some pep. Zoom in to the interesting episode, then zoom out to give the context.

My overall experience of doing a freelancing gig?

I enjoyed it. What I learnt was that I can be much more productive if I'm writing against the clock. Since then, I've been using Clockify to track my productivity and stay on track. It has galvanize me into writing faster. 

I've learned to respect my productivity rhythm and am now working with a timing app to ensure I stay totally focused for at least twenty-five minutes at a time.

The most important lesson was to learn how to throw a post onto the page without getting bogged down. Creating a skeleton of each post before starting to write has made me more creative. It seems that when you follow a pattern of creation, your internal critic shuts up. 

But what about writing your own pieces after work?

I was keen to see if I could work hard each day and still write my own stuff in the evenings. After all, this is the problem that many aspiring writers face. When you feel tired, it can be challenging to start working on your articles or stories. 

Strangely enough, I felt the day's stress melt away when I started writing for fun after a full day of writing in the office.

 Writing can be therapeutic. It's a pick-me-up if you allow your words to flow onto the page. Remember, your writing doesn't have to be 'good.' Just write without internal pressure when you're tired so that you enjoy these creative moments. 

Have you ever worked as a freelancer? What was your experience?

A quick heads-up...
Many of our readers implore us for help and support on their journey as a writer. To help budding writers and authors be successful, we are in the process of creating something very exiting:  the WritetoDone University. This is a major mission and we hope to get most of the training opportunities in the WritetoDone University set up for you this year. 

In the meantime you can grab my new course : Make Your Writing Pay the Bills: Become a Smart Freelancer 

About the author

Mary Jaksch

Mary Jaksch is best known for her exceptional training for writers at WritetoDone.com and for her cutting-edge book, Youthful Aging Secrets. In her “spare” time, Mary is also the brains behind GoodlifeZEN.com, a Zen Master, a mother, and a 5th Degree Black Belt.