Today successful freelance editor and author Jennifer Brozek provides practical tips and advice for effectively managing your schedule. Thanks so much, Jennifer!
When it comes to being a freelance author (or freelance anything, really), managing your schedule comes down to two questions: “How do I keep up with the multiple contracts I’m doing at once?” and “When do I accept or decline a contract?” These two questions are intimately entwined and they both come down to awareness: awareness of dates and awareness of skill.
How do I keep up with the multiple contracts I’m doing at once?
I have been a freelance author for more than a decade and a full-time freelancer for six years now. I think I have a pretty good handle on things—at least on how I run my schedule for myself. This is only one example of how a person can keep organized from the 50,000 foot perspective.
I use two pieces of technology: a Word document and a digital scratchpad on my desktop.
In my digital scratchpad, I keep a list of running, monthly due dates: sending in the HWA calendar article, sending out my monthly roundup to my Googlegroup, and other such things. Also, I keep notes like “TEoP!” as a reminder that while I don’t have a due date, I do have a project to finish up. The scratchpad is shorthand for the much more detailed organizational document.
In the Word document, I keep an overall numbered queue—much like an Agile scrum feature priority list. However, this queue is ordered based on due dates. I use font size and color to help me keep track of the urgency of the contract. Above that queue, I have my task list for the week like so:
As you can see, in my “To Do” list, I use the colors red, green, and black. For me, green means I’m not getting paid for the job but I want to do it anyway. I made the choice to do the writing because I wanted to and “want to” writing keeps me sane. The red means that it must be done this week. No choice in the matter. The black represents an ongoing project that I am working on but is not in an urgent state. It keeps me working on it and aware of what is going on. For me, my weekly “To Do” list keeps my running queue from overwhelming me with a sense of how much I have agreed to do and gives me a sense of accomplishment as tasks drop from the list.
In my “Queue” list, I use four colors: red, green, blue, and black. Red is a contract. I have signed a contract, money has been paid (or will be paid). Green is writing I agreed to do with no contract but does have a due date. Black is for projects in progress. Blue is for something I have agreed to write that does not have a specific due date but that I have set for a specific month to write.
You will notice that I have a blank spot between months in my queue. This keeps me up-to-date on how many words are due in a specific month. You will also note that I added a convention to my queue. This is important because I am aware that I lose writing time before, during, and after a convention. This awareness of projects and due dates is vital when maintaining a freelancer project schedule.
Two of the items in my queue are larger than the rest. This is a visual reminder that they are active projects that need my attention. Note that they are behind the Battletech contract. This is because the Battletech contract is in “downtime” and is not active but once it gets back from the editor, it will ramp right back up to the top with a due date. It is best to keep track of projects on hold because they all tend to come out of hibernation at the same time.
Finally, note that while I have “Monologue for Amber” in my weekly “To Do” list, I do not have it in my queue. This is because it was asked of me in the same week I decided to write it despite having a farther out due date than this particular article. I did that because I knew I could knock out a creepy, messed up monologue for Amber quicker than I could write this article. Thus, it was added to my weekly list and knocked off.
All this brings us to the next part of the question:
When do I accept or decline a contract?
When you keep a running queue—however you do it: Google calendar, Outlook, a waterfall project planner or a simple document like mine—it gives you the awareness of your schedule and monthly word count to make an informed decision.
Looking at the queue above, I know I could accept a small contract in the third week of February because it is pretty open but not the last week because that is when I’m pushing to finish Colonial Gothic: Popham (if it is not already done). Also, I absolutely cannot accept any contracts between March 15th and April 15th because of two large projects due and a convention which messes up my writing productivity.
Except, knowing me, and knowing my tendencies, I could actually accept a small contract between March 15 and March 31 because I know how I work. I know what I can do. But, this contract would have to be really special: either for a friend or for someone I really want to work with or in a project universe I just can’t resist.
I can make that decision if it comes up because I know what is due when. I also know what my average daily output is. That word “average” is important because life happens and I cannot count on writing to my top range every day. My average daily output is about 1500 words. But I can write up to 5000 words a day depending on the project.
Thus, my cardinal rule: If I do not believe I can make the deadline by writing my average daily output between now and the due date, I regretfully decline the contract as is. Though, if it is one I really want to do, I will ask about extending the deadline by the amount I need. It never hurts to ask.
Working For Yourself
There is one final component to managing a freelancer schedule. It is most important aspect of maintaining an accurate schedule. You are your own boss. You succeed or fail on your own merits. This requires discipline from you and the ability to put aside other things until you get your writing done for the day. It also requires the discipline of keeping up your schedule in whatever way works best for you. Finally, it requires you to be honest with yourself on whether or not you have the discipline to get the jobs done on time.
Freelancing is a hard business and it takes a strength of will to sit down and meet your writing goals every single day (or whatever schedule you make for yourself). You are your own boss. For me, that means choosing which 60-70 hours of the week I work. Writing is work and I love it to pieces. But it is still work.
If you are struggling to meet your personal or professional writing goals, sit down and look at your schedule. See where you are failing to be honest with yourself. Sometimes, the best thing a professional author can do is to say “no” to a contract. Figure out what you can realistically manage in a week and a month. Then apply that to your writing. Make your schedule and stick with it.
Good luck. You can do it.
Jennifer Brozek is an award winning editor and author.
Winner of the 2009 Australian Shadows Award for best edited publication, Jennifer has edited seven anthologies with more on the way. Author of In a Gilded Light and The Little Finance Book That Could, she has more than forty-five published short stories, and is an assistant editor for the award winning Apex Publications house.
Jennifer also is a freelance author for numerous RPG companies. Winner of both the Origins and the ENnie award, her contributions to RPG sourcebooks include Dragonlance, Colonial Gothic, Shadowrun, Serenity, Savage Worlds, and White Wolf SAS.
When she is not writing her heart out, she is gallivanting around the Pacific Northwest in its wonderfully mercurial weather. Jennifer is an active member of SFWA and HWA.