You Can Do Both! 3 Ways to Balance Creative Writing and Freelancing

You Can Do Both! 3 Ways to Balance Creative Writing and Freelancing

For many creative writers, the yearning to live the write life feels more like a necessity than an option.

This makes freelance writing an attractive option. Making money freelance writing for businesses and publications preserves a writer’s ability to tend to their craft. The freelance life affords us creatives the opportunity to make money while maintaining a level of flexibility necessary to keep writing our stories, plays, memoirs, novels and poems.

At least, this is the ideal.

Sometimes, navigating the balance of freelancing writing and creative writing looks a little different than we expected.

As an 11-year-old poet, I dreamed of publishing my verses in books, magazines and anthologies. I wanted to make a living out of writing. As a college student, I found creative nonfiction, memoir and journalism, and I instantly fell in love.

As a mother, writer and wife, I wanted to find a way to keep writing while doing my part to support my family financially so I started freelance writing as a side job while maintaining a full-time office job.

Sooner than expected, my freelance side-hustle needed to become my full time job.

Freedom!

Or so I thought.

Some of us creative-turned-freelance-writers, myself included, find ourselves in the endless rabbit hole the freelance life creates. Freelance writing and the potential for endless income is addictive.

I need just one more client to make more money than I did last month. I have just one more blog post or case study to write at 11p.m. . I need to do just a little more marketing before bed. I need to take one more prospective client phone call while my baby boy naps.

Before we realize it, the flexibility we once craved to pursue our creative writing dreams is gone, sucked up by freelance writing.

I was thrust into full time freelancing before I was ready. As a result, I spent every available minute marketing, writing for clients, editing, sending proposals and negotiating contracts.

My essays and stories fell by the wayside. My Evernote folder full of ideas dulled into the background.

The freelance life is rewarding, and I’m thankful for the income and malleability it provides me. Still, writing for a client isn’t the same as writing for myself.

So I’ve decided to take my creative life back and make it my own again. Here’s how I’m doing it.

1. My agenda is my best friend

I live by my agenda.

I’ve always used my agenda to schedule interviews, time for invoicing, appointments and my oldest son’s tutoring sessions. I’ve never used it to schedule creative writing time, though.

If something is scheduled, I make sure to work around whatever the event might be, and it occurred to me that scheduling a chunk of time for my essays and stories make them a priority as well, which means I’ll make time to write them.

2. I’m limiting distractions while freelance writing

I’ll be the first to admit it. I open and close my social media pages at least 20 times while working on an assignment.

This costs me valuable time, and I decided to make a change. Through a little research, I’ve found a couple tools to help me focus and maximize my productivity:

  • The Pomodoro Technique: Using a timer, this technique uses time blocking: 25 minutes of work time with a five-minute break in between, and a longer break after a few productive sessions. I’m able to stay on task and figure out how much time different tasks actually take.This provides me insight so I can schedule my time a little more efficiently.
  • Cold Turkey Blocker: This distraction elimination app is a gem for increasing productivity. It is completely customizable, which is why I love it. I can set my work times in a calendar and the app blocks all of my social media habits for me so I can’t access them while working. And when I do try to access them, the app gives me a cute little motivational quote to help me get back on track.

If I need to access a few websites for research purposes, I can add those to the app’s Whitelist, and I’ll be able to view those sites only.

As if that wasn’t enough, Cold Turkey offers an extension specifically designed for writers. The free version allows me to set my parameters. I can choose a word count I want to meet or set a timer for, say, 20 minutes. Cold Turkey Writer brings up a blank page that I’m unable to deviate from, and I just write my heart out until I reach whatever parameter I’ve set.

The app also offers a paid version, which provides a few more features like soundtracks specifically created to help people focus.

3. Curbing my bills

When I started freelancing full time, I felt pressure because I needed to replace a full time income. Now that I’ve done so, it isn’t completely necessary for me to market as hard I was before.

Even when I wasn’t bringing in the kind of income I wanted, my creative writing was still important, which meant letting go of frivolous expenses so I could spend time on both freelancing and creative endeavors.

Upon realizing this, I also came to the conclusion that if I wanted to keep up with my creative writing as well as my freelance business. Letting go of unnecessary expenses helps me in two ways: Fewer bills mean I don’t have to stress about bringing in more and more income. Less income needed frees up more time for creative writing.

A couple of things I did to curb expenses include:

  • Cooking more
  • Cutting my cable bill down (next step is cutting cable all together)
  • Limiting shopping escapades
  • Finding free things to do with family and friends– beach outings, park visits, and the like

With less expenses comes less worry, I don’t feel guilty when I choose creative writing over freelance writing.

The balance between my writing lives is an ongoing, ever changing process, but I find it necessary to serve my creative self. When I take the time to focus on my creative writing, I am better at my freelance writing. More ideas come. I get better at my craft. My writing becomes more concise and clear.

In short, my creative writing is just as important and necessary as my freelance life, and I encourage any writer battling with the need to freelance and the want to write creatively to do one thing: give in to the want. Let it become a part of your routine.

Filed Under: Craft, Freelancing

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11 comments

  • Nicole, thank you so much for your article. I can’t tell you how much I relate to what you wrote! I am a freelance direct response copywriter by trade. But, my passion is writing books. I thought freelancing would give me the freedom to pursue that dream. I really did.

    I was so naive. The reality is… it’s a battle most days to just meet my client deadlines. When my “work day” is over, my brain is spent. I feel like I have no words left in me to put into my books. So they stay on the back burner — indefinitely.

    To say I’m frustrated would be the understatement of the year. I need to write for clients, because I need to pay my bills and eat. But, if I’m ever going to realize my dream of being a full-time author, I need to write more books. And there isn’t enough time in the day for both!

    I really like your suggestions, although incorporating that slice of book-writing time into my days will be a challenge when I have a tight deadline. But, I’m definitely going to adopt one or both of your suggestions to limit distractions while writing. More productivity means more time to write what I love!

    Thank you again for an extremely useful article. The timing couldn’t be better!

  • Serina says:

    Fantastic, thank you!!

  • The following is not a good idea unless you enjoy teaching/tutoring as well as writing, but I do. In addition to writing creative nonfiction, and novels I am considering becoming a creativity coach and doing speaking tours. Originally I considered the MFA path. But $30,000 and 2 full years of grad school is a lot of time and money–plus competition for jobs is fierce. For $3,000 or less and 5 hours of study per week for about a year I can get certified as a creativity coach. They also teach you how to market your business–good luck with that in graduate school! Plus you can advertise for free promotion on their group website.

  • Cindy Bolton says:

    Great article, Nicole!

  • Lois says:

    I work as a freelance features writer (and photographer) for my local paper and I also do blog writing for marketing companies. I can so relate to my brain and words being spent after getting done with my paid work. I love the idea of the Cold Turkey app and scheduling time each day (or even week) to just sit and write. I need to get an agenda together. Right now, I feel like I’m in survival mode which is not conducive to creativity. At least it isn’t for me.

    Thanks for this article Nicole! 🙂

  • Yes! This speaks to the exact problems I run into as a freelancer trying to make time for creative pursuits. Thank you for this.

  • CHINEDU says:

    I’m equally facing same issues, I will adopt your approach in point 1
    Thanks alot

  • James Thorne says:

    A wonderful help, Nicole. I use Wunderlist to help me organize my writing but your suggestions will help me do what I want to do – write creatively and freelance some. The first for myself and the second for others.

  • I love this article! It’s so incredibly helpful. I’m a freelancer/author/mom to twin one-year olds. I’m so encouraged to see someone else wearing all three hats and just DOING it! 🙂

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