Working on the Side: How to Fit Freelance Writing Around a Full-Time Job

Working on the Side: How to Fit Freelance Writing Around a Full-Time Job

Do you ever feel like you aren’t a “real freelance writer” because you only freelance part time?

Let’s get rid of the myth that freelancers have to work full time to be successful.

Plenty of people use part-time freelancing as a way to write stories they care about, get bylines in great publications and earn a little extra money alongside a day job or other full-time commitments.

While full-time freelancing comes with the challenge of the constant hustle, part-time freelancing has its own challenges: fitting writing into a work-life balance that includes meeting the expectations of another employer, trying to finish an article before the kids come home from school, and keeping up the hustle of pitching and seeking out new clients. (The hustle never goes away. Trust me on this one.)

I talked to three different part-time freelancers, each representing a different aspect of part-time freelance life:

  • Hayley Krischer, a freelancer, teacher and novelist who is also a parent
  • Andrea Laurion, a freelancer who prefers having the additional stability of another job
  • Meryl Williams, a freelancer who hopes to go full-time freelance someday

How do each of these freelancers manage their part-time careers? It takes planning, developing a routine and — as Laurion put it — knowing yourself.

Fitting freelancing into your daily routine

Here’s how Krischer fits freelancing into her day: “My husband works, and he gets up at 6 in the morning to leave, so I can’t start working until around 9:30 after I get the kids to school and the dog walked and the morning cleaned up. Realistically, I start around 10:30. I usually work until the kids get home from school around 3:00.”

This gives Krischer 4.5 hours each day, or 22.5 hours every week, to get her freelance and teaching work (she also teaches an online blogging course at Lesley University) done.

What happens if she can’t finish her work in those 22.5 hours? “Depending on deadlines, I’ll have babysitters after school. And I do work at night,” Krischer said.

Williams, meanwhile, blocks off one night a week for freelancing. “Every Tuesday night I barricade myself in a coffee shop or in my house and spend a couple of hours writing.” She also gets a lot of writing done over the weekend, and estimates she puts in 6 to 10 hours of freelance work every week.

Laurion puts in 10 to 15 hours a week freelancing for a graphic design company, taking care of their communications and proofreading needs. She also pitches her own personal essays to sites like Yearbook Office. She does all this work on top of her job as an administrative assistant at Carnegie Mellon University.

Since Laurion recently changed jobs, she is still trying to develop a new freelance routine. Each of these part-time freelancers spoke to the importance of routine as a way to balance their multiple commitments and allow them to keep doing the writing that they love.

I used to take on more writing gigs that weren’t so interesting to me,” Krischer explained. Now that she has a family, she is more focused about the work she chooses to complete — since she only has 22.5 hours each week in which to complete it!

Staying on top of the pitching hustle

Each of our part-timers spoke to the challenge of the pitching hustle. That’s something that never goes away, no matter how many hours a week you freelance!

“Pitching can take a long time,” Krischer said. “Sometimes it can take half an hour, sometimes an hour. There’s a story I’m working on that’s taken two hours of research and I haven’t even gotten to the story yet.”

Williams only spends about half of her freelance time writing. The rest of her time goes to researching her current stories, pitching new stories and looking for new publications to pitch. Once she finds a publication she wants to pitch, she studies it to determine whether she would be a good fit. A well prepared, targeted pitch has a better chance of being successful, after all.

“I enjoy pitching stories,” Laurion said, but added that the hustle is very hard and is one of the reasons why she prefers part-time freelancing to full-time.

Saying no to procrastination

When you’re a part-timer, it is easy to think of your freelance career as something “on the side” — it’s very easy to procrastinate. Here’s how our part-timers avoid it:

“I’m trying to do word count instead of hours, because I am really good at procrastinating,” Laurion said. “I might sit in front of a computer for four hours, but do I have four hours worth of work?” She uses word count as a way to track her progress and motivate her to keep working.

“I try to hit 500 words a day,” she explained. “This is an ideal day. Not every day is ideal.”

Laurion also uses self-imposed deadlines to keep her writing work on track, especially if she’s working on a piece with an open-ended deadline.

Williams has an organizational spreadsheet to keep track of her current assignments and to inspire her to pitch more work. Her spreadsheet includes notes on when to follow-up with clients, as well as a list of dream publications she’d like to write for someday. Every completed piece gets her that much closer.

Advice to other part-timers

Want to start your own part-time freelancing career? Here’s some advice from our pros:

“You have to be super-disciplined, which is something I’ve always been,” Krischer said. “You also have to be okay with pitching, but not be completely upset if you don’t get the gig you’re hoping for. There are so many fantastic writers and they have so many great ideas.”

“Know yourself,” Laurion said. “Know what works for you.” This includes knowing whether you write better in the mornings or in the evenings, and adjusting your freelancing routine to accommodate your best writing times.

Williams notes that freelancing comes with a lot of research. “I enjoy research, but I spend a lot more time on research than I expected.” It isn’t just writing, after all — a freelance career comes with plenty of additional work!

But for our part-timers, the work is worth it. Laurion summed it up: “Writing is what sustains me creatively.” That’s a statement that both full-time and part-time freelance writers can get behind.

Are you a part-time freelancer? Let us know how you manage your daily routine and avoid procrastination! Do you agree with our part-timers’ advice?

Filed Under: Freelancing
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  • Cheri Coles says:

    Hi Nicole! I’m just starting out as a part-time freelance writer with a full-time job. Similar to Williams, I’d like to say goodbye to the 9-5 and run my writing business full-time. I found your article while googling for encouragement. So glad to know I’m not alone. Thank you so much for sharing this article. It’s an absolute gem!

  • how would you start a freelance writing business when all you have is night time to do it?

  • I came across a book by DeBono, “Serious Creativity”. It has good leads on how you can increase your creativity through lateral thinking. A must for every freelancer.

  • Jenn says:

    I have been trying to get started in freelancing for sometime, and now have one or two contract opportunities in the works. It’s nice to get this kind of information before I even get started! Thanks Nicole. And I would love to see some information about landing that first client, and keeping them. Any suggestions?

    • Nicole says:

      Keeping a good client is about turning in quality work on time (or ahead of schedule) and then asking for more work. That’s at least what I’ve found. Eventually you become a regular part of the team.

      Landing that first client can be hard. Sending out pitches with drafts attached, so clients can see samples of your work, sometimes helps. Knowing a freelancer who will introduce you to a client also helps. Also, knowing which publications are willing to take a chance on new writers—they’re out there!

  • Darlene says:

    I know that I try to write 10 minutes to half an hour, three times a week if I’m on holidays or on days off I try to write then to. I wnT to do research but really Keon’t know how to find the websites I need either for my laptop or my iPad but I am writing short story and my memoirs right now Thanks for listening.

  • Kristen says:

    Thanks for this! This is a great follow-up to your reply to my comment last week. 🙂 I continue to be encouraged in the field or freelance writing. My biggest hang up is not the actual writing – that part comes fairly easily, thank goodness. My part is knowing who to contact and where to submit, etc. Sometimes I get ready to send something but then decide to do one more edit. Well, one more edit turns into two more edits and then I end up not sending it at all. I really think it is a confidence problem and I really think I need to get over it. Thanks again!

    • Nicole says:

      I have definitely had a few pieces that I couldn’t stop editing. Most of the time I have to say “the perfect is the enemy of the good” and move on.

  • Elke Feuer says:

    Great post! Before I started working as full time writer, my schedule was: writing for 30mins before work, during my 1 hour lunchtime, and for a couple of hours at night after the kids went to bed. My schedule now is unpredictable because my 3 year old is home with me for a year, and we moved in August.

    I’m looking forward to developing a productive schedule.

  • Hi Nicole, I like your “title working on side”. interesting points, I will apply few of your advice, to be active with my new blog and l know that taking a risk to complete a writing project on time and saying no to procrastination is very important. I will Love to know how you plan your new writing.

  • Great points Nicole,
    You mustn’t become a full time freelance writer for you to make it, you can still have your full time day job while freelancing on the side.

    Its all about you discovering yourself as you put it. You need to figure what works best for you and then, follow it and if you do everything right, it will become very much easy for you.

    Its not always easy but with adequate planning and good discipline, its doable and easy.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Thanks for the valuable hints. I’ve been freelance writing for nearly the last 5 years, 3 of those years on a full-time basis. However, I’ve attended online graduate school for the past 2 years and had to reduce my freelance literary activities to part-time status. Ever since, my biggest challenge has been time management. The reason why seems to be that I just can’t write unless the “urge” is there.

  • Adam Colwell says:

    Great points, Nicole, from you and your panel of freelance experts – and let me add that my three-year-long part-time freelancer commitment of ten hours per week (while working a 45-hour plus week salaried position) turned into a full-time writing, editing, and book publishing business that will surpass its fifth year of operation this November. I simply would not be living my dream of owning my own business as a writer today if I hadn’t taken the risk and had the courage to freelance while working full-time. It takes patience, tenacity, and a creaseless desire to develop your skill set, but you can do it and succeed! A tip to avoid procrastination: set yourself a deadline for each project that is two days in advance of the actual deadline, then reward yourself for making your deadline early. Pick something you love that is healthy but indulgent. For me, it was extra time at the TV watching a guilty pleasure program.

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