It’s been three years since I became a hybrid – with one foot planted in the PR world and the other firmly in the editorial; and learning to work partially in an office and the rest of the time at home. Since I can never stick with a routine for long, it’s been an ongoing journey of evolution – of my working style, productivity, personal insights and strategies I need to make things work for me.
It’s not about how long it actually takes to actually write. I can knock out a press release in an hour, a feature in two, but that only takes into account the writing time; what takes longer is understanding the topic and the brief, conducting research and deciding how to approach the job. For me, there’s an incubation period that’s part of the process; trying to skip this step only results in frustration when the words and inspiration don’t flow.
On good days, it’s like clockwork – I know what I have to do and how to do it, and I dive right in. On days like these, the job is completed quickly with a minimum of fuss and anxiety and ready to go, short of minor adjustments. Otherwise, it means hours of staring at a blank page, typing in a few words and deleting them, over and over again.
I find that certain things help the process along, the way oiling a squeaky hinge makes it work better. It could be a hot drink and a favourite book; a change of location, be it moving to a different part of the house or to a coffee shop; or a change of pace – writing by hand instead of typing. It could mean taking a break to do something else entirely – washing the dishes or doing the laundry, switching on the TV or putting on a movie.
Granted, on some days nothing seems to work and it’s only experience and self-realisation that can lead you to the obvious conclusion – on some days, getting any writing work done is simply impossible so it’s best to just find something else to do, whether it’s updating your accounts, following up on payments, or other necessary tasks which freelancers typically need to manage themselves.
In short – it helps to create a simple routine that works, with a few personal ‘cheat codes’ to help get you past the inevitable bumps and blocks; at the same time, learn to acknowledge the signs that tell you the day’s writing is a lost cause.
Apart from guaranteeing the quality of work – which should be non-negotiable – I believe there are certain rules of conduct to follow, a professional code of honour which governs your behaviour when dealing with clients, editors, agents and anyone else in a professional capacity.
Whether you work from home, work remotely or work everywhere, you need to figure out how best to work with different people. Some people don’t read or reply emails and the only way to get anything out of them is via telephone or a face-to-face meeting. Some people are just difficult to deal with, not matter what you try.
However, apart from learning their different working styles and preferences, choosing your words carefully, learning a little tact and calling up however much patience as you can bear to part with, can go a long way in preventing and/or defusing any potential disagreements, disappointments and frustrations.
For me, the guiding force is mutual respect. I expect clients and editors to respect that I give my best work possible, and I treat my clients and editors with respect for their deadlines and expectations. For editors whose publications I’m unfamiliar with, I request copies or samples for reference; if a deadline needs to be moved, I negotiate upfront, usually before even accepting the job. Whenever I can, I submit my work before the deadline because I know what it means to have clients, bosses, graphic designers and sub-editors who are relying on my work so they can do theirs.
There are times when being professional, prompt and reliable doesn’t work to your advantage. Being able to work on a last-minute job (read: 24 hours) and still provide a decent piece of work tends to give the impression that you (a) don’t have anything else to do; or (b) are some kind of super-being who doesn’t need food, rest or a reasonable timeframe to get things done. Either way, it can lead to clients and/or editors thinking that it’s ok to give you short notice. If this happens, it’s time to tactfully explain that, while you appreciate their trust and confidence in your abilities, it’s important to provide you with a certain timeframe with which to work your magic.
From a purely personal standpoint, I feel that short deadlines – due to the client/editor’s lack of planning or a series of closely-spaced projects – puts practical efficiency first, creativity and artistry second. When that happens, I rarely feel accomplished or fulfilled.
When all is said and done however, I’m thankful for what I do…even on days when all I want to do is punch or smash something out of sheer frustration. I can’t really imagine doing anything else that doesn’t involve a significant amount of writing. I know this because even a long weekend leaves my fingers itching for a keyboard; even if weeks go by without an entry in my journal, I never go anywhere without it because it’s reassuring to know that I can choose to write at any time, wherever I may be.