It never fails. The kids just headed back to school, the poodle is at doggy daycare and your week stretches out vast and empty. “There,” you tell yourself with a smug smile. “Five whole days to get some real work done.” Your desk is neat and tidy, your laptop is fully charged, and the answering machine is taking your calls. Where to start? You check your email: no messages. You check your online profiles: no orders. All the time in the world to write, but, suddenly, you’ve got no work.
Fast forward a week or two. Now you daughter’s home with the flu, your husband wants you to help paint the bathroom, and your mother-in-law is flying in for the weekend, white dust-inspection gloves in hand. Check your email now. Remember that query you sent out last November? It’s been picked up and the editor wants it by Wednesday. Remember the cheap article writing service you sometimes do work for? They’ve just sent you ten great orders, all due in two days. Yikes! How will you get it all done?
Boom or bust. It’s part of the trade. But, before you start tearing at your hair, here are some tips for making the most of these two disparate cycles. They’ll help you optimize your efforts whether you’re scrounging for work, or buried in it.
- Multitask – Stagger your projects so that one is in the research phase, while another is being outlined and a third awaits its final edit. That way, you’ll avoid the burnout that comes from trying to dog each piece straight through from start to finish.
- Let your mind wander – Though it sounds counterproductive, once you’ve got several projects started, walk away. Sort your laundry. Bathe the dog. Believe it or not, once you start your brain down a path, it will continue working unattended. Try it! When you get back to your desk, you may be pleasantly surprised to find the awkward phrasing you were struggling with smoothes out easily, or that elusive introduction springs effortlessly onto the page.
- Go high tech – Write without a keyboard and free your hands to dust the living room or make lunch. Use a digital voice recorder or a voice-to-text program like Dragon Naturally Speaking. Dragon even comes with a Bluetooth headset so you can write while you rock the baby or work out on your treadmill.
- Send out queries – When you find yourself with lots of free time, polish up those great ideas you’ve been mulling over and send them out to editors. Dig through your files for previous rejects. Just because one editor didn’t bite, doesn’t mean the next one won’t.
- Update your website – Your website or online profile is your calling card. If you haven’t looked at it recently, you might be surprised how outdated it’s become. Put in a fresh picture. Update your resume. Add some new — or better! — writing samples.
- Take a break – Writing is hard work. Long hours at the computer can be hard on your back, your eyesight and even your waistline. If your workload unexpectedly lightens, take a day off. Go for a hike or ride your bicycle in the park. Treat yourself to a day at the spa. You work double time when the pressure’s on, don’t you? You’ve got every right to enjoy yourself a little when it eases up.
Kate C is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.