The Mother of All Writing Assignments: Handling a Colossal Order Without Losing Your Mind
When you first started freelancing, you probably cut your teeth on shorter assignments. Brief bits of flowery, real estate content. Fifty-word product descriptions. Four-hundred word blog posts. But now, your business is growing – along with your talent – and the day comes when you land a really big, beefy assignment. Five-thousand words. Ten-thousand! An e-book, maybe. A white paper. A blog series. It’s what you’ve hoped for – and dreaded. How can you possibly wrangle all that verbiage? How can you hope to wrestle such a tsunami of words into a coherent and meaningful whole?
Don’t panic. Below are a few simple tips for taming the behemoth and getting it done well and on time.
- Take a calming breath – The worst thing you can do is worry about whether or not you can handle this assignment. A study by the National Institutes of Health has shown that negative thoughts have a significant impact on cognitive processing. Worry, it turns out, hinders your thinking processes – processes you need to write effectively. So, do whatever it takes to lay down negativity. Meditate for 15 minutes. Breathe in through your nose and slowly out through your mouth. Look at yourself in the mirror and say with conviction, “I can do this!”
- Cut it down to size –Let’s face it, 10,000 is a really big number. In terms of text, on a document with typical subheads, spacing and bullet points, that’s over 20 typed pages! No one can accurately track their train of thought across all of that intimidating space. So, cut the assignment into several, more-manageable chunks of, say, 400 or 500 words. Choose natural breaks in the piece, if you can, such as the end of e-book chapters or the places where your focus changes in a white paper.
- Set your own micro-deadlines – Sure, you know this whole piece is due in two weeks, but, unlike with shorter works, there’s no way you’ll be able to pull this assignment off in the last day or two before it’s due. So, to be sure that you have plenty of time, set some interim goals. The easiest way is to simply divide the number of words in the assignment by the number of days until your deadline. If 10,000 words are due in ten days, for example, you need to pound out a thousand words a day to cross the finish line on time.
- Polish as you go – Most writers write their first draft with abandon, planning on editing the piece once the bulk of it is down on paper. But, simply reading through a 10,000 word article could take a vision-blurring hour or more, even without edits and rewrites. Don’t plan on proof reading your big piece all in one sitting. When you finish each of your smaller chunks, polish it to shiny completion. Then, promise yourself you won’t look back – and move on to writing the next piece.
Once you’ve tackled one enormous writing assignment, the next won’t seem so intimidating. In fact, there will come a time when someone says, “Can you handle a project this big?” And you’ll answer, “Piece of cake!”
Kate C is an artist and writer who has spent her whole life in the stark beauty of the high Nevada desert. She nearly hyperventilated when she got her first 10,000 word order – now she doesn’t even blink.