Wasting Your Time as a Freelance Writer

With the risk of sounding like I’m ranting, I’d like to talk about wasting your time as a freelance writer.  There has been a lot of discussion here at FWJ about where to focus your priorities.  We’ve talked about building skills, about establishing a well-balanced portfolio, and about making an awesome first impression.  A lot of you are taking that advice to heart, and I can only assume you’re seeing the success because of it.  If not, keep pushing – good things take time to build.

But a lot of writers, in my opinion, are wasting their time – and I don’t mean going past your allotted time browsing the New York Times or Newsweek.  Some examples that I’ve seen this week – and as I write this, it’s only Wednesday:

  • Flogging their Twitter and Facebook streams for votes for contests, instead of spending time on researching niche markets that probably would pay better.  Doing nothing but entering contests is like playing the lottery – maybe you’ll win, but probably you won’t.  You’ll win bigger by working on relationships that continue to pay over and over again, and you’ll have a lot more control over the results – without the need to pull every Joe, Tom, and Sally you’ve ever met on social media to help you.
  • Publishing way-too-personal and a little-too-opinionated rants on their blog, which can be a huge turnoff when an editor is checking out your website after receiving a query.  Sure, controversial titles will get clicks, and heated articles get comments, but is that really what you’re after?  Why not write and publish work that gives you an opportunity to refine the skills in whatever your “thing” is – narrative, prose, etc. and ask readers for their comments on feedback and tweaks.  As an editor myself, I know I’d far rather see an interesting conversation about a related topic to the niche rather than something a little too heated.
  • Moaning about the state of affairs – think content mills, guest posts, and other buzzwords – incessantly.  I know these are important and difficult topics for our industry.   I think they should be discussed.  But I also know that being a freelance writer is really hard work.  Lots of work.  I work long hours, so I’m surprised to see some writers that have so much time to spend worrying about the future instead of working in the now.  Instead of moaning, how about  hustling to make a few more pitches, explore a few new niches, and educate yourself on a few new technology tools and writing concepts instead?

I have always said that the best strategy for personal success is to do whatever other people aren’t.  But some things, I have to say, are a total waste of time.  Look at your time tracker for the past week (you do track your time, right?), and ask yourself if a portion of the time spent on those tasks could have been better spent doing something more focused on results.

I don’t mean to imply that interacting with your fellow community, or that letting off some steam now and then isn’t helpful – in fact, it is healthy.  But letting that get out of balance is dangerous, and as a writer – or anyone whose business is primarily digital, I think – it is really too easy to lose focus.

What ways have you wasted your time, and what did you decide to do with that time to make it more productive?

Photo Credit: grahambones


7 responses
  1. LIsa Avatar

    this is so interesting… seems SO removed from my actual experience as a freelance writer, which really has very little to do with the web at all!

    I can’t help but wonder whether the term “freelance writer” as used here is anything like the term I’ve been using for 25 years? I mean, I don’t know nuthin’ about contests as a source of income, nor have I ever expected anyone to hire me on the basis of a personal blog (which, IMO, is akin to expecting someone to hire me on the basis of my personal diary!).

    My website is a very useful tool, but no one calls me because it exists: I steer potential clients to the site as a way to show off my experience.

    Basically, I’m a writer who produces copy for print and digital publications and projects. Most of what I write comes out in some form of print (brochures, exhibit labels, books, magazine articles, grant proposals). Amazingly, there are many clients out there who have never heard of Web 2.0, nor do they know the term “content mill.”

    Important note: most of the clients who know nothing about content mills also are stuck in the mode of paying writers a decent hourly wage.

    True confession: I do not own a mobile device of any sort except a basic cell phone.


    1. Andy Hayes Avatar

      Hi Lisa,

      So unicorns do exist! 🙂

      In all seriousness, this post wasn’t written for you. I know many of you. You are indeed real, and perhaps the majority. Carry on.


  2. Neal Avatar

    Spot on Andy.

  3. Mike | MikeFook.com Avatar

    Good topic Andy!

    When I sit down at the computer in the morning I face 6,000 possibilities and only about 4 of them are worth doing to further my writing career. 1. Write a book. 2. Upload books to be sold either at my sites or someone else’s site. 3. Go experience something that gets me emotionally twisted and gives me a reason to write. 4. Repeat something in the past that has already worked and either made me money, or greatly increased my chances of making money.

    I think the best thing a new writer could do today is fire up the word processor and crank out 20,000 words on a book topic that is not represented well in Kindle Books on Amazon. Set yourself up at dtp.amazon.com. Watch sales roll in. Seriously, Amazon’s Kindle section is a cash pig for now, and will be until book publishers iron out their rights to be able to offer digitally all the books they offer on paper. At least I guess that’s what the hold up is.

    I’ve been able to crank out a couple of books that are selling 1 per day there and get $5 to 7 per sale.

    Problems? You don’t know who your customer is, and have no contact information for them – so you need to put something within your book to get them to come to your website and register like dutiful Fook followers do.

    Complete assernauts (authors competing with you in the same niche) write mindnumbingly stupid reviews of your books and give you 1 stars.

    There are more problems, and I cover them in one of my recent articles.

    The one thing DTP has going for it right now is the small mountains of green that can be had. Not pot… I mean cash mountains. If you need cash, you shouldn’t be writing for someone else – you should be writing for yourself, small ebooks you can sell at places like Amazon’s DTP, SmashWords, Apple’s eBookstore, Sony’s Store, etc.

    Facebook, Twitter, and the rest of it – are giant timesucks that are probably wasting your time unless there’s a good reason people should follow you.

  4. Kim Avatar

    Totally agree!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Debra Stang Avatar

    I proudly admit to being a “keyword concubine.” All of my assignments come over the internet. That said, I have a tendency to spend too much time on sites that are fun but end up paying very little. I have to really discipline myself to write for the people who pay well first and the revenue share/adsense sites only if I have time.

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