How to get your most important work done

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Many freelance writers struggle with time management. They have several clients and projects going on at the same time, or different types of projects with different timelines in their calendar. They can get stuck not doing anything because they don’t know what to work on first or next.

I use different strategies for ensuring I get my most important work done on time, without letting any smaller projects fall behind schedule. I keep a paper journal with a list of projects and deadlines. With large projects and fixed deadlines, I work backward from the deadline and divide the project into manageable daily chunks. I make sure I get X pages / words done that day before doing anything else. I also break up big projects with quick projects to help keep things fresh.

This approach works for me, but it might not work for everyone. To follow are some useful strategies that freelance writers can use to make sure they get their work done.

Determine what’s most important

There are different criteria for determine what’s most important – the deadline is fixed, the pay is large, the client is most important. Determine why a project is most important to you and your business. Then build your calendar around that project.

If you’re not sure what’s most important, use a scoring system. Assign points based on deadlines, value, how closely it is to your niche or main business, what would happen if you did not complete the task, etc. The project with the highest score wins.

Do the most important work first

Make sure you either complete the task, or work on enough of the task each day to get it done ahead of schedule. Why ahead of schedule? You need to consider what could go wrong or that could interrupt your work. This will ensure you complete the task on time, and will make you look good to the client.

Start your day with the most important work. End your day with the most important work. Hit your benchmarks on the most important work every day. Track your progress on that most important work so you can see that it’s getting done.

Make it painful to not do the work

The reward for getting your most important work done is payment, pride, sense of achievement, etc. But what are the consequences of not doing the work?

Well, if you fail to complete the work, you could lose the client and the money.

But what about an immediate consequence? If you don’t work on that very important work today, then you should pay some sort of personal penalty. For example, you can’t watch that movie, eat that snack, or go out with friends if you don’t hit your target on that project for the day.

How about you put $10 in a jar for your least favourite charity? Or you have to clean the toilets today?

Whatever it is, make it painful not to work on that important project.

Make a list

Many freelance writers create a To Do list of what they will work on today. That’s great for keeping track of your projects and making sure things get done.

What about a Not To Do list? List the things or projects you won’t work on today because you’re focused on your very important project. This could include not answering emails, not taking calls, not going out for lunch, not taking any small projects, etc. Show what is less important than your current most important work.

At the end of the day, check off the things you did not do. Job well not done.

Break up the day

You have a certain number of hours in your day when you can or will work on your project. But it can be difficult to stay productive for that long.

Break up your day into two parts – morning and afternoon.

After breakfast, start working on your very important project. Get what you can get done before lunch.

Go for lunch and unwind for a bit.

Then look at what’s left to do for the afternoon. Are you ahead of schedule for the day? Do what is left to do and then work on something else. Are you behind? Buckle up and get to work on that important project.

Do you have any time management tips as a freelance writer? Let me know – contact@davidgargaro.com.

David

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The key ingredients needed to make great content

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There’s a lot of good content out there. But how do you make good content great?

You need three key ingredients:

  1. Quality
  2. Uniqueness
  3. Authority

Quality

Great content is like great cooking. You need to begin with quality ingredients. The main ingredient in great content is quality writing.

Great content demands high-quality writing. Your writing should be strong, tight, and impactful.

Every great chef knows the basics of cooking a good meal. They know how to use their tools and how everything works together.

Great writers know and employ the fundamentals of their craft – grammar, spelling, consistency, style, tone, etc. They know how to use phrases, start and end sentences, appeal to logic and emotion, and choose the right word.

Quality also applies to presentation. Chefs know how to present their food. Quality in writing means presenting your content in the most appealing way.

White space is a powerful tool in quality writing. So are headings, bullets and numbers, graphics, and fonts. They all work together to improve the quality of your content.

Quality writing begins with a strong headline. It requires a deft hand to pack punch into a small amount of real estate. Your writing will not be read if your headline is not strong enough to pull the reader in.

Uniqueness

Quality writing stands out. It’s different from the rest of the content. It does not blend in with everything else.

There are many ways to be unique. If you are writing about a topic that has been written about a lot, then write it differently. Find a new angle. Take a different approach. Put your voice or spin into your writing to make it your own.

Writing about a complex topic? Then find a way to make it easier to understand. Make your explanation better. Include new and interesting ways to present and explain the topic.

Don’t take a different tact just to be different. Be different with value. Make the content more valuable with your unique approach. The goal is to give the reader something they want or need.

Authority

Anyone can write an article or blog post online. So don’t just be anyone. Back up your words with authority.

You might not be the expert in this field. But someone is. Speak to or interview that person. Get the information that only they have. Include their quotes in your content.

Experts know what generalists do not. They have practical and valuable knowledge and experience. Ask the right questions to get access to that valuable information. Then share it in your content.

Don’t just be a writer. Be a journalist. Dig for the answers that are hard to find. Ask questions to find the answers. Don’t begin with the answer, as it will skew your research. Go in with an open mind.

Become the authority in a niche or industry. Read the journals, attend the events, join the associations, follow the trends, etc. Then write what only you can write.

Collect your own data. Share your unique insights. Gather stories from experts.

David

The three key parts of great content

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Every article, blog post, case study, book, landing page, and other pieces of written content need three key parts:

  • The beginning (hook)
  • The middle (build)
  • The end (payoff)

This seems a bit too simple, but when you boil down the writing process to its essence, it’s what you truly need to know.

The beginning (hook)

Every piece of content must begin somewhere. But the beginning is more than the start of your content. It’s what encourages your reader to start reading what you wrote, and to keep reading.

The beginning consists of the title and your first sentence / paragraph. The title should hook the reader, or at least interest them enough to read your first sentence or paragraph. Check out this post on how to make your title more appealing.

The first sentence should build off the title and pull the reader in further. It sets the foundation for the rest of the paragraph and your article. The opening paragraph also serves as a map – it guides the reader through the rest of the article. The rest of the sentences in the opening paragraph should support the topic sentence.

Your opening paragraph should interest the reader so that they will continue reading. It needs a hook to spark interest – it can be a quote, an illustration, an interesting statistic or an example. Whatever the hook, it must pull the reader in and make them want to read more.

The middle (build)

The body of your article does the heavy lifting. It builds upon what you stated in the title and opening paragraph. It should also build toward your conclusion.

The middle of your article makes your case. If the opening pulled the reader in, the rest of the article must prove why the reader was right to keep reading. Organize your writing to get the greatest impact. Include examples, quotes, facts, and illustrations to beef up your arguments.

You cannot (and should not) state everything in the opening paragraph. Each paragraph should begin with a main topic sentence and support that point. Each part of the middle should enable you to transition from point to point in a logical manner. Each paragraph should be self-contained and separated so that the reader does not face one large block of text.

The end (payoff)

Use the closing paragraph to restate (but not simply repeat) the main idea. Reword and reaffirm your main point from the opening paragraph. Support the topic sentence and make a strong conclusion.

Always include a call to action. Tell the reader what you want them to do – contact you, sign up for a newsletter, visit a website, download an ebook, etc. If the reader made it this far, they’re interested in what you had to say. Do not let them leave without taking some type of action.

Did you like this blog post? Let me know – email@davidgargaro.com.

David

The incomplete guide to running a freelance writing business

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There are numerous guides online on how to run a freelance writing business. This one is far from complete and reflects my experience, so take from it what works for you. I’ll update it if I miss anything.

I’ve been a freelance writer for more than 25 years (I officially started in 1993), and I started before social media was a thing. I used fax machines to send resumes and contracts, couriers for documents, and even used a utility knife when laying out pages.

Setup

I work from a home office in the basement. Once upon a time, I travelled to clients’ offices around the city to provide on-site service. I don’t do that anymore and I never will.

I use a MacBook Air with a second monitor. Of course, I have Internet and a cellphone, which is my business number. I used to keep a hardline for a business number, but the price went up and I just gave my cellphone number to all my clients.

I mostly use Word and Google Docs, depending on the client, for writing and editing, as well as Acrobat Reader, which provides enough PDF editing ability without having to pay for the full Adobe Acrobat (which I used to do). Yes, there are other writing and editing tools – use what works. This is what I’m used to.

I back up my computer every 2-3 weeks on an external drive. I also have online storage through Apple just as an extra backup. My computer crashed and lost a couple of months of emails and files – I did not lose anything vital fortunately.

Tracking work

I use a physical notebook to track my projects daily and monthly, as well as interviews and appointments. I also write key dates on a desk calendar and in my Mac Calendar app. I write everything in pen (I have several fountain pens, that’s another story).

I also keep a lot of details in my head. Not the best approach but it works for me.

Marketing

I write blog posts (as you’re reading right now). I also post semi-regularly to Twitter and LinkedIn. I also have an Instagram page, where I occasionally post blog posts and my reading journal.

I stay in touch with past and current clients. I’ll email them every few months if I have not heard from them.

I apply to gigs posted on LinkedIn and other job sites a few times per week. I keep a list of sites to check freelance writing postings somewhat regularly. I also send out cold emails and connection requests.

Work

I consider myself a generalist, although I have specialist clients (e.g., I’ve been working with a magazine focused on the rental housing industry for more than 10 years). I have somewhere between 15 and 20 clients. They include:

  • Publishers
  • Advertising and marketing agencies
  • Businesses in different industries
  • Small businesses and entrepreneurs

My work includes writing, editing, and indexing. Recent projects include:

  • Editing finance articles
  • Writing articles for a magazine
  • Creating indexes for textbooks
  • Writing landing pages
  • Ghostwriting blog posts

I used to be a math editor, but I don’t do that work anymore.

Rates

I charge by the hour, by the word, and by the project, depending on the client and project. I recommend project rates where possible, followed by per-word rates.

Administration

I pay bills every Friday. I track all expenses on spreadsheets for tax purposes.

I submit invoices either weekly, monthly or upon project completion (depending on the client). I track all invoices in a spreadsheet.

I make quarterly HST payments and work with an accountant for annual taxes. I make monthly tax payments to reduce my annual tax bill.

If there’s anything you want to know, just ask.

David

Read your writing aloud

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After you’ve written your first draft and rewritten and revised the content a few times – and stepped away from your desk / computer for a bit – read your writing aloud.

Yes, it might seem awkward or uncomfortable. But it’s a key part of your writing and editing process.

Reading your writing aloud activates different parts of your brain when compared to reading silently on the page. It gets your brain and senses involved in a different way. This helps you to notice issues with your writing that you might otherwise miss.

Reading aloud will help you to identify the problems in your writing. Your ear can catch mistakes that your eyes will not see.

You’ll hear words and phrases that you wouldn’t normally say when speaking to someone. They might be “fancy” or “big brain” words that you used to sound more intelligent. But if they don’t sound right coming out of your mouth, replace them with words you would use in conversations with friends or co-workers.

Note: This does not apply when writing technical copy or when writing to a niche audience. Sometimes, those fancy or difficult words fit the audience more than they fit your mouth.

Reading your writing aloud will help you to identify awkward wording, incomplete thoughts, misspelled words, and other mistakes. Your eyes tend to glance over these issues when you’ve seen them a lot. Your ears will tell you something is wrong.

You don’t have to read to someone else – read to yourself. An audience can help if you’re planning on doing a presentation. But if you’re writing an article or blog, then reading to yourself works well.

Reading your writing aloud will help you to tighten sentences and paragraphs. If you find that you’ve lost your point before the end of the sentence, it’s a good indication that you need to tighten your writing.

If you find yourself stumbling or pausing, then there’s something amiss with what you’ve written. Give that content a closer read to see what’s wrong and how you can improve it.

If something does not make sense while you read aloud, it won’t make sense to your audience. And if that happens, they’ll stop reading. Fix the issue to keep your audience engaged.

If your reading is going on too long without a pause, think about how to break up the writing. Adding bullets and subheads will help. Vary sentence length as well.

When you rewrite a sentence, read it out loud again. Make sure it sounds better to your ear before moving on. This is an editing stage, so you can take your time to make the writing better.

Read your title and headings a couple of times. You want to ensure they read well and don’t interfere with moving forward with the reading.

Read your first sentence and conclusion carefully. Your writing should start strong and end strong. Pay attention to how they sound and how they make you feel.

Make reading your writing aloud a part of your editing strategy. It will make you a better writer.

David

Sometimes, you need to do nothing

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To be a better writer, you must learn to NOT write.

What? What kind of reverse zen nonsense is this?

There’s a lot of advice today about side hustles and filling all your free time with things that make you money. And that’s effective for some people at some times.

But, to be an effective writer, you must also learn to do nothing for stretches of time. No writing. No paid work. No mind-consuming tasks.

Writing comes from the mind. If your mind is too busy, what you want to write will get lost in the jumble of thoughts, feelings, emotions, and other mental clutter.

One reason we need to sleep is to let the mind rest. Yes, your unconscious mind is active. But the rest of your brain is relaxing and emptying itself of the random junk from the day.

Writing requires mental muscle. And mental muscles must have downtime to recover from all the exercise they get during the day.

It’s good to take breaks from your writing during the day. Stepping away from your desk (or pen or computer or whatever) to take a walk will help – as long as you do nothing productive during that time.

Many prolific writers do a lot of nothing in between their writing. Check out David Sedaris‘ work. He spends a lot of free time walking the countryside near his home, picking up garbage. He also writes a lot.

I haven’t read it (it’s on my GoodReads list), but there’s a book called How to Be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson that covers this topic in great detail. It celebrates the fine art of doing nothing.

Doing nothing is not the same as procrastinating. Procrastination involves avoiding work. Doing nothing involves actively choosing to not do any work. You are choosing to do nothing as part of your writing regimen.

To exercise your writing muscles, you must:

  • Practice writing
  • Read others’ writing
  • Think about what you want to write
  • Do and think about nothing related to writing

Doing nothing gives your mind time to relax and think about nothing. This leaves room for thoughts connected to your writing – as well as tangents unrelated to your writing – to develop and grow.

You can also think about writing without writing. Create and destroy characters, plot lines, lead sentences, scenes, imagery, and more. Don’t write any of it down unless you can’t stop thinking about it – or it’s too good to forget.

There’s no one right way to write. And there’s no one right way to not write. Hope you do that is up to you.

Find the time to not write – just like you make time to write.

David

Write about what gets you angry

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If you’re ever stuck on what to write about, one quick solution is to write about whatever gets you angry. If you did just this, you’d never run out of writing ideas.

We all get angry, annoyed or frustrated by issues in our personal and professional lives. As a freelance writer, I can name a few things that bother me to different degrees:

  • Late payments
  • Unclear or non-existent content briefs
  • Changing guidelines
  • Moving deadlines
  • Clients who don’t respond within a reasonable time
  • Low-paying job postings

The list of things that anger me personally would probably be longer. Some would be universal, while others would be specific to me.

I could write a number of blog posts about each of these freelancer-related issues. They are evergreen topics – the issues will always be relevant and maddening to freelancers.

And I’m not the only one who would be angered by these issues. Every freelancer has faced these situations – or they will if they’re new to the business. They will read the blog post or article and be angered as well.

And it will also make them feel good. There’s satisfaction in collective misery. We feel better when others feel as bad as we do about the same things.

There’s always something to be legitimately angry about. So you’ll never run out of writing ideas.

What’s even better is that you have in-depth knowledge of the issue. You understand why you are angry. You have relevant facts and a personal investment – both of which will make the story that much more interesting to your readers.

When something bothers or angers you, write it in a journal. Keep an ongoing list of irksome situations. And when you need something to write about, open your journal and pick a topic that’s relevant to you right now. It will be fresh in your mind, giving you a bit more energy to write.

So write about what makes you angry. You’ll never run out of ideas.

David

What will readers remember?

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When planning to write your next blog post, article, case study, etc., or when you’ve completed the first draft, ask yourself:

What will readers remember when they’re done?

Make your writing memorable. Or, to be more accurate, make one thing memorable.

Answer this question: What’s more memorable?

  • I’ve been a freelance writer since 1993.
  • I’ve been a freelance writer for 30 years.

Does the year stand out? Or the number of years? Most people would say the number of years, as 1993 might slide by because you’d have to do the math.

The reader should come to the end of your content and remember something. That fact or key point should stay with them after their done reading. If they forget everything else you wrote, but that one thing remains, you’ve done your job as a writer.

What makes writing memorable?

How do you make a reader remember that one thing? You could:

  • Insert a startling or unusual fact or statistic
  • Make and back up an incredible claim
  • Ask – and answer – a question
  • Include social proof or a quote from a high-level expert
  • Demonstrate how to solve a problem
  • Provide valuable information
  • Teach the reader something they didn’t know
  • Tell a story with a surprise ending
  • Include very detailed descriptions
  • Play to the senses or emotions

There are some “tricks” for making writing memorable

Good writing is memorable. It begins with a heading that pulls the reader in. The content should build off the heading and lead the reader along a path. The conclusion should provide a satisfying result and include a call to action.

However, you still need something to stand out from the rest of the content. You need one takeaway or talking point. It should (but doesn’t have to) support your main point.

You can “cheat” too. Use more than words to make your writing memorable. For example, you can use:

  • Fonts
  • Colour
  • Headings and subheadings
  • White space
  • Bullets and numbering
  • Charts and graphs

You still need the words

In the end, good writing makes writing memorable.

Choose the right words. Use impactful words. Vary sentence length.

Make bold, impactful statements. Put feeling and thought into your writing.

Show that you care about the reader. Provide them with value. Make the writing worth their while.

Think about your goal before writing: What do you want the reader to remember? Then build your writing around that goal.

My goal is to help you become a better writer. I want you to think about what you need to do to write better. Are you thinking about that?

What should you remember? Make your writing memorable. If you remember that, then I did my job as a writer.

David

PS. How long have I been a writer?

Write now. Edit later.

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Every writer should post these four words wherever they write:

WRITE NOW. EDIT LATER.

I will state this as emphatically as I can:

DO NOT EDIT YOUR WRITING WHILE YOU ARE STILL WRITING.

Why? Oh, there are many reasons. But the primary reason is that editing while you write interferes with the process.

Too many writers get in their own way when writing. They stop writing and rewrite what they just wrote because it does not “sound” as good as it did in their head.

The writing stops. Writing becomes rewriting or editing.

Don’t do this. Keep writing. Rewrite the sentence when you’re done with the first draft. Just get the words onto the page.

If you run out of steam when writing, take a break. Come back to it later. Don’t jump right into editing.

When you edit while writing, you lose momentum. Writing requires both physical and mental energy. It takes more energy to start from 0 than it does to keep writing, even when you slow down a bit. Inertia is difficult to overcome.

Try pushing a car when it’s parked versus when it’s rolling. You get the idea. In general, it’s harder to restart writing from a standstill.

Editing your writing in the midst of writing can be discouraging. It feeds the writer’s doubt, which is a powerful beast. Giving doubt more power means less power for your writing.

Many writers hate their writing and want it to be perfect or better. That is the wrong mindset.

You might have heard the expression “Perfect is the enemy of good.” I believe a version of this is credited to Voltaire. However, many smart people have said something similar.

Editing is not about being perfect. It’s about being better. But you should not edit while writing.

The purpose of the first draft is not to be perfect. Its purpose is to exist.

Words must first be written before they can be improved. You cannot edit nothingness. And editing an incomplete product is a slippery task. Let the words exist before trying to improve them.

Write first. Put all your ideas on the page, even if they are not in an order that makes sense. Write run-on sentences if you have to.

When you write, your words will fuel other ideas and generate more words. You’ll pick up steam and write more. Those words will lead you in different directions, some good and some not.

Editing in the middle of writing stops your progression. You don’t know where those words would have led, and now you can’t know because you stopped to edit your writing.

Every great novel started with a horrible first draft. Every great advertising campaign started with concepts that ended up in the trash bin. Every great movie script lost some characters and dialogue that the writer loved when they conceived of them.

How do you stop yourself from editing your writing while you’re still writing? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Write your first draft on paper or with a typewriter
  • Set a timer or word count where you will only write within this boundary
  • Block your monitor so you cannot see what you are typing
  • Use an app that ensures you keep writing or punishes you if you stop writing for too long
  • Turn off your editor’s brain and just keep typing

Most writers have the urge to edit their writing while they’re still writing. Block it out. When you stop writing, save your document and step away from the computer. Come back later – the words will still be there.

Better yet, close the document and open a new document the next time. Don’t even look at your first draft. Write something new.

Another idea: save the last paragraph of your document into a new draft. Start writing in this new document the next time. Name each document so you know their order.

Let your words sit for a while before you edit. You’ll see them with fresh eyes and be more objective about what’s good or not.

Write now. Edit later.

David

Honest writing beats “interesting” writing

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So many writers try to be “interesting”. They focus on trying to attract an audience or appeal to a specific group of readers. They try to stand out from the crowd.

Don’t be interesting – be honest. Honest writing is great writing. Honest writing is also very interesting.

What does honest writing mean?

Being honest means different things. At its essence, it involves writing what you feel, believe or know.

Tell the truth. Tell your truth. Write what you feel, what you know, what you believe, what interests you.

It’s about more than telling the truth – it means not lying or hiding the truth. It’s about revealing your intentions. Don’t bait and switch your readers with clickbait and misleading headings and photos.

Write about issues that are important to you. Write about books and movies and music you love even though you know others don’t like them. Especially because others don’t like them.

Preach your beliefs. They can be controversial or not. It doesn’t matter. State what you believe with total conviction.

You will turn off and turn away readers with your honesty. That’s OK. You will also attract readers with your honesty. You will find your people by being honest.

If you change your mind down the road, and it happens, state that. Don’t ignore your past truth. It was true then, but it does not always have to be what you believe forever. You’re allowed to change your mind.

Put facts, statistics, data, etc. into your articles and blog posts. Reference and link to the original sources. Back up your statements with those facts. Build entire worlds around analysis of those facts.

Incorporate quotes from subject matter experts and industry professionals. Quote them word for word and ensure they check their quotes. People respond well to experts.

Ask the right people the right questions. Dig deeper than the facts and the answers to the original questions. Ask follow-up questions to get the gold.

Poll your audience. Create surveys and questionnaires for people who follow what you write. Ask them how they feel or think about issues – and publish those results.

You can – and should – be interesting in your writing. Don’t just state the facts. Tell an interesting story using the facts. Write case studies that compel the reader to get to the end. Incorporate quotes and attractive graphics into your writing.

Use honesty to make your story interesting. Being honest will interest your reader. How you write the story using honesty will keep them reading.

Start with honesty – then make it interesting. Don’t just try to be interesting or different.

David