One of the first lessons I learned when I began doing freelance writing is to keep careful track of my time. The first few jobs I took on, I didn’t really anticipate how long they would take me. I was used to only three previous types of writing: personal fiction writing, blog writing, and school essays and assignments. These types of writing are very different from a “time management” perspective.
With my personal fiction writing, I never really need to pay attention to how long a project takes. I know from doing word sprints on Twitter that I can write anywhere from 1000-2000 words per hour when I’m focused (and I tend to write a lot more when I’m really inspired and in the zone). I don’t really “track” that kind of writing, though. When I wrote “Manifestation,” I didn’t really have a specific word count in mind. It ended up over 140,000 words, and it took me about three months to write, but that was in between work, school, and other parts of life getting in the way. I don’t really know exactly how many hours I put into it (though somewhere around 140 hours on the first draft sounds about right).
Blog writing also isn’t something I really track too much. An average blog post might take me between 30-60 minutes, depending on the length. But since I write blog posts on my own time, and I don’t get paid for them, they aren’t worth tracking too specifically.
School papers are probably the only type of writing I was used to writing on a deadline. Like many students, I often wrote a paper the night before, and often this led to being up until all hours of the night because I hadn’t managed my time very well. Looking back, I think it would have been valuable for me to learn more back then about how long a piece of writing takes. In general, though, I estimate a rate of 500 words per hour on academic assignments, since they take more research and that slows down the writing speed.
Now that I’m taking on freelance writing assignments, the length of time a project takes is very important. If I take on a job for a certain fixed price, I need to be able to accurately estimate how many hours the project will take to complete. If I accept a job at a price of, say, $100, but the project takes me 20 hours to complete, I’m earning less than minimum wage. As a college educated writer, I know I should be making a lot more than that.
In order to help with future estimations, I’ve started tracking the specific lengths of time I take on each job. I downloaded a free time clock application to my computer, and I clock myself in and out when I’m working on a job. The hours spent are tracked for my own purposes only; most of the jobs I take on are for a fixed price that won’t change regardless of how much or how little time I spend on the project. Keeping track of my hours helps me better understand how long each project takes, and helps me know the hourly rate my pay equates to.
Since I’m trying to build up enough of a writing career to quit my pizza delivery job and write full time, it’s important for me to know how much time each project takes compared to the pay rate. I can’t support myself writing full time if a full 40 hour work week doesn’t provide enough pay to cover my living expenses. A job that takes 40 hours to complete but pays less than a weekly paycheck at a restaurant isn’t worth it. That’s why time management has become so important to me; I need to be able to judge how long each project will take me in order to decide which projects to take, and which to pass on.
I’ve only been freelancing for a few months now, but this has been an important lesson for me. If you’re also a freelance writer, or thinking of becoming one, the best advice I can offer is to always consider the value of your time. Otherwise, you’ll end up working 60 hours a week or more just to get by, and that’s no way to make a living.