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