Speaking from experience, one of the biggest perks of being a freelancer is that for the most part, you’re completely in charge of your life. Sure, you’ll have editors, or bosses, and some sort of deadlines to adhere to. But you can do it all from a beach in Tulum, log cabin in Minnesota, or best of all, your bed (again, speaking from experience). As exhilarating as that freedom is, it comes with one major caveat: You have to be seriously on top of your stuff to make it work. Here, four freelancers share the morning routines that help them crush it on the job. Let’s start with yours truly.
7:00-8:00 a.m.: On days when I need to pitch a bunch of story ideas, I’ll wake up between 7:00 and 7:30. Otherwise, I get up around 8:00. Either way, some snoozing is probably involved. As soon as I wake up, I start scrolling through Twitter to see if I missed anything major overnight. Then I do a quick scan of various pop culture sites like Jezebel and Cosmopolitan.com.
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8:15 a.m.: I start going through my email to see if sources have responded to interview requests. If they have, I schedule those. It’s an easy way to feel like I’m already starting the day off on a productive foot. I get tons of emails because I’ve signed up for all sorts of press releases, so I like to carefully look through everything that’s hit my inbox since I stopped working the night before.
8:30 a.m.: I keep digital sticky notes where I try to keep track of the day’s deadlines, the week’s deadlines, and a running to-do list with a separate section for urgent items. I can admit it gets overwhelming sometimes, but it helps to have it all written down when I can keep up with it! I’ll look through it to make sure I’m on track to hit whatever deadlines I have that day.
9:00a.m.-12:00 p.m.: I spend so much of every day emailing with editors about pieces, looking around for story ideas, and revising stories when my editors have notes. In this window, I’ll also start writing pieces I know will be due soon.
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12:00 p.m.: On any given day around this time, I could be doing an at-home barre class, running out to grab lunch, or going for a walk and listening to my favorite podcasts, “Risk!” and “Snap Judgment.” I try to reserve my mornings for writing and corresponding with editors and sources, then my afternoons for interviewing. My brain feels a little more warmed up then, since I’m so not a morning person. Ideally, on days when I’m not crazed with deadlines, that means I have at least an hour right around noon to spend doing something that isn’t work-related.
Ready to hear what how other freelancers manage their mornings? Read on for schedules that contain a lot of writing, some horseback riding, and even a bit of dancing around to indie pop.
5:30 a.m.: I wake up, make coffee, and start soaking cubes of alfalfa. They’re for my horse, Ghost. He’s giant and grey, so the name is a good fit! You give alfalfa cubes to horses when you’re trying to get them to gain weight, and I have to soak them in water to make sure he doesn’t choke on them.
6:00 a.m.: Drive to the barn.
6:15 a.m.: I bring Ghost in from the pasture, groom him and get him ready to ride.
6:45 a.m.-7:30 a.m.: I ride, working on whatever lesson is on tap to transition this former racehorse into a rideable (and fun!) jumper.
7:30 a.m.: I clean Ghost’s stall while making my mental to-do list for the day. Cleaning stalls is very methodical work, so it’s perfect accompaniment for mental list-making.
8:00 a.m.: I give Ghost his morning grain, kiss his velvety nose, and drive home for the day. As I drive I try to come up with the lede for my toughest story. I love this routine because even before I’ve sat down at my desk, I have tangible things to cross off my to-do list. Taking care of my horse is mostly physical, not mental work, so I have time to use my brain to noodle through tough decisions while I go about my barn chores. By the time I get home I’m relaxed and ready to conquer whatever needs to get done.
8:20 a.m.: I shower, make another cup of coffee, write my mental to-do list down and get started. The rest of my morning is a mix of emailing with editors, setting up interviews, doing interviews and writing. I try to do as much writing as I can in the morning, which is when I’m the most focused, but sometimes things don’t go according to plan and I end up spending my morning jostling emails around.
—AC Shilton is an award-winning, Tennessee-based freelance writer covering health, fitness, food, and the environment. She’s the online Eat & Drink columnist for Outside Magazine, and a regular contributor to Runner’s World, Bicycling, and Men’s Journal. You can connect with her on Twitter @AxisofAC or at her website.
8:00 a.m.: I like to be up and out by 8:00. I take my dog for a walk/run, twice around the graveyard by my house, or three times if we’re ambitious. It tires out my needy dog a little so she doesn’t bother me later when I’m writing. I’ll listen to “Radiolab” or “Stuff You Missed in History Class” or “Dusted,” which is a StoryWonk Buffy podcast. If I’m running by myself, I’ll listen to Lana Del Ray or Miley Cyrus because they are both AWESOME to run to. It helps my productivity to get my exercise out of the way so I’m not fretting about it later, and also clears my mind.
9:00-9:30 a.m.: I take a quick shower, and feed my dog and myself while my French press coffee brews. French press coffee is an INTEGRAL part of my writing process. I like to pretend I’m fancy and grind the beans myself.
9:30 a.m.: I usually get distracted by how messy my kitchen is by 9:30, unless I get absorbed in a book. From 9:30-10:30, I’m either reading (productive!) or dancing around to Lucius and deep-cleaning my kitchen. That’s also kind of productive—I can’t concentrate in a messy apartment, and the dining room table is generally where I like to do my writing if I have the apartment to myself.
10:30 a.m.: I panic when I realize I’ve been up for two and half hours and haven’t actually gotten any writing done. I pour another cup of coffee, force myself to keep my butt in that chair, and try to write until noon. It can be in the form of pitching ideas to places, or tweaking my to do-list while I wait for the coffee to kick in, or journaling, or writing a letter to my girlfriend, which in some ways is cheating because it’s not really freelance work, except for pitching. But the journaling and letter-writing actually do help me to clear my head, and sometimes I stumble across interesting ideas for pitches while I free write in my journal. I generally find freelancing to be pretty freaking difficult because I’m not the most disciplined person, and also I tend to talk myself out of a lot of ideas because I don’t think anyone’ll find them interesting. Giving myself permission to journal or to write to someone I know cares about me helps me in terms of feeling confident. Plus, it reminds me why I love to write. The morning is usually when I try to psyche myself up for the Real Freelance Stuff.
12:00 p.m.: I make lunch and force myself to a) blog for the real estate lady I work for or b) edit a chapter or three of my werewolf romance saga or c) get started on any number of personal essays I’ve got bouncing around in my head.
—Christina Tesoro lives and writes in New York City. She’s written for The Toast, Quantum Fairy Tales, This Dog’s Life, and Cosmopolitan, and will be attending the Black Forest Writing Seminar in Freiburg, Germany, in July 2015. For fun, she also writes sordid werewolf romance novels as bombshell Scorpio extraordinaire, Octavia Chance. She tweets, sparsely, @storyqday.
7:00 a.m.: My alarm goes off.
7:01 a.m.: I hit the snooze. I’m notoriously bad about hitting snooze. It drives people crazy but, hey, it’s my morning indulgence.
7:15 a.m.: I’m up and on my yoga mat. I roll it out the night before so I literally have to trip over it getting out of bed. A quick morning flow helps me ease into the day. If I skip it, my morning is usually sluggish and my productivity for the day is shot.
8:30 a.m.: After a shower and a cup of coffee, I’m out the door. Living in New York City, I have the beautiful privilege of walking to work through Central Park. For this one hour of the day, I don’t answer emails, texts, or phone calls. It might not be productive, but that’s kind of the point. Instead, I listen to a podcast or NPR—more often than not I pick up some weird tidbit that sparks some inspiration for the day.
9:30 a.m.: Once I get to the office I set aside an hour for catching up on emails. As a freelancer for several different publications, I’m constantly juggling deadlines, drafts, interview requests, and invoice submissions. I tend to totally lose it if I don’t stay meticulously organized, so I keep a spreadsheet with every draft, date, and deadline in my Google Docs. It’s the first thing I update when I get into the office.
10:30 a.m.: Once I feel organized and caught up on everything, I make breakfast at my desk. I write best in the morning, so I carve out from now until I break for lunch to crank out stories. I’m a big believer in managing energy, so I try to get the bulk of the writing done in the morning and come back with fresh eyes after lunch to edit.
—Macaela Mackenzie is a storyteller with the lofty goal of capturing the alchemy of the present and what makes us really come alive through written word. She lives and works in New York City as a freelance journalist for a multitude of publications, specializing in the health and wellness space. Macaela’s published work can be seen in Women’s Health, Men’s Fitness, EatClean, Greatist, Conde Nast Traveler and DBusiness magazine. When she’s not freelancing, Macaela works with a published author and NYU professor to edit and refine one of her most recent endeavors, a non-fiction memoir.
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