There are norms for just about everything in life. How to behave in public, what to wear to an office job, how to speak around children, not to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater, and so on. Unfortunately, there seem to be norms when it comes to work style, as well. I say unfortunately not because I think there should be no rules. Freelance anarchy (would it be freelanarchy?) is not something I advocate for – there are still customs of professionalism and so on that should be upheld. However, when it comes to how you work best, the choice should be all yours.
You’re probably nodding your head – of course the choice is yours! Whose else would it be? You’re a freelancer, after all, you can do as you please.
But what you might not realize is how often you fight yourself and what you really want to do, particularly when it comes to how you work. This dawned on me very recently in my own life – I was inadvertently sabotaging my own productivity and efficiency because I was trying to work the way I thought other people worked. I was trying to fit in with what I thought should make sense, but didn’t for me. And when I finally realized how much time I was wasting trying to do things in a way counter to the one that made me most productive, I was kind of shocked.
Let me back up.
Common sense would tell you that typing is the fastest mode of getting words on paper, and that outlining, writing, editing, and whatnot should be done on a computer or typewriter. I have Dragon software, so I can speak and it will write for me, so you would think that all I should have to do is sit around and talk all day as ideas flow from my brain out my mouth (something that anyone who knows me will tell you is no issue at all) and be fine.
So, I sat at my table trying my best to write. But I just couldn’t put the words together. My brain felt disorganized, soon I was on Facebook, and we all know the rabbit hole that Facebook is.
Finally, almost by accident, I figured out what my problem was. As a way to switch things up, I decided to write by hand. What I created was an outline in which each point of the outline was a sentence – a full sentence – in my article. I found that by doing this I could structure my article, write clearly, and create a great piece of work.
But that is contrary to every bit of common sense. Wouldn’t that waste time? Isn’t that painfully slow and archaic? Surely writing it out on the computer would be much faster.
When it comes to typing my work over, obviously I type it on the computer and/or use Dragon. At that point it’s just reading what I’ve already written, formatting, and editing for any errors. (Dragon and I are still getting to know each other, so sometimes “golfing” turns into “golf thing”…which to me is synonymous, but to golfers is probably just insulting.)
I did a time test. Because I couldn’t believe that I was really getting more done by handwriting my articles.
Sure enough, I got about 200% more done in a day by handwriting my first draft – which for short projects usually ends up being my only draft prior to retyping – and am far more focused. For me, something happens between brain and hand when I go to type my thoughts. I feel disorganized and scattered. I can’t figure out what I want to say.
But when I put pen to paper, it makes perfect sense. I think the reason is that I tend to think really fast, and I type at over 118 WPM, so sometimes my writing turns into a rambling mess instead of an organized article. Anyone who has read my blog for any length of time probably knows this by now. But by forcing myself to slow down, I actually become more efficient. I waste far less time struggling with how to say something or deleting rambling paragraphs over and over, and can pile up my written articles and then dictate or type them up at the end of the day.
I can hear it now. Great story, but um…about that rambling…what’s your point?
I’m so glad you asked.
My point is this. No matter how counterproductive, counterintuitive, against everything you’ve been taught, or contrary to societal common sense a method of working might seem, if it works for you, embrace it and don’t look back. Stop trying to fight yourself and make your work style fit with other people. As a freelancer, you work for you. Right? So why do you care if your work style fits with someone else’s – they’re not doing your work.
I don’t walk to the beat of a different drummer, I walk to the beat of a whole different band, and I’m cool with that. But sometimes doing things in a way that seems odd or illogical to others makes you wonder if your way is okay or not. Spoiler alert – it totally is. Unless you go all Manson on people in order to get your creativity going – that’s not cool. But assuming your work method is legal and safe for everyone, let your freak flag fly. Or your nerd flag, or your OCD flag, or whatever flag it is you have.
A substantial portion of one wall in my bedroom is nothing but post-its that have article titles on them. I grab them, write them, and then toss them. Yes, I’m sure I’m killing a forest of trees in post-its every year, but that’s how I function. I’m a hands-on, visual person. (All of my post-its are color coded in relation to the place I plan to submit them, also. I know.) So for me, that method works like a charm.
Of course most people who don’t know me see my wall and look at me like I’m a sociopath, but what are you gonna do?
If you find yourself frustrated, unable to focus, constantly on other websites, procrastinating even though you really do love to write, etc., take a good look at how you’re currently doing things, and see if maybe there’s an area in which you’re trying to force yourself to do something a conventional way when you really want to do it a different way.
Some signs of this might be that there’s something you continually stop yourself from doing, but then always go back to. Every time I would grab a piece of paper and a pen, I’d tell myself that was ridiculous and try it out on the computer instead. I’d always go back to the pen and paper, and I’d always try to correct myself. Your brain knows what it wants to do – so maybe just let yourself do it for awhile.
My dad is another great example of this. The man works in his office for hours on end with talk radio – TALK radio – blaring to high heaven. All day. And works. I would go absolutely insane. It’s electronic music with no words or silence. Period. I cannot work with other words happening in the background, and I have no idea how he gets anything done. But he does. To me, that’s completely counterproductive, but to him it’s how he works best.
Experiment with different things and see what suits you. And if you already know what you’re fighting yourself on, stop it. 🙂
Be you, do what suits you, and adopt the work habits that allow you to be as productive and efficient as possible – regardless of what logic or convention might tell you.
Hopefully that helps you out. Until next time – happy writing!