How the January Challenge Arose from Freelance Writing


Day One - BeginI began this month by proposing the January Challenge (finish something, start something, improve something, then evaluate & plan where to go next) not because it was the logical way of doing things but because, for many of us who are writing, each of our goals shares our attention with multiple competing tasks.

If we want to start that novel revision, we first have to finish this project for our day job. If we want to get started with story submissions, we first have to finish revising. As I addressed in 15 Strategies for Finishing Work  last week, much of what we do involves time management of competing priorities.

It just dawned on me to say:  I learned this cycle by freelance writing. 

Considering the interest many of you expressed when I blogged about day jobs, today is a reflection on why the finish-start-improve-plan cycle is so important to making progress as a writer.

Most of my freelance jobs evolve into long-term roles, with enough work and pay to become my sole client. Still, others involve sporadic projects with clients not sure of their own goals, projects too small to be substantial income, or even an occasional client who was slow to pay. For anyone considering freelancing, know that continually stoking the fire for new work is part of the weekly task list.

So it was from freelancing that I learned the overall writing skill: that a productive writing business involves constantly feeding the 4-step cycle of finishing, starting, improving and planning.

It’s illogical: why do I put finish before start, or before plan?

This week I covered a friend’s 4th grade class one morning and, as I presented her lesson on the animal lifecycle with the circular cycle of egg-chick-chicken-egg… I was reminded why I list finish before start.

Yes, on day one — like that “START HERE” space on a board game — you begin with “plan” and “start.”  But there’s only one “start here” space on that gameboard, and most of us are not really on day one of our writing.

Most of us have a half dozen or so projects floating (overlapping writing and family and clients or day job, etc. projects) so taking a valid, productive step forward with our writing involves getting something else finished and out of the way, first.

I can get started with submitting my writing, but maybe I need to finish revision first. I can start with revising my novel, but I need to finish last week’s day job project first. I can start an idea for a novel, but maybe I needed to clear away holiday-vacation emails from clients first. I can start with my big project (the literary magazine) this week, but needed to finish last week’s grading and semester planning first.

The Key: Stoking All 4 Steps of the Cycle

What is most important is this single concept: once these 4 steps rotate into a cycle, notice the overlap of planning your next steps, finishing remaining work, and starting something new.

Before you even finish one project, you should have been evaluating and planning for the next project you will be starting.  My husband was a pharmaceutical rep and, in sales, they referred to this as “pipeline.” You have what you can finish today, but have already planned and seeded what you will do next, with your next project ready in the pipeline.

In freelancing, this meant I had already been marketing for new clients before I approached the end of a project. In fiction, it might mean having short stories submitted to literary magazines then start work on revising that novel while you’re waiting to hear back. It might mean, as you head toward finishing that novel draft, thinking ahead to what will be needed to connect with agents — maybe anticipating summer writing conferences or learning how to write a query.

A Little of Each, Every Day (or Week)

Although I set up the January Challenge to address one step of the cycle for each week of this month, I kept my freelance business going by addressing all 4 steps of the cycle every week, if not every day.

Every week I had a task list of steps needed to complete a current project. I evaluated and planned what was needed for that publication, as well as where the next job would come from. I scheduled steps to get the next project going (if with the same client) or took marketing steps to keep the pipeline fed.  I improved the functioning of my business (sent invoices or reorganized or tweaked my (now offline) website). A little of each, every week, kept the machine constantly fed and moving productively forward.

In truth, particularly when I became a mom, the economy crashed and other personal challenges made life more complicated, it was applying all 4 of these steps that has brought about my most successful moments. On the job or scrambling with kids or working to finish writing — attending to all 4 steps keeps progress moving forward.

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write start badgeThis Week: Begin Something

That said, this week of the January Challenge will focus on Starting Something New (link takes you to next week’s launch).  In the meantime, think of a project you need to get underway to accomplish an important goal in 2013.

What do you have to begin in 2013?

Remember, this is a group challenge and we’d love to hear how it is working for you.  What goals do you need to take on (this week, this month or sometime this year)?  What strategies work for you? What obstacles keep you from getting started?

If you join in, we’d all love to hear how your challenge progresses: write about it on your blog (use the January Challenge badge if you’d like); include link to this original challenge, and be sure to come back here and share your link with us.

Be sure to check out the Week 2: Start Something launch later this week!

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If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s +follow option, or via email or RSS feed.  I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

Going on this month:

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4 Comments

Filed under January Challenge, Time Management for Writers, Writing Process & Routine

4 responses to “How the January Challenge Arose from Freelance Writing

  1. This is REALLY interesting, Elissa; I never would have thought about it that way in terms of finishing before beginning. For my part, I often get wrapped up in the next part of a project (particularly when it comes to a publishing project) and forget that there might be some finishing (revision, editing, cutting, etc.) that still needs doing. Thanks to this I’m making one of my index card posters (I got into the weird habit of yelling at myself with post its and index cards, and recently made the switch the “kinder” postings, ha-ha) that I think will just say, “Remember to finish before you begin.”

    Thank you for a fascinating read and a timely reminder!

    Like

    • elissa field

      Thanks for posting, Khara. … And, truth is, my best advice was often hard-learned. Even as I was posting success over having finished grading on time last week, I was called into the principal’s office (literally) because I’d finished grading on time, posted the grades, filed the papers… but left off signing and turning in a sheet of paper to verify. But I had jumped ahead into starting my new class and planning with my peers, so rushed past that last important finishing task. I should have taken one more mental look at my “definition of done,” because I knew that signature was part of it.

      Starting the next project can be so much more tempting than tying off the loose ends, though, right? :) Thanks for commenting — I always love to see you here — and I’ll be over at your site for the next step in your I love my Blog Challenge!

      Like

  2. Elissa,
    I have posted my response to your first week’s challenge. Better late than never, right? http://www.carolearlycooney@wordpress.com.

    Like

  3. elissa field

    I love Carol’s post about how she plans to use the challenge. (If the link above didn’t work, try: http://carolearlycooney.wordpress.com/2013/01/22/write-start/ )

    I’ve told Carol and Amy that NO APOLOGIZING is allowed for starting any part of the challenge late. Challenges are only good if they work for you, so use the challenge as it fits your goals without worrying when I posted it. I hope we’ll have people joining us clear into July!

    Thanks for sharing, Carol!

    Like

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