A Day in The Freelance Life

Co-worker Walter gets on top of some filing. 

Introducing a new feature for The Freelance Life: Day in the Life snapshots! I love when other blogs do these — especially So How Was Your Day?, which obviously does nothing but — because I am absolutely beyond nosey (yes I will also look in your bathroom cabinets when you invite me over, without a modicum of shame). And with freelancing, there are just so many endless variations on how you could spend your day! But I have a working theory that while there are many different effective working styles, there are better and worse things you can do with your time to be productive and successful. And that perhaps the freelancer stereotype of sleeping until 3 PM, working in your pajamas and eating Ramen noodles for all your meals falls into the “worse” category.

Feel free to prove me wrong, though. I’ve already hit up a bunch of successful freelance writer friends to share their daily routines, so those are coming soon and we’ll just see what we see. In the meantime, I figure the game is only fair if I play first, so here is how I spent Thursday, February 21.

Disclaimer: I am definitely a routine-loving person, so my days do follow a pretty regular schedule, although every six months or so I seem to switch up the bones of it a bit, based on any manner of factors (my current workout preferences, deadline load, phases of the moon, whatever). So this is just what’s currently working for me. Oh and also, in case you’re wondering, this wasn’t a light day but it wasn’t extraordinarily busy, either. I tried to pick a relatively average workload day to give you the realest deal.

6:30 to 7:00 am: I’m woken up by some combination of my alarm and the cat. Dan is already up and out of the shower because he commutes to New York City three days a week and catches an unbearably early train. We chat while he gets dressed and I check email on my phone and put off getting out of bed for as long as possible. The cat (who has a pro-sleeping-late agenda) wants to snuggle, which makes this even harder.

7:00 am to 8:30 am: Yell “I love you!” while shuffling out of bed as Dan leaves to catch the 7:13 train. Appreciate that he is very nice about not resenting me and my laziness on these mornings. I honestly cannot tell you what I do during the first 90 minutes of my day. Officially, my only goals are to eat breakfast while reading the New York Times on my iPad and take a shower. But why this takes so long to accomplish can only be chalked up to my morning fugue state. I think I also do things like feed the cats, tidy up the living room and unload the dishwasher, but without witnesses, I don’t have any proof. I can tell you that I manage to get dressed in my official work uniform: Jeans, tank top, cardigan.

8:30 to 10:00 am: Most days I fit in a quick hike or walk (we’re lucky to live right between the glorious Hudson River and an excellent network of woodsy trails, so gym memberships are delightfully moot) to stave off heart disease and agoraphobia (a very common affliction among us work-from-home types). Today I skip that because I’m going to yoga later, and want to get right to work. I always use the first 90 minutes of my work day to tackle the most finicky writing challenge on my to do list. I picked this tip up from Julie Morgernstern when I interviewed her last year about her book Never Check Email in the Morning, and it has been life-changing — honestly, it’s my best work habit and you should so copy me. You can get more done in this first hour than you do the whole rest of the day combined.

Today I use the Magic Hour to revise an essay for Elle. I mostly stay off the Interweb while I do this, except for a quick back-and-forth email with my editor to answer a question and some Googling to check some stats.

10:00 to 10:30 am: Revise is almost finished, so I take a break to eat a yogurt, answer a few emails, start this blog post, and peruse my Google Reader and Facebook for news of the world.

10:30 am to 12:30 pm: I get on the phone to interview three sources for a New York Magazine story that I’ll be drafting later today. I pop over to my standing desk to do these so I can, well, stand while I talk. (Yes, I’ve totally bought the hype about sitting as the silent killer and now try to stand whenever I’m on the phone, since the rest of my life is one big sit-a-thon.) In between calls, I’m doing the email thing, trying to get some interviews set up for other stories for next week and following up with editors about the status of some pitches and paychecks. I also futz a little more with the Elle essay because there are a couple of paragraphs that I’m just not loving yet. I also put water on to boil for lunch.

12:30 to 1:30 pm: Make and eat lunch (whole wheat rigatoni tossed with goat cheese, grape tomatoes and lots of parsley and lemon — oh sad Midtown salad bars how I do not miss you!). When Dan works from home, we usually eat together. When I’m on my own, this is guilty pleasure TV time. At the moment I am re-watching all of Buffy The Vampire Slayer for the thousandth time. Spend 45 minutes finding Dawn annoying yet Joss Whedon masterful as usual. When I’m done eating, I do some stretches and break out my beloved foam roller to work the hunched-over-the-laptop kinks out of my back and neck.

1:30 to 3:00 pm: I finish up the Elle revise, then interview a source for a Marie Claire story that I’ll be writing next week. While it’s not at all unusual for me to bounce around between several assignments like you’re seeing today, I will say that this was an unusually high volume reporting day because both this and the New York piece are pretty science-heavy and require a lot of sources (i.e. smart researchers who will patiently translate their work into words I can understand).

In a perfect world, I’d separate out reporting days and revising/writing days (and on writing days, I’d only tackle one story at a time #daretodream!) because it can be tough to switch modes like that. But in this Spike-is-only-fictional world, it’s bog standard to have projects going at several different stages. So I’m always revising a finished piece, writing a new piece and reporting the piece I’ll write next all at the same time.

This is why, when people ask “what are you working on right now?” at parties and such, I tend to get very deer-in-headlights and am unable to remember anything I’ve ever written.

3:00 to 5:00 pm: I start writing the New York Magazine piece. My writing process always begins with some sort of rough outline — in this case, reading through my reporting file and pulling all the relevant points and quotes into some kind of coherent narrative in a separate Word document. I get this done but leave what I call the “pretty” writing for tomorrow’s Magic Hour — one great thing about freelancing is that you can work according to your natural rhythms and my rhythm is that my brain turns to mush after 4 PM.

5:00 to 7:00 pm: I get changed, grab a snack (half a peanut butter sandwich) and go to yoga. Om.

7:30 to 9:30 pm: Dan has dinner plans in the city tonight, so I’m on my own and it’s Lazy Girl Cuisine (hummus, veggies, cheese and toast) all the way, plus more Buffy, some knitting, and then bed with the cats. But I don’t want you to think every night of my life is this glamorous. Usually we eat dinner (as in real meals that I cook) and hang out together for a few hours and I stay up until maybe 10 pm.

PS. I’d love to hear from more writers (with all levels of experience) for Day In the Life. If you want your daily routine considered for this feature, email it to me on virginiasolesmith [at] gmail [dot] com. Try to follow this format and include a picture or two of yourself, your work environment, what have you.

PPS. Thanks so much to Medium and ed2010 for republishing this post about knowing your worth. In case you aren’t familiar with them, Medium is pretty much the coolest new online writing community ever. And ed2010 is a wonderful resource for wanna-be writers and editors. They were a huge help to me when I was an intern/editorial assistant/industry whippersnapper and are still a phenomenal resource. So happy to spread the love! 

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  1. court
    Posted February 22, 2013 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    the Magic Hour is REAL! even for us 9-6 office robots! nice work – fun to take a peek into a day in the life of one of you work-at-home freelancer types!

  2. Posted February 22, 2013 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    Will definitely take on board what you’ve said about making the most of that “magic hour.”

  3. Posted February 22, 2013 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    This sounds like it was a good day—I did the magic hour this morning (without knowing that I should have been calling it a fun name!) because I got my baby to go back to sleep for an hour after her pre-dawn feed-me yelps. I need to figure out a way to make it more of a habit…Thanks for sharing V!

  4. Posted March 1, 2013 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

    I wonder, have you read this piece by Roxana Robinson that ran with the New Yorker? I swear it changed my life, and I couldn’t help thinking about it when you talked about the magic hour (which, I’ll vouch, is totally a real thing).

    • Posted March 2, 2013 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      I have read it — it’s a little overwrought? I don’t feel the need to shut out the outside world QUITE so dramatically (or have such a punishingly sad breakfast!) but then again, she might be getting way more/better writing done than me. And regardless, yes, forcing myself to do your most challenging work first thing in the morning (without too many distractions) has been a huge breakthrough.

2 Trackbacks

  1. [...] now that you’ve seen how I work the Magic Hour and spend too much time talking to my cats, it’s time for our first official peek at a day in the life of another freelancer. Kicking [...]

  2. By Amy Palanjian on March 14, 2013 at 9:46 am

    [...] over on her blog, which includes posts that share a day in the life of a freelancer. She did a day in her life a few weeks ago and I’m up today. Pop on over to see how I spent one day last month as I [...]

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