How I Get My Freelance Work Done

Nicole Dieker has been a full-time freelancer since 2012 — but since she didn’t start freelancing until fall 2012, she’ll have to wait until 2023 to say that she’s been freelancing for “over a decade.”

Okay.

I promised you a post on “how I get my freelance work done,” by which I mean “how I get all my freelance work done,” by which I mean “how I research, prep, and draft five 1,500-word freelance assignments per week.”

It doesn’t always work out to five 1,500-word assignments per week, of course. Some weeks I only get three 1,500-word assignments. Some weeks I get a few 1,000-word assignments. This week I need to complete two 1,500-word assignments and three 1,000-word assignments — and I will, and now I have to figure out how to tell you how I do it.

The easiest answer is time-blocking. “If you want to be a six-figure freelancer,” I might say, “it would behoove you to know exactly how long it takes to write 1,500 words, and then to block out exactly that much time on a calendar or calendrical spreadsheet.”

“If there’s additional work involved, like interviewing or researching,” I might add, “you should block off that time too. Plus the time it will take to source your interviewees and email back and forth until you can agree on when to meet.”

And then I would say “and you should probably add a bit of buffer time too, just in case something takes longer than you expected.”

But you could probably come up with that kind of answer on your own. You have to set aside time for the things you want to do, and that includes freelancing.

The real question — the one that is more difficult to answer — is how I actually do the writing.


I cannot explain this to you except by taking you, step by step, through an example.

This morning, CreditCards.com published an article I wrote titled “Which Delta SkyMiles card is best for you?” This is a 2,300-word post that breaks down the pros and cons of all seven American Express Delta credit cards (four personal cards and three business cards), providing an analysis of what each card offers, who might benefit from each card, and how to decide which Delta SkyMiles card is right for you.

I loved writing this piece. It was probably one of the more interesting assignments I’ve completed this month, because it included a number of variables — independent research, math (I calculated how many points per dollar each sign-up bonus provided, for example), chart-making, ranking, and so on.

It also took a little more time to put together than — to give you another example — my recent Bankrate post “Is the Capital One VentureOne Card worth it?” That 1,200-word post took a little over an hour to draft, because I was already very familiar with the Capital One VentureOne card (it’s an entry-level, no-annual-fee travel credit card that offers 1.25 miles per dollar on every purchase) and didn’t need to do much in the way of additional research.

But even with the Capital One VentureOne piece, I still needed to do what you might call prep. That is, I needed to read the assignment brief, think about what a reader might want to know about the Capital One VentureOne credit card, ask myself what questions someone might have about the card and how I could best answer them, and so on.

It is very difficult for me to do this kind of work in a single day. It’s also difficult for me to time-block it. My prep-work for the Capital One VentureOne article took place while I was drinking my coffee, while I was taking a walk, probably while I was sleeping, and — if I want to be absolutely honest about it — while I’m doing “mindless” stuff like scrolling Twitter.

(This is possibly one good reason for scrolling Twitter. But only one.)

Of course, since I had “write Cap1Vent1 article” already time-blocked onto my calendar, my mind knew, somehow, to get all of that prep done before I had to sit down and write the piece.

This doesn’t always happen, by the way. Occasionally, I’ll wake up and think “I’m supposed to write about X today, but I still haven’t figured out how to tackle the post,” so I take a look at my schedule and see if there’s anything I can swap. Is there a piece scheduled for later in the week that I’ve already figured out how to approach? Is there something that I could figure out fairly quickly? Or do I need to put in my earbuds, crank up a few of my favorite Legend of Zelda remixes, and figure out how the assignment is supposed to come together as I write it?

That last one is my least favorite way to freelance, btw. Not only does it take more time, but it is way more mentally draining than letting an assignment percolate in the back of your mind until it pings “I’m ready now! Write me!”

But back to the Delta SkyMiles assignment. I knew that one would take a lot more work, first because it had many more variables (math! charts! twice-as-long word count!) and second because I was much less familiar with the suite of Delta cards that I needed to evaluate and rank.

So… well, I started by looking up all of the American Express Delta cards and learning about them. I studied the official American Express website, as well as the CreditCards.com review/analysis page on each card. I read the Terms and Conditions/Schumer Box stuff, because I believe in primary sources. I even read some competitor site reviews, to get a sense of what other people were saying about these cards.

Then, because I only had a week to complete this assignment, I started working on the easiest parts — the charts, the summaries of each card’s points and perks — while I let my brain work on the dual problems of “what is each card’s unique advantage/what does it do better than all the other cards” and “how can I help a reader choose the best Delta SkyMiles card for their individual needs?”

Those two problems took three days to completely solve, at which point I was able to finish writing the parts of the assignment that required original analysis, check my work, and turn in the draft.

That draft took me about four hours to write, btw — and that doesn’t count the time it took to prep and problem-solve the piece, though a lot of that prep was able to run in the background while I was writing the parts of the draft I had already solved.


Do you know why I’m publishing this blog post in the late afternoon instead of around lunchtime, like I usually do?

Because it took me this long to solve the problem of “how to explain to you how I complete my freelance work.”

I tried to write it this morning, but I still didn’t know how to approach it — so I focused on a different assignment, took a break, took a walk, and came back with an outline.

That’s how I work, after all — and, thanks to nearly ten years of practice, that’s how the work gets done. ❤️

The Power of Deliberate Practice

I want to share some other people’s work today.

Let’s start with Alaskan singer-songwriter Marian Call. Marian and I have been getting together over Zoom every couple of weeks to talk about play and practice and problem-solving — and, in Marian’s case, the challenges of taking everything you know (or think you know) about a discipline and applying it to a new instrument.

(Marian has been a full-time performing musician since forever, but she only started studying the guitar a few months ago.)

We also play for each other, which means that I had the privilege of hearing Marian play her song “Equinox” a few days before she posted it online.

I’ve also had the privilege of watching Marian’s guitar playing improve with both time and technique — as she, in turn, has watched me become a stronger and more confident pianist. That’s the secret best part of these kinds of things: watching someone work their way towards specificity, mastery, and magic.

Which brings me to Alan Lastufka.

Two years ago, I helped Alan work through a draft of his novel (currently titled Don’t Forget My Face). I could tell you just how far Alan’s gone with his writing since he and I had our coaching sessions, but I’ll let him explain it:

If you decide not to watch the video (though you should), Alan’s writing has received honorable mentions in multiple writing competitions and is starting to get endorsements from leading names in the sci-fi/horror genre. Plus, he’s turning his writing into beautifully handcrafted print books and brilliantly crafted short films.

I love working one-on-one with writers, and I love it even more when the writers I coach or edit get freelance work published or announce their first books or book a reading at Iowa’s famous Prairie Lights bookstore — essentially, when they build their craft and their careers far beyond anything I could ever take credit for.

Because the thing about learning how to practice — whether it’s music, fiction or freelancing — is that once you make the deliberate, disciplined choice to continually improve your work, there’s essentially no limit to what you can create.

Especially if you tell yourself you have unlimited time. ❤️