Freelance Advice: How to be More Productive

The sad reality is that producing decent, relevant material – on time – is hard. At the start of a project everything seems great, but quickly turnover day is upon you and if you are not careful you’ll fail to deliver what you promised.

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)
By William McAusland (Outland Arts)


Although by now you follow the Golden Rules of Freelance Game Design, do you work at peak efficiency all the time? Are you as productive as you could possibly be? I think not.

You can always be more productive, but the question is how to achieve this. Following the suggestions below has helped me become much more productive.

  • Set Your Writing Environment: I expect you do most of your writing in one place – perhaps in your office or at your kitchen table. Make this environment as welcoming and conducive to work as possible. For example, clear clutter away, have any relevant books close to hand and so on. It’s also a good idea if you live with anyone else to let them know you don’t want to be disturbed while you work.
  • Understand The Project: I’ve talked before about understanding the project you are working on; sufficed to say, if you don’t understand the project you are working on you are unlikely to produce good, relevant material on time.
  • Plan: Before you start, make a plan so you know exactly what you need to do to complete the project. This might include deciding how many stat block to create, listing the spells you need to design or even allocating specific word counts to certain parts of the project. A plan of a project is like a map of a journey: without it, you’ll likely get lost.
  • Have A Routine: I tend to be my most productive in the morning. After lunch, I don’t seem to be as creative. I’ve learnt this over the years and now do my creative work in the morning and all the boring business stuff in the afternoon. Setting this routine has enabled me to create much more quality material. Experiment with and discover your own routine. What works for me, might  very well not work for you (and vice versa).
  • Turn Off The Internet: Choke. I know. Take a deep breath and turn off the internet. For you, writing time should mean no email, Twitter, Facebook or random, utterly pointless surfing. It’s like trying to write while someone is talking to you. Turn off all the chatter and truly concentrate on what you are doing.
  • Have a Notepad: I carry a notepad (and pen) with me pretty much everywhere I go. Whenever I get a random thought – perhaps a cool place name,  an interesting sight or whatever I note it down. While it might not be immediately relevant to the project I’m working on it might be perfect for the next one.
  • Make Time To Edit: When I write, I tend to write quickly. I’m not focused on getting every last word spelled correctly; I just want to get the material down. Once I’ve finished I go back through the text and fix any really obvious mistakes but I don’t do a full-scale edit at this point. Instead, I normally leave the manuscript for at least a week before looking at it again. I find that in this way when I come to revise a manuscript (see the next bullet point) I spot many more mistakes – or “developmental opportunities” as I once heard it put – than if I revised it the next day.
  • Revise: Rarely (or more accurately never) is a first draft perfect. Leave time in your schedule to rework portions of your manuscript. For example, this article has been edited and revised twice and I expect you’ll still find errors.

Help Fellow Freelancers!

Do you have any other hints or tips for fellow freelancers? Do you have a cunning way of enhancing your productivity? Let us know in the comments below and help other freelancers be even more productive!

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Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

3 thoughts on “Freelance Advice: How to be More Productive”

  1. As someone who freelances for Creighton (and others) with frequency, here are some of my tips on the topic:

    — Take the time to go through the ENTIRE writing process. This includes brainstorming. If you have a plan of what you are going to write before you sit down at the table, your ideas flow easily.

    — Model Others. Before I sit down and write anything, I ask myself, “Has anyone published anything remotely similar to this before? If so, how did they do it?” When working on any one of my three villages for Creighton, my nose was buried in Creighton’s Top-Selling villages. What made them so popular? What did they talk about that I found interesting and how can I port that to my product? When I’m working on feats, I always look for Paizo feats with similar wording. Life is always easier when you can model from someone else’s hard work in some way.

    — Write what you love. One strategy that I’ve picked up from Creighton throughout the year is that you should never write anything that you yourself would not pay to own. For a skilled and practiced freelancer, this goes beyond, “Is this option powerful enough?” Rather, the question is, “Does this option feel like the First-Party Publisher would have published it?” and “Does this option excite my reader?” This takes time and practice, but people respond better to your projects when you write with passion. Never write anything that you are not fully committed to.

    1. These tips from both of you seem to be accurate for any kind of freelancing, at least cartography too! Turning off the internet is the hardest of ’em =) (I’m in the middle of one map right now, so what am I doing here? Off I go!)

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