A day in the life of a freelance copywriter

Job titles reveal so much yet so little.

“What do you do?”

“I’m a freelance copywriter.”

“Okay. But what do you actually do?”

I drink a lot of tea, collect pretty stationery, and spend far too much time in ugg boots (yes, some freelancer tropes are true).

But most of the time I do exactly what my title suggests – I write, edit, stare at the screen in frustration, and then write and edit some more. Or, according to my sister (who is often hanging around my workspace), I “just type a lot” and occasionally come up for air (and tea).

To an outside observer, freelance copywriting is a bit boring – but I find my job anything but dull. For those of you curious about freelance life, here’s an overview of my average working day.

5:45 am – I’m awake, and I don’t want to be. My partner Tom starts work at a ridiculous hour, and he’s definitely not one of those ‘tip-toe in the dark for fear of waking up his love’ types. If he’s awake, I’m awake.

6:15 am – Tea. Oh sweet, glorious tea. Brought to me in bed. All of a sudden I don’t care about being woken up before sunrise and Tom is once again my favourite person in the world.

6:30 am – On good days, I ignore my phone and avoid the trap of being sucked into social media. Instead, I’ll write in my journal and then read a few chapters of a book. This always feels super snug and luxurious, and I try to lap up every minute (fully aware that when I have kids and/or need to commute to an office, it’ll be the first thing to go). On not-so-good days (when even tea has failed to wake me up), I go back to sleep or scroll mindlessly through social media (and then feel guilty about it).

7:30 am – Exercise! I go for a walk or a run, depending on how peppy I feel. Or sometimes I go to a yoga class. I usually listen to podcasts while I’m working out. I’m podcast-obsessed at the moment – Magic Lessons, Happier, Revisionist History, The Robcast, Being Boss and BBC History Extra are my current faves. This is also the time of day when I dream about having a dog. I really, really, really, really want a dog. And there’s a lot of cute dogs in my neighbourhood. Unfortunately my partner is less enthusiastic about getting a dog (which is both annoying and sensible at the same time). But he makes me tea, so all is forgiven.

9:00 am – My work day begins. Most of the time I work from home, but sometimes I go to the library. When I first started freelancing, I experimented with a few different routines. For months I got up at 7am and started working straight away, with the intention of finishing at 3pm and I don’t know, luxuriating all afternoon? But I’m never really ‘finished’ – there’s always something to do. I ended up working 12-hour days and skipping exercise, which made me feel really entrepreneurial and dedicated but wasn’t so great for my mental and physical health. Now I try to cram all of my ‘luxuriating’ into the morning, so I start the day on a good note.

10:00 am – The real work begins (you know, after responding to emails, checking Facebook, calling my mum, and Googling pictures of cute dogs). I know some people are really good at starting ‘work work’ straight away, but I find I need to ease into it. 10am to 12pm are my ‘power hours’ – I try to schedule my most challenging, creative tasks into this time frame.

12:30 pm – Food. Usually leftovers. Sometimes toast. Almost always followed by something sweet, because I’m addicted to sugar (sorry Sarah Wilson. I own all your books. Your argument is very convincing but I really like milk chocolate). When I’m feeling virtuous and health conscious, I take a break from the computer for an hour and read a book or magazine. But most of the time my brain is buzzing with article ideas and I like to keep working through lunch.

2:00 pm – I feel satisfied because I’ve crossed a few tasks off my to-do list. But then I feel anxious because it’s 2pm and I’ve still got a lot to do. I have a bad habit of setting myself high expectations each day. Freelancer tip: things always, always take longer than you think they will. 

3:30 pm – I work from home in the suburbs, and at around this time every day, the streets become overrun with giggling schoolkids. I usually spend five minutes feeling jealous that 3pm signals the end of their working day. But then I remember that I get to work in my ugg boots and I don’t have to go to math class, and all is right in the world.

4:30 pm – By this point my creative brain is usually quite useless, so I try to do admin stuff and plan for tomorrow. Unless I’m working to a tight deadline, in which case a powerful cocktail of adrenalin, focus and desperation kicks in and I just keep writing.

5:30 pm – This is when I try to stop working. Note the word ‘try’. Every day I aim to be completely finished at 5.30pm on the dot, so I can have the evening off – but this hardly ever happens. I usually step away from my laptop for a couple of hours to cook dinner and hang out with Tom, and come back to my to-do list later. I like to listen to podcasts while I cook dinner, or watch some trashy TV on the iPad. 

6:30 pm – Tom and I always eat dinner together, usually at the table, sometimes in front of the TV if we’re binge watching a series (we’re currently watching Vikings). We eat dinner pretty early because I get really hangry if I have to wait too long between meals! I might go out with friends once or twice a week, but I’m a total homebody and love staying in, especially in winter.

7:30 pm – After dinner, we sometimes keep watching telly, but most of the time we do our own thing. Most nights I get a second wave of energy and I’ll work on personal writing, marketing, or my passion project, Travelher.org. I try to block out at least three nights a week to work on my own writing, because I never find time during my ‘work day’. I also do most of my personal writing in bed in my pajamas, which helps me relax and keep it separate from client work.

10:00 pm – Every night, it’s my intention to be in bed by 10:00pm and wind down with a good book. But I might be lucky if this happens once a week – usually I’m still writing, researching, or Tom and I will watch a show on the iPad.

11:00 pm – Bedtime! I’m usually asleep by 11:30pm, something I almost always regret at 5:45am the next day when the alarm goes off and I wish I had gone to bed earlier. But I’m a morning person at heart and it only takes a few sips of tea to put a spring in my step.

*Although my days appear fairly structured, I’m constantly juggling deadlines and meeting last-minute client requests. I live in Google Calendar! The type of work I do varies each day. I might write a batch of blog posts, or spend hours coming up with tagline ideas. Every project is different. 

**Some days I write like a dream, others I struggle to put words on paper. I try not to overcommit myself so I have ‘breathing room’ when writer’s block strikes! Fortunately, I think I’m building ‘freelance resilience’ – those slow days are becoming less and less frequent. As long as I have my underlying processes in place, I can usually adapt to anything. It’s only when I let my wellbeing fall to the wayside that things can get tough. Health first, always.

***I love adjusting my routine and trying out new processes, and am slightly obsessed with the Extraordinary Routines project. I love reading about how other creatives spend their days and what makes them tick! This ‘day in the life’ will probably change come spring, and then again come summer. But that’s the beauty of being self-employed. You get to create your own path.