Being a writer, doesn't necessarily mean you have to be self-employed. There are plenty of companies and publications that will hire you as a staff writer. But most of us, the freelancers and the novelists, aren't punching a clock every morning, other than the snooze button the alarm. Here is where many writers struggle. If you're not reporting to a boss or going to an office on a daily basis, how do you stay on top of your deadlines?
The first step is to figure out how you work best. I'm a procrastinator. I work best under pressure. I crank out my articles in one sitting, usually one or two days before my deadline. Some people can't work like that; they crack under the pressure. Some like to work on an article gradually, writing a few paragraphs everyday until the article is finished. With books, I like doing drafts. Others revise as they go. Once you acknowledge your work habits, you can better formulate a plan to complete tasks and meet your deadlines.
Just because you set your own hours and don't have a boss breathing down your neck, doesn't mean you shouldn't have a work schedule. Every night, I mentally list the tasks I want to complete the next morning and prioritize them. It's difficult juggling the fiction and non-fiction; just because one has a deadline and the other doesn't, does not make one more important than the other. I allot myself a certain amount of time to work on freelance, work on fiction, and to read. Creating a realistic schedule with realistic deadlines is necessary to staying on track and focusing your attention.
Most of us work from home. Our homes are our offices. But the rest of the world doesn't see that. They see us in our pajamas, sitting at a laptop and playing Spider Solitaire, uh, I mean writing. It is important to create some boundaries. Try not to schedule personal appointments during writing times, and if you must, make sure you tack on an extra hour to your writing day. I personally, can't work well at night. After a long day, it's difficult for me to be creative. So if I know I have an appointment or something I can't get out of during the day, I wake up an hour earlier to get my writing done. I've also stopped answering the phone during my writing time unless it's writing related. If I was at an office my machine would get it, and when I'm writing, I am at the office.
The most important thing for a self-employed person, in any field, to remember is to plan ahead. If you're a career freelancer, you know the turnaround time from assignment to payment is comparable to an acorn growing into a tree. Some people would tell you to pitch something every day. I'm not one of those people. Know how much work you need to make rent and how much work you can handle without developing an ulcer and then access how often you should be seeking assignments. But do not wait until you've completed an article to start soliciting, or chances are, you'll have a month of no deadlines (and no money).
When it comes to self-employment, I'm still learning, so I welcome and tips and suggestions. It seems to be one of those things I learn as I go. Even though it has its disadvantages (no health benefits, no steady paycheck), for me, self-employment is the only way to work.