The reason I harp on deadlines is because you have made a professional commitment to a client. In most cases, you have signed paperwork agreeing to that commitment date. Commitment dates are not pulled out of the air. Your clients are businessmen and women. They expect you to get your work done in the time allotted because they have other business goals to meet – like the shipping of a product. A freelancer makes a business miss a ship date of a product because the user guide is not done is a freelancer who will not get work from them again and will not receive a recommendation.
Long Term Planning
Working multiple contracts and scheduling out travel to conventions, I already know that certain times of the year will be busier than others. The RPG companies I work for usually can give me a basic heads up for when some projects will be coming in and will be due. For example, I have two contracts with Rogue Games on Colonial Gothic. One contract is due February 15th. One contract is due September 15th. Obviously, in the immediate, I am much more interested in finishing the one due in February. I won't start thinking about the second contract until April or May and only that early if my schedule is free and I want to get a contract done early to make sure I don't have contracts stacking up.
In some cases, I have publication dates for products before I have the due dates for the work. For example, I have an upcoming product with White Wolf SAS that is supposed to be out in September 2009. Thus, I suspect it will be due in August. Now I have two products I know that I will need to write in August plus I have at least one convention to go to. So, based on what I have going on. I will let my pays-the-bills editor know that my time is limited during that month.
Short Term Planning
As I mentioned, I usually keep my short term schedule to two weeks out. What is due this week and what is due next week. The only exception to this is when I have a large word count project due months out (Example: 64,000 word count project due in 8 weeks) and I need to make sure that I produce a certain amount of words on that product every week. If I need to, I can easily produce 1000 words a day on a single project while working on other work at the same time. I don't like to but I can.
When I do have multiple things stacking up, I keep a running "To Do" list for each week and I make sure that I get that work done. Even if it means late hours. Even if it means turning down social engagements. I try very hard to manage my jobs so I do have time to play and to rest. But, when you freelance, there are sacrifices from time to time. I like to say that freelancing gives me the ability to choose which 60-70 hours of the week I work.
Consistent Work Ethic
Finally, when it comes to organizing my writing life, a consistent schedule is key. Freelancing is a job like any other. You get up, you go to work –even if your office is only just down the hallway – and you work for a certain number of hours a day. The only difference is that your most immediate boss is you and you need to be a tough, disciplined boss to yourself.
You set your schedule. You meet your own deadlines. You succeed or fail on your own merit. You need to have the work ethic to sit down and write everyday – write on your fiction, your RPG contract, your pays-the-bills jobs or your novel. It is a job. You need to treat it like such. Otherwise, you will fail.
Personally, I'm allergic to failing. I have a career goal and I'm going to meet it.