As writers, we have a reputation for being daydreamers — disorganized, artsy, lost in our own little worlds. After all, creative types don’t have time for mundane things like schedules, planners, or any sort of filing systems, right? Look, we’re busy creating art over here, you can’t just pencil in inspiration on your calendar.

Ah, if only it were that easy. In college, I loved the idea of being a messy creative, doing my own thing and ignoring the rules. Going to the pub and writing tipsy poetry on a Monday night instead of going to my school newspaper meetings, ignoring my professor’s emails until the last minute because um, my muse just hadn’t struck me yet, you can’t rush genius, and completely ignoring any form of “networking” beyond the occasional LinkedIn request was kind of my style.

I wasn’t a total slacker — I still got good grades and held down a few internships during my time in my school. But I didn’t even bother to keep up any pretense of acting professional. Why should I? I was studying English and film, what else could my professors and classmates expect from me?

I was having fun, sure — but no one took me seriously.

Thankfully, I wised up and changed my ways. I’m learning to approach writing as both an art form and my business.

Yes, if I want to stay up late writing dramatic poems and burning incense, I can certainly do that. If I want to lounge around my cluttered room in my elephant pants and bathrobe for the duration of my workday, that’s all fine and good, if I get everything done. And if I want to spend a Monday night at the pub instead of working on something for a client, that’s not a problem as long as I still give myself plenty of time to meet the deadline.

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I’ve realized that I can still maintain that messy, creative spirit, but no matter what, I still have to be professional and deliver for my clients. There’s no excuse for ignoring e-mails, missing phone calls, or procrastinating on an article because my spark of inspiration hadn’t hit me yet.

Oddly enough, this lesson didn’t hit home for me because of an interaction with a client. I saw firsthand how frustrating it is to deal with disorganized and unprofessional people while subletting my room in the house where I used to live.

I put up an ad on several different sites, along with a few basic guidelines. According to my landlord, any prospective tenants needed to send proof of employment, a reference from a previous landlord, and a scan of their passport. They also needed to let me know when they would be available to set up a viewing. I included all the necessary details about the rent price, utilities, and amenities in the ad.

Because I was living in a city with a housing crisis, I received lots of responses in a short period of time. The majority of people who answered me had not read the ad. They asked questions that I had already addressed, they did not send the documents I needed, and some of them simply ghosted with no explanation after we scheduled a viewing.

I was both frustrated and surprised. Some people were practically begging me for the room, telling me they had been searching for accommodation with no luck, and then never following up with my e-mails. Other times, I would ask for the documents I had already specified in the ad, and they would send me something that was completely irrelevant.

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You would think competition for the room would be fierce considering the scarcity of housing in the area and the number of e-mails I received. However, we easily narrowed it down to only two couples and one pair of friends who had actually a) provided all of their documents and b) showed up for their scheduled viewings. There was really nothing exceptional about any of them — they simply followed instructions and provided what we needed to see.It wasn’t a tough standard to meet.

Just like most of those possible tenants barely put any effort into their applications, many people do not realize the importance of meeting basic professional standards when it comes to connecting with clients. If you’re a freelancer, answering e-mails and phone calls on time, following all of the instructions in a posting on a job board, and being mindful about what you post on social media can actually take you much further as a writer than you might think.

No client wants to work with someone who never responds in a timely fashion, misses deadlines, or ignores their specific editorial instructions. No matter how talented that person is, the client will get sick of dealing with their constant mistakes.

The good news is that this isn’t difficult to master. Making to-do lists, buying a planner, setting alarms to remind you of meetings and phone calls, and blocking out a period of time each day to respond to e-mails can make a huge difference. It can take time to figure out how you want to organize your files and financial information, but it’s worth the effort. Plus, it makes your clients and your accountant happy. Win-win.

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For freelance writers, this can be a tough wake up call — sometimes we get the idea that writers are free spirits with a license to live by their own rules, only to find out that we actually have to learn the ins and outs of essentially running a small business. Yes, some days I wish I could just relive my college years and run off to the woods behind my old apartment to write in my journal, blow off my responsibilities, and somehow get paid for it.

Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. But the trade-off is worth it. Since cleaning up my act and getting organized, I’ve reached many more people with my work and finally started connecting with clients that I’m excited to work with. If you act like a professional, people will start treating you like one.

Credit: The Writing Cooperative