Truth is most of them don't have hard deadlines. With just a little resistance on your part, you'll be able to tell which deadlines are firm and which are arbitrary.
Not all freelance writers get that, either. I was on a forum recently when the topic of rush fees came up. Only one other writer said they charged a rush fee. Everyone else said they simply worked the weekend or the late night and "made up" their free time later.
So much for the quality of life of the freelancer.
It wasn't that their regular hours included weekends, either. While I agree that writers can make their own hours and their own decisions on when they agree to rush jobs, it seems a little, well, desperate to agree to terms outside the parameters every time because you don't want to lose the client or the job. Or maybe some writers don't set parameters?
Hard to say. What's easy to say is it doesn't necessarily have to be that way.
I like to be flexible for my clients, but flexibility has to come with boundaries, too. If a client comes to me today with an "I need it now!" request, sure. I'll try to honor it. However, if there are projects ahead of them, there's going to be an extra charge for me to give up an evening for them or for pushing another project into the evening hours so I can accommodate their request.
It's like calling a plumber at 9 pm with an emergency pipe leak. You're going to pay for that. The same should apply to clients whose fires light up right at 5 pm. On a Friday.
Here are ways I navigate the rush job:
Charge for it. Seriously, if they want your time right away or beyond your normal working hours, there should be additional compensation for it. When I have been approached with these requests, I say "Yes, this time I'm able to. Just so you know that will come with an additional fee for the after-hours/rush work." In most cases, the fire dies down immediately. If they don't, you at least have the additional fee for having to put in late/extra hours. And make the charge significant enough -- otherwise, you're going to resent it.
Offer alternatives. They come to you with a need-it-now request. How can you tell it's not arbitrary? By saying "I'm busy at the moment, but I can get to it in two days/a week. What's your absolute deadline?" You'll be surprised by how often that deadline can move. Not always, but the reason I've worked just a few weekends in eleven years is because I've asked this question. Another option would be to tell the client "If you can push that deadline back one day, I'll work just one half of the weekend (or a few hours extra each evening) and it won't cost you as much."
Retrain the serial latecomers. Yes, it can be done. In a few cases with some long-time clients, I've answered them right away, but told them I could get to it on this day or that day. Also, with one client that always dropped a massive project on me at the last minute, I started contacting them a month before it would normally arrive. Sometimes it's poor planning, but sometimes it's just inconsiderate. This particular client had asked me more than once if I was busy over my Labor Day weekend. Had I said no, I would have worked it without added compensation (they had a fixed budget).
Frame it with limiting language. I've said, "Yes, I'm happy to help this one time" or "Normally, I don't, but I'll make this one exception." You have to set boundaries so that going forward, there isn't the same expectation.
Say no. Sometimes you just can't, or just don't want to work the extra hours. There's nothing wrong with saying "Sorry, I'm fully booked."
Writers, how do you handle the rush job or weekend work requests?
When will you say yes?