2015: A Year in Review

2015 Review

2015 was a year of big change for me. Actually, growth is probably the right word, since arguably my situation hasn’t changed dramatically. I’m still in Edinburgh, after all. But my life and business have both improved. Alright, let’s dig in.

This Time Last Year

Oh God, where to start. Everything was going wrong a year ago. I was temporarily living at my mother’s, after escaping life with the flatmate from hell (honestly, who puts tablemats under your laptop when you leave the room for five minutes? Who doesn’t let you close the curtains? As someone who already despises being told what to do, this was a living hell). Now, I love my mother, and I’m grateful she put up with me over those few weeks, but I never want to live with her again.

My dog was on the brink of death, too, which obviously made me very sad. She was a total badass, and I’d grown up with her. She died in February.

Floss Snow

On top of all that, the guy I’d been dating for a couple of months totally freaked out when I told him I’d decided not to go travelling that summer after all, instead wanting to stick around in Edinburgh for a bit longer so I could grow my business some more and improve my health. And that was the end of that. I was more surprised than anything because, come on, I’m clearly a catch.

And during all of this I was simultaneously trying to write and run a new course, and find a new place to live. Jesus Christ, I was busy and I was stressed. Fortunately, business itself was going well, so that wasn’t an issue. I just needed a break. (You may now also understand why I decided to take so long off over the holidays this year. I’d literally scheduled in my GCal, in big red letters, ‘TAKE TIME OFF’.)

I was gearing up for big change. I wanted to take my life and Untamed Writing to the next level in 2015. So, let’s see how that went.

How My Plans for 2015 Went

Here are the plans I laid out at the beginning of last year.

The Advanced Class & The Master Class

My plan was to create two separate courses: The Advanced Class, a course teaching people how to get into highly paid freelance blogging (this is what I was working on at the start of the year), and The Master Class, which at the time I announced as a ‘secret project’ (lol), and which I intended to be a course about copywriting. Did I achieve this? You’re damn right I did. In fact, I’d say I exceeded my own expectations. Even though I ended up scrapping The Advanced Class, and never even started on The Master Class. I combined the idea for both into one beautiful whole: Start Content Writing, a course that covers both blogging and copywriting, and which helps people to build freelance writing businesses they love.

Coaching Services for Freelance Writers

I played with this idea during The Advanced Class, and a couple of times when I ran Start SEO Writing (then The Quickstart Class), by adding a new level of service: you could take the courses with added mentoring, in the form of an hour-long Skype call each week. In the end, I decided coaching/mentoring was not a service I wanted to offer after all. Mostly because I hate having to be at my desk at a certain time to take a call. Recently it dawned on me that I could offer mentoring services via email, so that’s something I’m mulling over right now.

Redesign

I really wanted a more professional appearance on my site, and something which was more in keeping with my brand. I’d always hated the pastelly, limey green colour on the site, and the logo was just something thrown together quickly for me by a friend. They did the trick and got me where I needed to be, but they weren’t right. They didn’t suit Untamed Writing, and they didn’t suit me. So I’d planned on hiring a professional to create a new logo for me and redesign my site.

The first part of the equation worked out very well. I ADORE my new logo, which I affectionally call Wolf Mountain. It’s just perfect. The design, however, did not work out to plan. I didn’t realise that the guy I’d hired was just planning to use a drag and drop theme, not actually design something properly for me. What he ended up creating was clunky, ugly (compared to the badass, sophisticated design I’d had in mind), horrible to work on in the backend, and added shit-tons of unnecessary code into my pages. I was terrified this was going to affect my SEO, particularly for my Start SEO Writing sales page, which ranks on the first page of Google right now.

In retrospect, the relatively low price he’d quoted and the blurry lines in our agreement were warning signs, but the low cost blinded me to reality. I don’t blame him, though. Totally my fault for not being thorough and checking exactly what was involved. In the end I had to concede I’d wasted a few hundred quid, tell him what he was doing wasn’t good enough (never a fun task), and tweak my current design myself to get it closer to how I wanted it. The site ended up being more ‘on brand’, with new fonts, a new logo and a new colour scheme, though in every other respect it was still the same. It was better, but I still didn’t particularly like it, especially as time wore on. It was too childish, too plain, and too unprofessional looking.

As you’ll know if you read my previous post, I ended up finding a new theme in December that was just perfect. Well, you can see it on the site right now. It’s gorgeous and I love it. I think I ended up transferring the design over to the site on New Year’s Eve, so that’s technically a win for my 2015 goals!

Blog Twice Weekly & More for Writers

Yup! I managed both of these. I geared all blog posts towards freelance writers, and I blogged twice every week, up until around mid-November, when I changed my mind about doing it.

Pitch One Guest Post Per Week

TOTAL FAIL. I didn’t even pitch a single one, hahaha. Whoops. My defence is I was way too wrapped up in rebranding and creating. Luckily, I was still getting enough traffic to keep my business ticking over, so this was not a huge deal to me.

Stop Being So Shit at Social Media

Did I achieve this? Hmm. Questionable. I would certainly say I’m not any more shit. But I’m still not great. I think I’ve been better these past couple of months, but there’s not been much of a ‘plan’ enforced. I’ve just posted what and when I wanted, on both Facebook and Twitter.

Study More

I wanted to read more business-related books and complete more courses, with the goal of studying for at least an hour a week. Did I accomplish this? Uhh, no. Not exactly. I’ve studied some, but definitely nothing like an hour a week. I’m not sure the hour-a-week approach is right for me, because when I get into something, I tend to do it for hours. Maybe a one-course-per-month approach would be better. I read 6 books you could argue were business-related, which is, er, even less than I managed last year (though I did read more overall, soooo).

Be More Productive

You know what? I actually think I managed this. I don’t have any datapoints to reference or anything, but I definitely feel like I’ve been more productive. I started renting a desk at a beautiful co-working office down the street from me, which has helped, though I don’t go every day. I also did a couple of productivity experiments which helped me figure out more about the way I work best. I moved into a place of my own, too, so I didn’t have any flatmates to distract me, and I bought a huge desk (ahem, dining table), as well as some bits of kit to give me a more ergonomic setup. This eased my upper back pain (according to chiropractors the world over, my spine is too straight), meaning I could work for longer.

I mean, I certainly got some good work done, so it can’t have been all that bad. Still not perfect, but as far as I’m concerned, perfection can get fucked.

An Overview of the Important Things

Alright, so those were my plans and goals. Now I want to take a look at the various areas that matter most to me.

Business

2015 was a good year for me, business-wise. The best yet. Which is sort of the direction you want things to go in when you run a business. My revenue and profits increased (I think. I mean, I certainly had to pay more tax, although I don’t exactly keep a close eye on these things), and I shifted the business more in the direction I want it to go, both by rebranding and by creating Start Content Writing.

I took on fewer copywriting jobs than I had in previous years, which meant I only worked on stuff I actually wanted to work on. Any time somebody enquired about my services and I either didn’t want to take the project on, or couldn’t schedule them in as soon as they wanted, I put them in touch with one of my students, which is a nice thing to be able to do.

Life

Aside from the shitstorm at the start of the year, 2015 was good to me.

I was determined to find a place to rent by myself. Everyone I have lived with in Edinburgh, bar one person who has become one of my closest friends, has been totally fucking insane or weird. What is it about this place? I found a gorgeous flat with plenty of space and in a great location. When the owners emailed me to say they already had ten people coming to view the place and weren’t going to take any more, I told them I would pay more. ‘Can you come at 5?’ Worked like a charm. I figured so long as they liked me, I was in. And they did. I’ve always wanted to live on my own. Life goal accomplished.

The other standout thing that happened was my niece being born. Luna Marston. She’s a hilarious little fighter, and I blame her entirely for the fact that I now sometimes find babies cute. (A phenomenon that never afflicted me before.)

Personal Development

I started conducting 28-day experiments in 2015, which were a fun way to learn more about myself and how I work.

Productivity
Figuring out a good morning routine was one of my main aims and, although I’ve figured out a few things I do like to include in my mornings, I’m a long way from having my ‘ideal morning routine’. I’m leaning towards letting this go now. So long as I enjoy day-to-day life and get what I need to do done, it’s all gravy, right? I don’t feel too disappointed about not nailing it, anyway. I still learned a lot about myself.

I also trained myself to watch less TV. On Monday mornings, I used to be terrible for watching the latest episodes of my favourite shows that’d aired in the US the night before. (Obtained by completely legal means, of course.) Now, I’ve trained myself to wait till the evenings before I watch anything. Because Jesus Christ, a business owner should not waste her Monday mornings.

Health
The most incredible thing that happened was learning more about my disease and how to control it. I have ulcerative colitis, which is a bowel disease that involves lots of diarrhoea (sometimes with a fun dose of blood), cramping, discomfort, pain, bloating and, weirdly, fever. I’m one of the lucky ones, though, because the mildest form of medication sorts me out. However, I’ve always wanted to find out if I could control the disease through diet alone. (It’s a western disease, which makes me think our lifestyle of processed shit is probably a big contributing factor.)

Anyway, I stumbled on this diet called the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, which is designed specifically for my disease, and so far I’ve seen some very positive results from it. I’m still far from understanding how this disease affects me, but I’m super excited about what this could mean for the rest of my life. I’ve never been able to make my symptoms clear up without meds before, but now I believe I can do it. (Also, bonus points for accidentally dropping 15 pounds.)

Fitness
The worst thing that happened was that I basically stopped exercising altogether from September onwards. That’s when I was discharged from physiotherapy, which I had been doing for two years, thanks to a knee injury. Honestly, I just wanted a fucking break from exercise I ‘had’ to do. I really hate having to do things. I’m not too disappointed about this, because it’s not my priority right now (my diet/disease are way more important to me), but it is something I’d like to get back into this year. Mostly, I’m disappointed that I can’t do pushups any more. I felt like a total badass for being able to do proper pushups for a while there.

Reading

I’d set the goal to read 52 books by the end of the year — something I’d never managed before. And I did it! Largely thanks to the fact that I read the first 12 volumes of The Walking Dead comics, but still. It all counts. During the first few months of the year I basically got shit-all reading done, thanks to my stressful start, but things picked up around June. (I didn’t finish a single book in May!)

I also discovered audiobooks. Obviously by ‘discovered’, I mean I started listening to them. I didn’t find them under a rock or anything. Anyway, they are one of my favourite discoveries of 2015. I adore them. I’m getting through lots of books I’ve always put off reading because I thought they’d be hard work… and I’m loving them! I now see Victorian romances in a whole new light. (Previously I’d gravitated towards Victorian adventure novels, which are the fucking best. Have you ever read King Solomon’s Mines? Bloody marvellous.) Audiobooks are also partly why I managed to hit 52 books this year, since I could ‘read’ while I was driving or doing chores.

My favourite reads in 2015 were:

  • Julie and Julia, by Julie Powell
    I have a thing for women’s memoirs, especially when they’re focused on aspirational subjects/quests. In this case, French cooking. Originally based on a blog, this was not simply a rehash of old posts thrown together to make a ‘book’. (Hey, remember that brief phase when these were called ‘blooks’?) Instead, it was insightful, funny, brutally honest, and refreshing. I enjoyed delving into Julie’s New York lifestyle, too.
  • One Day, by David Nicholls
    I surprised myself with this one. I don’t pick up romances very often. I’d seen the film in the cinema not long after I’d moved to Edinburgh, and was very pleased with myself for recognising that some of the story is, in fact, set in Edinburgh. After my ridiculously stressful start to the year, I wanted something easy and escapism-y to read. This fit the bill. I cared about the characters and enjoyed seeing glimpses of their lives. I always love a good entire-life story. I love seeing the trajectory of people’s lives. People are just so god damn interesting.
  • Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, by Gretchen Rubin
    I loved both of Rubin’s happiness books (The Happiness Project and Happier at Home), so naturally I was very excited about this one, which centres on one of my favourite subjects: habits. It did not disappoint. A good mix of story, research and rumination, I learned a lot about myself while reading this. (Including the fact that I’m a Rebel, which I talked about in this post.)
  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King
    There are so many books about writing I’ve never read. This was one of them. I fucking loooooved it! I found the first part of the book, a memoir of King’s writing life, a little slow, but the second part of the book more than made up for it. Not only is King’s writing advice spot on, it’s also laugh-out-loud funny and presented in an unpretentious everyman style, which is pretty much guaranteed to draw me in. It also helps that I read this over the course of a few especially hot, sunny days, usually while sat overlooking the sea. (And at 8am, I was the only person ever there. It was bliss.) I underlined lots of passages in this one.
  • Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë
    I was supposed to read this in school. I read up to about chapter 4 before getting bored and resolving not to read the rest (I was a rebellious teenager who had decided reading was Not Cool). I still managed to get a B on my essay about it, though, which I was rather chuffed with. ANYWAY, second time around, I bloody loved it. I listened to it on audio, which enhanced the experience. Having someone read a story to you is just lovely, especially when it’s a Victorian novel and all the characters are perfectly voiced. I was sad when this was over. I love Jane. She is a badass.
  • Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
    Another one I was supposed to read at school, in parallel to Jane Eyre, Rebecca hit the mark even harder. Although the narrator is not as awesome as Jane, the story itself is fabulous. Drama! Mystery! Intrigue! Plus a whole cast of shady characters. I listened to this on audio, too, and I just could not hit pause. Usually when I listen to an audiobook, I do it while I’m doing something else (cooking, eating, washing dishes), but for this one I’d make a cup of tea, light a candle, and sit by my open window in the evenings and just listen.
  • At Home: A Short History of Private Life, by Bill Bryson
    More audio! As I said: I’m a total convert. I’ve never read any Bill Bryson before, but I’ll definitely read more. I don’t normally read history books, but this was just completely absorbing. I’ve never heard so many random, obscure, arguably pointless, yet totally fascinating, facts before. Plus, much of it was centred around the Victorian era, which is always a win for me. Victorians were crazy, inventive bastards.
  • Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Intestinal Health Through Diet, by Elaine Gottschall
    Probably not interesting to anyone else, but this is the book I learned about my new disease-fighting diet in. Therefore it has no choice but to hit the favourites list.
  • Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
    I’d tried reading this in my early 20s. I did not get it, but was still in my ‘persevere to the end’ phase. This time, I listened to the audiobook and thought it was brilliant, even though I hated basically all the characters. (Except Hareton. I love Hareton.)

If you want to keep up with what I’m currently reading, or want to see everything I’ve read over the past few years, you can do so on Goodreads. Be warned, right now I’m getting through a shit-ton of Attack on Titan comics. SO GOOD.

Travel

Ah, travel. My love, and a big part of the reason I decided to start my business in the first place. I only went to a couple of new places this year, and I didn’t travel as much as I’d have liked, but the trips I did take were gooduns.

London
I began the year with my usual trip to London. It seems to have become my tradition to head down in January or February to catch up with some of my dearest friends, and eat, drink and be merry. I love London. Sometimes I think I’d like to live there, but I don’t want to spoil the romance we’re ensnared in.

Berlin
I went to Berlin at the end of May, where I attended the Alive in Berlin conference and hung out for a few days afterwards. I rented an Airbnb apartment with some of my fellow online business owners (who have now become close friends of mine who I chat to almost every day on FB messenger). I wasn’t blown away by the conference — too much ‘stare into the eyes of the person next to you’ crap for me — but I had a fucking brilliant time in the city itself.

I lounged around in parks journalling and planning, and just walked around and explored the city a lot (mostly the parks and outdoor spaces). I tell you, walking barefoot down the middle of a runway with a fritz-kola in hand, the sun on your face, and a gentle breeze in the air, is just pure fucking bliss to me. Pure. Fucking. Bliss.

I also celebrated my birthday while I was there. Spending it with friends in a fabulous city with gorgeous weather and delicious food has made me see celebrating my birthday in a whole new light. Like, maybe it’s something I’ll actually do from now on.

I’d been to Berlin before, in the winter, but going again in the summer made me fall in love with the place. The friendly people, the many and varied gorgeous outdoor spaces, the awesome infrastructure, the eats. It just has such a laidback but somehow still exciting vibe to it. I definitely want to live here at some point. Preferably in the summer. I am a total summer baby.

Oh! I also went skydiving while here.

USA
My biggest trip of the year was my annual pilgrimage to Portland, Oregon to attend the World Domination Summit. I first went in 2012, and it has been life changing. I mostly go now because I just can’t miss out on the opportunity to reunite with some of the most brilliant people I know. Several days of wandering around in the hot sunshine, meeting up with friends at vibrant restaurants and breweries, talking about life and shooting the breeze, and just being inspired as all hell.

During this trip, I also headed back to San Francisco for a couple of days, where I filled an entire day walking the length of Golden Gate Park, dipping into its nooks and crannies, visiting the Japanese Gardens (I am such a sucker for Japanese Gardens), sitting and admiring the view, and taking photos for tourists on Segways.

After San Fran, I headed to Modesto to spend a few days with a good friend and her family. I was there for 4th July, so naturally I saw a parade and ate a shit-ton of barbecued food. Oh my God, so much tasty food.

I finally went to Yosemite, too, which has been on my radar for years. OH. MY. GOD. Stunning. I could not stop looking up. It was just a day trip, but it was fabulous. The Half Dome is really something, eh? Unfortunately I forgot my phone (AKA camera), but when I opened up my laptop later than night, the Half Dome was staring back at me. (Thank you, OS X Yosemite!)

My hometown
I went down to my hometown three times, twice on road trips, once by train. I don’t usually go this often, but I want to see my niece grow up! I love making the trip, anyway. I’m always happy when I can hire a car and hit the road. I stayed with my nan, who made me cook my own bacon butties. A travesty!

Prague
On a whim, I decided to fly over to Prague for a weekend to stay with some friends who had a spare bed in their Airbnb apartment. I wasn’t there for long, but fun times were had, giant ice creams were eaten, and good books were read in sunny parks.

Devon
A friend of mine lives in a beautiful house in a little country town. He decided to host a group of awesome, interesting people for a weekend. Highlights included writing superpower stories and reading them out, sitting by a crackling fire drinking King Ginger over ice at midnight, and a delicious meal at a local Indian restaurant, where we had a room to ourselves, in which we sprawled across cushions on the floor and ate many delicious dishes, each with an introduction by the chef. Delicious and intimate.

Writing

Most of my writing in 2015 consisted of two blog posts per week, a handful of copywriting projects, and the course materials for Start Content Writing, as well as a bunch of journalling. I’d say I probably wrote most days, though I didn’t keep track. (Hmm, maybe I should.)

The most notable thing I did was take Amy Paturel’s Essay Writing class, which I thought was brilliant. I still haven’t put into practice what I learned by pitching any personal essays to publications, but it’s something I’d like to do this year. Not the most lucrative path, to be sure, but I’m more interested in the writing itself than how much I’ll make from it. I loved writing up some of my own stories for the class’s homework.

A Good Year

God, I’m sorry. That was even longer than my comeback post. Maybe next year I’ll break it up into different categories or something. I would’ve done so this year, but I’m already playing catchup. Still, hopefully you enjoyed getting some more insight into my life and business. I know I love reading shit like this.

Anyway, overall 2015 was a damn good year for me. Despite the incredibly rocky start, lots of good things happened. I feel very grateful to be in such a fortunate position. It’s tempting to say ‘It’s not luck! It’s hard work and determination!’ when people tell you how lucky you are to live such a cool lifestyle, but then you remember that, actually, yes, you are lucky, for even having the opportunity to do this in the first place. If I lived in another country, grew up with different parents, suffered trauma as a kid, had a shitty education, or was unable to speak English, God knows how things would’ve turned out.

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