2016: A Year in Review

Well. Well, well, well. In comparison to 2015, 2016 got off to a roaring good start. For me, at least. (Not so much for my beloved Goblin King.) This time last year, I was residing in my beautiful, perfectly situated Edinburgh apartment – and living alone for the first time ever in my life, which has always been a dream of mine. I was about to call it a bucket list item, but I don’t have a bucket list and I don’t damn well want one, for reasons I may or may not explain one day.

I was also renting a desk at a gorgeous co-working office down the road. I lived near the sea, near the supermarket, near the gym, near the main bus routes, near quality pubs and restaurants. Life was good.

I was also taking a much-needed blogging break, though not a break from work. Behind the scenes, I was overhauling Untamed Writing, redesigning it and rewriting all the content to turn it into something that more closely resembled what I want this business to be. And I was thinking about what I wanted the next year to hold, of course. So, how did 2016 go? Did I hit all my goals for the year? (Spoiler: HAHAHA.)

LET’S INVESTIGATE. I’m going to break this up into the six sections I cover in my blog, deconstruct all the goals I set for each area, as well as look at other things of note that happened.

Business

My goals

  • Marketing
    Ha. Ahahaha. Hahahahahaha. Oh god. For the past two years I’ve been telling myself I need to start marketing my business better, instead of relying on my magical Google listings. I planned to ‘throw myself into guest posting’ (I didn’t pitch a single one), and also ‘try to get interviewed and featured on podcasts more’. I was interviewed on the odd occasion, but it was always happenstance – somebody emailed me and I said yes. I didn’t seek anything out myself. The one area I did see some success was social media, which I’ll talk more about shortly.
     
  • Complete six business-related courses
    Ummm. Yeah, I definitely didn’t achieve this. I did start working on Grammar at Work, to brush up my knowledge in preparation for one of the new directions I’d like to take Untamed Writing in: editing. But more on that later.

Things of note

  • Untamed Writing’s raison d’être
    At the start of the year, I primed Untamed Writing to become the business I wanted it to be. I said, ‘I feel like I have finally positioned Untamed Writing where I want it. It’s taken me nearly three years to get here, and those were a necessary three years of learning and adapting. But now I feel as if I’ve arrived. This is it. This is what I want Untamed Writing to be.’

    And I’ve been working on that for the whole of this year. I’ve come to realise that, actually, I will never ‘arrive’ where I want to be with the business, because it will continually adapt over the years as my interests, situation and goals change, but I’ve fixed a couple of things about the business that have been bugging me.

    Most notably, I took my SEO writing course off the market, because I didn’t like the fact that I taught it. I believe in good content over SEO-optimised content, and I believe that over time SEO will become all but extinct. So I removed the course from sale, adapted some of the content, and turned it into a new course for absolute beginners who want to get started as quickly as possible: How to Become a Freelance Writer in 5 Days Flat.

    I also stopped recommending Bluehost, which is something I should have done a long time ago. Both of these things – nixing SEO writing and Bluehost – make me feel a whole lot better about my business. It feels as though my integrity has been restored.

  • New courses and collaboration
    One of the main projects I undertook in 2016 was a collaboration with a good friend of mine, talented fiction editor Sophie Playle. Early in the year I approached her about the prospect of creating a course together in the same vein as one of my own freelance writing courses. I wanted to combine our powers – my knack for creating, selling and running successful courses, and Sophie’s in-depth knowledge of all things fiction editing – and create a course to help people start their own fiction editing businesses.

    Fortunately, Sophie was up for it. A few weeks after I proposed the idea, I booked a flight to London and spent a few days at Sophie’s place working out all the details. What followed were several months of writing, editing, marketing, selling, teaching, rewriting, reselling and reteaching the course. This took up a huge portion of my year and meant a drop in my revenue, since I was only receiving 25-50% of every sale, but I’m so glad we did this. I’m incredibly proud of the course we’ve created and, in the process, I uncovered a new passion (and, according to Sophie, talent) of mine: editing. I enjoyed the fact that Sophie – the freelance editor – wrote all the course materials, and I – the freelance writer – edited them all. Which I absolutely loved doing, and now I want to incorporate editing into the services I offer. But more on that in my upcoming goals post.

    I also absolutely loved working with somebody – especially because it was Sophie, who I admire both personally and professionally. Being an online entrepreneur can be a lonely old slog, so getting to stroke the fires of business with someone else was fun and invigorating – and I learned a whole lot, of course. If you want to check out the course Sophie and I created together, you can do so here: Start Fiction Editing. (We’ll be running it again at the start of February.)

    On the course front, I also rebranded my bigger, more in-depth freelance writing course, Start Content Writing. The content is largely the same (though updated and refreshed), but now under a new name: How to Build a Badass Freelance Writing Business, which I feel fits better with Untamed Writing’s branding.

  • Better use of social media
    As I said, I’m going to award myself some points for my use of social media this year, which came under my general ‘do some marketing’ resolution. Although I didn’t do it in the way I imagined – you know, scheduling things in advance, ‘reaching out’ to people (just vommed a little), and all that other stuff you’re supposed to do – I do feel pretty great about how I’m using social media in my business right now. I’m a little more structured with it than I used to be, but I’m still using in a way that suits my rebellious only-ever-do-what-I-want nature.

    For me, this looks like:

    • Tweeting regularly
      I’ve been a lot more active on Twitter over the past year than usual, and not just by tweeting out my own articles regularly (which I think is an incredibly dull way to use the platform). I’ve made some great connections and actually gotten to know people, which is just fabulous. I HAVE TWITTER FRIENDS NOW! TWITTER FRIENDS WHO I AM GOING TO MEET THIS WEEK IN LONDON! I dunno. It’s just nice. I like it. (Come say hi!)
       
    • Facebook groups
      I now have two groups on Facebook: one for my students and one for my writing challenges. These groups are easily one of the best ways to get to know the Untamed Writing community. Good conversations happen there.
       
    • My Facebook page
      I don’t do a ton with my Facebook page. My latest blog posts get shared there automatically, and I’ll occasionally share other people’s articles and random things I think my followers will enjoy/find useful, though not to the degree I share stuff on Twitter. I share EVERYTHING on Twitter, but am more selective on Facebook. I also sometimes share Instagram photos to my Facebook page, but only when there’s a good story to go along with them.

      Just a few days ago I also started doing a THINGS I’VE LOVED LATELY column on my Facebook page. I love reading these things on other people’s blogs, but somehow my own blog doesn’t feel like the right place for it. So I’ve decided to intermittently share a list of things I’ve been loving lately – ranging from books, articles, TV shows, movies, podcasts, etc. Only stuff other people can consume easily. I’m not just gonna be all like OH MY GOD GUYS, MY MUM MADE THE BEST FRICKIN’ CHICKEN (that was fun to write) STIR-FRY I’VE EVER HAD TODAY.

    • Instagram
      Since I hit the road in October, I’ve been more active on Instagram. I like to tell little stories with my pics, so you can get a sense of where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to. I use Instagram to document my life and travels, and hopefully to inspire other people.

Life

My goals

  • Learn to ride a motorbike
    Nope. I didn’t do it. I contemplated it – agonised over it, even (‘but it’s on my GOALS list!’) – but then decided to hit the road early instead. I kept putting it off to do it ‘when it made sense’ – better weather, not going to be interrupted by travelling, etc. That time never came. Of course. As my friends who were watching me agonise over it pointed out, it didn’t really make sense to get my license and then not ride a bike for years again afterwards, which is probably what would have happened, given I’m currently untethered from the ‘real’ world. Maybe one for later in life, if I still feel like it.

Things of note

  • I finally became a digital nomad
    I kind of hate the phrase digital nomad, because to me it conjures images of bros living on the cheap in Thailand, getting sloshed on the daily, and flogging whatever bullshit they can on the internet. But still, digital nomad is the term that best fits what I’m doing now – and more importantly, people know what it means. Running my business from my laptop, not having a permanent home, and travelling from place to place regularly, mostly living out of Airbnb apartments. This is the whole reason I started my business in the first place, so to finally have done it is pretty awesome.
     
  • I learned to heal my ulcerative colitis through diet alone
    This was actually one of ‘personal development’ goals, but it’s such a huge deal for me – and what it means for the rest of my life – that I’m including it in the Life section. Seriously, this is a such a phenomenal thing to have accomplished. You can read more about it in this blog post.

Personal Development

My goals

  • Experiment with my diet to see how it affects my ulcerative colitis
    Yep. Nailed it, as above.
     
  • Exercise
    My intention was to ‘be in the habit of completing a bodyweight strength training workout three times per week’, as well as being able to do pushups and pullups. I did not do this, though I don’t feel bad about it. I joined the gym and went regularly for all of six weeks. Did not enjoy it. From now on I’ve decided to just do exercise I actually like. I’ve been walking a LOT (I love it and do it almost every day, aiming to average four miles daily), as well as a bit of running. Oh, also some yoga! My main reason for wanting to exercise is to keep my upper back pain in check (THANKS FOR THAT, WRITING CAREER), and running and yoga both help with that. I don’t have a schedule, since evidently schedules make me stick my middle finger up and my tongue out.

    When I run, I don’t aim to run for as long or far as possible. Sometimes I dance a bit or do side-steps or whatever I can to make it fun. I listen to music that gets me pumped up. So yeah, I don’t think forcing myself to stick to a rigid schedule and do things I don’t really want to do is the way forward for me. YOU’VE GOTTA MAKE IT FUN, GUYS. Or at least, I do.

  • Rise earlier
    Nope. Somewhere along the way I had this sort of epiphany: why the fuck does it matter what time I get up? I would rather allow myself to stay up late writing when the inspiration hits, or have another cocktail with friends when the conversation is flowing and the laughter rampant, than force myself to retire early so I can get up at the crack of dawn. I’m not here to live the most efficient life possible, for Christ’s sake.
     
  • Start flossing
    No. I still only floss when I have beef stuck in my teeth. I assuaged my guilt over this by intentionally hunting down articles that claim flossing doesn’t really do anything (except get beef out of your teeth), mwahahaha. And by reminding myself that for my entire adult life, my dentists have always been impressed with my teeth. My teeth are good and healthy. So whatever.

Things of note

  • I chilled the fuck out
    I got pretty obsessed with habits and perfect morning routines for a while there. I was reading over my journals from early 2016 recently and, Jesus Fuck. I was so hard on myself, trying to find this ‘perfect’ morning routine. I could feel my frustration vibrating through the pages as I read. As the year went on, I relaxed more and realised that I don’t need this bloody perfect morning routine. So long as I spend my time on worthwhile things, do enough work to pay the bills, and generally enjoy my life, I’m good.

    I don’t want to become one of those insane entrepreneurs who brags about how many hours they work in a day or how slick their daily routine is. God, I just want to, like, enjoy life and do good work, you know? I’m not giving up on the idea of forming good habits altogether, but I’m only going to focus on things that are actually important to me – not just the things all these sodding gurus say you should do to make your lifestyle pristine. Ugh.

Reading

My goals

  • Read 75 books
    Yay! A goal I actually accomplished precisely as I intended! True to my usual last-minute style, I hit number 75 on New Year’s Eve, with Wishful Drinking by Carrier Fisher. I intentionally set a high number so I wouldn’t feel bad including comics, novellas, audiobooks, etc. I read 38 ‘proper’ books, 23 graphic novels, and 14 audiobooks.

Things of note

  • My ‘What I Read’ column
    For the whole year, I wrote a monthly column about everything I’d read each month and I LOVED it. It was so much fun and I intend to keep it up. You can check it out here.

Travel

My goals

  • Explore Scotland more
    Yep, technically I accomplished this. I hired a car for a week and drove up to the Isle of Skye with my mum, passing through the glorious Glencoe on the way. Beautiful. I also went to North Berwick, which is where the puffins hang out and there’s a brilliant sealife centre, and, um… that might be it, actually. I spent my birthday in Glasgow (don’t laugh at me, I swear to god it was the warmest place in the whole of Britain that day), but I’ve been there before, sooo. Yeah. I’m counting this one as a win, anyway.

Things of note

  • I visited three countries
    The first half of the year was pretty quiet on the travel front, but later on I visited the USA (San Francisco, Modesto, Columbia, and Portland), Slovenia (Ljubljana and Lake Bled), and Portugal (Lisbon, Cascais, Sintra and Porto).
     
  • I went full digital nomad
    I’ve already talked about this, but it feels weird to not include it in the travel section, right?

Writing

My goals

  • More personal writing, less commercial writing
    Hmm. No, I didn’t exactly accomplish this. Well, I sort of did, depending how you look at it. I took on a lot less client work than usual, which was part of my plan, and focused more on writing my own stuff. But in this case ‘my own stuff’ largely meant creating a new course or three, along with sales pages to go with them, rather than the pitching of personal essays and articles I’d envisioned.

Things of note

  • Changing how I blog on Untamed Writing
    I completely ditched my regular writing schedule for the whole of 2016. Throughout 2014 and 2015 I stuck to a rigid publishing schedule (every Wednesday in 2014 and every Tuesday and Thursday in 2015), and I think that served me well. But I wanted to do things differently in 2016 – I wanted to focus more on writing longer, more in-depth, more personal, more insightful, more thoughtful things, instead of rushing to write something – anything – because it was publishing day. I still managed to hit an average of almost one post per week, which is the same amount as I published in 2014, but I think the quality was a lot better this year.
     
  • Running writing challenges
    At the start of October, I decided to start running group 28-day writing challenges. I’ve written about this here and here, but the short version is: I LOVED IT. I loved the community feel and forming the habit of writing daily myself.
     
  • I fell more deeply in love with writing
    The ironic thing is that I didn’t start this business because I loved writing (though I do – I just hadn’t unearthed this fact about myself yet), I started it because I wanted the freedom to travel and work from anywhere. But yes, somewhere along the way, I fell facefirst in love with writing. It makes sense, when you look at it: I made pretend magazines when I was a kid, I’ve been writing online since I was a teenager, I studied journalism at university, and I’ve started countless blogs over the years. I’ve always loved writing, I just didn’t realise it before. But this year has made it transparent as a magnifying glass what a wonderful accident it was that I started this business that revolves around writing.

    The combined power of changing the way I blog here on Untamed Writing and running the writing challenges has deepened my love for the craft. I can now see my entire life and career stretching ahead of me, revolving around words and how to deploy them to full effect. I want to learn everything I can about writing. I want to become as good at it as I can. I want to learn about other writing disciplines, not just how to write an entertaining blog post or a bit of copy that sells. I want to absorb it all and devote my life to it and – to quote one of my writing heroes, Lindy West – to use it to effect meaningful change.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and stare dreamily into space as I fantasise about my future as a writer. I’ll be sharing my goals for 2017 within the next week, which you can bet will be heavy on the writing-and-editing front.

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