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.

My Goals

Do more 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: 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!)

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.

Experiment with my diet to see how it affects my ulcerative colitis
Yep. Nailed it. I learned to heal my ulcerative colitis through diet alone.

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. (Which is weird, because when I wrote about it several months ago, it sounded very much like I DID like it. Must’ve still been in the honeymoon period.)

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.

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. (I actually read 84 if you include the fact that I read some volumes of Attack on Titan twice.)

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.

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.

Other 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. 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 article writing course off the market, because I didn’t like the fact that I taught it. I believe in well-written content over SEO-optimised content, and I believe that over time SEO articles will become all but extinct. So I removed the course from sale.

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.

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 stoke the fires of business with someone else was fun and invigorating – and I learned a whole lot, of course.

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 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.

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).

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.

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.