I'm just going to come right out and say it: 2016 sucked.
Yes. Past tense. I refuse to let it take, destroy, or corrupt anything else I hold dear. I declare 2016 officially over. I've decided to spend the next several weeks living in some limbo-like state free from the confines of time and space. You are welcome to join me.
Because I've decided to leave this wretched year behind me, I kicked off this week working on my year-end evaluation and 2017 goal list a bit early. Get it over and done with so I can forget this year ever happened a little sooner than expected. And you should consider doing the same.
No, hear me out. Now is actually the perfect time to reflect and make plans for your writing or publishing business (or life).
Planning for the New Year: Why Now?
Look. Once the New Year rolls around, do you really want to spend it looking back? Or do you want to be ready to hit the ground running come January 2nd (first weekday of 2017)?
Doing your year-end evaluation now means you won't have to worry about it over the holidays (whichever you happen to celebrate between the U.S. Thanksgiving and New Year's Day).
Here's the real reason you should consider some early planning though: you still have time to fix shit.
Wait until mid to late-December to look back on what you've done, and it's too late.
You heard me. Too. Damn. Late.
Didn't finish that novel draft? Oops! Didn't reach your freelance income target? Better luck next time!
Take a look at the goals you set early this year and see if any of them are still in reach if you get your ass in gear now.
I don't know how much time you have left this year, but I have five working weeks followed by around two-and-a-half "leave me the hell alone" weeks, and I don't plan to waste them.
How to Plan for a Successful 2017
If you want next year to be any better than this one, a good place to start is conducting a year-end evaluation. Here's a simplified explanation of how that's done:
- Pull out a copy of your 2016 goals and resolutions.
- Go through the list and see how many of those goals you've accomplished.
- Give yourself a pat on the back, or a piece a chocolate for each completed goal (or if, like me, you don't like chocolate, you have my permission to substitute a shot of whiskey -- make it a double if your 2016 has been anything like mine).
- Take a good hard look at everything you didn't accomplish (yet). Can you still get it done by the end of the year? If so, get it on your schedule and get 'er done already!
- Anything from that list you no longer care about (it happens; plans are allowed to change), remove from your list.
- Anything you didn't accomplish, but still want to, gets moved to a new list.
That new list is the start of your 2017 plan. But we're not done looking back yet.
- Now look at your income thus far. How are things shaping up? Do you expect to hit your income target by year's end? Do you think you can do even better next year? If you set yearly income goals, decide on next year's and add it to the list.
- Ask yourself this: "How happy have I been this year?" If you're happy, plan for more of the same. If, like me, you're quietly wishing the evil little 2016 elves would just come burn it all to the ground already so you can start fresh, it's time to shake things up. Maybe you need to change freelance writing specialties. Maybe you're not happy publishing e-books only, and you want to move into print publishing. Maybe your blog is failing and it's time to either overhaul it or kiss it goodbye and start something new. If you want change to happen, you have to make it happen.
- Pick one thing that's just for you -- a big reward of sorts. Maybe there's some expensive item you've been wanting to buy yourself. Perhaps you want to take a trip. You deserve it. So make it a goal and work towards it every month until you can make it happen. Goals should be rewarding in some way anyway. So have a bit of fun with them.
At this point you'll have a decent list of goals to get you started in the New Year. But don't stop there. Maybe some of the goals you accomplished are ones you want to repeat. Also think about new goals you can add.
Then trim those suckers down a bit.
I'm actually a fan of long to-do lists. I break things down into micro-tasks (like my 5-minute lists) so I never have an excuse not to make progress. And I always set more (and bigger) goals than I know I can realistically accomplish so it constantly pushes me to go further than I thought I could (though I royally screwed that plan up this year).
That doesn't work for everyone though. Hell, it doesn't always work for me, and I've done things that way for around a decade now. Trim it. You can add more later when you do your quarterly check-ins (you do remember to do at least quarterly check-ins, right?).
It really is that easy. Look at what you've done this year. Clean up any lingering tasks. Vow to do better with the rest of your goals next year (we're all allowed to lie to ourselves just a smidge). Add anything else you want to accomplish. And make sure you're not overdoing it.
My 2016 (and Looking Forward)
Oh boy. Where do I even begin with this year's final check-in? Can we just say "I blew it" and leave it at that? Didn't think so.
What the Hell Happened?
I'm not getting into the whole "here's what I was supposed to do and failed miserably at accomplishing" thing. The list would be a bit crazy. And not much of it got accomplished.
This year kind of went to hell for me in February. Yes, that early.
In 2016's defense, it wasn't all bad. I think maybe 7% of the time, not everything sucked.
- I got some closure on an old issue with someone from my past. Very good thing.
- I reconnected with a friend of 20 years, and he's been a lifesaver at times during the worst of things. Very good thing.
- I met a few other people who were pleasant additions to my life, at least for a while. Mostly good things.
- I got back into soccer and finally settled on an EPL team that felt right (Liverpool; Dortmund gal with Bundesliga -- the only leagues I pay much attention to). Good things.
- My health has gotten even better since I recovered last fall from a long-time problem, and I've lost a lot of weight this year as a result (talked about this more in a previous post). So, even though I don't have my body back completely yet, I feel much better physicaly than I have in years. Very good thing.
- I know it sounds silly, but my nails are still fantastic (started growing them out for the first time in years early this year, and this is the longest I've gone without breaking or biting them; though now that I've jinxed myself I will break every one of them within a week doing something seemingly harmless like petting a fluffy cat). So silly, yes. But a good thing.
- I went back to my maiden name, which I'd been wanting to do for a while. Good thing.
- Since my mid-year check-in I've still managed to stay away from most TV shows, so I'm not wasting time on that nonsense. Haven't missed them either. Very good thing.
- I started writing poetry this year, which is something I don't think I've done since my late teens or early 20s. That was because of another writer giving me a bit of a push, so thanks for that.
- I finally got the All Freelance Writing redesign finished. Still a lot of work to do on site features and such, but I'm very happy to be off the old theme which was giving me technical grief on a regular basis.
All that said, 2016 was also a virtual shit storm:
- One of my cats died very unexpectedly a couple of weeks ago -- young, seemingly healthy, and no signs anything was wrong (you may remember it was around this time last year I lost my "cancer kitty" after her 13-month battle with lymphoma; so fall is kind of a shitty time of year for me and pets it seems -- this one was one of the two we adopted after she died last year).
- I lost several people who were previously close friends or otherwise important to me (not in a "they're dead" way).
- Relationships with a couple of other people who were important to me changed as well, and not for the better.
- The big plans to make this year all about my horror fiction didn't work out because of other personal things that made me re-think business plans.
- I had to have my first ever root canal and crown, which I am very not happy about.
- I did not finish revisions on either the first mystery novel or the horror novel.
- I did not overhaul the genealogy blog which was meant to be a big project this year.
- This has just not be a great year in general business-wise. With so much else changing, I've felt lost, scatter-brained, totally disoriented at times.
- Brexit kind of ruined, oh I don't know, everything I was planning for the next couple of years. So screw Brexit right along with 2016.
- America. Enough said.
And that's not even including the most personal BS from this year. And I'm sure I'm forgetting a few dozen other awful things that happened (not even counting the crazy lineup of celebrity deaths or other people's far more important problems like, you know, the Syrian refugee crisis).
As far as I'm concerned, 2016 can go rot now.
What Comes Next?
Normally I make fairly detailed plans for each new year. This year, I'm keeping it vague (for fear that if I tell 2016 my plans, it may plant its seeds of destruction before I even get started). So here's what I'm hoping to do in 2017:
- Go back to my three-prong approach to my business. No more trying to focus on one area more than the others. It's been the worst thing I've done (though may be a smarter approach for some of you). I will balance my time between freelance writing clients, my web properties such as blogs, and my indie publishing work.
- For my sites, I'm bringing my former "Big 3" back to the forefront. This site. NakedPR.com (which is redesigned and ready to go come January). And BizAmmo.com (which needs the most work, but I'll be leaving it alone design-wise instead of overhauling as planned, and I'll focus entirely on improving old content and getting more regular new posts up). Smaller sites won't be ignored, but won't likely become major projects (with one possible exception). I'll also launch a new site which you'll hear more about in January (that three-month challenge we talked about before is getting a big change before it officially begins).
- As for indie publishing, I'm going to focus on more short fiction, some poetry, and nonfiction e-books. I have several novel drafts that need attention. But they're not the priority for right now. I'll re-evaluate those in my first quarterly check-in.
And that's about it business-wise. I'm going back to my roots, doing what works for me, and screw all the "scale back; you're spreading yourself too thin" garbage. I'm at my best when I do more than people think I can (including me).
I have plenty of personal goals as well. I won't get into the full list here (again, I don't trust this year not to sabotage me). But there will be some financial changes, some health-related changes, some significant political activism and campaign management (alongside my sis: putting our PR, social media, campaigning, nonprofit, media, and fundraising experience -- and our big mouths -- to good use), some changes around home, and some more "me" things (because I damn well deserve it after this year).
The one I will share specifics about is my bigger "reward" goal that I suggested you come up with. For me, that reward will (hopefully) involve making time to get to the UK finally (for a week or two; not sure yet). I planned to go this fall to be in London on Guy Fawke's and then visit some schools further north. But then, well, Brexit threw a wrench into those plans with all of its uncertainty.
That means the school thing is off the table for the next year at least. But I'd still like to visit. So it will be a "for the hell of it" trip, and I will go meet with the wonderful Philippa Willitts (who will be a guest on the podcast here later this month), and we shall finally go enjoy a cup of Earl Grey together (because I'm totally the type of person who would cross an ocean for a good cup of tea and a bit of gossip).
Going Back to Boring
In the meantime, there are still seven weeks left before I get to start fresh in a new year (I take that new year "starting over" thing very seriously). So I'm making small changes now on both a personal and professional level. And that largely involves being insanely boring.
What I mean by that is that I'm working on getting back to a regular routine -- mostly my old routine that left me kicking ass in pretty much every area of my life. That means I keep the same schedule almost every day, I eat and drink the same things almost every day, I have a strict workout schedule, and if that alone doesn't work, then I break out the daily Pomodoros and schedule my day almost down to the minute.
So, beginning this week (today actually), this is pretty much going to be my life, minus the holidays and occasional day trips:
- Wake at 4:00 a.m.
- Yoga, Coffee, Breakfast (almost always an egg white and veggie scramble)
- Start work by 5:00 a.m.
- Big project first for work for at least two hours (NaNoWriMo novel, nonfiction e-book, major site work; these are my own projects and most often indie publishing related)
- Social media and emails
- Client work or blog work (depends on the day; I batch my projects and need to get better about sticking to those assigned days again)
- Workout and shower (though sometimes I do this earlier if I want to walk before the neighborhood is up -- lots of walkers here and they'll stop you and get chatty when you want to keep moving)
- Social media, emails, admin, marketing until the end of the work day.
- Lunch break (pretty much always a turkey and avocado salad -- because yum)
That's basically my work day. Fairly simple. Extremely boring. Very routine. But boring is good sometimes because it means I don't have to think about every little thing -- I can just do.
My work day ends at lunch, and is only Monday - Thursday, so I have plenty of free time accounted for (which is so important; if you don't have that, consider making it one of your 2017 goals).
That free time will mostly go towards catching up on more movies (particularly horror), photography, watching soccer, and occasionally even writing more just because I feel like it. And there will be occasional exceptions like a day trip tomorrow and another to NYC in a few weeks to visit the German consulate and see the tree at Rockefeller once it's lit.
I'll also be going back to my favorite way to end each day -- more yoga and / or meditation (normally on a "when I need it basis," but after this last month or so, I need it), then reading for an hour or two before I sleep. I feel like I've gotten dreadfully behind on reading in the past few months due to other distractions. My to-be-read pile is calling my name.
I'm going to see how well I stick to the plan this week. If I struggle with it, I'll probably post accountability updates in the forum to try to force me to stay on top of these things.
So that's it -- my day-to-day plan to somehow get me through the end of this miserable year. And my plan for 2017 is pretty simple: go back to what I rocked for years, and to hell with all the changes that have held me back. I'll be doing things my way again.
You should do the same. Know what works for you, even if it's not the way other people tell you that you should be working. Know where you want to go and how to get there.
Then hunker down, do the work, and treat yourself to an immense pile of chocolate this time next year as you review your 2017 goal list and realize you've knocked every damn one of them out. So get planning. There's no time like the present.
Jenn has 18 years experience writing for others, around 13 years experience in blogging, and over 10 years experience in indie e-book publishing. She is also an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.
Subscribe to the All Indie Writers newsletter to get personal updates from Jenn in your inbox.
Latest posts by Jennifer Mattern (see all)
- Weekend Reading: Market Research for Freelance Writers - January 20, 2018
- Bullshit Freelance Writing Advice (Why Writers Believe It & What You Really Need to Know) - January 19, 2018
- Reader Question: How Can Freelance Writers Sell Poetry & Fiction? - January 16, 2018
- Weekend Reading: 5 Posts on Personal Branding - January 12, 2018
- Reader Question: Will Being a Weekend Warrior Turn Off Freelance Writing Clients? - January 10, 2018