Happy New Year! Wow, 2016 was intense, wasn’t it? I can’t believe it’s over so soon. I’ve spent a lot of the last few days, between Christmas and New Year, reflecting on 2016 and planning for the year ahead. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with New Year’s Resolutions, but I’m also a sucker for any kind of symbolic fresh start – whether that’s taking stock of my life in late December/early January, or stocking up on new stationery in September. This year my theme is “balance”, a word that’s been playing on my mind a lot in the last few months.
I write, therefore I am
With my contract at Women for Refugee Women finishing in September, prioritising and building my freelance business has been a big focus in the latter part of the year. I’ve spent a lot of time reading, learning, and talking to people about how to better balance the art of writing beautiful sentences with the science of running a business. How to not only write better, but also how to freelance better.
The beauty and the challenge of writing is that it can never be just a job. Writing is a passion, a vocation, something that feels totally natural. To paraphrase Descartes (such a cliche, I’m sorry), I write therefore I am. It’s a part of me, a source of comfort, a means for organising my thoughts and feelings, expressing myself in a way that I just can’t do verbally.
But the problem with this kind of career is that it blurs the boundaries between work and life. On the one hand, writing takes over and I’m never really off-duty, but on the other hand there’s also a danger that it becomes mundane – in the same way as I missed reading for pleasure while studying for a Literature degree.
My focus last year was on making writing work for me – learning to view freelancing more as a business; finding processes that suit me; and creating systems to track my pitching, my marketing, my income. I’ve been so inspired by Emma Cossey‘s freelance habits, and by Mridu Khullar Relph, whose Freelance Business Blueprint course helped me devise my own digital tracking systems. I now use these daily alongside my good old-fashioned Evernote/Moleskine notebook, which uses a system based on the BulletJournal.
In August I began working with Hackney-based accountability coach Ayesha Giselle – both as her client, and as her web content writer. (There is, I think, something wonderfully feminist about sharing skills of equivalent value with other women, and I’ve loved my reciprocal arrangement with Ayesha.) Through my sessions with Ayesha, and the content I’ve written for her, I’ve learned the enormous value of being accountable for your goals. Between Ayesha’s wisdom, and the support of my long-term freelance buddy Philippa Willitts, I definitely grew as a freelancer in 2016.
I also followed with interest Nicole Dieker’s monthly income report for The Write Life. Although I’m far too British to start posting my own monthly income online, I do love the power of being publicly accountable, and how she and everyone else can track the fruits of her labours month-on-month. As with my swimming challenge this autumn, I’ve realised that I’m so much better at sticking out the tricky bits when I’m committed to someone or something bigger than myself!
Which brings me to balance… While 2016 was a big year of learning and revelations in terms of my worklife, I’ve also realised how important my work-life balance really is – and that life definitely isn’t balanced enough as it is. It sounds painfully obvious typing it out, but I now know that I’m happier, more creative and more productive when I make time for the things I love, as well as the things that pay my bills. Running, swimming, reading, writing for the pure love of writing – all these things feed my creativity, my productivity, my physical and mental health, and yet I’m not fitting them in as much as I need to.
In 2017 I want to find that balance. I want to devour books and magazines like I did as a child, like I currently only manage on holiday. I want to make time each day for exercise, self-care, learning, and screen-free time alone with a notebook, pen and my thoughts. And I want to rediscover the joy of writing for the sake of writing – in my journal, on this blog, and *gulp* finally working on that novel. (I wrote the first sentence in the early hours of Boxing Day morning. Scary.)
Back in November Jenn Mattern wrote a blog post on All Indie Writers, exploring the idea of finding motivation through monthly writing challenges. I loved the idea of tracking my efforts at work-life balance throughout 2017 (what better way to make sure I keep it up beyond mid-January?) So that’s the plan: a monthly blog post on all the things I’ve done outside of freelance work, as well as more regular updates on what I’m up to work-wise. Mini book reviews, fitness challenges, much more writing about my own mental health and wellbeing. Bring it on…