Review of the year

Well, 2018 is drawing to a close.

How was your year – did it bring you everything you desire?

You’ll know by now, lovely reader, why I dislike the word ‘goal’ on this blog. Which may seem counter-intuitive for someone who runs their own business. Indeed, it might seem odd to highly motivated types or those who like to plan out to the letter what they want to achieve – and I totally understand that.

But it isn’t a cop-out. It isn’t even a case of being so laissez-faire that I don’t care about what might happen – quite the opposite!

I much prefer the word ‘aim’ – because as I’ve said before, life does have a habit of happening while you’re making other plans.

And when life throws you a curve ball, you have a choice: dodge it, try to punt it back, or allow it to hit you in the face.

By all means be ambitious, but always factor in contingency – because you never know when you might need it.

I went freelance at the turn of the millennium, and now define longevity as a mark of flexibility and resilience rather than micromanaging the future. In particular, competence to deal in the face of change.

Challenge can present itself in many ways. It’s how we handle it that matters. It’s pretty safe to say that as freelancers, we rarely witness the kind of beautiful collision where everything comes together perfectly – and actually stays there. If it does, we can count ourselves fortunate.

To quote that old footballing cliche, more often than not it’s a game of two halves.
For example:

  • We might be happy, but income is down so we have to compromise: take on part-time work or go back in-house for a while to keep the wolf from the door.
  • We might be making it rain, but in danger of forgetting what our friends and family look like.
  • We have great new ideas but finding them hard to hustle. Sometimes, the cash cows are the reliable but less interesting projects we do day-in, day-out.
  • We have full order books, but we’re still having to wrangle with that one thorny client who won’t pay us, and so on.

I’m not going to sit here in my nice, warm workspace on a cold winter’s day, with a nice hot chocolate beside me, and inveigle you into believing that the independence that allows me to do such a thing cancels out all the difficulties.

It would be wrong to sell you the lie, because earning a living in this way is not only tough, it’s more nuanced than that.

When you cut loose, discipline and responsibility are the order of the day.

Doing what we do takes versatility, skill and strength. It defies us to come up with the goods, to mine our ingenuity.

We need to show up week-in, week-out, even if we don’t feel like it, and keep going.

And if we do want to make this our future, we need to be sure of ourselves.

A freelance creative’s working life isn’t a run through sun-lit cornfields. Yes, it can be hugely enjoyable, and if we have chosen the right path we will adore what we do, but it sure ain’t easy.

‘Enough already!’ I hear you groan, ‘We get the reality check. Go on, give us something warm and fuzzy.’

OK then. In 2018 I’ve had the privilege of:

1.  Connecting and working with talented experts in their field. It’s been a gift, experiencing their focus and energy. They get things done, they’re authentic – and they’re really kind and good to others in the process.

2.  Sitting down with perceptive and supportive business friends and colleagues. Recently, interactions with the artists, designers, editors and writers I’ve met have not only been a joy, but given me the best mental workout.

True creatives are clever – when you do encounter people like that, it’s important to shut up and listen!

3.  Helping new writers realise their dream of holding a book in their hand for the first time and being able to say: ‘I wrote that.’ Which made me so proud of them (aw!).

This year I’ve continued to work with self-publishing authors, and being involved in their projects has been an honour.

When you move in the self-publishing arena, you get to witness first-hand the grit, the commitment that writers have to bring their work into the world.

It’s not just about hitting that final full stop on a manuscript. It’s about craft: opening yourself up to critique, facing down that nagging inner critic and impostor syndrome, refining your work and getting it through edit.

But it doesn’t stop there. The design phase comes next, and you have to start working out how you’re going to build a platform, develop your author brand, and progress the product through to ebook and print. Then, how you’re actually going to sell it.

Anyone who self-publishes is in this for the long haul. (Anyone who queries agents and publishers needs stamina too.)

Publishing can be a daunting project, and sometimes feels like an uphill climb. If you don’t know about book production, it can require a steep learning curve to get across all the technical stuff. And if you don’t have a book deal, it requires you to put your money where your mouth is.

But when you finally hold that book in your hands, it’s a serious achievement and worthy of celebration.

So, to all indie writers out there who are dreaming of doing this – and indeed, anyone making work who wants to get it out there – I say: go for it.

Crowdfund if you need the money. Bootstrap if you can, call in favours if you have to. Get feedback from people you trust to be completely honest with you.

Surround yourself with solid, dependable collaborators who know their onions.

And above all, don’t be afraid of success.

Honour your vision by making it real – because it’s uniquely yours, and it’s important.

I hope your 2018 has been great. Really I do, no matter what your journey through this mad, freewheeling existence has been during the last 12 months.

Who knows what 2019 will bring? My crystal ball is firmly packed away… but whatever it does, I wish you and yours a peaceful and contented season.

Take very good care of yourself, and have a very happy holiday.

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