Monthly Wrap-Up: January 2021

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Header for monthly wrap-up January 2021

This is a new thing I want to try this year, inspired by many of my favourite bloggers and content creators: the monthly wrap-up post. It will appear on the last working day of the month and will feature writing updates, thoughts on the month just gone, and possibly a few book and product recommendations!

So this is 2021…

After the – let’s be frank – absolute shitshow that was 2020, I was more than glad to see this year in. Of course, I don’t think any of us expected that we’d wake up on January 1 and everything would be fixed, because things don’t work that way. Here in the UK, we’re currently in our third national lockdown and COVID cases are still soaring. On the positive side, people have started to get vaccinated – some of my older family members and those who work in the medical field have already had theirs. I’m hoping my parents will get theirs fairly soon, and my partner not long after that. I’m way down at the back of the queue, but that’s okay.

Another glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, of course, was last week’s inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Why is this Brit talking about American politics? Because American politics affects the entire world in real, direct, and immediate ways. Plus I have friends on the other side of the big pond who were in very real danger due to Trump’s actions and policies, and I am so relieved for them. Plus, you know, I like fascists not having power.

So 2021 then. We’re still far from “back to normal” (whatever that means and whatever that will look like.) But at least, at long last, things seem to be moving in the right direction. Please consider this your timely reminder to wear a mask, wash your hands, and keep social distancing for now. We’ll get through this.

Writing and Freelancing Updates

Looking back at the goals I set at the start of the month, I’ve done pretty well for January overall. I’ve entered 4 writing competitions: 2 for short fiction, 1 for micro-fiction, and 1 for memoir. I’ve also redrafted the opening of my novel (read: completely scrapped it and started again with a rewrite.) I was hoping to do two chapters this month, but that was possibly a tad over-ambitious.

I’ve also changed around how I do some of my client work and copywriting, scaling back on certain areas to free up some time to do other things and focus on the bits I’m really good at. So that’s an exciting change and one that was much needed!

My partner and I crunched some numbers earlier this week and realised I was consistently working 50+ hours per week on client projects alone before Christmas (not factoring in any of the time spent on blogging, pitching, one-off assignments, my PhD, writing fiction, my upcoming podcast, or business admin.) I had a lightbulb moment (“oh! THAT’S why I was completely burned out and feeling like I was on an endless hamster wheel of exhaustion!”) It became apparent that way of doing things was completely unsustainable.

Cool. I’m my own boss. I get to change things if I want! So I’m paring back some things, prioritising others, saying no more often, and being realistic about how many hours I actually have in the day.

Pitching Stats for the Month

I’m sharing these for a couple of reasons: first, to keep myself accountable and make sure I keep pitching, and second, to show the reality behind freelancing as a writer or journalist. Because everyone gets tonnes of rejections – it’s just part of the game. I’m also interested to see whether my pitching success rate improves as the year goes on.

Here they are:

  • Pitches sent: 11
  • Commissions landed: 2
  • Rejections: 5
  • No-responses: 4

That gives a pitching success rate of 18.2% according to my trusty Google Sheet. In February, I’d like to up my pitches to 15 and aim for fewer no-responses. It might sound counter-intuitive, but I take rejections as small wins because they indicate that the editor thought I was at least worth replying to. Three of this month’s rejections were due to the editor having recently commissioned something similar. So the ideas weren’t bad (they were actually great!) – someone else just got there first. Three editors who rejected my pitches also explicitly encouraged me to pitch again.

Professional Development Things

I’m making the most of #lockdownlife by taking a tonne of webinars and online classes at the moment. I signed up for The Freelance Sessions 2021 webinarship, which was an absolute bargain and has already paid for itself in the commissions it’s helped me land. I’m also doing a free pitching clinic this evening, and attending a weekend masterclass with American journalist Michael Bourne.

We can’t network and hold events in person at the moment, but I really encourage you to take advantage of all the amazing opportunities available online. The advantage of the internet, of course, is you can connect with people anywhere in the world. Many online classes, courses, and webinars are free, while others have small fees attached. Some ticketed events offer scholarships and free/cheap places to those on a low income. Just beware of anything that is absurdly expensive or making outlandish promises! No course or class can guarantee you a certain amount of work or make you rich. What the good ones can do is give you actionable tips you can actually use to grow your business and get better at your craft.

Monthly Favourites

My purchase of the month is definitely a 4-pack of Directions hair dye in violet. I’ve been trying various different dyes as I try to find the exact shade of purple I wanted, and this is absolutely the one. It’s SO vibrant and, despite being labelled semi-permanent, lasts as well as any permanent dye I’ve tried. It’s also vegan and cruelty-free.

The best thing I’ve watched this month is the 6-part BBC drama Back to Life. It follows Miri, a 30-something woman who has just been released from an 18 year prison sentence. It’s both darkly funny and quietly heartbreaking. If you loved Fleabag, you might enjoy it.

I’m pretty much reading a book a week at the moment, and have been taking my PhD supervisors’ advice to read books for pleasure that have nothing to do with my research at all. My top book recommendation this month is The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, which is all about a former Hollywood star telling her story to an unknown journalist near the end of her life. It’s highly readable, full of unexpected turns, and features amazing bisexual representation – sadly, still a rarity in mainstream fiction.

Cover of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

What have you been reading, watching, buying, and loving this month?

And that’s it for January! See you soon, folks.

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[…] I mentioned last month, I’m sharing my pitching stats as both an accountability exercise and to show any new writers […]