Become a Writer Today

My Annual Review and Goals for 2021

January 06, 2021 Bryan Collins
Become a Writer Today
My Annual Review and Goals for 2021
Chapters
Become a Writer Today
My Annual Review and Goals for 2021
Jan 06, 2021
Bryan Collins

Goodbye, 2020. 

Like many, I felt a sense of relief saying those words on New Year's Day.

I put off recording  this review for a week or two. 

The days of 2020 bled into each other, with nothing notable to punctuate the weeks and months, beyond grim news about the virus or elections.

But here we are, with a vaccine in sight. When we’ll get it and if life will return to normality in 2021, is a bigger question.

So in this annual review, I'll cover what did and didn't go well during 2020 and what's in store for 2021.

Resources
Read my Annual Review (plus check out my Substack newsletter)

How to Build a Niche Website That Earns Six Figures A Year with Jon Dykstra

The Zettelkasten Method with Sascha Fast

The Best Journals to Buy In 2021

Masterclass Review

Support the show (https://becomeawritertoday.com/join)

Show Notes Transcript

Goodbye, 2020. 

Like many, I felt a sense of relief saying those words on New Year's Day.

I put off recording  this review for a week or two. 

The days of 2020 bled into each other, with nothing notable to punctuate the weeks and months, beyond grim news about the virus or elections.

But here we are, with a vaccine in sight. When we’ll get it and if life will return to normality in 2021, is a bigger question.

So in this annual review, I'll cover what did and didn't go well during 2020 and what's in store for 2021.

Resources
Read my Annual Review (plus check out my Substack newsletter)

How to Build a Niche Website That Earns Six Figures A Year with Jon Dykstra

The Zettelkasten Method with Sascha Fast

The Best Journals to Buy In 2021

Masterclass Review

Support the show (https://becomeawritertoday.com/join)

Introduction:
Welcome to the Become a Writer Today podcast with Bryan Collins. Here you'll find practical advice and interviews for all kinds of writers.

Bryan :
Well, it's finally over, goodbye 2020. Hi there, my name is Bryan Collins and welcome to the Become a Writer Today podcast. In this week's episode, I'm going to give you my annual review of 2020, which is something I do every year. And I was going to talk about my goals for 2021.

Bryan :
And like many of you, I felt a great sense of relief on New Year's Day. Because it was certainly a challenging year, I spent most of the year in various forms of lockdown. And even at the time of recording this episode in early January, we're still in the most severe lockdown that's possible in Ireland. And we actually can't leave a five-kilometre radius around our own house. But that said, at least there's hope in sight, there's a vaccine, and hopefully by this spring or summer, or possibly the autumn or sometime this year, we'll get some sense of normality back. We'll be able to see people go to restaurants, maybe even travel and do all those things that we take for granted.

Bryan :
So I hope you're well and safe wherever you are, but I'm certainly glad that 2020 is over. And in fact, one family member even ripped up my 2020 calendar and threw it in the fire and actually had to get a fire extinguisher to put out their result on New Year's Eve. But anyway, nothing bad happened, so don't worry.

Bryan :
So on to my review. In this annual review, I'm going to cover what I did during 2020 or what I managed to do, considering everything that happened. What I learned, wear face masks, and also what I'd like to do for next year.

Bryan :
So the biggest news that I would have for 2020 is I've taken a career break from my day job. My day job was actually as a copywriter for a British software company. And I worked there for a number of years. It's not something I've talked about much on the Become a Writer Today podcast for a few different reasons. I guess I like to keep the day job and what I do on the side separate. But I've learned a lot while working as a copywriter for this software company. But I've also worked there for eight years, and perhaps because I'm 40 in 2021, I'm having a bit of an early midlife crisis. So I said to myself, I wanted to take a career break to work on my writing full-time.

Bryan :
Because I'd gotten to the point where I had a number of writing projects on the go, but I was finding it hard to balance those writing projects with the day job. And in particular, I started a book about parenting and I hoped to publish it during 2020, but because of the lockdown, the virus and work and everything, I didn't quite hit my writing goal. So I said, this is the year I'm really going to give it a go, and the virus isn't going anywhere, so I've got nothing to lose.

Bryan :
And my manager and people in the company that I worked for were very supportive. So although we've gone into a lockdown, I'm pretty excited about what 2021 has to offer. And I'm hoping it will help me take my writing and publishing to the next level.

Bryan :
Now with that said, what did I actually work on during 2020 apart from the day job? Well, the first thing I worked on was actually minding the kids, because like I said, we were on lockdown for a lot of the year and I've got three kids. Schools were closed for some of the year. Our youngest is two years of age. So as you can imagine, it was a bit difficult to balance working and writing and minding the kids as well. So I was probably limited in what I could or couldn't do during the year.

Bryan :
But that said, when I was working, my main area of focus was the Become a Writer Today website. So the site is going since 2014, which is amazing. I can't believe it's still going some six years later. Something that started out as a side project into the world of productivity has gone through several iterations. Back in the day, it was all about technology. And then I renamed it and relaunched it. For a year or two, it was just a place to showcase my writing books. And more recently I've turned it into, I suppose, a home for writing advice. And I suppose I've doubled down on the quality of articles that I'm publishing on the site. And traffic has really increased over the past year or two, so that's been great to see.

Bryan :
And that's something I want to do more of in 2021. And I've started working with some third party writers who are going to help me write and publish more articles on the site. And I also work with an editor who improves the quality of those articles as well. Because it's gotten to the point where there are other people who have things to say about writing and have a different point of view or different expertise than what I would necessarily have. So of course, I'll call that out in the articles if somebody else did write them.

Bryan :
But I do plan to continue recording the podcast episodes myself. Now, the other thing I did during 2020 is diversify. I'm big into diversification. If something goes wrong in one area of your life, you need to have a backup plan. So I actually started two new websites this year. One is in the health and fitness niche, or niche as they say in the United States. And that's a very competitive niche or niche. So it will be interesting to see if I can build any traffic for that site over the next couple of years.

Bryan :
And the other one is in the foods and drinks niche. And I've done a good bit of research into this one, so I think this one could be a success. Why have I started two new sites? Well, apart from diversifying, and in case Become a Writer Today was hit by a Google algorithm update, I wanted to apply some of the SEO skills and other skills that I learned while growing my main site and see if I could get them working on a different site. And I also wanted to invest some of the earnings from Become a Writer Today into a different type of business as well.

Bryan :
Now, I don't have any results to share, the sites don't get any traffic, but I am commissioning articles with other writers for these sites. So I would expect them to take at least a year before I see any returns. But I will keep you posted.

Bryan :
And starting a niche site is something that I talked about in a previous podcast episode with Jon Dykstra of Fat Stacks blog, that's F-A-T S-T-A-C-K-S. And he has a great strategy whereby you publish content targeting low volume, low competition keywords. And that way you don't have to compete against big competitors in your niche. So we'll see if that strategy actually works and I'll keep you posted.

Bryan :
The other thing that I've been doing over the past year or two is a newsletter. So I set up a newsletter on a service called Substack. I think it was at the end of 2019, early 2020. And I've started moving over all my personal writing on to this newsletter.

Bryan :
Why am I doing this? Well, it's partly down to Google algorithm updates. Basically, a couple of years ago, you could write an article with a clever clickbaity headline or with some emotional content or some great stories, and you'd probably get a lot of traffic. But these days it's quite hard to get traffic from Google for something like that. You've got to follow a particular format, target specific keywords and search and so on. And to be honest, it's kind of taken the personality a little bit out of blogging, I guess because there are certain things you have to say.

Bryan :
So for example, how-to articles have to follow a particular format, listicles have to follow a particular format and so on. The only exception is if you're getting a lot of viral traffic from Facebook. And I stopped running Facebook ads about two years ago because I just found the whole thing stressful, overwhelming and expensive. Never mind getting into how Facebook actually run their business, which I've had some issues with as well.

Bryan :
That left me with a problem of where do I put personal articles like this annual review, which I also wrote as an article. Because you're not going to find these types of articles and my writing, unless type in some real long-tail keywords into Google. So I needed a place where they could live. I also needed a place where I could send readers of my books. And where I could just publish ideas that I had, that aren't necessarily targeting any keywords.

Bryan :
So I started investigating newsletters, which has become a viable business model for many ex-journalists. That's what I am. And also for many writers. And I came across a couple of different services. Two of the most popular services are actually Ghost, which is a nonprofit service. Although you do pay a monthly subscription, which keeps the nonprofit going, and Substack. I ended up going with Substack because it's free and easy to use. And I was able to set up my news editor there within, I think it took me, five minutes. And I was able to import my mailing list. And all I do is log into Substack and send out the article to my newsletter.

Bryan :
Now, of course, when you set up a newsletter you still have to get readers. So how am I doing that? Well, I still publish articles on Medium, which is a great social media network for writers, particularly if you want to earn a small income from your writing, from Twitter and some subscribers of the Become a Writer Today email list are interested as well. So I find that they sometimes click over from the email list.

Bryan :
If you're interested in joining my newsletter, it's called 100% Unfinished, but you can just type in bryancollins.com, B-R-Y-A-N, into Google and that should take you to the newsletter. And I typically send out one newsletter a week.

Bryan :
Now, Substack does have an option where you can turn on a paid version of your newsletter. So basically you can charge $5 or $10 a month and give insider content and newsletter offerings to people who upgrade to the paid offerings. That's probably something I'll look at down the road. I do have one at the moment, if you join the newsletter and subscribe, you can get my books for free. But it hasn't been a huge area of focus, but maybe that's something I'll return to at some point.

Bryan :
But if you are a writer and you want a way of keeping in touch with readers, or if you're a journalist or a struggling journalist, I definitely recommend looking into a newsletter if you're not into setting up your own website and blogging. Because it's becoming a more viable business model for writers who want to build up a relationship with their readers.

Bryan :
How do I know this? Well, I actually spoke to two experts this year, or last year, on the Become a Writer Today podcast. One expert was Terry Godier of IndieMailer, So his whole business is all about setting up newsletters. And he provided some great tips about how to grow a newsletter, convert subscribers, get traffic and so on.

Bryan :
And the other person was one of Substack's top writers, he writes a lot of personal content, sometimes political, he's from the United States, Luke O'Neil of Welcome to Hell World. And he provided some really interesting insights into what it's like to earn a full-time living from publishing a newsletter. In Luke's case, he earns the majority of his income from writing on Substack. And he has some other freelance writing gigs as well.

Bryan :
But if you're interested, I'd encourage you to check out either of those interviews. Because I certainly picked up some actionable tips, which I intend to apply to 100% Unfinished or my newsletter at some points during 2021. Once I actually have some time to focus and life goes back to normal.

Bryan :
That actually brings me to my plans for 2021. So what am I going to do? Well, who knows, because we're still in lockdown and I'm balancing minding the kids with writing and working on the site. But because I've taken a career break, I do have a bit more free time.

Bryan :
But one thing I do want to do this year is publish a parenting book. So this was my goal for last year. I did a search, or I searched Amazon a while ago for parenting books. I think it was at the start of last year. And I was surprised and disappointed to find that almost all of the parenting books were either written by mothers or women, no disrespect to those authors, but they weren't really aimed at new dads. And the books that were aimed at new dads tended to be instructional books. There wasn't really anything colorful or personal or any book of essays or experiences about what it was really like to become a dad beyond how to instructional manuals.

Bryan :
So I decided that this could be something that I could write about because I was in the midst of it with a two-year-old son, a 10-year-old daughter, and a 14, now 15, year-old teenager. So I started writing a book on parenting based on my experiences over the past 15 years. And I've actually finished the latest draft of that book. And I'm going to send it to an editor sometime over the next few days. And I'll hope to publish that sometime over the next few months, once I've worked through all of those edits. I hoped to do this during 2020, but it was kind of ironic that I was getting stressed about writing a book about the kids because I had to go and mind the kids. But that said, I should hope to get this published sometime in the early half of this year.

Bryan :
My other area of focus for 2021 will be increasing the amount of articles I'm going to publish on Become a Writer Today, which I've already talked through working with freelance writers.

Bryan :
Now, what did I learn during 2020? Well, back in January, I took a course in transcendental meditation, and I was lucky to get this course in because it has to be in person. So I'm not quite sure how they're doing it at the moment. But basically, it involved going to a certified TM instructor and learning how to practice transcendental meditation. Basically, TM involves using a mantra to meditate for 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening. And it's kind of like plugging yourself into a wall socket and recharging yourself. It's a little bit different to sleep, but I find it's a great way of getting focus and more energy if I'm overwhelmed or stressed, which I started to experience both of those things last year.

Bryan :
Now, it's a bit different to the types of meditation you'll learn on Waking Up or Headspace, and you have to pay a fee as well to learn TM. So if you haven't started meditating, maybe Headspace or Waking Up are great apps to check out. But I'd also recommend TM because I've found it's been a really helpful practice for me. And I've actually stuck to it, or stuck with it throughout the entire year of 2020.

Bryan :
The other particular skill that I learned last year was how to use a slip box or a zettelkasten or the zettelkasten method, that's Z-E-T-T-E-L-K-A-S-T-E-N. That's a method of keeping notes proposed by the German writer, Niklas Luhmann. And if you type in zettelkasten method into Google, it'll come up. But I've also interviewed an expert on the topic, his name is Sascha Fast, and he's on the Become a Writer Today podcast as well.

Bryan :
But basically, the zettelkasten method involves writing short notes to yourself about topics and ideas that you've come across. So rather than clipping an article that you read online into Evernote or saving a PDF into a folder on your computer, what you're actually going to do is read through it and then just write a single note on an index card, or in your note-taking system about an idea that you found interesting in whatever you read. And then if you think of another idea or another reaction then that goes on a different note. So the rule is one note, one idea. And your job is to file and interlink each one of these notes and review and update them regularly.

Bryan :
Now, I use the app Day One to do all of this. And my process works like this. Basically, I'll read a book on Kindle, I'll highlight sentences in the book as I'm reading it. And then when I've finished reading the book, I'll read or scan through all my highlights using the Kindle app. And if I find a particular quote that's interesting, I'll copy the quote from the Kindle app, put it into Day One, and then I'll write a reaction to the quote or talk about how I could use the quote or idea in something that I'm writing.

Bryan :
Similarly, if I'm out and about and I think of an interesting angle for an article or a book chapter, I'll just save that into Day One, into my slip box journal in Day One as well. And it's actually been a game-changer for me because in the past I've tried using paper-based note-taking methods, but I've always found them a bit awkward because they never really surfaced ideas how and when I needed them. And I also tried Evernote, which is useful, but it's more of a repository I think for PDFs and so on.

Bryan :
Whereas the zettelkasten method has really helped me because now I have over 1,500 notes and I actually use it quite a lot these days to write articles and book chapters and to find research and so on. But if you're interested in learning more, just Google the zettelkasten method or check out my interview with Sascha Fast. But I definitely recommend this practice for any writer.

Bryan :
So during 2020, I managed stress by drinking an awful lot of alcohol. No, no I didn't, no, I actually managed stress by doubling down on physical training. I went for a run around the town where I live, sometimes outside the town when the government actually eased off the restrictions, between three and four times a week. And I also used my neighbor's home gym at the back of his house as well for some strength training.

Bryan :
And when I looked at my mileage on Strava, which is a social media network for anybody who runs or cycles, I clocked up over 2,100 kilometres, which is a record for me. Now, I'm not the fastest runner on the block, but running is something that I use to blow off stress. And I've also combined it with strength training because in the past I've gotten injured from running too much, and from basically performing the same exercise. Because running can be quite hard on your legs.

Bryan :
So I found that strength training and running has helped me become fitter and a little bit stronger. And I've actually trained more over the past 12 months than when I was training for the Dublin city marathon the previous year. And I feel like I could run a good race now even if there aren't any taking place around these parts. But that said, physical training has been something that I've found really helpful along with transcendental meditation.

Bryan :
The other thing that went well last year was my writing routine for the most part. And I know it's ironic because I didn't hit my goal of publishing the parenting book. But I did manage to stick to some sort of consistent daily writing routine considering everything that's happened. And I guess that was reflected in all of the notes that I stored in my slip box using the zettelkasten method.

Bryan :
And also, by the way, I took journaling to the next level. And what do I mean by that? Well, I took a course in journaling by David Sedaris on MasterClass. And I was really surprised to see how he uses journal entries to write his essays and to write his books. And that's something I've started to do. I just write up what happened yesterday or write about something somebody said. But I'll write it up as a little story for 300 or 400 words, and it's like a first draft.

Bryan :
And then if you do that every day, then you have lots of little first drafts that you're collecting from any interesting anecdotes during your day-to-day life. And particularly when I was writing the book about kids, this was really helpful writing that book because I found that the source material for the chapters was inside my journal. I just had to take it out of the journal, organize it, edit it and rewrite it. So journaling is something I intend to continue practising this year.

Bryan :
But if you want to get started with journaling, I'd encourage you to check out that David Sedaris MasterClass, because he actually walks through his journaling method in the masterclass.

Bryan :
The other area that went relatively well during 2020 was outsourcing. So I talked about outsourcing a little bit on the Become a Writer Today podcasts. I've interviewed some experts on the topic. And I've found that it's one thing to understand how something can be helpful, but it's another thing to actually embrace it.

Bryan :
And this year I feel like I've refined my system for outsourcing even more than previous years. It's gotten to the point, perhaps because I was doing a day job, that I ask myself one question every time, am I the right person to do this? And the only time that I don't ask that question is when it's creative writing like journaling.

Bryan :
These days, I work with a number of virtual assistants who help me with different parts of the business. So three virtual assistants help me with publishing content on Become a Writer Today, the podcast, and also managing my email because it seems to have exploded over the past year or two. It's gotten to the point where it's difficult for me to reply to everyone.

Bryan :
I also work with an accountant because I nearly tore my hair out one year before my tax returns. And although accountants are expensive, I would say they're a necessity if you're running any type of online business, because you don't want to get stressed about tax, believe me.

Bryan :
And I also work with an editor for this podcast who really helps me turn it into a professional sounding broadcast. And I also work occasionally with other contractors who help with things like administrative tasks, keyword research and design. And I also work with an editor who works on my articles and who is going to help me with my new book. So as you can see, outsourcing has helped me grow the site while also not necessarily working a hundred hours a week.

Bryan :
Now, of course, when I was writing this annual review and recording this podcast episode about it, one of the other questions is, what didn't go well? And that would be the virus. So in Ireland, we spent a lot of the year in lockdown. And to be honest, I found that a lot of the messaging around these lockdowns mixed, confusing and patronizing. It often felt like those in charge were attaching a stigma to the virus, even though it's normal for people to get sick. And I was also mind blown that people managed to politicize wearing face masks, social distancing and the efficacy of washing your hands and basic hygiene.

Bryan :
And I was actually horrified when one influencer I respected sent me an email with a group picture of his team working side by side without masks or social distancing. He said in the email, he was opting out of media fear porn. Well, suffice to say I unsubscribed. I won't say who he is, but this is the kind of thing that I found really difficult to take this year. Since when has basic science come up for debate. Anyway, that's enough of a rant.

Bryan :
The other thing that didn't go to plan was my personal goals. So at the start of last year, I decided to enter the New York City marathon and raise funds for charity. That was supposed to take place in November. And like every other marathon last year it was cancelled. I also cancelled any trips I had for meeting up with friends, family. And to be honest, the whole year felt as if somebody had pressed a giant pause button. Well, let's hope they unpress it this year.

Bryan :
The good news is the vaccine has been rolled out in many countries, including Ireland. Although we don't know when we'll get it quite yet in Ireland. So unless you live in Israel, you're probably waiting to get the vaccine too. But wherever you are, I hope you're well and you're safe and you get the vaccine as soon as you need it.

Bryan :
The final item that didn't go well last year was my habit of consuming too much information. I spent far too much time doom scrolling, which I think was a word of the year last year, doom scrolling about Brexit, the elections, the Irish elections, the US elections and so on.

Bryan :
Doom scrolling basically involves constantly clicking refresh or swiping on your phone to consume more and more information about events that you have no control over and which cause you anxiety and to feel depressed or despondent.

Bryan :
So this year I've actually removed a lot of the social media apps from my phone. And I'm probably going to reduce my consumption of news, at least for the first few months. If this is something you'd like to do, there are two apps that I use when this happens. One is Freedom, which helps me block access to certain websites on the internet. And the other is RescueTime, which can also block apps to certain sites on the internet, including news and social media, but you can also use it to track how and where you're spending your time.

Bryan :
The other thing that didn't go too well last year was I signed an expensive contract with a customer [inaudible 00:21:08] optimization agency to work with Become a Writer Today, basically to improve conversions. And that actually proved to be a waste of money. Because I realized at the end of the project, the agency was suggesting tweaks and updates to the site that I already knew about, but I just hadn't had time to implement.

Bryan :
Now, to be honest, I don't blame the agency, it was my own fault for not doing enough due diligence. And this is when I realized that maybe I was a bit spread across too many projects. I was guilty of trying to do too many things at once. And I ended up having to pay for a rather expensive contract at the end of it without necessarily getting the results I was looking for.

Bryan :
Brings me to the end of my annual review. For 2021, I haven't set goals for the entire year. Instead, I'm going to focus on what I'm going to do over the next 90 days or so, or season. Because I've found 90 days is long enough to accomplish something big, but not so long that it feels like a lifetime away.

Bryan :
So my area of focus for the first 90 days of 2021, will be to finish writing, editing, and get ready to publish the parenting book that I've talked about. I'll still continue to publish articles on Become a Writer Today and also work on the niche sites. But that'll be my number one priority and the first thing that I look at each morning.

Bryan :
That brings me to the end of my review. I hope this time next year, I'm talking about all of the great holidays that I've got planned for 2022 or the ones that I got to go on at the very end of 2021. Wherever you are, stay safe. And I'd encourage you to ask yourself, what do you want to accomplish when life goes back to normal?

Bryan :
If you enjoyed the show, please leave a review on the iTunes store or wherever you're listening.

Bryan :
I hope you enjoyed this podcast episode. If you did, please leave a rating on the iTunes store. And if you want to accomplish more with your writing, please visit becomeawritertoday.com/join, and I'll send you a free email course. Thanks for listening.