Saturday, 31 December 2016

Reflecting on 2016 Goals and Lessons Learned

It's New Year's Eve and as is often the case at this time of year, I've been reflecting on what I achieved in 2016 and what fell by the wayside.

I think it's safe to say 2016 didn't really turn out how I'd hoped. There were some amazing high points (our trip to Skye in the camper van) and some pretty big low points. The first half of the year was pretty much a write off in terms of achievements. Some health issues and work stress meant that I did virtually no exercise for about five months, had little energy or motivation for writing and watched way too much TV.

But I did turn a corner in the second half of the year once I'd dragged myself up out of the doldrums. Perhaps the biggest thing was deciding to take control of my career. Rather than waiting around for an interesting-but-hardly-inspiring job to come up, I decided I was going to build the job - and career - I wanted.

Having finally taken this decision, I then committed to it. I signed up for a course on building a freelance writing business and connected with other freelance writers. It sounds dumb, but this of all things made me realise that people actually do this stuff. For real. And making a decent living from it,

If anyone's interested the course in question was Untamed Writing's Start Content writing course, now re-branded to How to Build a Badass Freelance Writing Business. (I mean, who doesn't want to take a course with 'badass' in the title?) And I would definitely recommend it. Karen will kick your butt into shape, but in a nice way.

Anyway, once I'd paid up and invested my time and money in this, I had no excuses for backing out. Yes, it's been pretty tough juggling a busy day-job and trying to set up a business for the past five months, but the reward was being able to finally hand my notice in and plan for a phased transition to full-time writing. 2017 is going to be a pretty exciting year :-)

2016 Goals

Back to the goals I set at the beginning of the year. Or rather, we, as the goals below are a combination of both Sam's goals and mine. This is what we wrote down at the start of 2016:

Sadly one thing that has fallen by the wayside this year is climbing. Rather than training hard to push my climbing to the next level, I've actually fallen back a lot. This has been partly down to lack of time and largely down to exhaustion. Burn out isn't really conducive to hard training.

We also rather underestimated the Cuillin Ridge when we added it to the list at the beginning of the year. Given the right weather and set of circumstances, I think it's definitely doable, but this year that combination didn't happen for us when we were up in Skye. We did however have a great day out on the Dubh's Ridge with amazing views and it was great to tackle part of the Ridge.

Number three on the list also didn't happen, though this is partly because all my free time for the second part of the year was taken up with my work for Windswept Writing. And that work has meant that I will have dedicated time every weekday in 2017 to work on my fiction writing. So the book WILL get written, just slightly later than planned.

I did start making progress with learning Italian, mainly on my walks to work. I used an audio book, which I found really helpful (though I suspect the local school-kids now refer to me as the 'crazy foreign-talking lady') and put it into practice on our trip to Rome in August. Unfortunately the second part of the course was missing from our local library, but I'm hoping to pick this up again in 2017.

Number five, I think it's safe to say, hasn't happened...

Now we get onto more positive news! We settled into the routine of our new vegan/vegetarian/omnivorous diet quiet easily and with the exception of a couple of odd weeks we've kept it up all year and it's now become normal. We have two vegan days, two vegetarian days and three eat-anything days a week, which I think is a reasonable compromise. I'm not quite willing to give cheese up totally yet (the less said about vegan 'cheese' the better) and Sam is definitely a meat-eater at heart!

We had loads of weekends away and a couple of longer breaks in our camper van Sadie. These have been some of the real highlights of my year and I'm looking forward to more adventures in 2017. We also made pretty good progress with the wedding planning for next year and I *mostly* managed to stay calm and chilled about it.

I made it through most of my 2016 Reading Challenge, though didn't get time to read a quarter of the books I wanted to. More detail on what I did read, and what I've got planned for 2017 in this post.

As for number ten, well if you've read through to here then you'll know I failed at that pretty spectacularly. But hey, failure is all part of learning, right? And 2017 will be a new and different year.

What I Read in 2016 (and My 2017 List)

This year I decided my reading needed a bit more structure. In a bid to expand my horizons beyond my comfort blanket of dystopian fantasy and young adult fiction I came across the 2016 Reading Challenge from Modern Mrs Darcy.

12 books in 12 different categories in 12 months. Doesn't sound too hard, does it? Here's what I picked, and how I did:

Looking down the list, it appears I've had rather a pathetic year in terms of reading. Which to some extent has been true. Various work and life things got in the way (as they do). This isn't the first year that I haven't read as much as I wanted to, but the first year in a while that I've really missed reading.

To be fair, I have actually read more books that what's on the list above. At the beginning of the year, I got a bit blase about how long it would take me to complete the challenge (and how long I'd have available) so I merrily downloaded books to my kindle. In addition to the above, I read a couple of excellent YA books by Louise O'Neill (Asking For It and Only Ever Yours), one of James Patterson's YA thrillers and a non-fiction book - The Push.

I also attended a dystopian fiction workshop with Francesca Haig and read the first book in her series, The Fire Sermon, in advance of the session. I really, really had to resist going straight onto the second book - The Map of Bones (which you may notice is on my 2017 list!).

So what didn't I get through? Well despite MANY hours of reading, I still haven't finished War and Peace. But I'm getting towards the end of the epic tale and will finish this off in January. I also ran out of time to pick up Catch-22. I'll move this onto my 2017 list and finally try and get this book finished.

Of the books I did get through, my top two picks would have to be Hugh Howey's Wool and Emily St. John Mantel's Station Eleven. While both dystopian stories, the first is a gripping page-turner whilst the second is written in much more of a literary style. I'd recommend both without hesitation.

So what's on the cards for 2017? Well, I've taken a slightly different approach this year. Firstly I want to read more. A lot more. And should be in a better position to do so than in 2016. I've also realised that, even though I love dystopian fiction, I'm not particularly well read in it. And as those are the stories I want to write, that's something I need to fix. Finally, there are a load of non-fiction books that I've been meaning to read for ages and need to dedicate some time to.

My 2017 list is currently looking something like this:

30 books, in addition to finishing off the everlasting War and Peace. This doesn't mean I won't be reading anything else, but I do want to try and prioritise what's on this list, so I don't make the same mistake as last year.

What do you think? Any books you'd recommend me adding (or storing up for 2018!)?