My Year in Writing – Lessons from 2020

What a strange year this was!

If I could summarize my year in a short blurb, I would say this was the year to discover what matters. Because of the insanity that followed us around for the past 12 months, it was easy to spot those things that were “out of place” in my life.

I ended up quitting many “things” during 2020. But by giving up these things, I was also given the mental space to embrace other projects that, for long, have been nothing but a pipe dream.

But before I write about all these things, let’s start with the highlights.

Writing highlights

I wrote a lot more fiction this year in comparison to 2019. But, more importantly, I also finished many of the stories I started.

In retrospect, writing challenges like NaNoWriMo, Imaginauta’s (Portuguese publisher of speculative fiction) It’s Alive 2020 online event, and tight deadlines for anthologies I would love to participate in, helped me overcome my own personal hell: the dreaded editing loop I was stuck in since 2018.

So, without further ado, here is the summary of my achievements during 2020:

  1. Finished 4 short stories (started many more!), 3 in Portuguese and 1 in English
  2. Submitted them to 9 different literary magazines or anthologies
  3. Received 7 rejections (2 of which contained personalized feedback from editors!)
  4. 2 stories are still under evaluation
  5. Got 0 acceptances
  6. Self-published a short story in Portuguese through Amazon
  7. Wrote a 57K first draft of a New Adult Dark Fantasy novel!

During this year, I realized I do better when I record my writing progress and set realistic writing goals!

In 2021, I want to continue perfecting my writing system to ensure I deliver everything I promised without burning out in the process.

Blog and Planner shop highlights

So many things changed in 2020! I restructured the blog and created my very own planner shop using Amazon’s Print on Demand service.

Here is a summary of the highlights and the most popular posts/journals of 2020:

Things I abandoned in 2020

Medium

I started writing on Medium in 2019.

At the time, I thought it was one of the best online platforms for writers and entrepreneurs. And for a time, it was.

My journey on Medium was short and sweet. I published only a few articles but managed to get curated most of the time (i.e., selected by Medium’s editors for distribution in specific topics). I landed articles in three fantastic publications: The Writing Cooperative, Better Marketing, and The Ascent!

I’m forever grateful for the experience. It showed me I stood a chance in the international market, even as a non-native English speaker.
One of my articles even went “viral” and it was awesome, for a time.

And then it stopped being fun.

Today, doing “well” on Medium has become extremely difficult. Most successful writers on the platform write an article per day. Unfortunately, even those who manage that feat somehow end up earning less than $100 per month.

So, when newbie writers ask me if Medium is worth it, I always say: you will be better off submitting your articles to paying publications (especially those outside the Medium platform). Don’t go into Medium thinking you’ll earn easy money. That feat is reserved for “internet unicorns” and those “experts” who have perfected the art of profiting from other people’s dreams.

I never earned more than $30 in a month on Medium, but to be honest, I also never wrote more than an article per week.

So, this year, I asked myself the question: do I need this pressure in my life?

Medium is designed to keep readers on the platform, not to favor writers. This created a “clickbait” war in the self-help and writing advice niche leading to an abundance of articles with catchy titles and little “juice.”

Plus, Medium is now less likely to curate articles containing newsletter subscription forms at the end. Making it harder for writers to build a solid and engaged audience in the long run.

To be honest, I miss writing on Medium. It allowed me to meet many interesting people. But I found myself growing frustrated even when my articles were doing well. During the pandemic, I realized my frustration was tied to the fact that I wanted to write more fiction, not non-fiction. Unfortunately, Medium isn’t built for fiction writers at all.

These things made me put my career as a Medium writer (and reader) on standby. And so far, I didn’t regret that decision.

Instagram

My journey on Instagram started in 2018, and I’m afraid to say it probably died in 2020.

While most bookstagrammers redoubled their efforts to create fresh, creative, and engaging content during the pandemic, I took a step back. A lot of steps back actually.

I did it for two reasons: mental health and time!

In the hardest way possible, I discovered just how addicted one can become to the instant validation provided by the platform. In the same way, I also discovered just how miserable one could become when that engagement collapses. Suffice to say I won’t be traveling that road anytime soon.

Instead of trying to become an influencer, I decided to learn how to enjoy the platform in a healthier way. I left the engagement groups I was part of at the beginning of the year (right about the time I was traveling through the mystic mountains of Nepal) and shifted from a heavily curated persona to a more authentic self.

I’m now posting a maximum of 1 post per week on my feed. Interestingly, I discovered just how much I love creating more spontaneous content like stories.

So, even though I’ve toned down my presence, I’m still very happy with all the new friendships that blossomed throughout this year.
Was it worth reducing my presence on Instagram?

YES! My mental health is blooming. I have more time to write those stories I need to write. And, more importantly, I created the time to start being more active on other social media platforms like Twitter.

Twitter brought me so many interesting surprises during 2020, I’m only hoping to find a way to manage it all without going insane in the process.

Reading

Before you throw a rock at me, let me explain.

During 2018 and 2019, I was reading a LOT. Maybe not a lot according to some people’s standards, but certainly a LOT according to my own standards. Not just books, but articles too (mostly on Medium)… mostly clickbait articles with lots of flares and no actual valuable content.
Reading is a vital habit all writers MUST build. But this year I discovered there is such a thing as “reading too much.”

So I reduced my reading challenge on Goodreads, strived to read more outside my comfort zone, unsubscribed from lots of newsletters that were cluttering my inbox, blocked some writers on Medium (specifically many white straight cis men on the self-help niche), and started prioritizing my writing sessions over my reading sessions.

It’s no secret I’m unhappy with my reading progress in 2020. It was hard for me to focus on books during the pandemic, and I ended up reading books I wish I didn’t. The lesson for this year is that I shouldn’t be ashamed of DNFing books, and it is my goal for 2021 to DNF books that mess up with my mental balance.

In the worst way possible, I discovered “abusive relationships” are a trigger for me. Reading these books messes up with my mental well-being. I won’t be reading more “abusive relationships” disguised as “the best romance of the year” anytime soon.

I also hope the reading community stops normalizing this romance trope. Abusive is abusive, not romantic, not literary, not anything else.

Things I embraced during 2020

Now for my favorite part of this article! Those warm and fuzzy vibes I discovered during this crazy year.

Creating the Journal & Planner shop!

As the pressure from my day job escalated and my tasks changed to fit the new demands, I found peace in graphic design. This new task ended up having such a balancing effect on my life.

I found it to be the perfect complement to my writing and research routines. A task that would allow me to “rest” my brain of all the thinking.

The planner shop was born from an eagerness to bring design into my journey to become a published author. I haven’t made too many plans for the shop yet. 

I’m just enjoying the experience of learning how to design better planners. Creating this brand also allowed me to connect with other readers and writers on a different level and I’m sure 2021 will bring even more surprises.

Starting a Newsletter

This year, I rediscovered my love for newsletters. I unsubscribed from most newsletters I was receiving in my inbox (I wasn’t reading them anyway) and discovered two fantastic people on the internet that made me rethink the “newsletter” concept.

Linda Caroll (xo Linda) and Diana Ribeiro (a freelance medical writer from Portugal!) were the ones to blame for my new-found love.

They showed me newsletters could be deeply personal, deeply intimate, and this is precisely what I wanted to create: a place where I could communicate with readers on a one-on-one level!

No more worrying about elusive social media algorithms, no more trying to be someone I’m not just to fulfill irrealistic demands, no more trying to emulate internet celebrities with their freebies and online courses. This newsletter is a love letter packed with value to the people who’ve been supporting my insane and “out of this earth” projects.

In 2020, I also abandoned the “never talk about your goals” mentality. I used to believe it was better to keep my projects “hidden”, but this year taught me that you can’t build a meaningful relationship with readers without disclosing important information. In a way, I’ve come to see my newsletter subscribers as “patrons” and as such, they deserve to know about my projects, progress, and struggles.

They deserve to have an active part in this journey of mine. The “Wandering Mage Guild” is a place where I could create that cozy and meaningful space free of the fleeting influence of social media.

Writing more fiction

Non-fiction is my comfort zone. It always was. I’m a seasoned scientific writer who has learned a lot from all the feedback provided by editors and teachers during the past decade.

I can draft huge articles in only a couple of hours and have them ready for publication after a single good-night sleep.

I cannot say the same about fiction. It doesn’t matter which language I use, fiction has always been difficult for me. This happens because, until recently, I wasn’t publishing regularly or sharing my writing with anyone. I’ve always kept it to myself and that hindered my growth.

Although I have been blessed with the opportunity to connect with people who like my writing, I know I have at least a decade of “weak” writing in front of me. I’m not scared. I’m ready.

Whatever happens during this year, I only hope to find the balance that will allow me to keep up with both my content market efforts and fiction projects.

Restructuring my blog

I made this blog bilingual (English and Portuguese) during 2020 and it was one of the best things I could have done.

I love writing in English, I’ve been doing it for the past 10 years as a researcher and, more recently, as a science writer. Regardless, I know I still have a long way to go when it comes to mastering this language.

In a way, I think English is simpler than Portuguese. It’s so much easier to express certain ideas in this language (especially scientific ones!). But I can’t erase the fact that I’m a native Portuguese speaker and, as an immigrant, writing in Portuguese allows me to feel closer to home. Or, in other words, to miss home a little bit less.

Now, I lost subscribers once I changed to a bilingual website. So, was it worth it? It was!

Losing subscribers is a natural consequence of the process of building a relevant online platform. We can’t keep trying to meet everyone’s expectations without hurting ourselves in the process. I’m bilingual. I love both languages. I intend to run my blog in both Portuguese and English because I also intend to keep writing fiction in both languages. If I need to lose readers in the process, so be it, we’ll be all the richer because of it. And I’ll be able to focus on the people that matter and create the space to let other people into this inner circle.

Because one thing I discovered many years ago is that I’ll only make myself and the people in my life miserable if I stop writing the things I want to write.

Conclusion

Despite the difficulties, I found myself taking more risks this year. And I’m happy with the results!

I wasn’t able to sell my fiction to any literary magazines or anthologies. Nor was I able to finish writing more than 4 short stories and a terrible first draft of a novel, but I’m still amazed by all the things I discovered.

In 2021, I hope to continue developing even stronger and lasting writing habits.


What about you: tell me all about the lessons you learned in 2020?


Image credit: Jonathan Klok on Unsplash

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