Member Michelle Chalkey: The Year in Writing

If you need some inspiration to reach your writing goals in 2017, read member, Michelle Chalkey’s, blog post about her year in writing in 2016. Michelle’s goal in 2016 was to find a way to make a living as a writer. Read her blog post to find out how she made this dream a reality. It took planning, hard work, and a lot of courage, but she was able to achieve her goal. Here is her blog post in full. She has other great blog posts about writing along with a newsletter you can subscribe to. Here is a direct link to her blog: http://michellechalkey.com/blog/ 


2016: The Year in Writing

By Michelle Chalkey

Back in January, 2016 wasn’t looking so good.

I had my wedding to look forward to, but the year was off to a bad start. Kyle and I had celebrated New Year’s on a party bus with about 40 of our friends. Three weeks later, about 10 of us came down with mumps. Guess who was the lucky one in this household?

Being stuck at home for a week with a swollen cheek and bad attitude, I wallowed in self-pity. I wasn’t passionate about the job I was in. I was hardly even interested in the job I had a phone interview for while in my mump-induced fever. I was in a funk. Mumps or no mumps, I felt like I was lacking purpose in my life.

Oh, how things turned around.

In early February, Kyle sent me a life-changing text, (yes, even text messages can be life-changing). He encouraged me to be a full-time writer, a career I had only dreamed about until then, never believing that I could actually do it at this point in my life.

But if not now, when?

I heard recently that you’re more likely to actually pursue your dream, or even an occupation that’s not your quest, when someone tells you that you should. When someone else expresses belief in you, you’re more likely to believe it’s a good idea.

Kyle’s words were all it took for me to take the idea that had been running around in my head for years and make it happen. I set a goal to be full-time freelancing by the end of the year. After months of hard work, I was able to leave my job at the end of August, right before Kyle and I got married.

Even with its mumpy start, this year held some of the best moments of my life. But I’m not going to talk about how I changed and what I learned and all that beautiful, sentimental stuff. My journal has seen plenty of it, and you can read more about it by checking out these posts:

Instead I want to share with you what I actually do in terms of business, an annual report in the most informal of sorts.

I’m writing it for myself to be able to reflect on the things that worked and what didn’t work this year, as well as to have a log to look back on in the years to come.

But I also want to answer a question that I get frequently from friends, family and prospects:“What is it that you actually do?”

Well friends, thanks for asking! Here’s a recap of what I’ve been working on this year in terms of writing:
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Technical Documents

I started off the year in a full-time contracting job as a technical writer for Wells Fargo. There, I wrote, edited and published standard operating procedure documents for the Consumer Financial Services team. My work involved communicating with subject matter experts to understand the technical terms and communicate these complex procedures in a user-friendly way.

My contract ended at the end of August, and while it could have extended to December, I chose to leave then and start freelance writing full time. I have since done some technical writing for a popular WordPress blog and am always looking for more opportunities in this field. Technical writing opens up a different part of my brain that is sometimes a nice break from more flowery writing.

Magazine Articles

I’ve been writing for Iowa Living Magazines for about three years. This monthly article writing has been a good way to keep this journalism spirit of mine alive while I worked desk jobs.

At the beginning of 2016, I wrote two columns for them. Now in December, I write 11 columns and 1 cover story featured in 6 of their magazines.

In writing these articles, I get to interview teachers, pastors and several interesting residents of the metro area whom I never would have met otherwise. Not only has this job developed my writing portfolio, but it has extended my network in this large city of Des Moines that I still consider myself new to. People have incredible stories to share, and writing about them is truly rewarding.

My byline also appeared in Central College’s alumni journal, Civitas, this summer. And in January 2017, you’ll see it again in the launch issue for Spirit Guides Magazine. I’ve got a couple slots with health and wellness magazines lined up for next year, and I’m hoping by December 2017 I’ll have several more publications to add to the list!

Blog Posts

I wish I had a count for how many blog posts I’ve written this year. This month alone I’ve written close to 40. These have easily been the bulk of my day-to-day freelance writing duties. Not surprising, since nearly 40% of US companies use blogs for marketing purposes.

This type of writing includes: consistent posts for regular clients; guests posts for other blogs; feature posts; posts for blogs that I contribute to regularly; posts for this blog for my business.

Here are a few of the posts I’m most proud of from the year:

I don’t see the blog post trend ending any time soon, and I’m looking forward to taking on more blogging opportunities in the New Year.

Editing

I love any chance I get to take my red pen out! While I’m plenty versed with editing technical documents for grammar, style and cohesiveness, my true editing spirit rejoiced in November when I was hired to edit a manuscript.

A manuscript!

As I went through my client’s pages, my writer brain lit up in a way it hadn’t in a while. I realized I need to do more of this kind of work. While writing is my main jam, I love working directly with someone to see how I can help improve their writing.

Editing is a nice way to mix things up and provide variety to my work. I’m looking forward to pursuing more of this kind of work in 2017.

Creative Writing

I completed four short stories this year, one of which was published on The Write Practice in January. (You can read my story, Strawberries and Champagne,” here!)

This year I hired an editor for the first time, and working with her has taught me so much about my writing. I’m submitting one of the stories she edited to publications and hoping it will find a good home.

Another note on creative writing, I am currently judging a short story contest for The Write Practice! This is an exciting opportunity for me to read the creative work of others and connect with more writers.

My creative writing unfortunately took the back burner in the last few months as I focused on my business. In 2017, I plan to get more of my fiction out into the world and be more active again with the Des Moines Writers’ Workshop. I’ll set up my author website under my married name and get things moving there. Being an author is the ultimate dream, and it has to start somewhere!

What Worked for Me This Year

People often ask how I find work, and some of the most lucrative work I’ve acquired has come from people I know. Reaching out to your network and letting everyone know what you’re doing pays off. Two of my regular clients are a couple of my best friends!

Staying active in my networks is another way I have found work. Once in a while, someone in your Facebook group is looking for help with something. Keeping up, posting regularly and observing what people need help with has given me opportunities to offer my services and gain new work that way.

Finally, there’s cold pitching – something that terrified me at the beginning of the year but has become second nature now. Cold pitching companies and magazines has landed me an ongoing client and a calendar full of magazine article assignments. It’s a numbers game, and if you’re persistent, it works!

Aside from how I find work, there is a number of things this year that has helped me pull this career off without going crazy. Eating well, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep helped me have mental and physical energy to put in the work each day. Reading and learning have helped my mindset, which is critical to this kind of work.

But the biggest thing aiding in my work-from-home success is definitely the support and encouragement I have from Kyle, my family, my friends, and of course my Yoshi who reminds me to get up and walk every five minutes (at least it seems like). Without their belief in me, it would be that much harder to believe in myself.

What Didn’t Work This Year

The one thing (although there are plenty) that sticks out is the hours I’ve lost trying to make an awesome website. Web design does not come easy to me, and I’ve held out on hiring someone because I think it would be a good skill for me to learn.

However, I am a writer. I want to write for people, not design their websites. While web design would be a good skill to have, it’s more important that I spend my time developing my writing skills.

The lesson I learned is to focus on your strengths, and let other people take things off your plate that take you away from your strengths. (Does anyone know a good, affordable web designer?)

Bring on 2017

Overall, 2016 has definitely been the most exciting year of my life. I fulfilled two of my lifelong dreams this year – marrying an amazing man and pursuing writing as a full-time career. I’m looking forward to strengthening both of these new establishments in the coming year and having a blast while doing it.

 

Beth Burgmeyer

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