As 2019 dawned, my food blog was at its lowest point in a decade. Google updates hit me hard in 2018 — and my traffic wasn’t recovering. I had, however, managed to stop the sharp decline of traffic though. And I was working on improving SEO on old posts and creating good, new, engaging content.
Meanwhile, my freelance writing had churned to a virtual stop. Flipping through my income journal, it’s surprising to see how few entries I had between late 2018 and early 2019. But it’s not because I wasn’t working. I was busy teaching, working full time, writing cookbooks, trying to revive my blog and taking a literature class.
Still, writing is what I love. So as the year progressed, I set my sites on reinvigorating my freelancing career with some fresh parenting writing. It worked.
While I am not publishing with the frequency that I was six years ago, I am pretty proud of my body of work in 2019. It includes bylines in the Washington Post, SheKnows, Pen and Parent, Traveling Mom and more.
Meanwhile, my blog is healthier than it was a year ago and seems to be trending in a positive direction. It seems all my SEO efforts paid off.
Now, as we approach 2020, I am looking back and mulling over lessons of 2019. These are the things I learned about writing this year.
There’s Power in Context
I wouldn’t call this a new lesson per se. It’s something I have taught to writers and employees alike. But I was reminded of this when I took a university literature class last spring. Understanding the context of literature — when it was written, by whom, and their circumstances — helps you better understand what they are saying and why.
Likewise, in journalism, creative nonfiction writing, blogging and other forms of nonfiction writing, context matters. It’s what elevates a basic story to something noteworthy. Context is what helps us paint a full and complete picture of a situation without sensationalism.
When writing, make sure you put things into context. Your work will be better for it.
If It Scares You to Hit Send, It’s Probably Good
When you play it safe in your writing, readers notice. It comes across as restrained and reserved — but, most importantly, it lacks the emotional range that allows others to connect.
For me, tapping into my emotional array is frightening. It’s laying myself bare in a way that feels horrifyingly vulnerable. Though the results — an engaged audience — is worth it, the fear of hitting send on the pitch emails is real. Why? Because what will people think when they read it? (Yes, that’s what I always think.)
When that thought crosses my mind, I know: it’s good. And though I will probably sleep on it and read it again, hitting send on the pitch is the only option.
Inspiration is Everywhere
One of my greatest personal obstacles to productivity is feeling like I can’t think of anything to write about. But inspiration is all around us.
This was something I remembered vividly this year as I looked for new stories to tell and new ideas to pitch. As I started writing about travel again after a years-long hiatus, I mined not just our experiences but my local area for ideas. As I worked to sell more essays, I turned a critical eye on my own life.
From friendship to parenting, travel to cooking, there are little lessons that make good stories and essays all around us.
It’s Okay to Say No
This is a difficult one. Having been a full-time freelancer in the past, I know that sometimes you just really need the paycheck. Sometimes, the very thought of saying no is the antithesis of what you can do. And thus, I share this lesson knowing that it comes with a hearty dose of privilege.
It’s okay to say no to edits, to offers that don’t work for you and to ideas that don’t feel right.
This year, an essay I wrote had interest from a publication. However, the editor wanted a shift in the focus that I was uncomfortable with. It not only wasn’t the essay I wanted to write, but it felt like a rehashing of essays I’d already written. I thanked that editor and politely explained why her suggestions wouldn’t work for me. She understood. Then I sold that essay to another publication, virtually as written. It was clearly a better fit.
Editors provide valuable guidance. Most of the time, I think editors who suggest changes and massage my words create something even better. Everyone needs an editor. But as a writer writing my personal experiences, I don’t have to acquiesce to changes that rewrite or fundamentally change my story.
Just Keep Writing
Some of the work I published on SarahCaron.com this year was old work. Some of the work I sold was work I had been working on for years. And some was brand new.
Sure, it can be tempting to keep working on old pieces until they sell. But sometimes something fresh is just what an editor is looking for. Either way, to be a success in this business, you have to write, write, write. And when it feels you’ve said everything, write a little more.
You never know when a certain topic will be the one that resonates.
What did you learn about writing this year?