2020: A freelancer’s retrospective

figure leaping over a chasm between 2020 and 2021

Ah, 2020. After the roller coaster ride that was 2019 (for me, anyway), I had such high hopes. My first blog for the year reflects the way I felt: like I was finally finding my stride and my voice. I’d overcome self-confidence challenges and committed to learning how to work with my brain rather than against it, as well as my sense of life purpose.

Not that it all fell apart in 2020, not the way life did for so many of my friends. The year didn’t underdeliver. I did a lot of work I’m really proud of, and although the year wasn’t without its setbacks and disappointments, I’m ending the year with a cautious sense for how to move forward from here. More on that in a forthcoming post.

Following the Q&A I discovered last year from the Poynter Institute, here’s how my year went down:

Best story / story I’m proudest of

Just like last year, I have multiple projects to be proud of:

“Stretch” accomplishment of the year

In the second half of 2020 I challenged myself to write more articles, part of which also meant I had to learn to write shorter articles. I know, you would think short articles would take less time. Because I’m a bottom-up thinker, though — needing to collate articles and sources before I know what to do with them — writing is like sculpting, and sometimes it’s hard to know what to part with. Still, I made it happen!

In addition, because all those Zoom and Google Meet conferences made me less self-conscious about being on camera, I also contributed a video for a Running Wild Press ad spot. Receiving my first royalty payment this quarter suggests it made some impact, because it meant I earned out my advance. I’m leaning towards doing more videos like this — residual self-consciousness notwithstanding — if I can get organized enough to do them!

Biggest disappointment

On the other hand, I struggled to promote the fiction I published this year. Both my second children’s book, Raccoon Retreat, and my novella collection, Sodom and Gomorrah on a Saturday Night, came out, and I should have done a bigger promotional push — author appearances, Goodreads giveaways, BookBub deals, and Amazon ads, among others — to go with them.

In fact, my plan was to use journalism to promote indirectly. I pitched a few ideas, but a lot of publications slashed their freelance budgets early in the year. I brainstormed personal essay ideas, but that would’ve meant going deep on vulnerabilities I wasn’t quite ready to share. So I held off, even while anxious about not doing enough to promote my work.

These are hardly problems, of course. Friends battled cancer and COVID-19, grieved family losses. We all dealt with burnout and our kids’ emotional needs and more work than we could handle. So I’m trying to take this year’s disappointments with me into next year, so I can turn them into something more positive.

Most helpful source

Just like last year, I can’t choose — everyone in the digital forensics community stepped up to help! Some validated ideas before I ever drafted a word. Others read early drafts of articles I was nervous about printing. Many helped to promote published pieces after the fact. When I’m most tempted to feel like an outsider, these are the examples I think of to ground myself in my place.

Source I angered most

I don’t think I “angered” anyone as much as irritated them, but considering I didn’t anger or irritate anyone at all last year, this year showed progress from a professional standpoint!

  • I got a wrist-slap for publishing an article that wasn’t quite “on brand” enough for the employer of the quoted source.
  • Previously friendly interactions got considerably chillier, and I began to hear “law enforcement only” far more than I ever had as a marketer; I was even denied access to a few webinars.
  • One of my op-eds got a vociferous Twitter response from influencers who thought it was unfair, largely because I hadn’t talked to them first.

The first time any of this happened, it was a little tough to take. I’m known in the community, and I thought my relationships were more collegial than the different reactions indicated. Not “friendships,” per se, but also not strictly sources or people I used to work with.

(Neurodivergents frequently struggle with social “rules” and conventions, including boundaries. Unless, that is, we’re around other neurodivergents.)

Then I got to thinking. Feedback I had received in private reflected that my perspectives — based on 20 years, between freelancing and marketing, working with law enforcement — had value. That made the anxiety, well, worth it if it meant I was doing my job right. Ultimately, these experiences served as a good reminder of my responsibilities as a journalist and my role. And it validated that I seem to be where I belong.

I still catch myself being a bit ameliorative when I interview. A lifetime of hearing that I’m too blunt and intense will have that effect. But for the most part I think people understand my intentions are noble. I never want to anger sources, but I also recognize how others feel isn’t my responsibility — or my professional focus. That’s a big step for me.

Best idea I haven’t yet been able to pursue

I talked a lot, to multiple sources, about my intent and interest to write a series about standardization in digital forensics. I’m also following some work regarding explainable (therefore admissible) artificial intelligence. Both are ideas I want to do more with in 2021, so if you’re interested in working with me on these, please be sure to let me know!

Image by sarajulhaq786 from Pixabay

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