How to Conduct a Year-End Review for Your Writing: 25+ Questions to Consider

How to Conduct a Year-End Review for Your Writing: 25+ Questions to Consider

As the year comes to a close, it’s time to grab some eggnog, reflect on the year past (and the year to come) and complete a crucial piece of self-assessment.

It’s time for your annual review.

When you work for a company, you typically have an annual review that reflects on your year’s work, accomplishments, areas for improvement, career trajectory and goals for the next year. These reviews are often tied into compensation and raises.

A freelance writer’s annual review is no different.

Except this time, it’s not a boss peering across a boardroom table at you. It’s just you sitting somewhere comfortable and thinking about your writing and all the exciting things to come.

There’s nothing intimidating about conducting your own annual review. It’s a gateway to growing as a writer and setting your own trajectory. It’s a useful exercise for everyone from novelists to part-time freelancers to those who write for a living full-time.

Prepare for your review

It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of emails, social media messages, client phone calls and the demands of the holiday season. But take an hour or two, block it off on your calendar, and find a place where you can avoid distractions.

Whether you prefer a sunny nook in your home or a corner table at your favorite coffee shop, find a place where you won’t be disturbed. Turn your phone on silent, block alerts and notifications, and settle in with a cup of coffee or some eggnog and get ready to reflect.

Get your materials together

Be sure you have everything you need for your review.

If you conducted a self-review last year, be sure to bring it with you along with any lists of goals or accomplishments you may have.

Bring your digital or physical calendars, assignment lists, profit and loss sheets and accounting or bookkeeping information. Also bring your computer or a journal and pen to reflect and plan for the year to come.

How to begin

I usually begin my annual review by going over last year’s review.

It’s always interesting to see where you were a year ago and where you are today. I often find that my priorities and aims shift over the course of the year. Some projects find their way to the back burner while other projects emerge and take a prominent role.

If you don’t have a written review from last year, that’s fine, too. Instead, take some time and go through your calendar or assignment list from last year and reflect on your clients, deadlines, and projects.

Take a few moments to write about how you felt the past year went. Start by writing about your biggest successes of the year and your biggest challenges. Looking at calendars and records from the past year often helps to jog your memory. Then, you can move on to specifics.

What should I evaluate?

A few categories to consider evaluating are:

Income

  • Did you make as much money as you had hoped to this year?
  • How much did you make over the course of the year?
  • How much did you bring in each month? What were your busy seasons and your slow seasons?
  • What is your target income for next year?
  • How would you like to meet that target? Evaluate your current clients and see if it makes sense to raise your rates.

Work/life balance

  • Did you find time to balance your work commitments and personal life?
  • Did you have enough time to devote to your mental and physical health, relationships, hobbies, pets, etc.?
  • What would you like to do to improve your work/life balance in coming year?

Business growth

  • Did your business grow, shrink, or stay the same this year?
  • Would you like to grow next year, reduce your business in some ways, or stay about the same?
  • Are there certain clients you would like to focus on?
  • Would you like to find new clients? If so, what kind of clients? What are the most important characteristics for clients to have?
  • Would you like to reach out into new areas or fields (such as writing about business or medicine)? What can you do to establish a foothold in those fields?

Professional development

  • What did you do for professional development this year?
  • What would you like to do next year? Professional development can include attending conferences, cultivating new s, networking, writing retreats, service in your field, applying for grants and fellowships, earning awards, finding a mentor, or joining professional organizations, among other possibilities.

Administrative practices and bookkeeping

  • What worked well this year in terms of administrative practices and bookkeeping?
  • Do you need a new process to receive and keep track of payments?
  • Do you need a new system to keep track of assignments?
  • Is your calendar system (physical or digital) working well for you, or would you like to revamp it in the new year?
  • Also, consider your tax situation. Do you have any major business changes you need to consult your tax professional about? If so, it’s a good time to schedule a meeting before the rush.

Technology

  • Evaluate how your tech systems are working. Will you need a new laptop soon? Do you need a new flash drive or two?
  • Is there software you’d like to buy or upgrade? Consider what you need and think about whether it makes sense to make these purchases before the end of the year, and consult with your tax professional to see if you can write them off on this year’s taxes.

Social media, website, and branding considerations

  • Consider your social media presence. Are you pleased with your frequency in posting, followers, shares, likes, etc.?
  • Would you like to branch out to new social media networks?
  • How about your website? Does it need a revamp?
  • Is it time for a professional headshot?
  • Do you need new business cards?

Set goals

Now that you’ve taken some time to consider the past year and think ahead to the new year, make some goals.

Set both short-term (monthly, quarterly, yearly) goals as well as longer-term (5-year, 10-year, etc.) goals. Set some easy-to-reach ones, but also reach for the stars and pick a few aspirational goals, things you would love to achieve but won’t be easy.

It helps to make your goals SMART (specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, time-sensitive) and set dates to check back in with them and evaluate your progress.

Quarterly check-ins

Now that you’ve set goals and are ready to work towards them, take out your calendar and set a few times to check in with yourself and review your goals. Some people prefer monthly while others prefer bi-monthly or quarterly check-ins.

Keep your goals at the forefront of your mind by either printing them out and putting them somewhere you’ll see them often or even creating a crafty display to remind yourself what you’re hoping to achieve in the year to come.

Here’s to a healthy, happy, and successful new year!

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14 comments

  • Excellent, specific, practical advice, not just for writers but for business owners in general.

    Many people who have never owned their own business have the fantasy that doing so would mean “having no boss.” What it really means is “being your own boss,” and that’s a far bigger challenge than being someone else’s employee. It’s important to be the kind of boss you need, one who lays out clear expectations, helps you keep focused and motivated, holds you accountable when you fall short, and (just as importantly as the rest) affirms your best efforts.

    I choose to do it not in the form of a performance review as if I were literally an employee, but more in the genre of writing that applies uniquely to the business owner, the annual report. I have no investors to keep informed, and it’s not the kind of report I would include in a commercial loan application. It is for no eyes but mine. It includes the standard financial reports, but also notes my progress (or sometimes lack thereof) in other areas related to the reason I have the business.

    I make plans for the future, and evaluate how my plans from the past have worked out so far. I look at reasons why things happened the way they did, and what external factors I expect to affect me in the future. I choose goals for the coming year and strategies for achieving them. At the end of the report, I ask the question of who is responsible for carrying out these strategies, and the answer is always the same: I am. There is no one else.

    As an employee, I always found the review process stressful. As an owner, I find the annual report empowering.

    Trish O’Connor
    Epiclesis Consulting LLC
    Freelance Editorial Services and Writer’s Resources
    epiclesisconsulting.com

  • Thanks for sharing, not only the idea of a DIY year-end review, but also the step-by-step process and checklist. This is an article I’ll be bookmarking and going back to year after year. I feel like a big cloud of year-end overwhelm just cleared up quite a bit!

  • Thank you for that. Very useful. It will be the first time I’ve done a review of my writing. Your points will be very helpful.

  • Great ideas! It’s such good practice to take inventory of your writing successes at the end of the year and see where you are with things. And then start the next year right by setting realistic, achievable, specific goals with deadlines.

  • Great article. I am just looking for inspiration to create something new and valuable for my readers. A lot to consider after reading your article. Thanks!

  • Jessie Kwak says:

    Thanks for posting this, Kristen – I’ve been doing a review every year, but this gave me some great ideas for questions I haven’t been asking. Bookmarking for my upcoming review day!

  • I’m surprised nothing addressed writing productivity in your end-of-the-year review.

  • Shyamala says:

    Useful and thought provoking parameters for assessment… thanks a ton for sharing it.

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