Christina Vasilevski

Toronto Writer/Editor for Content Strategy, Content Design & UX.

What I Learned in 2014, and My Goals for 2015

Image credit: Katinka Bille Lindahl, Flickr

Image credit: Katinka Bille Lindahl, Flickr

It’s weird to realize that the holidays are now upon us; I can’t believe how damned quickly 2014 rushed by. But it’s time to face facts: it’s the middle of December, and that means that it’s time to look back on this year, analyze what I learned, and make goals for 2015.

So, what was 2014 like for me? It was tumultuous, but in a good way. Here’s why.

What I accomplished

I started slush reading for a new magazine.

I joined a writer’s critique group (though I’m currently on hiatus as I get my business in gear).

I hired a business coach.

I made a small profit this year while freelancing. I landed some big clients (like the Yellow Pages), landed some clients very close to my heart (like Trent University), and even got published in a print anthology!

On top of that, I attended conferences, learned from others, and realized that I don’t know as much about online marketing as I thought I did.

How I changed

I think 2014 was the year that I really started to take myself seriously as a business person. It was the year I realized that the reins to my future were in my own goddamned hands, and that I needed to grab them hard and steer.

Let me back up a bit.

I first decided to freelance way back in 2009, and some of my archived posts talk about the progress I made then towards my goal. So in some ways, I consider myself to have been freelancing for 5 years.

Despite this, for years I was working in-house and freelancing on the side. Even after I was laid off, I still took short-term contract gigs in order to get some stable money coming in. I was on the fence, refusing self-employment opportunities like the OSEB program in favour of contract work.

This year was different, though: I finally got off the fence and stood on the “self-employed” side. No short-term contract gigs because I was worried about major upcoming expenses like my wedding. No waiting and hoping that a stable, permanent job would somehow miraculously be offered to me.

And my god, that change has meant a lot of effort. I thought I networked before when I started to freelance, but I realize now that  I was a dilettante at the whole thing. Now I put a lot  more effort into networking, and take the follow-up process much more seriously.

However, the biggest change was the fact that I hired a business coach to guide me through this transition. Because I had a coach, I invested in my own personal development to an extent I had never done before. And as a result, a lot of the in-built pessimism and negativity I don’t really discuss online melted away. I’ve consciously learned how to feel grateful and be mindful. I felt like I had more control over myself, and that was (and is!) a really good feeling.

My goals for 2015

So how will this deeper sense of control manifest in the year to come?

I have a habit of making big, grandiose plans for the new year and not following through. But I really do think I’ve made enough changes in how I operate to make the following goals feasible:

  • Sign up as a service provider with the Canadian federal government, using this book as my guide.
  • Study to become a Certified Copy Editor with the EAC and take the certification test.
  • Start selling eBooks and writing resources on this website and through Amazon/Kobo.
  • Expand my service offerings to include workshops and content marketing

There are other goals, but these are the ones I feel comfortable sharing for now.

What about you though? What are your goals for 2015? I’d love to hear your comments and thoughts below.

Goals for 2013

The frenzy of reading and reviewing 40 books in 2012 has passed, but I’m still a little shell-shocked a few days later. 2013 will be a bit different, but in degree rather than in kind. Of course, this can mean only one thing: I’ve upped the ante.

In this case, I’ve decided to read 50 books this year instead of 40.

However, I don’t want to deal with the insanity of writing 50 book reviews. I think this year, I’ll just review a book whenever the mood strikes me, though I do plan to do a minimum of 1 per month.

I’m also going to try to inject more variety into my reading, and broaden my scope away from just speculative fiction. For example…

  • More public domain books/books that form part of the Western canon
  • More books by authors of colour, and/or with protagonists of colour
  • More anthologies written by multiple authors

On top of that, I’m going to keep on doing my slush reading for Electric Velocipede, attend Ad Astra in April, and get back on the horse with my own writing. I might even have the courage to submit something to a magazine or anthology – you never know.

So what are your goals for the brand new year?

Saying Yes to Full-time Freelancing

I’ve been managing this website through its various incarnations since late 2009. Since then, there have been a lot of changes – new web addresses, new business names, and new clients. However, a few weeks ago, an even bigger change happened: I stopped being a full-time, in-house employee.

Apart from the occasional mention of commutes and coworkers, this is not something I’ve mentioned a lot. When I started doing freelance work (and thus started this site), I also worked full-time in a position not related to writing or editing. In the summer of 2010, I found a new job formatting and proofreading web content. It was a wonderful place to work, and I learned a lot there over the following 2 years. However, I found out a month ago that my contract was not being renewed, and my final day at work was two weeks after that.

Although this was unpleasant news, it also helped me decide to make my freelance business my main focus. I am now making the leap from employee to independent professional for hire.

Is this change going to be easy? Not at first. However, I’m ready to hustle. I’ve contacted other editors and writers I know. I’ve contacted companies I’m interested in working with. Most of all, I’ve got the professional training and the family support that made this decision possible in the first place.

Since I’ve made the leap, I’ve gotten many encouraging signs. In particular, I discovered this blog post by John Scalzi about what it was like to become an independent writer, where the following paragraph really stood out:

And this is one of the reasons why I tell people that being laid off from AOL was one of the best things that ever happened to me — because as much as it knocked me for a loop, it made me ask myself who I wanted to be in control of my life — and it made me make a choice about how my life would be. It was the right crisis at the right time; it was something I think was necessary for me. In a very real way, it’s the moment I can point to and say “this is when I knew I was a grown up.” It’s maybe a silly way to put it, but it was important all the same. So: Thanks, AOL, for laying me off. I appreciate it. It’s done more for me than you know.

Speaking of encouraging signs, as I was writing out this very post, a company of editors I follow on Twitter asked me if I wanted to write a guest blog post for them. I said yes – because who in their right mind wouldn’t?

In essence, that’s a lot of what becoming a freelancer means: Saying yes. Yes to change. Yes to trepidation. But also yes to new projects, yes to new skills, and yes to new and interesting people.

So here I am: I’ve said yes. And I’m hoping that when it comes down to it, I’ll be hearing the word “yes” too.

An eBook-shaped hole in my education

In a recent blog post I talked about my writing and editing goals for 2012. However, I forgot to add one very important goal to the list: I need to learn more about eBooks.

The course I took on electronic publishing in 2010 didn’t help me. In fact, it was downright misleading. It contained absolutely no mention of eBooks or eReaders at all. This is rather odd, all things considered – shouldn’t students entering the fast-changing world of publishing be given at least a rudimentary understanding of eBook formatting, eReaders, digital rights management for eBooks, or eBook piracy? This information is becoming increasingly relevant to both self-published authors and publishing houses. Ryerson will have a course in the summer of 2012 called “Publishing in Transition” which I hope will bridge the gaps in my knowledge, but that’s still a way off, and I want to start paving over the holes in my education right now.

So, here is a very basic sketch of how I plan to do that:

  • Bookmark websites and blogs that discuss ebook production, distribution, and marketing, and follow their content.
  • Buy lots of eBooks. (If there’s one thing that’s wonderful, it’s rationalizing entertainment consumption as a form of professional development!)
  • Understand how eBooks work in action and get a grasp of what formatting issues are unique to them. (I just bought a Kobo, but that’s fodder for another post.)
  • Learn about other facets of the self-publishing industry, like price points, royalties, and budgeting

The plan sounds simple in theory, but the amount of information about self-publishing and ePublishing  is increasing so quickly that it’s easy for anyone, especially a newcomer like me, to get overwhelmed. Here are some sites I’ve found useful so far:

Oddly enough, a number of the blogs I’ve been following have talked about the importance of good cover design for eBooks. Synchronicity or not, the news is welcome.

What I’ve learned from NaNoWriMo, Part 1

I’ve spent the last day or so in a haze. This haze has consisted of a few sets of words, combining and buzzing and circling around my head like a cloud of midges:

  • holy crap
  • I’m done
  • 50,000 words
  • I finished NaNoWriMo

So, yes, I actually completed NaNoWriMo (A day ahead of schedule!) and the experience has been extremely illuminating. Here are some of the things I feel I’ve learned by taking part. I’ll add more items to this list in another blog post a few days from now.

Just because I’ve written 50,000 words doesn’t mean I’m done

The rule for NaNoWriMo is that if you’ve written 50,000 words, you’ve “won” the event and have written a novel. However, most novels are significantly longer than this. A typical debut novel published by a publisher is between 70,000 and 100,000 words. At best, writing 50,000 words means your work sits comfortably in the “novella” category. I can tell that my novel will be much longer than the 50,000-word minimum, as there are lots of holes I have yet to fill; for example, I still have no idea how the story will end. I think, at best, that I’m between halfway and two-thirds through.

Despite this, I can understand why there’s such a focus on the 50,000-word benchmark: It’s a nice round number, and it’s probably in the upper limit of what a fledgling novelist can accomplish in a month. Thus, it’s like a good workout: It’s doable, but it still forces you to push yourself in order to build muscle.

This thing is nowhere near publishable

This goes right up there with the story being incomplete. Even if it were complete, though, I would not consider sending it to a publisher – or at least, would not do so without some heavy editing. My goal right now is to prove that I have the discipline to finish a novel. However, just because a novel is completed doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good, and since it’s a first attempt, I seriously doubt it will be. My plan right now is to finish the darned thing and just let it sit untouched for a few months so I can see the flaws more objectively when I pick it back up.

“Pantser” versus “planner”

During November, I did a lot of catch-up listening to old episodes of Mur Lafferty’s I Should Be Writing podcast. Within the show, several episodes mentioned the distinction between outline (“planner”) and discovery (“pantser”) methods of writing. Some writers feel that they need to discover the plot during the act of writing, while others feel that they should plan out everything that happens in the story before they sit down to the keyboard.

I don’t know whether it’s because this is the first time I’ve tried writing a novel, but my attempts to plan out the story failed. I found I was much more comfortable writing in the moment to see where the story took me. A lot of the time, I went down detours I never expected to encounter. Then the fun was in trying to make sure those tributary streams all flowed to the same river. Which brings me to…

Wattle-and-daub, or: Writing like an Impressionist

I mentioned in a previous post that I didn’t write the story linearly. Instead, I would focus on a scene and try to see that scene in my head to fill in the details. Or I would think to myself, “Well, something needs to happen in this scene here. What will it be?”

What amazed me, though, was the sheer amount of the world I had created that remained unknown to me. A lot of the time, when I discussed the story with friends and family, they would ask me things about the characters, plot, and setting, and I would answer “I don’t know.” I didn’t know about where my military commander came from. I didn’t know the span of time over which my story was taking place. I didn’t know whether one of my characters came from an abusive home or not.

In all honesty, it felt like there were images in my head, but they had the colouring and contrast of an Impressionist painting. One detail would be vivid, but the rest were all covered in black. As I worked harder, I either uncovered the black spots to reveal colour, or found places for new black spots to form. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced, because I feel that since this information is coming out of my head, I should know about it already. I was expecting writing for NaNoWriMo to be more like creating a painting than creating a statue out of Lego.

The million-word threshold

ISBW brought another concept to my attention as I was catching up on old podcast episodes: That of the million-word threshold. Raymond Carver is thought to have said that writers need to write at least a million words before they get all of the crap out of their systems and finally write something well.

I have no idea how true this is, but if so, then I’m 5% of the way there. Onwards and upwards!


How I got my writing mojo back

I knew from the age of 7 that I wanted to be a writer. That idea grew with me as I grew up, when it reached its most distorted apex in high school. You see, I didn’t want to be just any writer – I wanted to be that writer.

You know the one. The one who becomes a smash success with their first book. The one whose crystal-clear, vibrant prose would make readers weep and publishers bow in awe. The kind of writer who lives in a trendy apartment downtown, dispensing insightful bon mots in coffee shops, wearing black, and generally living the bohemian dream.

Despite this unrealistic ideal, one family member in particular was supportive of my goal. Too supportive, in fact. She constantly asked to see what else I had written lately, and said I would be famous. I grew very resentful of her constant interest, but still kept on writing – I was a teenager, of course, and this sort of irrational thing is a teenager’s specialty.

I hit my final year of high school and took a creative writing class. In that class, I wrote a short story that I had considered my best up to this point. It was about a high school girl who was incredibly gifted but had a lot of pressure put on her, who nearly got killed in a skating accident and then recovered from her coma by going through some sort of spirit-quest while being guided by a painfully obvious Jungian archetype figure.

In other words, my story was pretentious as fuck.

Unsurprisingly, I eventually grew dissatisfied with it. I tried so hard to sound distant and thoughtful and pretty, but it just wasn’t getting anywhere. I likened it to having a “membrane” separating my mind from the story I really wanted to tell, and concluded that I would never be a good writer, because I couldn’t break through it.

At this point, I finished high school and entered university. This meant essays. Lots and lots of essays. Some of them were interesting. A lot of them were meaningless. But all of them required effort and time spent writing. It was at this point that I concluded I would never really be a writer, because the writing I used to enjoy was fiction and would never amount to anything, whereas this writing – the important stuff – was hard and boring. Besides, my “fun” writing was pretentious and disappointing and distant, right? So much for the downtown dream!

Things stayed like that both throughout my university studies and for a year or so after I graduated. “Leisure” reading was fun, but I was just too burnt out to take the next step.

Then a funny thing happened. I got an iPod and started listening to podcasts. I subscribed to “I Should Be Writing” and “Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing” and “Variant Frequencies” and the “Seventh Son” trilogy. I was exposed to the heroin of genre writing, and it was fun. On top of that, I decided that freelancing would be an excellent fallback plan in light of my current employment situation. And what did I think I was good at? Writing, of course.

I got to networking. I joined organizations. I blogged. And slowly but surely, I started to write for myself again. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m now doing NaNoWriMo. I also got myself out of the “fine Canadian literature” ghetto that I was in and embraced reading non-fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, and horror books. Now I’m writing something that is unabashedly a genre novel, and doing so with glee.

Will I “win” NaNoWriMo? Who knows. Will my writing be good? Who knows! The difference this time is that I know that real writing – satisfying writing – takes time and tenacity.

All that really matters is that I’m doing it again, and that I’m doing it with more realistic expectations. And that’s why I’m happy that I’ve got my mojo back.


This originally appeared as a guest post on the blog of Valerie Haight. She has recently been signed on to Turquoise Morning Press. This post was originally published on November 14th, 2011. It has been slightly altered from the original version.

NaNoWriMo: Taking the Plunge

Yesterday a social-media friend of mine (Hello, Jonathan!) asked me if I was thinking about doing NaNoWriMo this year.

Short answer: Not really.

Long answer:  I’ve thought about it in the past but have always said no; I sincerely doubt that I’ll have the time to write 50,000 words in 30 days while working full-time, and I’d rather not start and end up failing.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the idea appealed to me. After all, I did have a bunch of story ideas rattling around in my head, and there was one story in particular where I had even gone so far as to take notes on what the main plot and the complementary subplot would be. Why not go for it?

So yes, I have decided: I will be doing NaNoWriMo.

However, I’m not doing this to prepare a manuscript for publication. I’m going in with a few reasonable assumptions:

  • My book will suck.
  • My pacing will be off.
  • My characters won’t be realistic or three-dimensional.
  • My setting will not engage the reader.
  • My diction will be poor.

If I’m so convinced my book will be horrible, then why am I doing it? Well, for reasons both personal and professional:

  1. I want to prove to myself that I have the discipline to complete a novel. I’ve never attempted writing anything as long as 50,000 words (I didn’t need to write a thesis paper to get my BA), and almost every writing resource I’ve read stresses that the most successful writers aren’t necessarily the best or most-skilled – the most successful ones are the ones who don’t stop and keep on hustling. NaNoWriMo provides an excellent platform for this because of the social aspect.
  2. I feel that writing a novel will make me a better editor. You know that old saying “those who can’t do, teach”? Well, I’m sure a lot of writers out there feel that “those who can’t write, edit”. If I actually take the effort to write a novel and realize how hard it is to do so (creating an engaging plot with believable characters, understandable motivations, evocative settings, and more), I’m sure that my understanding of how to make novels better will also improve. Plus, I’m sure I will be more tactful in my comments and critiques to the writers I end up working with.
  3. I feel that there is a good novel in me somewhere. I have lots of stories in my head that I want to develop further in text. But I want to give each story the attention and skill it deserves. I figure that if my first novel is something that I’m not too worked up about (remember, I’m assuming that this first novel will suck due to inexperience), I’ll feel more confident when I start subsequent projects. I’d rather not ruin a really amazing idea with bad execution when I can wait and really do it well once I have more practice.

In the meantime, I’m trying to gather up more resources about writing build up a cushion of support and encouragement. So far, I’m focusing on StoryFix and the I Should Be Writing podcast by Mur Lafferty. What writing resources do you have to share? Let me know in the comments.

Montreal is GO

I’m happy to announce that most, if not all, of the groundwork has been laid for my trip to Montreal:

Booked a spot at the conference? Check.

Found accommodations at a hostel? Check.

Booked my VIA rail ticket? Check.

Made sure to request the time off from work well in advance of the dates involved? Check and check!

There are still a lot of other, smaller things that need to be done, like printing off new business cards and getting my confidence levels up before I go (not to mention finishing working on websites for two clients of mine), but I really do feel in control of this thing. Now I’m just waiting to find out of the EAC will issue an official package to attendants before it starts. Lord knows I’ve been looking forward to going since Christmas. Let’s just hope that I don’t incur any catastrophic, trip-cancelling injuries in the interim.

Feeling Professional and Learning About XML

The past week has seen a flurry of really positive activity:

  • A web design company I’m helping sent me a payment
  • I sent out two contracts to new clients
  • I attended another Board meeting for the Writer’s Circle of Durham Region
  • I finally gave in and joined Twitter (look for @cvasilevski)
  • I reconnected with a former non-profit employer of mine and am in talks with them to do some volunteer work on their newsletter

After deciding to freelance about four months ago, I’ve realized that being successful requires baby steps. When I first purchased things I considered necessary, like an external hard drive or some software, I quailed inside about the money I was spending; now that there’s some money coming in (though I’d like a lot more!), I feel a little bit better about my choices. It’s funny, but ever since I decided to start doing this, I’ve found satisfaction in the most unlikely tasks: entering in transactions to a general ledger? Yes! Keeping a copy of my receipts? Yes! Tinkering with WordPress behind the scenes? Yes and yes!

I enjoy doing the busy work, and that’s tremendously encouraging. Networking is a more pressing concern, but I’m doing what I can, what with Sprouter and Twitter and attending events. Cold-calling is something I need to do more of, but again, baby steps.

In other news, my Production class at Ryerson is drawing to a close, and my final assignment involves working with XML. I’ve never done so directly, but the tutorial from class wasn’t too difficult. Luckily, I used to do a lot of work with HTML in high school, designing my own website, and the basic mechanics (open tags, insert information, close tags, keep it symmetrical) are the same. My last assignment garnered a seven out of ten – less than I was hoping for, but that just means I have to learn more about working with InDesign and Photoshop to really get what I want.

So, today will involve a lot of writing, and thinking, and errands. It’s a lovely list of things to do on a Saturday.

Happy New Year!

As we all ring in 2010, I’m happy to announce that I found out my final mark for the course in educational publishing I just finished, and ended up with an A-. While I still have yet to adapt my essay on digital readers and their potential effects on the publishing industry to this site, I’m very pleased with the results of my labour.

Anyways, to all and sundry who may drop by: welcome, take a look around, and may your year ahead be full of growth, change, and all the other things that make life good.