"I don't know exactly what the next year of freelancing will bring, but that could be said about pretty much anything in life. I do know that there will be writing and paralegal work. There will be food and travel. There will be aggravating moments and satisfying ones."
-Excerpt from last year's update on freelance life, published February 12, 2020
When I read that paragraph from last year's freelance update, I want to roll my eyes at my early 2020 self and say, "Oh honey, you have no f***ing clue."
None of us did, and as a freelance writer who focuses on food and travel, the COVID-19 pandemic has been especially devastating. Here are my takeaways from my tumultuous third year of full-time freelance life.
I lost my favorite writing gig.
For the past few years, the majority of my professional food writing has been for City Pages, a local alt weekly. I covered the Twin Cities dining scene as a regular freelance contributor, and I relished the opportunity to check out new restaurants, interview interesting people, and give some much-deserved attention to small restaurants and food producers—often woman, immigrant, and BIPOC-owned—that were overlooked by the mainstream press.
Unfortunately, City Pages was heavily dependent on ad revenue from restaurants and entertainment venues, and my editor stopped commissioning freelance content at the end of March 2020 due to budget constraints. The staff kept the publication going until the end of October 2020, when it shuttered for good.
City Pages meant a lot to me. They gave me my first professional byline in 2015, and I wrote for them consistently for over five years. I'm proud of the work I did there, and I'm still trying to figure out who I am as a food writer without them.
Financially, I still did okay.
Despite losing the majority of my journalism work, I still did okay financially in 2020. Several factors played into that—I had a very strong January and February pre-pandemic; my income from my paralegal gig increased; most of my copywriting work was unaffected; and I took on a temporary administrative gig for a local non-profit. In addition, I was eligible for unemployment benefits and a small business grant under the CARES Act. Finally, although I lost most of my journalism income, my business expenses were also reduced (primarily mileage and travel costs), which helped my bottom line.
Most importantly, I have a spouse whose job in tech provides our household with benefits and a steady paycheck. Mike's support—financial and otherwise—has always made my full-time freelancing feasible, and that was especially true this past year.
I'm cautiously optimistic about 2021. January was one of my busiest months yet, thanks to a large volume of travel-related copywriting work, and I've landed some journalism assignments for February.
I went back to my blogging roots.
When I started this blog in 2012, it was where I shared recipes I enjoyed and wrote about my relationship with food. Eventually, I also started writing about meals at local restaurants and doing posts about our vacations.
Around 2016, as I became established as a professional writer, my blog became more career-focused. I started doing sponsored posts, I put a lot more effort into photography, and my travel content included hosted trips as well as personal vacations. I considered how a post would rank in search results and whether the photos would do well on Instagram. My writing became less focused on my personal life and instead, a reflection of my professional writing style. For the most part I stopped covering the local dining scene, because it overlapped with my work for City Pages.
Over the past year, the pandemic has shifted my blog closer to its origins. I didn't do any hosted trips. I updated the recipes and photos on some of my most popular posts, including Icelandic Happy Marriage Cake, Perfect Popovers, Garlic Parmesan Harvest Grains Blend, and Peruvian Potato-Bean Stew. I wrote about pandemic takeout and pandemic patio dining. There was a long list of pop culture recommendations for people who share my penchant for mysteries and melancholy folk rock, and an essay about retaking our wedding photos.
I'm not sure what my long-term plan is for my blog, but I have appreciated the chance to use it less as a professional space and more as a creative outlet again.
I started a bakery.
Since my journalism work was mostly nonexistent over the past year, I needed to do something positive to keep myself from sinking into despair. So I started a bakery—Minnesota has a cottage food law that allows small-scale producers to sell certain homemade products, including most baked goods. Tangled Up In Food Bakes focuses on what I'm best at: baking everyday treats from scratch, the sorts of things that your grandma makes or that your coworker brings to the office potluck.
While my bakery is a small part of my professional life, I really enjoy it. So far the highlight was my holiday cookie sale—I sold much more than I expected and got some very positive feedback from customers.
Despite all of the lost potential of the past year, I did actually get a lot of things right in the predictions I quoted at the beginning of this post. I traveled to Disney World in early March, took an anxiety-laden press trip to Door County in December, and enjoyed getaways to Stillwater, Duluth, and the North Shore. Delicious food came in the form of takeout, baked goods, and patio meals. I logged a lot of hours on my paralegal gig, found creative pivots for my travel-oriented copywriting clients, and snagged a few bylines.
I don't want to make any predictions about the upcoming year, but I'm hopeful that I'll be able to travel more, bake more, and most importantly, write more.