For the past several years, I’ve been doing annual reviews of my life and work, based on the format from Chris Guillebeau’s wonderful Annual Review on his blog, The Art of Non-Conformity. Chris’s system is exceptionally detailed, more so than I really need, but the gist is there. It’s a great system for those of us who are self-employed and want to do an assessment of our work for the year. I don’t know about you, but I like accountability. I like the feeling of accomplishment I get when I look back over the past year’s worth of work and see what worked, and what didn’t. Here’s the link to the actual post. Go on over there and take a read. I’ll wait. And if you're interested, here are the links to my previous annual reviews for 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.
The Year in Review - 2013: The Year of the Pencil
I had a lot of goals for 2013 - though on the surface, the whole concept of the Pencil meant drawing into myself, finding ways to refocus my creative energies, and enjoy a simpler life, with simpler pleasures. To have those "perfect" days I dreamed of, the ones in which I rose, exercised, wrote, cooked a lovely meal, then cuddled by the fire in the evening, with a glass of wine and a book.
And I succeeded in this, in many ways. My goal was to be more creative, and I was: I wrote more fiction than last year, and less non-fiction. We implemented no TV nights, when we both read, allowing me to double my reading output - I'm at 70 books and counting for the year. I did track all my reading on Goodreads, which was a goal I set and stuck to. (Any discrepancies are due to contest reading, blurb books, and rereading.)
I did an excellent job of utilizing the programs and apps I already had to make my life go smoothly, namely: Scrivener, Wunderlist, Evernote, Gmail, Word and Excel. I use Svenja Liv's awesome word counters, and began using Feedly for my RSS feeds, which I love. I also added in an app called Buffer, which allowed me to step back from multiple daily visits to Facebook and Twitter whilst still participating.
Automation is my friend. Knowing I can share my blogs, articles I find interesting, and other tidbits without overwhelming my followers and myself is big. This was perhaps my greatest victory of the year, quality over quantity. I've overcome my feelings toward social media as a time consuming necessary evil, and instead, found the joy in utilizing Facebook and Twitter to communicate with friends and fans alike.
In the last quarter of the year, I began journaling my writing day on the Tao of JT 5-6 days a week. I realized that the more I talk about writing, the better I write, the deeper I go creatively, and the happier I am. Instead of trying to be quippy and witty on Facebook and Twitter, I found that talking about writing, about my process, what works and what doesn't, plus any other observations I'm moved to make, is much more rewarding for me. These short blog entries have become like a ringing school bell to indicate the work day is over, and I don't feel settled until I jot down a few lines about my day, then set my laptop aside. Who knew? I'm not a natural journaler, so the sense of wellbeing I get from this is surprising. I'll continue this into the new year, see how it feels.
I revamped my entire website, moving to a new platform, instituted a monthly contest, and monthly newsletters. I've seen the numbers to all three of these grow exponentially this year, thanks to the fine work of Writerspace.com, who've been managing the back end on all of this. Their work for me has grown this year, allowing me to focus on the creative, and letting them do the hard part. I am so grateful to have them on my team.
And of course, 2013 was the year I hit one of my biggest professional goals - landing a book on the New York Times. THE FINAL CUT with Catherine Coulter far exceeded any expectations I had, making every bestseller list, and debuting at #3 on the NYT combined, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal lists. I received that precious call whilst sitting on a rooftop bar in New Orleans, honestly so sick to my stomach worrying about whether the phone would ring I thought I might just hurl over the railing. But the phone did ring, and that call changed everything for me.
2013 will continue to be special for many years to come - we opened our heart and home to twin kittens, gorgeous silver tabbies named Jameson and Jordan. Rescuing these little bunnies has brought a level of contentment to our house that's been missing for too long.
The Nitty Gritty (AKA Nerdology)
I'd set a goal of 300,000 fiction words this year, and while I came close, I didn't make it. Still, I refuse to be upset with that - I wrote more creative words than last year, which is really all I can ask. I wrote on average 2137 words per day, 739 of which were fiction, for a total increase of 4865 fiction words this year, to 270,000. I'll take it.
I wrote a large chunk of THE FINAL CUT, did a month of revisions, wrote WHEN SHADOWS FALL and another month of revisions, and completed more than half of THE LOST KEY. I wrote a proposal for Sam #4 - WHAT LIES BEHIND, plus a full proposal and outline of THE LOST KEY. I did a major revision on the secret project, but I wrote no short stories this year, more's the pity. I plan to rectify that in 2014.
I attended two conferences - Thrillerfest and Left Coast Crime, plus the Southern Kentucky Bookfest, and I gave my first keynote address to the Heart of Dixie chapter of RWA in Huntsville, a truly gratifying experience. I spoke to a couple of book clubs, including East Side Story here in Nashville. My goal was to cut back on my professional obligations in 2013, something I'd like to continue into 2014. As much as I love meeting people, the more I travel, the more the work suffers. And my creative output is my priority, not matter how alluring the con. So far, I have a teaching engagement, two signings and a keynote for the Alabama Library Association in April. I'm trying not to schedule anything else, keeping all travel personal, instead of professional. She says, hopeful.
My non-fiction total went up this year, but that was all in email - the actual non-fiction work decreased overall, even though I added in the daily journal. For the 167,750 of nonfiction: 10K was from essays and speeches, I did 9 interviews, 13 newsletters, and 100 blogs, plus Facebook and Twitter.
2013 Word Total: 780,115
Fiction Total: 270,000
Non-Fiction Total: 167,750
Fiction Percentage: 35%
2012 Fiction Total: 265,000
2011 Fiction Total: 252,300
2010 Fiction Total: 198,383
2009 Fiction Total: 135,738
The Year Ahead - 2014: The Year of Making Do
Recognizing how much we have and how little we actually need, 2014 is the year of making do with what's on hand. Not buying new books, but reading the ones I already have. Not buying new clothes and shoes; I already have a closet full. Use the food in the pantry instead of buying more and throwing so much away. Letting the work be focused on quality, instead of quantity.
We waste so much. Time, food, resources. This year, I want to focus on a truly internal goal - utilizing what I already have instead of buying new. Yes, of course, there will be things to buy, there always are. But with a bit more mindfulness, I can easily cut out the extraneous and limit this to what I actually need. To whit: I have 315 books in my To Be Read pile. I must make a decision: stop buying new books and read what I have, or continue to overwhelm myself with this unique paradox of choice, which ultimately leads to less pleasure from my most pleasurable activity. A challenge, yes, but it will impact my self-education goals for the year, too.
I'm releasing 4 books this year - WHEN SHADOWS FALL in hardcover and later in paperback, THE FINAL CUT in paperback, and THE LOST KEY in hardcover. That's a lot of promotion and PR work, especially since I need to write two more books.
I've decided that writing two full novels and one big short story/novella this year would be a more realistic goal. Too many times this year, I was on deadline, pushing hard toward the finish line, and there were so many things I let slide - my relationships, my family, truly, my life. This year, I want to hold back a bit. Being more creative is always the goal, and I don't see why that shouldn't continue. But I need to add in time for yoga, and writers lunches, and golf, and a vacation or two, without feeling the pervasive, soul sucking guilt of I shouldn't be doing this, I should be working.
Maybe it's the fact that I'm suddenly middle-aged, but I want to budget the work time and the life time a little more carefully. I have so much; I am so blessed. I have an amazing husband, wonderful friends, a loving family. I want to enjoy my life, eek every little bit of pleasure and happiness from it. So a better work life balance is needed. Working smarter, like I have been, more focused, on a better, more regular schedule, will allow me the joy I'm seeking.
I have a couple of projects I'm not ready to discuss in the hopper, and there are a lot of exciting things ahead creatively. I have a nonfiction book I want to work on, and I would really like to get a Taylor and Baldwin story together. I'm seeking to find a solid writing schedule, one that allows some breathing room in each day. I have a great example of that in Catherine, so I'll be mimicking her as much as possible. I want to do more yoga, more walking, more reading, more living.
2014 is going to be a banner year, and I thank you for continuing to join me on this ride.
The Deets: 2013 Writing