Hello, and welcome to my annual review!
I experienced a huge amount of resistance to putting together the annual review this year. Not the numbers—with my spreadsheets, that is actually the easy part. No, there was just so much that happened this year, so many things — good and bad, happy and sad — that I just felt overwhelmed at the prospect of revisiting the many emotions I experienced as the year progressed.
It was a stressful year, to say the least. From staffing changes to deals falling through, from altered deadlines, shifting pub dates, way too much travel, and a secret project to launch which came with a monstrous learning curve, it felt hectic from start to finish. And hectic isn’t a good place for me. Especially when, looking at the planning calendar, I *knew* the year was going to be busy. Sometimes knowing is worse, because the anticipation gets you every time. If I had a dollar for the number of times I said “just get through this month, and it will all calm down...”
A friend (rather bravely, considering) told me she was concerned I was overdoing it, that I was pushing too hard, and was in danger of having it all collapse around my ears. It brought me up short, and was possibly the most important conversation I had all year. When I took a step back and thought things through, I realized she was right, something had to give. I was driving myself to stress and distraction by trying to do it all.
But get through it all, I did. I’ll even admit I’m kind of proud of myself for making it all happen. And interestingly, as I was putting my review together, I realized that for every negative, I found myself writing “X happened, but it caused Y,” and almost universally, Y was a positive that outweighed the negative. Once I finally dug in, the year looked pretty dang rosy.
2018 was supposed to be the Year of Change — and boy, how, did it live up to its title.
LOOKING BACK ON 2018 - THE YEAR OF CHANGE
It’s time to apply all the changes I’ve made over the past several years into a single, overarching habit that encompasses my work, my current life, and my future work. Putting my own needs first will allow me to grow both as a writer and as a person. Being selfish with my time, only applying my energy to work I love and believe in, will help me reconnect with my creativity in new and exciting ways. I vow to try new things, to read new to me authors, to regularly unplug and decompress, and enjoy life without pushing so hard all the time. Most importantly, I will set work hours, and step away from the screen when the day is done. “Mischief Managed” will be my new end of workday mantra, giving me permission to shut down until the next day. A shutdown ritual coupled with an 8-week modular work plan will lend structure and cohesiveness to my days, and drop my stress levels exponentially.
HOW DID I DO?
Well...I can honestly say that I did achieve 50% of what I was looking for when I set my 2018 goal of change. The first half of the paragraph above, especially. I made several major changes to my writing habits, and I’ve done an excellent job putting my needs first. One of the greatest lessons we can all learn is how to let go of anything that doesn’t serve us in a positive way, be that work, people, habits (or the lack thereof). This year, I said no to things I truly didn’t want to do, and felt a new sense of freedom.
Did my stress level drop because I planned everything so perfectly? Ha! Not a chance. At one point in the year, I was actually so stressed my doctor put me on a heart monitor. It was situational, happily, and once the stressor was removed, everything went back to normal. But recognizing I wasn’t managing my stress well, I started taking CBD oil, which has gone a long way toward helping me keep everything under control. I’m sleeping better, deeper, and waking more refreshed, which helps. I’m feeling much more capable of handling the day, and that’s been a lifesaver. I’d much rather take something natural instead of Ativan!
By the last quarter of the year, when everything hit a fever pitch, I just kept getting up and tackling the day, over and over, and then, suddenly... it was all over. All the books were published, all the travel was finished, all the deadlines were met. I had room to breath, and the clarity with which to see the future again. I started thinking about 2019, and beyond, what I wanted from my career, from myself. I even went so far as to write a mission statement, my Jerry Maguire moment, to help clarify everything I was thinking about, where I want to go from here. It felt good. It makes sense. It’s achievable.
Now that, my friends, is change personified.
WHAT WENT RIGHT?
So many things! Honestly, as wild as all this sounds, many, many more good things happened than bad. A lot of them I can’t talk about publicly, but believe me when I say 2018 was a very good year.
TEAR ME APART’s reception in the world was beyond heartwarming. It was such a difficult book to write, and the notes I’ve received about it broke my heart and put it back together again.
A THOUSAND DOORS was a wonder. From start to finish, it was an exhilarating process. Working with the amazing authors, watching the story come together, seeing it resonate with readers, learning how to publish the damn thing… it was a labor of love and I’m very proud of it. Plus, many new friendships sprang from its loins. What more can you ask from a project?
Something very important happened in 2018 — for the first time in many years, I developed and started writing an entirely new concept instead of digging into my archives for a story thread. That book, GOOD GIRLS LIE, is well underway and due to my publisher early 2019. And with that clarity came yet another idea, for the next book, which also hasn’t happened in a very long time. I am finding the flow again, and that is a very good thing. I also adapted a short story idea in progress to be the epilogue for GOOD GIRLS LIE — in that weird way of the subconscious, I couldn’t make the short story deadline, but the story must have been germinating anyway.
After finishing THE LAST SECOND, the 6th Brit in the FBI book, I immediately pivoted to a trip to England, the launch of TEAR ME APART, a brief tour, and then right into the launch of A THOUSAND DOORS, all without drawing a breath. These weeks away from writing torpedoed a lot of my good habits, so I decided to do a 4th quarter booster shot.
I re-read (listened to) Stephen King’s ON WRITING and Twyla Tharp’ s THE CREATIVE HABIT, and both books really lit a fire under me in terms of my own creativity and writing habits. Not to do more, necessarily, but to do it smarter, and for the right reasons. I’ve been making tweaks to my writing day all year, but now I’m getting my words done in the morning, leaving me the rest of the day for exercise, reading, cooking, planning, and more writing.
Even more importantly, I rebuilt my office from scratch to be a calming, Zen-like space that allows me to do all my creative work in one place. When I leave my office, I leave the work. When I step in, the creative juices flow immediately. (Plus, the cats LOVE the new rugs and chair.) Since I’m entering a new chapter in my life, having a new desk, a new office, is probably the most symbolic and constructive act I’ve done in years.
And I read 100 books. 100! (I don’t count abandoned titles in this, of which there were at least 20, nor my own books, all of which get read a gazillion times each.) Last year I read 72. Adding audiobooks to my repertoire has seriously increased my reading time, something I was really hoping for.
Catherine and I (avec husbands) went to London and saw The Cursed Child, and then Randy and I went on to Cambridge and Oxford. So much fun, and so inspiring. I used a lot of the Oxford trip as the backbone for GOOD GIRLS LIE, too!
I published three books, wrote half of another, traveled all over the country and did two international trips. There were starred reviews, thoughtful emails, and great friendships made and deepened. We started a private facebook group called the Literati which is a wonderful, warm, funny place to spend time with like-minded readers. Instagram turned out to be a happy surprise filled with lovely bookstagrammers and yogis to follow, and I found a haven on Twitter of fun authors to hang out with, both online and in person. I learned how to do actual accounting, fulfillment, and billing (don’t laugh, MATH) and once the accounts receivable are set, the publishing house is actually in the black for the year, a massive accomplishment.
With my assistant Leigh at the helm, I am very happy with the way we’re approaching social media now, too. After some fits and starts with the Tao reboot, I’ve found a healthy balance with the Sunday Smatterings posts, regular check-ins on Facebook and Twitter, and a lot of fun, positive energy going into Instagram. We’ve abandoned schedules and are focused on enjoying the relationships we’ve built this year, especially on the Literati and Instagram, and of course, the newsletter continues to be my favorite way to communicate. If I have something I want to blog about, I do. If I don’t, I don’t. This takes off so much pressure, you can’t even imagine.
And of course, a major new secret project is well underway. Trust me when I say, it’s going to be astoundingly cool and a big, big surprise.
My biggest takeaway: In learning how to let things go that don’t serve me, I found myself again.
WHAT WENT WRONG?
At one point in the year, it felt like anything that could go wrong, did... but it righted itself in the third quarter, leading to a fun fourth quarter. I didn’t hit my original word goal, revising it down by 50k... but I indie published a unique anthology to major critical acclaim. I had a mini-meltdown in September and decided to take the last 4 months of the year off... but quickly realized time off wasn’t the issue, it was what I was spending my time on that was the problem. My assistant quit... but I found a wonderful new one rather quickly, and the transition was practically seamless. A major deal fell through... but another presented itself the same week. I didn’t play nearly enough golf, nor did I take nearly enough time off... but I got to travel to England for research and Aruba for fun. I was stressed out of my mind for a while... but I found a great, natural solution. I was laid low by a major bout with the flu, and another round soon after of asthmatic bronchitis... but the time spent in fevered delirium absolutely made TEAR ME APART come together, and I kept off almost all the weight I lost. I did lose my yoga practice, and there’s no real but for balance... but I plan to fix this ASAP. Oddly, I haven’t heard my good luck song since 2017... but I hope this changes, too, and soon!
All in all, it was definitely a when a door closes, a window opens kind of year.
Living a creative life — making a living from a creative life, I should say — is hard, but isn’t exactly digging ditches. Having this much work, this many expectations, is a major blessing, one I don’t take for granted.
NERDOLOGY — THE NITTY GRITTY
2018 Word Total: 835,959
Fiction Total: 200,430
Non-Fiction Total: 105,529
Fiction Percentage: 24%
Books Read: 100 (of a revised up goal of 80)
2017 Fiction Total: 274,410 (Fiction 30%)
2016 Fiction Total: 217,228 (Fiction 25%)
2015 Fiction Total: 203,749 (Fiction 28%)
2014 Fiction Total: 291,114 (Fiction 36%)
2013 Fiction Total: 270,000 (Fiction 34%)
2012 Fiction Total: 265,000 (Fiction 34%)
2011 Fiction Total: 252,300 (Fiction 35%)
2010 Fiction Total: 198,383 (Fiction 32%)
2009 Fiction Total: 135,738 (Fiction 27%)
I wrote fewer fiction words due to the time I spent publishing A THOUSAND DOORS, and barely squeaked past my (revised down) 200,000 goal this year, mostly because I arrived at my parents for Christmas and promptly collapsed into a puddle of goo and didn’t get off the couch to do anything but walk or golf for a week. It was glorious, and well worth not blowing away my goal. Honestly, I’m pretty sure I did surpass 200k handily, but I only count each project’s finished words, not all words written, in my dailies. Still, 200,000 is nothing to sneeze at. It’s one of my lowest counts in years, but I am completely at peace about it. I’ve become much more interested in producing a specific kind of work, and if that means it takes me longer and I write less overall, so be it.
Here are some specifics on the year — and yes, the numbers aren’t wrong, there were 15 releases this year (not including any down price sales or contests). No wonder things felt so frantic!
Original Books Published: 3
Bouchercon, SIBA, Murder by the Book, Parnassus, Chapel Hill Library, Charlotte Bibliofeast, Writerfest Nashville, Southwest Florida Reading Festival, Southern Festival of Books
Major Projects Worked On: 5
TEAR ME APART, A THOUSAND DOORS (both edits and 4 original short stories within), THE LAST SECOND (Brit in the FBI #6), SECRET PROJECT, GOOD GIRLS LIE
A WORD ON WORDS Shows Taped: 6
Books read: 100
More Awesome Stuff:
EMMY nomination for A WORD ON WORDS Season 3
PW Starred Review: TEAR ME APART
PW Starred Review: A THOUSAND DOORS
NYT List: THE SIXTH DAY
USA Today List: THE SIXTH DAY, LIE TO ME
TEAR ME APART made several major best of 2018 lists
Shhhh.....(sorry, but soon!)
2019 - The Year of Joy
After all the changes of 2018, I’m so looking forward to 2019. I go forth into the new year with joy in my heart, not the pervasive dread of “how am I going to do it all?” I usually feel at this time of year. I’m not worrying as much about what I’m going to accomplish, instead I’m focused on being present, enjoying my work, my family and friends, and my life. Being happy. Contentment and creativity are the primary goals. A big birthday is looming, and I plan to enjoy every minute of the transition into another decade, approaching this new stage of my life with gratitude instead of fear.
If you’ve read my previous years’ annual reviews, you’ll see a trend. Accomplish goals, accomplish goals, accomplish goals. This is laudable, absolutely. But it’s also becoming counterproductive to my creativity. And I really, really need to scale back.
I want to start separating out my goals into two categories — what I can accomplish, and what I’d like to see happen. Need vs. Desire. It feels counterproductive to have goals on my list that are out of my control (options exercised, bestseller lists made, etc.) I can control how many words I write, and I can control how many books I read. I can control whether I walk on the treadmill and get on my yoga mat. I can control what I put in my body. Controlling the things I can control goes a long way toward creating joy.
To this end, I bought myself a gorgeous new notebook (William Hannah) and I’m very excited to incorporate some more specific calendar work with my to do lists, and notes. I’ve been tossing over this notebook concept for three years, so I figured, why not? My favorite Quo Vadis Habanas have gone exclusively to ivory paper, and I prefer the brighter, whiter paper that the William Hannah provides. Plus, I like the actual calendars, with pretty dates and perfectly drawn boxes — I am not an artist in this way; my BuJo is functional but rarely elegant. This new notebook has a monthly calendar, a weekly calendar, monthly planning, weekly planning, and plenty of room for to do lists, meeting notes, brainstorming, anything I want, because it’s scalable and customizable. All in one, and one for all. Pretty cool.
2019 is also the year I refocus my mental energy on my fiction. Everything is humming along nicely in the non-fiction realm, so there’s nothing more that needs to be changed there. I want to focus my energies on writing books that connect with readers, and feeling that elusive moment of creative satisfaction I’ve achieved a few times in my career.
I’m starting the year with a Dry January, mostly because I want to change my to sleep and to rise times, and my nightly glass of wine makes it harder to get up in the morning (hello, middle age). I’m excited about initializing some new habits, and refreshing my Italian skills for a trip later this year.
As of now, there will be seven book releases in 2019 — two original titles, four backlist releases, and one audiobook. I don’t know about repacks and the like, but seven is a much more manageable number than 15.
March 26 - THE LAST SECOND Brit in the FBI #6 HC
March 26 - THE SIXTH DAY (Brit in the FBI #5) mmpb
April 9 - A THOUSAND DOORS Audio
April 23 - LIE TO ME mmpb
September 3 - GOOD GIRLS LIE HC
September 23 - NO ONE KNOWS mmpb
November 12 - THE LAST SECOND (Brit in the FBI #6) TP
I plan to finish GOOD GIRLS LIE and write another full-length novel, with a writing goal of 200,000 words. I don’t have any short stories on the horizon, but if one presents itself, I will certainly tap into the zeitgeist and make it happen.
I’ve also mentioned that I’m working on a massive secret project — because what fun would life be without secret projects? I will share details as soon as I’m able. It is incredibly fun, and I am very excited about it.
I’m scheduled to attend both Thrillerfest and Bouchercon. Because of my deadline, I sadly had to pull out of a January conference, but I’m hopeful to make it in 2020. I have Southern Voices ahead, and a few other trips planned. Nothing crazy, but fun stuff that I’m really looking forward to, including one major research trip.
And speaking of deadlines... I’d like to work on revamping my writing year, too. My perfect year (assuming two books a year) sees me starting a new book in January, finishing in May, starting another new book in July, finishing in early December. That gives me May and December off (it takes me a solid month to get one book out of my head and another into it) and gives me plenty of space to attend conferences and tour.
And speaking of conferences... The relationships we build in this industry are so vital, and spending quality time with writer friends is on the top of my list this year. I’d like to do at least two writing retreats, and take advantage of the opportunities I’m offered.
I’m very excited to be a part of the Brenda Novak Book Club this year, too — GOOD GIRLS LIE is their October selection.
I’m setting a reading goal of 80 books. I will admit, toward the end of the year, I was feeling a bit frantic trying to hit that elusive 100 book goal, and that’s silly. Reading is for pleasure, and goals like this really don’t mean anything outside of a commitment to spending time with books, and THAT is what’s important, not the number of books read. 80 is a comfortable pace for me. This way, if I exceed it, I’ll be pleased instead of revising up, like I did this year.
As for the rest, there are a number of personal goals that are directly related to how I structure my day. After all these years of goal setting, I’ve learned that while a habit is a good thing for me, trying to schedule myself too specifically backfires. I’d like my day to see 1000 words written, an hour of exercise, and at least a few pages of a book read. The *perfect* work day has those 1000 words written by noon, the exercise done by 2, and the reading done both before and after dinner, but since this is the Year of Joy, not the Year of Striving, I’ll settle for getting writing, exercise, and reading into my day. Also, working in my office, not drifting from room to room, will allow me to shut off when I need to.
Good plans, all. We’ll see how I do.
Thank you, as always, for joining me on this journey. I hope you find these reviews as helpful as I do. What you see is often the tip of the iceberg, and this year is no different, but my planning is just beginning, and I’m trying to go with the flow a bit more rather than scheduling myself down to the last moment of every day. Wish me luck, and I wish the same for you — along with health, happiness, and tons of good books!
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. 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 (Too Damn Much), 2010 (Evolution), 2011 (Depth), 2012 (Simplicity), 2013 (Pencil), 2014 (Making Do), 2015 No), 2016, (Lent), and 2017 (Flow).