2018 Annual Review

2018 Annual Review (2).png

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
Email: 530,000
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:

TEAR ME APART, THE SIXTH DAY, A THOUSAND DOORS
All three novels were critically acclaimed, and THE SIXTH DAY hit all the major bestseller lists. Hurrah! 

Reprint/Repackage
: 7

The Sixth Day trade paperback
Samantha Owens Series digital repack
Suspense on the Edge of Romance Collection (ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS)
Dark and Twisted Reads (ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS)

Two Tales Press:
7

A THOUSAND DOORS, NO ONE KNOWS German edition, NO ONE KNOWS UK edition, DEAD ENDS audiobook, STORIES OF THE NIGHT audiobook, CATWOOD

Conferences/Festivals/Bookstores:
10 

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!

THE DEETS
May 7

2018 Annual Review Writing Totals.png

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).

2017 Annual Review

2017 Annual Review

Oh, 2017. You will go down in history as one of my most exciting, crazy, thought-provoking, and frustrating years ever.
 

Looking Back on 2017 - The Year of Flow

After purposefully pulling back from external commitments, 2017 is the year I give my art my full attention again by staying home and working on my writing habit. Consistent writing brings me great contentment, and that is my goal for 2017 — contentment through consistency. This applies to more than just writing; it is my personal goal as well. Staying home allows for regular habits to grow and thrive — not just writing, but yoga, golf, friendships, minimalism for the house, and lots of regular, protected deep work time. This deep work practice will create great flow, allowing me to focus and challenge myself in my work.


HOW DID I DO?

When I read this, I started to laugh and wrote Ha—not even close. But... as I thought about it, while I wasn't able to stay home and nest all year, pouring out words as quickly as I do my morning tea, I do believe I achieved my goal of contentment through consistency. I'm rather surprised by this revelation, as I spent weeks on the road this year, had my schedules shift around several times, ran around with my hair on fire meeting new deadlines, remodeled the house, and otherwise spent a lot of time freaking out.

And yet... The crazy remodeling of several rooms to make them exactly what we wanted resulted in us decluttering the house to the point of austerity—a long-time goal achieved. It feels so good now. Another goal met: I spent a lot of time with the people I adore the most—friends, family, and business teammates, at home and on the road—deepening those relationships. With all the chaos, I managed to meet all my deadlines, read almost 80 books, took an actual unplugged vacation, wrote 275,000 fiction words, launched an anthology and recruited another, taped 6 episodes for A Word on Words, and found a comfortable writing habit. I even lost ten pounds in the process. Maybe I didn't fail as much as I thought I did! Then again, my golf handicap did go up because I only played 8 rounds this summer. 8! This must change. 

WHAT WENT RIGHT?

Well, everything and nothing. Professionally, the year-long campaign for LIE TO ME was a massive success. The book was a big hit, and allowed me to travel all over the country, meet a lot of readers, and put me on the radar of some very influential book bloggers and Instagrammers. My publisher got behind me big time, with major future commitments, and really, you can’t ask for anything better. Catherine and I wrote a new book that I think is wildly unique and fun, I finished a new standalone novel that is dark and different, wrote some short stories I’m very proud of, and grew Two Tales Press to its next level. Assistant Amy worked her tail off all year to allow me more margin for creative work, and when you see the numbers below, you’ll see exactly how well that worked. 

Personally, I found a great deal of contentment toward the end of the year once all my deadlines were met. The changes to my schedule and focus worked well, and I absolutely love my new interiors. I nearly exceeded my writing goals, nearly met my reading goal, and had a very good year in general. I committed to handling the holidays early and did, which brought a surprising amount of joy. Like so many others, the holidays are sometimes hard for me, but this year, having everything dealt with Thanksgiving weekend allowed me to enjoy instead of fret. So there’s the key — planning, and executing the plan. Who knew?

I also asked for and received an Apple Watch for Christmas. I can already see how this tool is going to be very useful in helping me meet my physical goals this year. I am so excited by it — it’s very clever, and I was able to import all 5 years of my Fitbit data using a cool app, and can track my sleep, too. Winning! I also upgraded my laptop to a Mac Touch Bar, and I LOVE it. The keyboard alone is worth the price. So much better ergonomically.

We also did a great job decluttering, emptying closets, turning the bonus room back into a game room instead of using it for storage. We have no house projects on the horizon; it’s time to settle into our bones and enjoy what we have. 


WHAT WENT WRONG?

If I say everything and nothing again, you’re going to smack me and call me dramatic. You know the saying, still waters run deep? That was this year.

On the surface, everything looks stunning. But trust me when I say there was a lot of behind-the-scenes chaos, fear, freakouts, emotional collapses, self-doubt, and just plain too much to handle. Were it not for the support of friends, family, teammates, a very compassionate husband, and a brilliant assistant, I would have run away to a little town in Europe and not looked back. It’s interesting, I seem to have a cycle going. Every few years, I lose it completely and struggle for a couple of months to find my footing again. Why is this? Perhaps because I take on too much and it all catches up at once, perhaps I care too deeply about the work and am holding on to it too tightly, perhaps the natural physical changes as I’m growing up affect my emotional state (chick hint: it does). A combination of all these things? Regardless, I’m committed to lowering my stress levels in 2018. Something has to give. I don’t know what yet, but to start, I have canceled all travel and conferences save two I’d already committed to. I really need to step back and take a breath so I can focus on my work.

 

NERDOLOGY - AKA THE NITTY GRITTY

 

2017 Word Total: 919,881
Fiction Total: 274,410
Non-Fiction Total: 78,571
Email: 566,900
Fiction Percentage: 30%
Books Read: 75 (
of a goal of 80)

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%)

The most important takeaway from the 2017 numbers is this: my fiction total went up by over 57,000 words, and my non-fiction dropped by 48,000 (as compared to 2016). That in and of itself makes the year a raging success. I’m back into my 2013/2014 output levels, which means I can stock my magic bakery with more titles, and I’ve converted non-fiction words into fiction words for the very first time. A very good thing.

2017 was an insanely good year for my creative work. So many great things happened, some of which I can’t even talk about just yet! I released three original titles: THE DEVIL’S TRIANGLE with Catherine Coulter, my second standalone, LIE TO ME, and my first anthology under my Two Tales Press imprint, DEAD ENDS. I wrote and published two short stories: CATWOOD and THE ENDARKENING, and started two more that will come out in 2018. THE DEVIL’S TRIANGLE hit #2 on USA Today and The New York Times, and #1 on The Wall Street Journal. It received a starred Booklist, too. LIE TO ME hit The Globe and Mail and Toronto Star top ten lists, received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, and continues to do well. Target chose NO ONE KNOWS for their Emerging Author shelf, and LIE TO ME as a Target Select Read. FIELD OF GRAVES was nominated for a RITA® Award for best Romantic Suspense, and both NO ONE KNOWS and FIELD OF GRAVES were long-listed for the Southern Book Award in the Thriller category. I went to ALA and BEA in support of LIE TO ME (OMG, that banner!), as well as toured all over the west coast, which was a blast. And of course, a huge exciting highlight of the year, A WORD ON WORDS won a regional EMMY®! And I managed to throw in another standalone novel, that I’m revising now, which will be my 2018 solo release.

Now if I could just write faster…

____________

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. 
 

I’m not even pretending to have a zen word for this year. 2018 is going to see some serious life changes for me work-wise, and I intend to shift several of my personal goals as well. I’m closing in on a major birthday in 2019, and I want to lay the foundations this year that will carry me through middle age (gulp). This includes the usual culprits: exercise and weight loss, a sustained yoga practice, and more vegetables than meat. And golf is a priority. But this year, I’m going deeper than changes to my physical being. 

I want to change how I approach my creativity. I feel like it gets stifled with all the pressure that exists in our current environment. I stepped away from social media several times in 2017, and this will continue into 2018. The psychic cost isn’t one I’m willing to pay anymore. I’ve found a comfortable pace with my networks, and my focus is on deepening those relationships instead of trying to grow, grow, grow. I’ve always said quality is more important that quantity. 2018 is the year I prove that to myself. 

I want to push myself creatively, too. You’ve heard the term “leveling up” — well, I want to find a way to be focused enough to level up every book instead of every five to ten books. That’s going to take an overhaul of my systems. Deep work is paramount, no distractions, no panic. I've learned how to say no when something doesn't enhance my life or work, and will continue to do so. My daily habit is in a good place, reinforced by scheduled Freedom sessions: Read during breakfast, write from 10–12, read during lunch, write from 1–3 (or 2–5 depending on the day), then a workout. Dinner, read or TV. Wash, rinse, repeat. 

I want to read more and consume less. As always, I want to read more of what I already own instead of buying new books. I want to read with intention, work with joy, and put myself first. I want to continue mentoring, continue broadening my horizons with A Word on Words guests, and dig deep into my mental wellbeing. 

I also ran across a very cool concept recently about breaking the year into multiple 8-week segments. The idea is 6 weeks of deep work, 1 week of wrap up, 1 week of vacation/rest. Looking at my word trackers, I do something very similar to this already—the bulk of my books are almost always written in the last 6 weeks of the project’s timetable. I spend the first 8 weeks or so on the first 25,000 words, making the set up works perfectly. I will be analyzing this new method and applying it to my annual creative planning, and see where it takes me. Plus, that week of rest is paramount. I took a real vacation in 2017, and I need to do it again.

As far as work plans: I want to write three short stories, and finally wrangle the non-fiction project I’ve been circling for the past several years, which means instituting a non-fiction day every week. I’m choosing Fridays, to echo my many years blogging at Murderati. Catherine and I will be writing the sixth Brit in the FBI, which is due in late summer, and I will tackle another solo book. I'm not sure if that's a standalone or a Taylor/Sam yet. I might toss in a secret project if I have the time and energy.

I have three original releases this year: THE SIXTH DAY, A Brit in the FBI #5, comes out on April 10. TEAR ME APART, my new standalone, releases on September 18. And we have a cool new anthology coming from Two Tales Press in November. I can’t WAIT to tell you all about it.

There’s even more incredible news to share, projects that will be taking my creative time, and I will release those details as soon as I’m able. Exciting times ahead!

Honestly, I don’t know that I ever imagined my career would be humming along like it is. I am blessed, and I know it, and so much of that is thanks to you. 

All in all, I’m faced with an interesting moment in my creative life. I hope I can meet it with aplomb, meet my new goals head on, and accomplish a lot. Thanks as always for being a part of my journey. Many blessings for a splendid, productive, happy, and safe 2018. Peace out!

 

The Deets - 2017 Writing

2017 Writing Chart.png

 

____________

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 200920102011, 201220132014, 2015, and 2016.

2016 Annual Review

Welcome to my annual review!

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 200920102011, 201220132014 and 2015.


2016 SUMMARY

It’s hard to quantify things sometimes, but on the whole—2016 goes down as the best year I’ve had since I started writing. All the hard work of the past decade seemed to pay off at once, which was both gratifying and frightening, because dear God, what have I gotten myself into? Be careful what you wish for, right?

I spent too much time on the road, and definitely didn’t write enough, but had a major first for me: creative satisfaction. I finally feel like I’m hitting the mark with my work. And that gives me so much hope and excitement for the years ahead. Who knew giving up my biggest goal would allow it to get within my reach?

I’ve been in this game for nine years now, and over that time, I've learned a very important and valuable lesson: writing what you love, what scares you, and what you think is going to get you in the most trouble, is the way to go. My training wheels are off. I’m riding free and easy. And I haven’t been this excited and happy about my art since my debut year. That’s what 2016 gave me. And what a gift it is.


2016 - THE YEAR OF LENT


MY GOALS FOR LAST YEAR
 

This is the year I let go of all my earlier goals and preconceptions and live in the moment, focusing on controlling what I can control and not worrying about things out of my immediate control. No more striving, no more craving. As always, trying to make do with what I have, reading books I've already bought, minimizing clutter, allowing for better organization. I want to learn how to be more present, more involved in the now, which means more yoga and meditation. Taking all I've learned about writing and productivity and putting it into action. And letting go of the idea that I can't work on more than one project at a time, which is simply resistance. Continue meaningful and satisfying connections with friends and readers, be a good boss, a good wife, a good reader and writer, and learn how to sit back and enjoy the ride.

 

WHAT WENT RIGHT


All in all, I have to say, 2016 was a raging success in terms of sticking to my plan. I was absolutely more present, absolutely more focused. I worked very hard on tending my own garden and breaking a lot of bad habits. Professionally and personally, I feel like I got a handle on my self-destructive/procrastination issues, especially using the internet as a tool for avoidance. That’s gone. No more. And it has created so much space that I didn’t realize I was missing.

In terms of the good things that happened, it was a magical year.

I released six books in 2016, two original novels (NO ONE KNOWS and FIELD OF GRAVES); three paperbacks (THE END GAME, NO ONE KNOWS, FIELD OF GRAVES); and released my first print short story collection through Two Tales Press, THE FIRST DECADE.

A WORD ON WORDS was reupped for a second season, and the first season was nominated for an Emmy®! It was an incredible year on the show, with awesome authors and a fabulous crew. 

Catherine and I moved to Gallery with Nicholas and Mike at the end of 2015, and I’m loving everything about our new home. THE DEVIL’S TRIANGLE is out next March, and it is hands-down my favorite book in the series to date.

I also signed a new deal with MIRA Books for another new standalone, and am doing a slight creative pivot to allow myself time to write both standalones and series books with them. Which is Very Exciting Stuff, as I’ve always wanted to write standalones. I have four books to come from MIRA, which is excellent news for all the Taylor and Sam fans out there and for the standalone fans.

My secret project from last year became my new standalone novel — LIE TO ME will be out next September 5. I’m hopeful it is a breakthrough novel for me. I know it was for the art. The sense I had when I completed it was utterly unfamiliar, until I realized it was creative satisfaction. It’s eluded me for a very long time, really since Jade’s passing five years ago, so I was relieved and grateful to have it back.

Amy has continued to be a godsend. I’m not sure what I did to deserve such an amazing right hand — because she’s much more than her titles — but under her steady leadership, I’ve felt more and more comfortable sticking with writing and interactions. (A note for writers here: you need someone to help. You really do. Even on an ad hoc basis for certain projects, clearing mind space for your work is a necessity. I’ve talked at length about ways to do this, from interns from your local colleges to virtual PAs. Trust me, it’s worth it.)

 

WHAT WENT WRONG
 

This list of what I didn’t do well is, as usual, long and varied:

  • I didn’t hit my word count goal
  • I didn’t read enough books
  • I definitely didn’t lose any weight
  • I lost my yoga practice
  • I didn’t play enough golf and my handicap went up (ugh)
  • I allowed myself to be distracted by things that didn’t matter and were out of my control

The biggest downside was the travel—as happened last year, I was on the road pretty much continuously from March to November. I had a several-month stretch where I wasn’t home for more than 2 weeks at a time, and there was a moment when we were actually counting down the events: only 10 more, only 9 more, 8 more…  I was unbelievably stressed by all the commitments I’d made.

This year, that is not going to happen. I'm putting real constraints on myself, curtailing appearances and declining opportunities. I simply have to stay home and write for a while, and focus all my attention on my work. It's selfish, I know, but art is selfish. I've resolved to unapologetically focus on me and mine for a while.

But the thing is, the positives of 2016 outweighed the negative so far that I can’t even start to complain. I am four years removed from my All Is Lost moment, when I seriously considered whether I should be doing this at all, and I am exceedingly grateful I didn’t give up.

 

NERDOLOGY - AKA THE NITTY GRITTY
 

Though it wasn’t my most productive year, I did complete two new books: THE DEVIL’S TRIANGLE with Catherine, and my own standalone, LIE TO ME, plus started a new standalone novel, wrote three brand-new short stories, and started another.

2016 Word Total: 877,650
Fiction Total: 217,228
Non-Fiction Total: 126,882
Email: 533,600
Fiction Percentage: 25%
Books Read: 66 (of a goal of 70)

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%)

It wasn't my most productive year. I failed to meet my 400,000 word count goal for fiction. With all the external commitments, it’s not a surprise, though I was disappointed in the final numbers. This year will be better. I’m setting a hard and fast goal of 300,000, and I will meet it. That equals three novels. Two are already deadlined, and I have to get ALL FALL DOWN done too. Those three books should take me right to the goal.

I went all over the country on two different book tours, one for NO ONE KNOWS and one for FIELD OF GRAVES. All of the events were fun and interesting, and I fell in love all over again with several wonderful indie bookstores.

The books themselves were very well received this year, too: 

  •   2 Okra Picks (NO ONE KNOWS and FIELD OF GRAVES)
  •   1 Starred PW review (FIELD OF GRAVES)
  •   1 Starred Booklist review (NO ONE KNOWS)
  •   1 Romantic Times Top Pick (THE END GAME)
  •   1 Book of the Month Club Pick (NO ONE KNOWS)
  •   1 USA Today (!) showing (for reprint of ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS)
  •   The Brit in the FBI books hit the top ten of all the bestseller lists
  •   One more awesome thing that's secret until sometime this week...


Really, I can’t ask for more than that!

I made several changes to my daily accountability processes, including starting a spreadsheet specifically for my non-fiction. It made this process so much easier. I felt like my non-fiction was more successful this year because I pulled back on the quantity and focused on quality, something that will continue into 2017 and beyond. I also started tracking social media reach in a sustainable way, and was happy to see a lot of growth in the newsletter, which has become the staple of our outreach. Hey, we own it, unlike other networks. I have very specific goals for it next year; we’ll see how I do.

Something else I need to look at—my email number is apparently the equivalent of five nice, meaty novels. I think that number, though an estimate, may be high. My calculations assume all things are equal, and runs the average from the number of emails sent (in this case, 5530 emails * 100 words). Of course, that’s not always accurate. Some emails were short, some were long, some were goofy meme wars. I’m not too bothered by the idea of 5 novels worth of email, because Amy and I do 90% of our work through email. And I don’t track texts, so those will more than make up any deficiencies on my end. That said, I do know I need to limit my email consumption and output. Noted for the future.

I also abandoned my first adopted status. I was able to get into a great bullet journal method, which I’ll be discussing at length in the coming year. I relied heavily on Scrivener, Freedom, and Wunderlist, and got a new laptop for Christmas, which I predict will help my productivity tremendously. In case you’re interested, I did a permanent link to my Writer’s Tools here on the site. I’ve streamlined and am very happy with my system now. It’s simpler, easier to manage, and doesn’t rely on trying every new thing that comes down the pike.
 

2017 - THE YEAR OF FLOW

MY GOALS FOR THIS YEAR
 

After purposefully pulling back from external commitments, 2017 is the year I give my art my full attention again by staying home and working on my writing habit. Consistent writing brings me great contentment, and that is my goal for 2017 — contentment through consistency. This applies to more than just writing; it is my personal goal as well. Staying home allows for regular habits to grow and thrive — not just writing, but yoga, golf, friendships, minimalism for the house, and lots of regular, protected deep work time. This deep work practice will create great flow, allowing me to focus and challenge myself in my work.

Home. Deep Work. Consistency. Contentment. 

These are such simple words, to go along with my simple goals.

  • I am going to stay home and write this year.
  • I am going to challenge myself to write more.
  • I am going to increase my deep work time.
  • I am going to lose myself in my habits.
  • I am going to regain my yoga practice.
  • I will create flow.
  • I will not allow external distractions rule me.

How am I going to achieve these goals? To start, I’m not scheduling anything on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays in order to create the space I need to write. I have a productivity course I’m going to take in January called “Zen and the Art of Work.” It’s the perfect way to start my year, in a contemplative and meditative examination of my productivity. I have arranged to go to a yoga class on Fridays to enforce my desire to reboot my practice. I’m already walking three miles per workout regularly, I’m going to add two more days a week.

What do I hope will come out of these goals?

Well, in addition to being more bendy and in better cardiovascular health, I want to finish three books. I will finish THE LOST ONE by April. I’ll finish Nicholas Drummond #5 by November. And if I get some free time in there, I will keep working on the new Samantha Owens, ALL FALL DOWN. And then, who knows what might happen? There could even be another secret project in the mix.  😊

I’m also going to take a real vacation, with no writing, somewhere overseas where I can truly allow myself to detach. Ireland, maybe. Or Spain. Someplace I’ve never explored before so I’ll want to be present and engaged. A beach with a pile of books would work, too.

I have two original novels releasing, two short story collection re-releasing, and a big surprise from Two Tales in the Fall. And I will continue mentoring new authors, helping my friends, and being a contributing member of the writing community, so long as my work is done first. It’s a relatively quiet year, considering. Fall will inevitably ramp up because of LIE TO ME's release, but that's 9 months away.

"Do. Or do not. There is no try."

Yep.  

That’s what the “Year of Flow” means to me. Doing. Lots and lots of doing.

It sounds very simple, and I hope it will be easier than I think. Thanks for helping cheer me along! Happy New Year!


The Deets: 2016 Writing

12.11.16 - Sunday Smatterings

Hello, chickens! How was your week? I'm safe and snug by a warm fire, resting after a fun week with my partner in crime, the brilliant Catherine Coulter, in California. We ate lots, went to the Apple campus, signed what felt like a million tip-in sheets for THE DEVIL'S TRIANGLE (you can enjoy the fruits of our labor and pre-order a signed copy), had an author Christmas party with some of my favorite people (and boy did we party—Catherine knows how to do Christmas, y'all). Oh, and we might have talked about some upcoming Nick & Mike books.

It was lovely, whirlwind trip... but it's always good to come home to kitties and a kind hubby.

 

Here's what happened on the Internets this week:
 

Around the Christmas season, we typically buy things we don't normally need. This is why—and what we can do about it. (this article is utterly fascinating)

2016 was tough for many reasons, and especially when you consider some of the brilliant minds we lost. Book Riot curated this Reading In Memoriam of sorts that can help us learn about and honor the legacy of these fine humans.

Fellow writers: these are four traits of a master writer, and how we can develop them. Good stuff, right here.

 

And closer to home:
 

Stumped on what to get your bookish loved ones? I curated a list of my 10 favorite books of 2016, plus a few other gifts for the nerd in your life.

It's almost time for my favorite time of year: Annual Review time! As a numbers geek and productivity nerd, this is one of my favorite exercises. If you're ready to look ahead to 2017, jump on my bandwagon and follow my handy guide that lays out how I do my plan every year.


That's it from me! Wrap those presents, take a few minutes to breathe in the blessings of the season, and we'll talk again soon.

xoxo,
J.T.

12.08.16 - How to Conduct An Annual Review

Ever the overachiever, I have already started putting together my annual review.

I absolutely love this process. It is so much fun to pull out my trusty notebook, look at my goals for the year, see what was important to me 12 months ago, what I accomplished according to plan, and what went right and wrong. My reviews are elaborate, with spreadsheets and out-year planning and metrics, but remember, I did do a stint as a financial analyst, so these things come naturally to me. 

If you’d like to do an annual review, but don’t know exactly where to start, nor want to delve into metrics, here are some ideas.

I break mine into the following categories:

  • Summary of the Year
  • What Went Right
  • What Went Wrong
  • Nerdology (where I extrapolate on numbers and goals)
  • The Year Ahead
  • Actual spreadsheet 

 

How to pull it all together

Here’s how I do it. Your mileage may vary.

Every year gets a word, essentially its own theme. In the past years, it’s been things like The Year of Lent, The Year of No, The Year of Making Do, The Year of the Pencil, The Year of Depth, The Year of Evolution. You get the idea. (*Note to self, interesting pattern there, JT)

Once I’ve picked my word of the year, I then write a short summary of what I want from the year ahead. This is not the place for details, it’s simply your mission statement for your upcoming 12 months. 

Then, I go into detail on what went right. I start with my career/business, then move to personal. This can be as top line or as detailed as you’d like. I do mine in bullet points, and leave room at the end because I always find a few things I’ve forgotten. And when I do this, everything positive over the past year goes in. It’s a celebration.

Next, it time for the sad part — what went wrong. I don’t like this section, but it’s a necessary evil. With the good comes the bad, and vice versa. I use it as a tool to make sure I don’t repeat mistakes, so I can learn and grow from my foibles. 

Now it’s time for the fun part.

I break my goal setting into several parts: work, home, personal, health, financial, spiritual, education. Again, pick which categories work for you. I set about five goals per category, though sometimes, if I’m planning a life change, I use this section to map out what I want my life to look like at the end of 12 months. e.g.: One year, I wanted to make sure I had at least one night a week that was quiet, no TV, to read books by the fire. It seems like a silly goal, but when I started including it in my weekly plan, man, did my contentment levels soar.

That’s a word to think about when you’re doing this: contentment.

Goal setting should NOT stress you out. Instead, it should give you confidence, clarity, and contentment. The three Cs.

Once all my goals are set, it times to turn to the numbers. 

 

How to track your metrics

My word counts are the easiest, because I’ve been using these awesome word trackers for years. In 2016, I wised up and started two spreadsheets, one for fiction, one for non-fiction, which will make life easier in a couple of weeks. 

Once I get those numbers in place, I start the breakdown. Fiction speaks for itself, that’s my novels and short stories. Non-Fiction is trickier, that includes everything else, from blogs and essays to email and social media. Those last few aren’t ever completely accurate, but I’ve found an average that I use based on previous years experience. In the chart below, you can see how I do this. For example, I wrote 14 Tao of JT blogs in 2015, and they were approximately 1000 words each. 

My actual spreadsheets are much messier than this, because I’m pulling metrics from previous years for averages and medians, but you get the idea. Here's my 2015 final chart.

And that’s it. Simple, right?

For more ideas and insight into how and why I got into this, please see Chris Guillebeau’s wonderful Annual Review on his blog, The Art of Non-Conformity. I’ve adapted his system, and he’s the genius behind all of this. 


Good luck, and let me know if you end up giving this a try!