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

 

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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.

Sunday Smatterings

Sunday Smatterings 6.4.17

Happy Sunday, chickens! I hope you had wonderful week. As I'm sure you heard, I had a great time in New York at BEA. You can scroll back through the blog this week to see all the excitement, but suffice it to say, I think the message was sent loud and clear. LIE TO ME is coming... and we kicked it off with a bang. I had a blast, met so many awesome folks, and am really looking forward to September.

Lot's happened in the world whilst I traveled, so without further ado...

Here are your Internet reads for this week:

Going Mobile: can we write a novel on a smartphone, or edit a short story on a tablet? In short? Yes. Yes we can. It's a new dawn and a new day, fellow writers. (You may even spot someone you know in the article!)

Starred Review from Publishers Weekly: NOT A SOUND by Heather Gudenkauf. Looking for your next summer read? Snap. This. Up. And Nashville friends, come see Heather and me in conversation this Thursday, June 7, at the Vandy B&N on West End

Amazon made a small change to the way it sells books. Publishers are terrified. It's an interesting time in the book world, folks. I'm not sure how this is going toward out, but I'm hoping for the best. Technically, it means indie booksellers can bid for the buy button to sell their wares on Amazon....that would be sweet irony, right?

Amazon Starts Weekly Bestseller ListsAmazon had a very busy week, injecting all kinds of variables into the publishing sphere. This was another one. I dig the idea of seeing what people are actually reading, since I know what I buy and what I read are very different.

Six Reasons You're Not as Creative as You Could Be. Lisa Unger brings some truth in the form of a Target parking lot. She's brilliant!

Creator of the GIF says it is pronounced "Jif." I'm just gonna leave this here...

Bill Gates says this is the most important book for college grads to read.  Though perhaps everyone should.
 

And closer to home:

Author Assistant 101: The Best Tool I Use to Create Images. This week, the Kerr divulged how she creates the images you see on this website, my social media platforms, and beyond. If you're into social media marketing, this may be the tool for you!

Win a Mega Bundle of Contemporary Mysteries & Thrillers + MORE! Don't forget about this giveaway, folks. Entry is just a few clicks of a button! (and may get you a boatload of good books and a Kindle Fire!)

That probably got you through your morning coffee.

Our thoughts and prayers are with London today after yet another terrible terror attack. Heartbroken for the victims, and fighting the idea that this is our new normal. We can't let that be the case. 

Read a good book, and I'll see you next week!

xo,
J.T.

What I'm Into (January 2017)

Here's a quick roundup of the stuff that's turning my crank this month!

The Genius Deck

I haven’t been stuck, per se (ahem, she says, she who doesn’t believe in writer’s block), but I have been fighting with this new manuscript, and when I came across The Genius Deck, I fell, hard. The idea of lateral thinking to boost creativity isn’t new, but when you’re fighting something that shouldn’t be hard, it’s revelatory. I played around with it a bit this afternoon and ended up with 500 new words on the book. So it does work. 

 



My new MacBook Pro’s keyboard

I was gifted a new laptop for Christmas, and I have to say, the new MacBook keyboards are pretty freaking cool. The keys are bigger, and placed closer together. When I move back to my Air for a few things, I feel like my fingers are spread out all over the place. A huge improvement in my eyes. Plus — OMG, retina screen! And Emoji touchbar! It’s not really useful yet, but it is fun to play with. I can see how it will eventually be a very powerful tool.


Alyssa’s Healthy Oatmeal Bites

My husband and I are dropping soy from our diet entirely, which means a whole new set of hidden ingredients to be on the lookout for. Soy lethicin, the sludge leftover from soy production, is in EVERYTHING… So when I came across these healthy oatmeal cookie bites from Alyssa’s, I jumped for joy. There is simply nothing bad for you in them, and they are delicious. I love it when something addictive is good for you. 


Moroccan Mint tea

I’ve always been a fan of spearmint, and this Moroccan Mint is my favorite. Great to have an an afternoon pick me up, or for an upset stomach, it’s rich and flavorful, and have the best scent! Makes brilliant iced tea, too.

 


ReadKit - AKA Instapaper and Feedly in one place

When I was setting up the new MacBook, I had to decide what apps I wanted to download. I had heard the battery life wasn’t very good. Though I’ll tell you, I’ve been working nonstop since 11 A.M. today and I’m at 47% with 3+ hours remaining, so not too bad… that should be a full 10 hours, which is what they say, plus my wi-fi’s been on the whole time. It’s varied quite a bit since I got it, the battery really does depend on the actions, so I’m looking forward to the update with the promised fixes.

Anywho, I had to think through what I wanted to port over. ReadKit is a big part of my workflow. I use Instapaper for articles to read later, and Feedly for my RSS feeds, and I send research articles to Evernote from both places, as well as to Buffer, when I want to share with y’all. ReadKit lets me put both Instapaper and Feedly in a single interface, which is beautiful and easy to navigate. It’s only for the Mac—I still use the individual apps when I’m reading on my iPad—but I’ve been using it for years and love it. Highly recommended.


What are you into this month?

Prolific or Consistent?

1.17.17 - Prolific or Consistent?

*Warning: JT’s version of math ahead.
 

The other day, someone told me how prolific I was.

I countered that I am not prolific, I am consistent, and there’s a huge difference. 

I know in many ways, I could be called prolific. I’ve managed to average two full-length novels a year (and by full-length, I’m talking 100,000 words plus) since I began writing over a decade ago, and I’m writing #19 as we speak. I recognize some people don’t do that many books over the course of a career, so by it’s very nature, that number automatically equates to being prolific.

But I’d argue I’m not at all prolific. I have friends who started out the same time as I did who are 10, even 20 books ahead of me. Hell, Dean Wesley Smith wrote a million words of fiction last year, compared to my 217,000. A million words. That, my friends, is prolific.

What I am comfortable with is a label of consistent. Over the course of the past several years, I’ve been tracking my numbers. Here’s a quick and dirty snapshot.

You can easily see why I’ve got 18 books under my belt— over the course of eight years, I averaged 628 fiction words a day. That’s approximately 229,220 words a year: about two novels and a couple of shorts.

Some years were better than others, clearly. When I started tracking in 2009, I was aghast at how little fiction I wrote, and swore to make up for it. Bu contrast, in 2014 I almost hit the 300,000 mark, and I ran myself ragged doing it. 

But I still don’t feel I’ve hit my potential as far as consistent daily word counts. I do shoot for 1000 words a day, five days a week. If I were to hit that goal consistently, I’d be able to churn out nearly three books a year with ease.

Of course, that’s not how life, and art, work. Everything can be reduced to numbers on a spreadsheet, yes. But does that capture what’s really happening? I think we’d all love to be machines who could crank out the same stuff day after day, but life gets in the way. 

Loved ones pass away. Children need tending. Pets need cuddles. Day jobs are priorities for many of us. It’s the rare few who can transcend the mundane daily issues to truly become prolific, writing huge amounts of QUALITY words. 

Oh, I’d love to be among them, trust me. But I think I’ll probably stick with being consistent instead.

Just a thought for today. I’d love to hear what prolific authors you like to read. And how prolific is too prolific?

 

1.12.17 - Silence!

1.12.17 - Silence!

I came across this article from The Economist on Twitter the other day, and was compelled to click because I’d just had a conversation with my husband about my need for large swaths of silent time. 

I’ve long owned my natural introversion, but I think there’s something more fundamental at play. Perhaps it’s from growing up in a forest, perhaps it is the introvert in me (with more than likely a touch of Aspergers to boot…) but I really like silence. I like the quiet that comes from spending the day alone. I like the evenings we spend reading instead of watching television. They rejuvenate my spirit, and bolster my concentration levels.

Who knows why and whence it came, but the fact is, when there’s too much sustained noise around me, I get very frachetty. I can’t concentrate. My thoughts fracture. I find even the simplest tasks hard. I get snappish and annoyed easily, and of course, the work suffers. 

I loved the piece in The Economist because it felt like permission to be true to myself.

Do I want to hike to the top of a mountain and become a monk? Well, only sometimes. 😉 I dream of doing a silent retreat, but I would want to have my husband there to talk to at night. Does that defeat the purpose? I can’t imagine going more than a few hours without hearing his voice, and he mine. True love? Codependence? Who cares, it’s a fact. So the all-silent thing isn’t for me, I guess. I did get a kick out of the fact that the author of the piece thought a week-long silent retreat was going to be the best thing ever, and instead bailed and left after a day. 

Silence is not for everyone. 

I don’t see the boredom in silence. I see it as a state of being. A calm lake on a cloudless day. A snow-capped mountain set against a sapphire sky. A perfectly attuned book photograph on Instagram. Something that makes you pause in your day and say, “Wow, that is beautiful. I need to stop here and admire it for a moment.”

Your shoulders relax, you breathe a little deeper, your mood is bolstered. 

That’s what silence does for me.

I’ve always admired writers who can go to coffeeshops and work. I have a fun group of writers here who do just that, and I join them on occasion. They rack up word counts while I get business done. Emails, blogs, things I can do with half an ear cocked elsewhere. There are just so many people to look at, characters all. I find myself daydreaming about who they are, what there lives are like, what they do for a living, who loves them, who they love, why they’re in the coffeeshop at that particular moment… which is a great creative exercise, but it also means zero word counts, which defeats the purpose.  

Lately, especially, the computer itself is also an agent of noise, even when it’s not playing anything through the speakers. The screen clamors for attention, a siren’s call. The consumption of this particular kind of noise is devilish to me—a bargain that must be made. I need the research. I like the friendships. I adore the education.

But at the same time, this is why I’ve been working so hard to turn off my devices, to spend time in REAL silence, meditation and yoga, a general tuning in to the universe. It’s hard to tether a lifeline, but I’m finding it more and more rewarding to have these few hours of true silence in my life. 

This is probably why Cal Newport’s DEEP WORK feels so right to me, why I like to turn on Freedom and work. The quiet is permeable, an entity unto itself. It grows around me, a favorite blanket, allowing me to relax and create. To simply be. 

Something I don’t know that we do enough of. 

Are you the strong silent type?