Failure Is Not An Option. (Or Is It?)

Failure Is Not An Option. (Or Is It?)

My yoga instructor constantly reminds me that how you do yoga is how you live your life.

She generally makes this casual statement when I'm knee deep in a difficult pose, gritting my teeth, forgetting my breath, unwilling to admit I'm killing myself trying to stay in the pose. There's a rule for when this happens - you're supposed to drop out of the pose and take rest in child's pose.

But to me, that would be admitting failure.

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2010 Annual Review

For the past two years, I’ve been doing annual reviews of my life and work, based on the format from Chris Guillebeau’s wonderful Annual Review on his blog, The Art of Non-Conformity. Chris’s system is exceptionally detailed, more so than I really need, but the gist is there. It’s a great system for those of us who are self-employed and want to do an assessment of our work for the year.  I don’t know about you, but I like accountability. I like the feeling of accomplishment I get when I look back over the past year’s worth of work and see what worked, and what didn’t. (Here’s the link to the actual post. Go on over there and take a read. I’ll wait.)

My editor gave me the best Christmas present this year. Time. I turned in my book at the same time as four of my compatriots, and my deadline is later than theirs, so I got bumped to the end of the line. For the first time in four years, I had the week between Christmas and New Year’s off. My reward? A week without Internet.

I really did it. I left my laptop at home. I didn’t go online from December 24 - December 30. It was shockingly hard for the first few days (and a family emergency necessitated a couple of quick checks through Randy’s computer) but when I got home, I realized I didn’t want to go online. I liked not having to answer email. I liked not having to check Facebook. I still haven’t been back to Twitter formally, though my feeds are up and running. I guess I needed the vacation, huh?

What I did spend my time on was reading – AMERICAN GODS by Neil Gaiman and HOW I BECAME A FAMOUS NOVELIST by Steve Hely. I hung out with my family, watched too much football to be healthy, played a couple of rounds of golf. I did an accounting of the past year – word counts, goals achieved and missed – and set my goals and intentions for 2011.

The Year in Review - 2010: The Year of Evolution

I was struck on Monday by Lee Child’s comment that he gets melancholy on New Year’s Eve, because the past year has been so wonderful that he can’t imagine how the new year can top it. That’s how I felt about 2010. It had several big lows, as all years do, but the highs – oh, the highs! Blessings abounded in the Ellison household this year. It actually became a family joke – we’re having a good year. A very good year. And it wasn’t about money, or tangible items. As a matter of fact, we gave half of our household to Goodwill. Literally, half. 15 years worth of materiel that had accumulated. No, the reason 2010 was so good was our happiness level. We’ve both found what we’re meant to be doing. We work hard, and we play hard. We’ve reveled in each other’s company, and given thanks daily for our blessings. It allowed me to reach out to others and lend a helping hand too, which made the year all that much better.

And strangely congruent to that happiness, I think 2010 was the first year that I felt my mortality. So much happened to so many of our dear friends, so many tragedies, so much loss, that I realized how very short this life is, and found the keys to making the most of what I have left. Things that used to matter don’t anymore. They’re mostly topical, clothes and makeup and worrying about how people perceive me. Professionally, obviously, I have to care about those things, or else I’d never get better as a writer. But on a personal level, I let it all go, and found my bliss. So in a deeply private place, I achieved the overarching goal for the year. I feel I did evolve, and that translated over to both my professional and personal lives.

More importantly, I achieved many of my professional goals for the year. I even got to check off a five-year career goal. There were many things that went wrong, but twice as many that went right. On the bad side, I discovered writer’s block, true block, for the first time, and managed to overcome it. That taught me too many lessons to count. I missed my first deadline, only by two weeks, but still. Like everyone, sales took a hit across the board, but e-sales increased. Time will only tell if that’s the exception or the trend. I spent too much time talking about writing and not actually writing.

The highlights included a new contract for three more Taylor books, 7-9 in the series, a new audio contract for books 6-9, the release of All the Pretty Girls, 14 and Judas Kiss into multiple countries, and a sale of the first three TJ books to Turkey. I wrote two Taylor Jackson books, and launched two Taylor Jackson books, with attendant tours and publicity, including a trip to the UK. I also put out a collection of my previously published short stories called SWEET LITTLE LIES. I wrote over 20,000 words on proposals for new material. All in all, though I think I can do better in 2011, I’m pleased with my accomplishments this year.

There’s one more terribly special item that I can’t go into, but will in time, that rounded out a pretty exceptional professional year. Now you see why I’m wondering how in the world 2011 could top 2010.

The Nitty Gritty (AKA Nerdology)

Numbers-wise, I did much better than last year. Here’s the top-line breakdown. All figures are approximate, mostly because I don't count what was trashed and rewritten, only final word counts:

2010 Word Total: 618,383
Fiction Total: 198,383
Non-Fiction Total: 420,000
Fiction Percentage: 32%

I wrote on average 544 fiction words per day and 1150 non-fiction.

Last year, my fiction percentage was only 27%. I wrote 112,445 more words this year, 62,645 of them fiction. I wrote 11,500 less non-fiction, and (TRIUMPH!) dropped my Facebook and Twitter word counts by 34,500 words. I achieved that by automating all of my blog entries to go straight to the social networking sites, and by closing down my personal Facebook page in favor of the Like/Fan/Reader page. My emails increased, from an average of 6 per day in 2009 to 7 per day in 2010. I attribute that jump to using email to make more personal connections, rather than the fly-bys on Facebook and Twitter. My non-fiction was managed much better, with the totals growing by 40,800 over last year due to publicity interviews and essays I did for AOL and my personal blog.

If you want to get even more detailed, see the chart below. (remember, OCD chick here…)

The Year Ahead - 2011: The Year of Depth

2011 started off as the Year of Love. That goal seemed too amorphous for me – I love. I love a lot. Passionately. People, life. I didn’t see that it would achieve the kind of transcendence I’m looking for. So I’ve altered course. 2011 is now the Year of Depth. I want to dig into the things that interest me, and leave the parts that waste time and energy behind. From my Planner:

A renewed focus on education, learning and expanding my horizons. Spending more time on pleasurable pursuits like reading, Italian and golf, and much less time on the Internet. More exercise, better eating and more cooking – savoring every moment. Working toward a more Zen attitude toward negativity. Increase fiction percentage to 50%.

I want to write two novels, and start a third. I have two short stories to write for anthologies, and a third I'd like to finish and place. I’m judging a couple of contests, and I want to work hard at reading the books I already have instead of bringing new ones into the house. I have three conferences planned: Left Coast Crime, RWA and Bouchercon. Sadly, a family wedding is interfering with Thrillerfest.

Personally, I will continue to chase the elusive dream of becoming a 16 handicap. It’s going to take some time, but I’m willing to give it all I’ve got. I will finish my Rosetta Stone Italian lessons. I will read the books I have instead of bringing new ones into the house. I will read more non-fiction, and be open to new experiences.

And I will continue to track myself. There is something truly satisfying about setting goals and seeing them through. I wish all of you the same peace and joy that allows us all to be productive and happy.

If I could only find a way to track the words that come out of my mouth, as well as my fingers...

So am I crazy for caring about this level of detail? Do any of you do the same?

Wine of the Week: Veuve Cliqout, specifically at midnight on January 1. A must have.

  The Immortals  3,000
  So Close  75,541
  Where All the Dead Lie  88,000
  Random  10,000
  Proposals  21,842
Fiction Total    198,383
Essays    8,000
Interviews 15@1000  15,000
Murderati Blogs 27@1500  45,000
Tao of JT Blogs 85@500  16,000
Twitter 2100@15  31,500
Facebook 1500@20  30,000
Tumblr    5,000
Non-Fiction Subtotal    142,500
Email 2775@100 words per  277,500
Non-Fiction Total    420,000
Total 2010 Word Count    618,383
Fiction Percentage    32%
Total Words increase from 2009-2010    112,445
Total Fiction Increase    62,645
Total Non-Fiction Increase    40,800


“Where there is great doubt, there will be great awakening; small doubt, small awakening; no doubt, no awakening.” - Zen proverb

Two writers. Two different realizations. One is struck by the Muse. One is sharing why we all sometimes needs to fight to find the Muse, because she's hiding under a pile of paper. One writer is yet to be published, but working hard and on submission. One is an internationally bestselling author. One is on the cusp of becoming the other, and I have no doubt will soon surpass us all.

They're both doing it right.

Both work incredibly hard at their craft, and inspire me daily.

More importantly, both are accomplishing their goals for the day.

Discipline and enlightenment.

These are the two ingredients that make a successful author. They go hand in hand. Without one, the other doesn't matter. You can be inspired, touched on the shoulder by the Muse, but if you don't have the discipline to sit in the chair and pound out the words every day, nothing will come of it. If you have the discipline, the dogged rampant desire to work hard, but can't see the forest for the trees, nothing will come of it.

You need both to be a writer. You need the moments of enlightenment; need to allow yourself to accept the gift when it's presented to you. And you need a method, a habit, to harness those gifts and produce a story.

I'm struck by the balance that we all must seek between the two extremes, between the Necessary Evil that is the writer's To Do List, and the Necessary Good that is the writer's Muse. Take the two pieces and use them for yourself today. And if you have tips on balancing the two, leave them in the comments.