2009 Annual Review

JT Ellison

It’s that time of year again. Time to look back on what I accomplished in the past 365 days, ascertain what I did right and what could be improved upon, and using that knowledge, set my goals for the coming year.

I’m not a fan of making resolutions, so when I discovered Chris Guillebeau’s wonderful 2008 Annual Review on his blog, The Art of Non-Conformity, I hitched on to the ride immediately. It’s the perfect scenario for those creative types who are working for themselves but still want some accountability. (Here’s the link to the actual post. Go on over there and take a read. I’ll wait.)

Okay, now that you’ve familiarized yourself with the system…

Last Christmas, with Chris’s template in mind, I set my goals instead of fretting about resolutions. My focus was on Work, Family, Self, Home, Knowledge, Health, Friendships, and an overarching “theme” goal focusing on enhancing my creative time by cutting back in other time consuming areas.

When I looked back on them today, I was pleased to see I’d achieved many of them, especially in the categories of writing, family and friendships. I’ve become much calmer, much more Zen about life in general, and my workflow is cleaner and more productive. I’ve surrounded myself with happy, productive people, worked hard, and played hard. This year was full of ups and downs, and if the goals were anything to go by, I accomplished about 80% of what I set out to do professionally, and 50% personally.

Not bad. It could have been better, but the trick to all of this is to be accepting of what you accomplished and not beat yourself up over the things that were left undone.


The Year of Evolution

This year, I set different goals. I went rather whole hog and named 2010 the Year of Evolution. I’ve altered my categories a bit to match with my current world view: Writing, Business, Self, Education, Health, Home, Family/Friends, and a Five Year Goals section. I won’t go into the nitty gritty details, but I have a lot on my plate for this year, including launching two books, writing another Taylor Jackson book plus proposals for future novels, writing a stand-alone, making my social networking more meaningful, working on my golf game, and taking the final steps toward a real fluency in Italian.

Setting personal goals and setting professional goals are very different beasts. My professional goals are specific, with dated estimates of word counts and draft completions. They are tangible. They guide me when I get off track, and force me to consider where I spend my time.

My personal goals are different, more amorphous. Take golf, for example: I want to drop ten strokes off my score this year. There are steps that need to be taken to make this a reality: join a club, hit balls twice a week, play at least once a week. Join the women’s league so I have accountability. Most importantly, carve those precious hours out of my already hectic schedule to make this happen. Trying to jump into this in a week is a sure-fire recipe for disaster – some goals must be worked on slowly, made supple and amenable.

Therein lies the difference. Personal goals I measure in steps rather than benchmarks.

The most interesting part of my goal-setting came about purely by accident. I’m no math major, but I got it in my head I wanted to know just how I spent my time last year. Push came to shove, I started thinking about word counts, and voila – I ended up with a breakdown, albeit estimated, of how much actual writing in did in 2009. What I found was disturbing, to me at least.

I wrote 505,938 words in 2009.

Only 136,738 were fiction.

A whopping 369,200 were non-fiction. Now, this includes email, but still, that’s insane. Email alone counts for 215,200 words. (I sent 2152 emails last year, so that’s an average of six emails a day at 100 words apiece.)

27% of my writing in 2009 was fiction. To break it down even further, I wrote on average 1386 words per day, 374 of which were fiction.

Considering I make my living as a novelist, I find that horrifyingly low. Granted, all my dates changed for my book releases, and I took a few months off during the summer to deal with some life stuff, so I didn’t do a lot of writing during that period. But that’s still not enough creative work versus business work.

The numbers were enlightening, to say the least. Twitter, which I joined in February, added up to 48,000 words. That’s 3200 Tweets at 15 words per tweet. Facebook must be about the same or even more, so it gets 48,000 too. Murderati blogs* came in at 45,000 (30 blogs at 1500 a pop), and I probably wrote another 5,000 words of original content for the Tao of JT. Add in essays and interviews, and we’re at 156,000 non-fiction words before email.

With the numbers in front of me, I can’t help but see just how much time I spend on non-fiction endeavors.



A New Chapter

2010 is the year I turn things around. I’m going to make every non-fiction word count, utilizing Artist Data and Tweetdeck to post to Twitter, Facebook and MySpace simultaneously, eliminating over 1/2 of my social networking word count. I’m also going to be a much less frequent visitor to the sites.

My blogging will stay about the same, with 2 posts a week at the Tao of JT and bi-monthly columns at Murderati.

Email is a necessary evil, and if you think about an average of 6 emails a day, that’s not too bad.

Most importantly, I’m going to up my fiction totals tremendously. My word counts really should be in the 250-300,000 range, which I’ve achieved in the past.

My goals are set, my plan is in place, and I’m really looking forward to achieving all that I set out to do this year, and more.

How about you? Resolutions or Goals this year?

Happy New Year!


Rough Estimate of Words Written in 2009
(all numbers approximate)

Novels The Immortals   80,000
  The Pretender   20,000
  The Cold Room   30,000
Short Stories Killing Carol Ann   4,338
  Chimera   1,500
  Have You Seen Me 900
Total Fiction     136,738
Essays The Charm School 3,000
Murderati Columns* (30 Blogs x Avg Words 1,500) 45,000
Tao of JT Columns*     5,000
Interviews     5,000
Total Non-Fiction     58,000
Email (2,152 Emails X Avg Words 100) 215,200
Total Work     215,200
Social Media      
Twitter (3,200 Posts X Avg Words 15) 48,000
Facebook     48,000
Total Social Media     96,000
Total Fiction, Non-Fiction, Social & Email Word Count 505,938
    % Fiction         27%
    % Non-Fiction         11%
    % Social Media 19%   
    % Work/Email 43%   

* I know most media analysts include blogging in the social media category. But since mine are more columns and essays, I’ve decided to include them in the non-fiction category.

Wine of the Week: 2003 Mosiac Merlot, Sonoma Valley

21 thoughts on “2009 Annual Review

  1. JD Rhoades

    How do you keep track of the various word counts? I’m assuming you didn’t spend New Year’s Eve going back over old e-mails and and blog posts.

    My resolution is pretty momentous, at least for me. I’ll talk about it more when I get how I want to present it sorted out a little better. It’s the sort of resolution that some people can become unbearably tedious about, and I’m trying not to be that guy.

    My goal? Published again.

  2. Chuck

    Wow JT, you would have made a helluva statistician or actuary.

    Like you, I don’t like resolutions. If it works for others, fine, but for me, a new year is just a date. Habits, like diamonds–or lumps of coal–develop over time, and with patience, and motivation. Regarding writing, all I plan to do this year, just like last year, is to keep at it. To strive to be better. To listen to my few critics (few, not because my writing is transcendent [I wish]; few, because my readers are in the single digits!), to blend relevant fiction and non-fiction into my reading, to read more…jeez…there’s more but my list is dry as dust.

    You know what I hope for in ’10, but if it doesn’t come, I’ll still keep writing. It’s what I love.

    Happy New Year! Can’t wait to read Cold Room.

  3. PK the Bookeemonster

    Terrific post, JT. I think you are an awesome power of intention and skills who will do anything she sets out to do. I think we’d be amazed at how many people *don’t* have that.
    My goals include health, work and leisure time.
    My health includes becoming more active by walking on my breaks at work and getting back to my eating healthy regime.
    Work is little more out of my control: have my current job be permanent. I CAN do the best damn job every day I’m there and keep pushing to do more tasks thereby becoming indispensible when my year is up.
    Leisure. Last year’s reading goal was to read an average of 10 books a month, 120 books, which I did. This year’s goal is to read the "big" books in my TBR beginning with Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles. And write my blog daily.
    There’s other things I’d LIKE to do but I won’t make them goals.

  4. billie

    I’m a little bit blown away that you did all that math! You’re so good at looking at what you want to do and figuring out how to achieve it – I admire that so much.

    It’s funny about goals and resolutions – I have for most of my life been super-organized and very productive, but I can get very driven and lose sight of the journey when I track too much. So my goals now have more to do with finding the natural rhythms of the day, making sure I leave space for the things I love, and then in between, enjoying what presents itself.

    I am sure my official productivity has decreased, but otoh, my satisfaction on a day-to-day basis is way up. Yesterday’s writing time got either shafted or enhanced, depending on which way you look at it:

    I went out to give hay to the geldings, and when I got to the middle top of our front pasture, the three of them galloped up over the hill in a long line and proceeded to canter and dance around me in a circle. There was no coming back inside after that! But last night I added some notes to the work-in-progress that came straight out of the experience.

    The actual words written were few but if you add in the "in the moment" joy, the total would be far higher than word count! That’s the part I don’t quite know how to incorporate in a formal "plan."

    I am not under any deadlines though, and I wonder sometimes if I were, would I go back to my more driven, highly-organized self? I wouldn’t want to, but I’m not sure how my free-wheeling methods would work with due dates attached.

  5. Sylvia

    Holy moly that’s a table! Between emails (mainly work), instant messaging (mainly work), Facebook, Twitter (both 99% for work) I have no clue and don’t even want to think about how much goes out. My poor fingers know!

    Wishing you the best for 2010!

  6. Stephen D. Rogers

    I, too, have a question about word count. By the time Chapter 7 is complete, you have 2000 words. But you actually wrote 3000 words to get there. And then two months later you add another 500 but cut 1000. So how many words did you write? 2000 + 500 – 1000 = 1500 (the actual length of the final Chapter 7) or 3000 + 500 = 3500 (who many words you actually wrote)?

  7. Louise Ure

    Holy shit. You counted your annual emails and tweets? That’s getting WAY too far down into the weeds for me.

    Overall, I’m incredibly intimidated by both your and Chris’s endeavors here. I don’t want to look back at the disappointment that was 2009. And I can only take 2010 a day at a time.

    I bask in your reflected success and aspirations, my dear. My own pale by comparison.

  8. JT Ellison

    Dusty, I went by how much fiction I knew I wrote. The shorts were easy to track, the novels I simply looked at my totals. For example, I know I did 20K on the Immortals rewrite, plus 60K of the book earlier in the year. I work in word counts, not pages, so it’s pretty intuitive for me. The rest – well, I’ll admit, this all started when I misplaced a zero and ended up thinking I’d written 2 million words in email… that freaked me out enough to delve into the rest.

    I’m going to jump ahead to Stephen – I’m not a huge rewriter. Once it’s on the page, it pretty much stays there. I may alter words, but I’m more likely to add rather than delete. If I do have to delete, it’s just a scene here or there, less that 1-2K at a time. So while these numbers really are approximates, and based on finished work, but I don’t cut too terribly much, so it all washes.

    Chuck, my New Year generally starts in September, like the school calendar, so I’m not as fussed when it comes to January. But you’re absolutely right – the very best thing to do is keep your head down and keep writing. I can’t WAIT!

  9. JT Ellison

    Oh, Dusty – actually, I did do it on New Year’s Eve, but during the day. I forgot the non-fiction explanation – Twitter tells you how many Tweets, and I joined in February, so that was easy – assuming 15 words per tweet. Email I simply averaged over the life of my gmail, then divided it into years, then days. That’s where I got into trouble – I am NOT a math major. Facebook is a pure assumption based on Twitter, but I think it’s probably close. I’m definitely short – I realized I didn’t include IMs – though I only IM with a couple of people, so that’s probably another 5 K tops.

    PK, thank you. That’s too kind. I’m all about the intention, and the rest falls into place. But I’ve been the obnoxious one who did her papers days before they were due and worked on my homework weeks in advance since I was little. Harnessing that as an adult is hard, I have to learn when to turn it off. I love your goals, and know you’ll achieve them. Good Luck!

  10. JT Ellison

    Billie, I had help : ) Actually, I can’t balance my checkbook and always do percentages backwards, but when I get bigger numbers to work with, I’m fine. I’ve never understood that. When I was in finance I was responsible for multi-million dollar budgets and they always balanced to the letter. Simple math? Not so much. I do love your approach, and while this looks like a lot of planning and determination, I’m actually much more relaxed about my day. Militant and I don’t work well – I need to know that I have the freedom to blow off work, or tackle a wicked scene depending on my mood. I can’t wait to read about your horse frolicking!

    Sylvia, Happy New Year to you – and congrats on winning the 14 books!

    Louise, I really do measure success in happiness. If I’d written 10 words but was happy, I wouldn’t give it a second thought. I’m living the dream, so none of this feels like work. You’ve had more to deal with this year than any human being should, and know that we’re all sending every good vibe, love and prayers to you. xoxox

  11. pari noskin taichert

    This is one of the things I adore about you: your ability to analyze and get it in black and white.

    The stats — especially fiction vs nonfiction — are astounding. You’re so incredibly productive already in spite of the ratio. What’s your career going to be like when you have twice the fiction inventory? Wow.

    I’m going to be writing about goals on Monday, so I’ll save the info until then . . . but thee and me are thinking along the same lines (though I’ve cut a lot of the social networking/marketing stuff out already).

    Congrats for all the successes and accomplishments so far.

  12. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I think JT made all that up just to freak the rest of us out, actually.

    Other than that, my mind cannot even begin to process. I know I don’t tweet or blog more than I write, though, because I barely check into the social networks these days – I think it will take me two days just to click through the friend requests I’ve got on Facebook.

    I can’t lie – 2009 was one of the hardest years of my life. I’m still sorting out the rubble, literally.

    But huge change forces huge changes, and that’s good.

  13. JT Ellison

    Pari, I’m excited to see your goals, especially since you’ve altered your writing focus so much this year.

    Toni, I figured you’d at least be good for a Holy Shit…

    Rob, you make me feel like I sat there with my little hat on and counted every word, by hand, individually. I promise it wasn’t that bad.

    Alex, honey – change is good. Upheaval, not so much, but your writing is going to be richer for it, and you’re going to be happier in the end. I promise.

  14. BCB

    Wow. The perfectionist part of me that crunches numbers all day long is impressed. The writer part of me is… frightened.

    Though I did kind of like Gillebeau’s suggestion to think about what worked last year and what didn’t work, and why. And also to consider whether you had any influence or control over those things.

    But damn, woman. I’m not making an Excel spreadsheet (and no, that is not a euphemism) unless someone is paying me to do it.

  15. Allison Brennan

    I do not want to even think about how many emails I’ve sent (just checked–2500+ since August 1. I delete periodically. That doesn’t include FB)

    Or blogs I’ve written. Or workshops I’ve given where I write a lot of content. Now, I only have a hundred or so tweets so that’s not bad, and facebook I update no more than 2x a day, usually just once.

    My blogs . . . hmm. 4 a month + one guest a month (average) @2000 words each. Yep, that’s a lot.

    Writing . . . I do better here. But I have to write every book twice. Bawahahaha. Let’s see:


    Okay, I tend to write every book twice. Seriously, a 100K book is 200-300K in words as I write, edit, rewrite, etc. But I probably can’t count that because I honestly don’t know. So I’m just using the final word count of the book. I have a little over 350K words in fiction.

  16. Catherine Shipton

    First yes, JT your power of analysis is awesome. Awesome, more so, I think in the way that you make your analysis work and fit for you.

    Funnily enough reading over the last week, Allison’s and Alex’s posts, and now your posts… I can relate in some measure to all of them.

    I do find writing detailed goals for the next year either intimidates me, or feels too much like fiction, and I’m sort of satisfied with the writing and don’t enact the action. My current method is to think about it hard, sometimes scrawl down my thoughts to clarify, and just do what can fit onto the back of envelope when I need to.

    While there is a part of me that is so ready for a roadtrip, or flight out of here, I’ve been increasingly feeling a need to just ground myself in the rainforest for a week or two and just think out my next course of action. To use walking as active meditation and give myself the time out of my normal routine to access what will be most true to me, for my next steps. I started out thinking a month, but realistically I think a couple of weeks should do it. I used to do the most detailed project me plans ever and I think took it too far…now I usually keep a lot of this in my head and I’ve been trying as Billie mentioned above to ‘finding the natural rhythms of the day’.

    Thanks for including the link to ‘The Art of Non-Conformity’ it shows me what an excel sheet of my inner thinking looks like. When I look back on 2009 I may not of reached all of my internal benchmarks, but I surpassed quite a few and have established habits that I can build on to achieve more this year.

    Also very much looking forward to reading the ‘The Cold Room’ this year too.

  17. JT Ellison

    Catherine – two weeks in the rain forest sounds rather ideal, you know? No pressure, no internet, just you and your thoughts. Be sure you take a notebook though – you’re going to be inspired. You’re already inspiring…

    Allison, I was thinking of you when I wrote that I was aghast at how low my fiction word count was last year. The more I think about the numbers, the more I realize they are low because of revision, but I can’t figure out how to really count that. Type a word, change your mind, put another word down. Does that count at two fiction words or one???

    Z, I think I’m going to write that on a sticky note and affix it to my forehead.

    If it makes you feel better, BCB, I did add up all the numbers in Word, using Spotlight to do the calculations. The Excel spreadsheet came in much, much later.


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