2010 Annual Review

by JT Ellison

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

29 thoughts on “2010 Annual Review

  1. Zoë Sharp

    Wow, JT

    I think I need to go and lie down in a darkened room for a bit…

    I keep a running word-count and word-target while I'm writing, because it allows me to keep the momentum of a book going, but not to anything like this degree. I've no idea about my non-fiction, email or other word output.

    As always, I'm in awe of your productivity and organisational skills ;-]

  2. PK the Bookeemonster

    You're not crazy at all. Stating/visualizing your intentions is the way to make them actualized — the more detailed the better. And clearing out the clutter the way it sounds like you did makes room for more of the things you want in your life. Pat yourself on the back; you're making good choices for you… and congratulations on all the positives and successes! You've made them happen!

  3. Jonathan Hayes

    Wow! Congratulations on your industry and results! Even your lookback at your own productivity is productive! Also: helpful to others! I'm going to have to review my own productivity, although, like JD, I quail at what I'll find.

    I've been trying to be more mindful – it's too easy to let life rush by. For the last 16 or 17 years, I've taken the second Wednesday of every month to be aware of the richness of my life, and think about how lucky I am. But writing is something I don't really consider. Reading your stats, I really wonder how much time I spend writing on FB vs writing writing; the numbers would probably be pretty harrowing, but I suppose my life could be run more efficiently. Should be run more efficiently. I need to find the discipline to just visit twice a day, rather than having it as some kind of reptile brain activity, something hanging in the background that I poke every few minutes.

    Wild respect for getting rid of half of your things, btw – I try to pare down – just got rid of 1600 CD's – but at the end of the day, my love of Stuff drags me down.

  4. billie

    Oh my gosh – that numbers chart sort of blows my mind! But you're not crazy – you just do what works for you to keep track of your work, and to pull your year together.

    I make sketches of my intentions, for the year and for five years, but mostly I visualize inside my head. For the past five years, since we bought our farm, it's been interesting – hundreds of times a day I realize that I am in such a perfect moment it would be crazy to come out of it to visualize the future, or work from a list.

    I got a lot done this year writing wise, and unlike previous years of huge output, I managed to do it while spending a huge amount of time with my family, with animals, and with nature. I didn't have to lock myself away or go to an office to get it done. I'm celebrating that – it feels like a big leap and I want to keep it flowing into 2011.

    Happy New Year! It's great to read that you are feeling so good about 2010 and 2011 – the enthusiasm is incredibly inspiring.

  5. Brett Battles

    Incredible breakdown, JT. Wow. I keep a daily log of my output, but fiction only, don't track the other stuff. Helps keep me on track. But this is…well…WOW.

    Glad it was a great year for you! And know your success and happiness will continue into the future. Me, I'm happy to get 2010 behind me. 2011 looks a WHOLE LOT brighter to me.

  6. JT Ellison

    Zoë, OCD has it's advantages. And now that I know how to collect the data, it's much easier. The first time I did it, I probably wasted too much time trying to figure it out. : )

    Dusty, I don't know how you'd have time to mess with all this – writing and lawyering? My hat's off to you, because you must have some seriously amazing organizational skills to be able to manage both, and do them both well.

  7. Grace

    Maintaing focus, determination and energy to accomplish what you did in 2010 is no mean feat.

    I have to say what really caught my eye – because I know I wouldn't be able to do it myself – is how you stayed away from the computer for that length of time. I'm writing a short story about someone who is obsessed with twitter, facebook, cell phones, etc., and like someone who drinks too much, goes on the wagon. The subject matter intrigued me because I cannot seem to stay away from my computer.

    Kudos to you. I might try it myself – next year.

  8. JT Ellison

    PK, it's funny you mention intentions. I started doing yoga a few years back and the thing that stood out to me was setting an intention before your practice. That concept stuck with me, and really changed the focus of my life.

    And you mention something else important – I'm doing what works for me. I'm always reluctant to do this post because I don't want to freak anyone out by letting them see "behind the curtain". This system is what works for me. I've adapted Chris's annual review to fit my needs. I encourage anyone who wants to do this to tailor it to their needs.

    Billie, you're the one living the life I aspire to – many moments of grace throughout the day, brought about by seeing, really seeing, the world around you. You inspire. Your dedication and focus are something I strive for.

  9. JT Ellison

    Jonathan, thank you! The first time you do this is incredibly enlightening. And of course, it's all approximate. But when I did it last year, and saw the disproportionate amount of time I spent on Facebook and Twitter, I knew I needed a change. I love your second Wednesday idea. If more people would stop and revel in their blessings, I think they'd be happier and more productive.

    I base the social networking numbers off Twitter, whihc is easier to track than Facebook. And there's no way to track commenting on people's walls, so I'm probably a bit short. But it's kind of fun to know where your time is going.

    Brett, I'm still using your planning system for my books – I love it. Maybe you can drag that link out for us – I find it incredibly helpful. So in essence, you're to blame for all this organization!

  10. JT Ellison

    Grace, it was incredibly difficult. And like I said, I had to cheat a couple of times because of the emergency. But it's liberating. I suggest reading Hamlet's Blackberry. I found it brilliant, and funny, and enlightening. I am reserving at least one day a week from here on out to myself, with no internet. I think it helps rejuvenate the spirit!

  11. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Girl…I am so NOT ready for this type of self-examination. I am amazed and impressed by it, but I find that I must be much easier on myself than this. 2010 had its highs and lows, but it was a year of transition – short-selling the house, trying to keep the day job I was trying to lose, etc. I'll have much more control (control?) over 2011. I'm leaving my day job to write full time. I've got a screenwriting assignment, and I'll be writing two novels on spec. So, it's going to be a lot of fun. I only wish I can be as disciplined as you and Brett when it comes to getting good, focused writing done. But I also want to spend a great deal of time with my wife and kids–that is a top goal for 2011.

  12. Kaye Barley

    JT – you're an inspiration, truly.
    2010 wasn't my favorite year, but I'm doing what I can to put it behind me. Including spending more time just talking to myself in my head and saying things like "oh. Look at that tiny little bitty flower. Amazing!" I am . Do I feel silly doing it? No – I feel happy that I've reached the stage to now allow myself the time and the thoughtfulness to do it. And funny enough, I'm also doing some paring down. Lately, some friends came to visit and made a comment about how much they liked some pottery we had on a shelf. They weren't pieces that had any special memories attached for either Donald or I, so after discussing it, those pieces went home with our friends. That started a bit of a trend and some of our other friends are now in the process of receiving little surprise gift boxes in the mail that are books or "things" we know they've admired or mentioned.
    By the way – did I mention I thought "The Immortals" is your best work yet? Keep 'em coming, sweetie – I love 'em.
    You're doing great things and I am SO proud of you!

  13. Allison Davis

    JT, thanks, this is helpful to me. I published some nonfiction and keeping track of that might make me feel less like a slacker for the fiction work. Now how much time do you spend record keeping?

  14. pari noskin taichert

    Yep. That pretty much sums up how I reacted to this post. Wow.
    I'm very pleased to know that you're going to take the internet-free day every week. I plan to do the same once LCC is over. Actually, I plan to do many things come April 1. Until then, I'm just working, working, Working.

    Congrats on goals reached, JT. May 2011 bring you every joy and even more success.

  15. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I'm with Z – going back to bed, now. Head hurts.

    I'm not against keeping track of details, I just never remember where I put them. I love publishing because books are the only proof I have that I actually do stuff that adds up to something.

  16. Sandy

    J.T., many thanks for sharing all this information. Even before I read the comments following your article, I was going to say that you and Brett must have been separated at birth! Truly, I admire not only your output (and the ability to keep track of it) but also your energy and focus.

  17. toni mcgee causey

    I just looked at that chart and my head went splodey. 🙂

    That's amazing, JT, and I am in awe of your output. We've done the paring down thing, too–there's a woman's shelter not far from us where victims of domestic violence and other women who need the help can go for safety; they have a store and they use those earnings to help them build enough savings to get out on their own. We donate to that, whenever we can.

    As for words–I do not even want to know how many I wrote in a year. I'm one of those people who don't like to count–I just like the end result. If I get the thing done, then I know I wrote enough words to get it there. That probably makes absolutely no sense to anyone else, but I like looking at the macro, not the micro. The metadata, not the data. But that's just me and the way my brain is wired. I'm too obsessive / competitive… if I started the daily word count thing, I'd get too focused on that and miss the joy.

  18. Allison Brennan

    JT, I've never tracked my word count. I cut and rewrite so much I'm sure that every 100K word book I write took over 300K words to create. Wow.

    I like "The Year of Depth." For me, I'm trying to read new classics I missed–the top two on my list are THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY (I'm in the middle of it now) and A KISS BEFORE DYING by Ira Levin.

    2010 was an up and down year for me full of changes. I'm hoping 2011 will be smoother.

  19. Chuck

    Refreshingly different, JT. Have you done your ancestry? German perhaps? 😉 As you know, most of my writing and inspiration has some connection to Germany, and what you just detailed certainly has Germanic roots from somewhere.

    I admire you, not only because of your exhaustive writing efforts, but for what you do that isn't in those totals. Things such as encouragement, and listening, and guiding. You should add those up too. I know you won't share them with us, but pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

    Sorry I was so late today. Moved offices at work. YUCK!

    Have a great weekend.

  20. JT Ellison

    Stephen, you accomplished so, so much this year. Give yourself a pat on the back, because I couldn't have managed with all you had going on. You rock!

    Kaye, I love that you're working on being more aware. Considering you're the kind of person we all want to be – always upbeat, always giving, you deserve some time to get introspective.

    Allison, I don't keep ongoing records per se, outside of when I finish something and final word counts. And I don't do a good job of tracking it all throughout the year, I just dedicate a day at the end of the year to add things up. I'm all automated, like with word counts and stuff, from my backups to my email. And again, these are estimates. The thought of paying too close attention gives me hives.

  21. JT Ellison

    Dusty, you must. Maybe you dont' see yoru genius, but I do.

    Pari, I can't wait for LCC. All the work you've put in – it's going to be amazing. Your daily fiction writing this year really inspired me to work hard at that. I wish the same for you in 2011.

    Alex, I saw my galley for my March book for the first time today. And there's no chart that can come close to replicating THAT feeling.

    Sandy, thank you, so much! I've found that I need these things to spur me on, because I am inherently lazy. : )

  22. JT Ellison

    Toni, from the beginning, with all I had on my plate between writing and Killer Year and judging, I had to set pretty disciplined daily counts for myself or else I would have lost track of time. I just don't write as much when I'm not focused on the end. : )

    That said, I have friends who write upwards of 600000 fiction words in a year, and am daily humbled by their talents. I wish I could be that disciplined.

    Allison, so thrilled to see you on the NYT list today for your new baby. Congrats! You're one of the ones who blow my mind daily with your ability to focus. You personify depth to me.

    Chuck, Alsaice-Lorraine. On my grandmother's side. : ) You were one of my biggest joys this year. Being able to hang with you at Thrillerfest was a blast, and I can't wait to see your name in lights. Which will be coming very very soon!

  23. Alafair Burke

    I feel like such a loser right now. Will someone please lobotomize the part of my brain that just processed how much work you did last year?

  24. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    By the way, I copied your link to the Art of Noncomformity post and I've been reading it through. Gonna sit down with the wife and study the thing, see if we can actually plan out this next year, which is something we've never done before. Thanks for handing us a useful tool.

  25. Rob Gregory Browne

    I won't count emails or proposals, etc., but a rough estimate of FINISHED fiction manuscript words written by me in 2010 was 325,000.

    It's been a good—and busy—year for me, as well.

  26. KDJames

    Holy guacamole, JT! I know how deadly it is to compare yourself to another writer, really I do, but sign me up with Alafair. Lobotomy for two, please.

    Hell yes, you're crazy. How can you possibly say, "I spent too much time talking about writing and not actually writing" and then tell us you wrote 112K MORE words in 2010 than in 2009?!

    Absolutely totally completely effing crazy. In a charmingly admirable way, of course. [Yes, I do plan to use more -ly words this year. It might make me feel more productive.] Maybe if I quit the day job and give up sleep I could achieve your kind of crazy too. Or not.

    As well as it obviously works for you, I don't think I'm ever going to go to this extent of documenting my words with numbers. I'll be happy this year if all my words finally add up to 1. Published book, that is. Got to start somewhere.

    Off to scrub these images of uber-productivity from my eyeballs.

  27. Cornelia Read

    JT, I am so glad that you guys had a wonderful year–you deserve it, and a magnificent 2011 to follow it up!! What a wonderful post. I'm going to go hang my head in shame now, but you've inspired me to kick major butt in this fresh annum…

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