awesome writing life

Annual Review 2016

Every year the journey begins anew. Although you may not know your destination, looking back allows you to see where you’ve been.

A couple years ago I started doing an annual review according to the Chris Guillebeau method. For people who are so anxious to get on to the next exciting new thing, this is an excellent way to slow down, celebrate the wins*, learn from the losses, and focus.

I invite you to adapt this model to your own situation. Chris changes his up every year (and he changed it this year completely) so it’s just a starting point.

Here we go!

What Worked

So many things worked this year. I reviewed my list of New Years 2016 goals and discovered I had accomplished 80% of them, including all of the really important ones. This is unprecedented. I think it illustrates the power of setting goals — if you are the kind of person who can then put your shoulder in the yoke and push, like me.

For example, I:

  • ran my first half-marathon since giving birth and received my best time (Cinco de Mayo half)
  • visited the dentist for the first time in 4 years
  • took 3 fun trips this year with friends and family, including the lifelong goal of traveling in Mexico
  • saved beyond my goal of $15k and actually hit $20k in liquid savings (highest savings of my life)

In publishing, I achieved my goal of treating my writing hobby more like a business by taking marketing and production classes, publishing 4 new books in 6 months, putting 4 more into the final stages to be published in 2017, and experimenting with a variety of sales strategies. One of these strategies launched Liberation’s Kiss into the top 10 of the Amazon free store (top 1 in Australia and Canada) and Resurrection Heart into the top 100 paid store. Hitting these best-selling lists with my first and fourth novels blew my mind and set a new bar for what seems possible.

In writing, I had 11 totally new ideas this year, bringing the Excel spreadsheet up to a total of 207 completely unique story ideas. People ask where I get my ideas and if I’ll ever run out. Ha! Now that I’ve actually started publishing , the total is starting to go down, which is exciting in its own way. I still have a long way to go before I run out of ideas. Some of this year’s 11 ideas are for series, meaning that it’s not just a single book, but a 5-book or 7-book series in “one” idea with potentials for spinoffs and more.

What Didn’t Work

Despite my incredible wins, I feel like I didn’t accomplish the spirit of the resolutions. Some unexpected health and occupation setbacks allowed me to check the box and accomplish the letter of the resolution, while missing the point of why I had resolved it.

The point of finishing another half marathon was to recapture my pre-pregnancy fitness levels. That included regular jogging, hiking, half-marathoning, and devotion to a healthy, calorie-controlled diet that slimmed me down to 137lb and let me buy super cute new clothes. While I definitely closed in on the cardio goal this May, my calorie app stopped working with my phone (Windows!!!!) and I let my weight slide. Those cute, almost new clothes are still gathering dust in the back of my closet! Then, an unexpected dental surgery the week after the half marathon laid me low for a month, and inertia killed my progress. Now at the close of the year, I’m going to have to start over for all of my health goals. And I’m in worse shape than last January. Argh.

The point of treating my writing hobby as a business was to successfully change over my income from a full time day job to a full time writing career. Unfortunately, the work to do this was largely composed of unsuccessful and costly learning experiences! On top of the $4k dental surgery, the Mexico trip, and nearly $10k of editing + cover costs alone (for 10+ stories) I will be closing 2016 with the lowest savings ever. It’s crazy that I hit both my highest savings point AND my lowest since graduating college in a single year. Sure, I have ideas of where I went wrong now, and I have a bunch of strategies for reversing it in 2017, but until the plan meets the enemy and triumphs, writing will remain my 30 hour side job (on top of my 40 hour paid one).

Plan for 2017

My main goal is to change over my income entirely to the writing business so I can stop working 70-hour weeks and spend that extra time relaxing with my family.

I will take a pen name. I will experiment with genres to find the best fit for my storytelling. I will take more classes to increase my skills. I will double down on the things I can do for myself and reduce my expenses so that profit is more easily attainable.

I will stop scattering my focus on contests, accolades, reviews, bestseller lists, and books that don’t sell. I will honestly and decisively focus only on the story ideas that others are excited to read. I will abandon any series, no matter how many ideas I have or how much I love it, if it drains my income rather than increasing my ability to change jobs.

This is a huge shift. We’ll see if I’ve guessed correctly on the genres, stories, and sales activities by this time next year.

My secondary goal is to focus on calories ONLY this year, because often the exercise springs naturally from a desire to eat.

Want to eat Snickers-Mudslide Cheesecake? Shrimp Pad Thai? An entire loaf of garlic bread with rich, meaty spaghetti? Time to go for a jog! Go twice as far and have a second serving!

Honestly, I think food tastes better when I eat less of it. But eating whatever my mouth wants is so easy and lazy. It takes a hell of an effort to purchase, weigh, calculate calories, and prepackage healthy foods, then stick to eating only them. Of course it does. Because if it were easy to just eat healthy, then I’d do that all the time instead.

Related, I do have a minor tertiary goal to get more sleep. It improves performance overall, but that’s difficult to remember when it’s a choice between accomplishing a specific goal now and going to bed before 3 AM during the week.

Other goals are to continue the progress from 2016 in terms of taking fun trips, visiting regularly with family and friends, keeping up with the dentist (first visit is already scheduled!) and building up my savings again.

That’s my 2017!

How about you?

* I’m the kind of person who celebrates the day BEFORE a project finishes, because the instant I type “the end,” I will close that document with a satisfied sigh, open up a new document, and FINALLY allow myself to start frolicking in the next project that I’ve just been dying to crack open. Starting the exciting new project is my reward for finishing up the old (formerly exciting) project, and it’s the way I get anything done. If I had to stop right when I finished a project and go celebrate it, I’d pout and be miserable and itch to get working on the new thing instead. Since celebration IS important, I compromise by celebrating early, when I really need that last push. And since I published 4 all new stories last year, I think it’s working!




awesome things-to-do

Five Extreme Day-Cations in the Pacific Northwest

Watch This!
Watch This (CC2.0) by Justin Jensen.

Now that we’re coming up on the hot months of July and August, I want to get out and play like it’s the last summer of high school.

Do you remember when you got three months off? (Well, not if you went to one of those crazy year-round schools.)

I wasted those gorgeous lazy days watching Matlock and melting an ice cube in my boiling-hot bowl of chicken-flavored Top Ramen.

Now I’m less of a Matlock watcher and more of a day-traveler. The kid-me loves exploring with wide-eyed curiosity and experiencing unforgettable hands-on fun. With that in mind, here are five unusual Pacific Northwest adventures designed to re-awaken the kid-you for under $100 per person, from my estimation of least to most extreme:

1. Be White and Nerdy – Portland, Vancouver, Seattle, everywhere – Price depends on your location, so keep an eye out for a decent (wacky?) Groupon and tour your city from the back of the majestic segway. You too can strap on the knee and elbow pads, safety glasses, and skin-tight suit and have as much fun cruising your own hood as Weird Al.

We did this last year and it was SUPER FUN. Flying around Washington Park at 12 mph and then parking the segway for a coffee in the Pearl District rocked.

2. Relive the Hunger Games – Portland, OR – For less than $70 you can till your own bow from locally harvested wood and pretend you’re Katniss in the woods. They have additional classes for shelter-building, edible plants, and zombie attack survival. You can probably find a class nearer to you — here is a more expensive one that’s held in Monroe WA.

3. Blow Something – Seattle, WA – Like a paperweight or a flower. For $85 you can schedule a private 30-minute lesson on how to blow glass. Add color and one of the five basic shapes to what is essentially a stone that has been melted to 2400 degrees. These classes are everywhere so check your local glassblowing studio for prices and availability.

4. Wax your Board – Florence, OR – When you get tired of the bag of cheese curds you purchased at the Tillamook Cheese Factory (om nom nom so tasty CHEEZE) you can work off the extra calories on the slopes. The sandy slopes, that is. Now for as little as $10/day ($15 if you want goggles and a helmet) snowboarders can cheer that winter is far away. Don’t forget sunscreen and a camera to capture those heart-warming moments when you plow face-first into the dunes. (Check out this video to feel like you were there.)

5. Fly the Friendlier Skies – Seattle, Portland, etc. – If you’ve always wanted to test how you would fare during an emergency mid-flight evacuation, but the idea of actually plummeting 12,000 feet through open atmosphere to your potential death gives you pause, try indoor skydiving! Less than $60 for a 2-flight introductory session, you get all the benefits of throwing yourself into a vertical wind tunnel and none of the potential life insurance issues.



Now is the time to live your most awesome life

Me and my mom on an awesome hiking trip – How I would spend every summer if I didn’t have to “work”

I’ve always loved those “Are you living the right life?” quizzes. Questions like,

  • “What would you do if you only had one year to live?”
  • “What would you pursue if you never had to work again?”

And, probably most important for me,

  • “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?”

Answering these questions are all kinds of fun. I’m a hard-boiled planner, whether for five years into my future or five minutes down to the grocery store. Planning is even more fun than doing because it has yet to be hampered by anything going wrong.

When I was researching the San Juan Island Stories, my research trip was almost delayed by a funeral.

An aunt had come home for the final stages of terminal cancer. She was a luminous personality, a delicious cook, and an advocate for international justice. She was also only 45 years old. Why? No, seriously. Why??? SHE WAS A LUMINOUS PERSONALITY. Her diagnosis felt infuriatingly unfair.

See me? I'm that speck at the top with both arms raised!
See me? I’m that speck at the top with both arms raised!

But whenever my aunt (or anyone else) would take the time to ask about my writing, I always hedged. Not because I wasn’t working hard. But because my head was so filled up with the big goals and the perfect over-arching plans that I hadn’t figured out how to celebrate any of the little steps that make up the majority of any journey. They didn’t feel important. My aunt couldn’t encourage me because I couldn’t say, “Oh yeah, I’m writing this and this and heading here for a research trip,” even though that was exactly what I was doing. I always coughed and said, “Oh, ha ha, I’m working on it. So, what have you been up to lately?”

Setting goals is important. Working towards being an awesome author who tells life-affirming stories that celebrate true love is a great over-arching plan. But now I feel sorry that my own fears of inadequacy meant I couldn’t just say, “I’m writing this and this and heading here for a research trip. How about you? Shall we share a cup of tea to cheer ourselves on?”

So let me ask you:

  • “What would you do if you only had one year to live?”
  • “What would you pursue if you never had to work again?”
  • “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?”

Are you already doing those things? You are awesome. Rock on.


I am giving away a 4-pack of the San Juan Island Stories FOR FREE at the 12 Days of Christmas Facebook event on Saturday. Join free and win swag from 70 other authors, including bags and bookmarks and tiaras and more, starting tomorrow. You do not need to actually celebrate Christmas, but you do need to have a Facebook account. The holidays are starting early! See you there!