44: Looking Back at 2021 and Forward at 2022

This week, authors J Thorn and Crys Cain reflect on their writing and business accomplishments of 2021 and look forward to what they have planned for 2022.


Crys: Welcome to the TASM podcast. I’m Crys Cain with my cohost, J Thorn. The holidays are two days away from being over. Thank goodness. I’m ready for it.

J: Yeah, me too. As we’re recording this, we’re at the tail end of the holiday season and definitely looking forward to getting back into somewhat of a routine.

Crys: Yeah, my plan is my normal New Year’s plan. I have a bottle of bubbly in the fridge for myself that I will have a couple of glasses of, and then the kiddo and I will go to bed at a normal hour and hopefully wake up when the fireworks start so that we can pop up, watch them for 20 minutes, and then go back to bed.

J: Yeah. Yeah, that’s pretty much my plan too. It’ll be a typical Saturday night, Friday night, I don’t even know what day it is, so yeah, whatever it is, it’ll be pretty typical for me.

Crys: It’s tomorrow.

J: Yeah. It’s Friday, not Saturday.

Crys: He’s old enough now to kind of get the concept that we might watch live streams of the ball drops or something on the TV at five o’clock in the evening, but we’ll see.

So this week, we are looking back at the lovely chaos of 2021 and the hopefully planned somewhat stability of 2022. Looking forward to that. So what’s your overall feeling of your 2021, J?

J: Not bad. Pretty good. Maybe we can talk about what we did and then we can talk about what 2021 was like for us.

I’ve always done, for about five or six years now, I’ve done this thing called an accomplishments journal. And it’s like a to-done list instead of a to-do list. So in the morning, instead of looking at what I had to do, I enter what I’m going to do into my accomplishments journal. And it’s this mental thing it’s like it’s already done, like I’ve already done it. And then I have this commitment like, well, I put it in the journal, so I got to do it. And I just keep it in a Word doc or a Notepad document, and just once a day, I just put that in there.

And so what I did for this episode is I went back, I opened that accomplishments journal, and I just started skimming through everything that I had worked on and everything that I had done in 2021 and pulled together a sort of a personal summary of the things that I did. And I really focused on things that I accomplished or things I created or finished as opposed to like sales figure or revenue, because that’s out of my control. So I focus mostly on the things that I made, pretty much.

Crys: Now, my feeling as I was observing you this last year, it feels like you created more this year, more separate things rather than like bigger things, than you did last year. Do you feel like that’s accurate? Because you had some really big projects in 2020 that you put a lot of time into like a few projects, but it felt like this year you had a lot more projects maybe of smaller scope that you completed. Is that accurate?

J: I think that is accurate. Yeah, as I look over my list, there’s a lot of stuff on here. And they’re not all really big home runs, there’s just a lot of little things. Some of them worked, some of them didn’t. But yeah, I think I was more diversified this year.

If I want to look at it in the positive light, I was diversified. Negatively, I would say maybe I wasn’t as focused. That varies, it varies from year to year. It does for me anyway. Some years I have fewer things that I work deeper on, and other years I have more things that I’m more shallow on.

What about for you? Do you feel like you were more focused? More diversified?

Crys: I wouldn’t say I was really either. I would say that this was a far lighter year for me in all aspects. This year I started managing TASM with you, so that was probably the biggest change for me this year as far as things I’ve added. And that has been one of the biggest blessings in my life, as far as like consistency and the connections I’ve created with the people in the community. And that has probably been the thing that has held me at like my base level of ‘I’m still doing things.’

I had basically a four month, maybe five-month break, I can’t even count at this point, where I basically didn’t work. And that was most of the road trip and times surrounding that, and it was delightful. I don’t regret not pushing myself to work more in that time.

And I do want to talk money just for a little bit, because this is a really important goal for me. I have said fairly frequently that I want to get down to four books a year. And I know that one-book-a-year authors are like, “oh my gosh, that’s so many,” but I have gone down from 20 books a year to this year I only published three. And I think that there were two or three books at the end of 2020 that helped carry some income into this year. But as far as what I got paid out from Amazon and all my other revenues, I made $2,000 more than last year, while only publishing three books this year.

J: That’s fantastic.

Crys: That is just amazing. I worked far less and maintained my income. Of course, now, we are getting to the point of those months that didn’t have books published in them for quite a while and the income is definitely dropping. But we’ll talk about that a bit more in what 2022 looks like for me. But yeah, I put so much of my time and energy into recovery and relaxing this year. Unintended, but it was great.

J: Yeah. Yeah. That’s fantastic. That’s a good realization to have. I know that you published less, but you also put a ton of effort and time into TASM. How many scene analysis did you do this year?

Crys: I don’t even know. I love them though. They’re great.

J: Dozens. You had to have done dozens.

Crys: And for anyone listening who might not know what a scene analysis is, it’s like about 20-30 minutes where I sit down with an author and we go over their scene, talking about the three CS and just any other ways that they could beef the scene up, in a way that is meant to say, “okay, here’s some tools that you can take onto the rest of your story, not just for the scene, but for your author craft as a whole.”

And it’s been one of the best ways to get to know individual members of the community because like it or not, most writers are introverts. And so we function and converse so much better when there’s a task at hand until we get to know each other. And so that’s been just one of the best door openers for those one-on-one relationships.

J: Yeah. Yeah. Do you want to start and talk more about what you’ve done in 2021? Or is there anything you want to add?

Crys: Let’s see. Yeah, it’s just three romance books. I’ve spent a lot more time playing with the fantasy stuff that I want to write. And we’re now getting to this little squinch point where I’m like, am I procrastinating writing or am I actually doing the thinking and intellection time I need before I write this story? So I’m at that borderline where I’m like, if this goes on too much further it’s probably me just procrastinating. But I think I’ve definitely needed that playtime where I didn’t have to push the words out. I was able to put the joy back into things and play more.

J: Nice. Nice. All right. Should I get through mine?

Crys: Yeah.

J: All right. So I’m going to try and pull as much of this together as I can. I developed a couple more rubrics this year. I had two big independent consulting contracts that were not necessarily writing related, those were in the spring. Writing wise, I wrote a short story every week, or I published one every week. Some I didn’t write every week, but every week for all 2021, we’re working on The Scene Handbook together that we started in 2021.

I did revisions on my Darwin’s Challenge manuscript that I kind of set to the side. I experimented with a Vella project. I wrote the rough draft for the Writing Scenes book and a serial fiction project to debut next year. That was most of the writing stuff. Like you, spent time in TASM, including the Saturday morning Mastermind group, certified Three-story Method editors this year, and did an NFT beta, which will also come to fruition in 2022.

I started a rebranding process for The Author Life, which will carry over into January. I did a face plant on a social media experiment called Ask Thorn. I did 17 episodes and it didn’t move the needle well, so abandoned that.

On the flip side though, I recorded 140 podcast episodes in 2021, and that brings my grand total estimated to 1008 episodes since 2014. So at some point over the past couple of months, I passed the thousand episode mark. Not all in one show, I’m not the Joanna Penn, but spread out over many shows.

And in events, we had the summit this year. We also did Witches of Salem and Vampires of New Orleans.

And then personally, we delivered our oldest to college in Portland, Oregon, and that was a trip. And my son, my oldest, turned 18 this year, and I turned 50. So a couple milestone birthdays in 2021.

Crys: Nice. I love that you have everything so specific, which fits your personality super well. And I’m just like, ah, word vomit. Also my personality. But it’s funny, like listening to you list that off, I’m like, yeah, a lot of those were things that I did, but they were things that you put on. Like the Witches, I participated, but did not have any responsibility other than to show up.

I would say looking back, like I didn’t have a theme for the year coming into it. If I did, it was probably joy, but I think that was also my last year’s word. It was one that I felt like I couldn’t leave yet. But also looking back, I would say that in a really positive way, one of my words would be unaccomplished and okay with it, like just learning how to rest healthily. And this year will be actually figuring out more of a balance between productivity and rest in a way that works for me.

J: Nice. Nice. I like that. Yeah. Do you have any other thoughts on 2021 before we look forward?

Crys: I just really liked 2021. I heard somebody say recently that there’s very few people who are ambivalent about 2021. It was either great or it’s terrible for them. And for me it was great. And I’m leaving the year happily.

J: Yeah, me too. I have a couple of things I can’t really talk about yet that started in 2021 that I know are going to bear fruit in 2022 or even 2023. I think too, it’s a bit of a mindset thing. We run a community and I think we have to model positive leadership. I don’t think you can run a community and be pessimistic. Like it just doesn’t work.

Crys: Those turn into cults often.

J: Yeah. You mean the positive ones or the negative ones?

Crys: The negative ones.

J: I think it’s in the nature of people who choose to lead in any capacity, I think there has to be a natural optimism there. There’s gotta be a forward momentum energy that you and I just naturally bring. And I’m not surprised to hear you say, ” yeah, 2021 was okay.”

And I’m sure you could talk to people who will say it was a dumpster fire, and so was 2020, and so was 2019, and so was every other year going back as far as you want to go. But I agree, like there were some things that were hard and things that weren’t great about the year, but overall I feel like it’s another year I was here. I’m just grateful for that.

Crys: Absolutely. So 2022…

J: So let me ask you this, do you do any kind of, you mentioned words, do you do like resolutions? Do you do themes? Do you do that ahead of time?

Crys: I am sporadic about doing it. I really like choosing a word as a focus. One of the only planners that I’ve ever liked, but of course I’m not a planner person, so I never finish them but they often help me get started when I need some structure, is a Passion Planner. And one of the things I really love about it’s yearly and weekly and monthly, or monthly mostly, is it’ll ask you to choose a word for both your personal and your business life.

And so I picked that up when I started using Passion Planners, and I like to have a word. But the end of the year has crept up on me, and so this week has been a bit of more chaos, like just internal chaos, as I am trying to figure out what I think 2022 looks like. So probably if I were to pick a word for 2022 it’s stability, because that’s the word that keeps coming up most as I’m talking about what I want out of 2022. So that would probably be my word.

J: Nice. Okay. I tried doing Chris Brogan’s three words the past couple of years, and they’re great. And it was a great exercise to go through, but I don’t pay any attention to them. Like I’ve tried, like I just set these words and then I just never even, I don’t know, I’m just not wired that way. I’m not a goal-setter, I don’t do resolutions. I’ve tried like themes or tone. I just don’t keep up with it.

Crys: Yeah. I think it’s natural for me because there’s almost always, up to this point in my life, been something that I feel is lacking from my life or my business. And so that’s naturally a word that comes to me and it’s not something that I go looking for as something I want to move forward. And that may be a bit different. About the difference, it seems like most of the time, you have more or less structured your life to fill in those gaps at this point. And there aren’t a whole lot of like big gaps that are like, oh my gosh, like this thing is still effed up in my life that I need to fix. There’s rarely a big thing weighing on your mind.

J: Yeah. Yeah, that’s true. I think one of the things I have been doing though, as I’ve gotten older and gotten more established in the second career that I have and running the business, is that what I’m trying to focus on right now, and again, this is completely stage dependent, so for some people, this would not be good advice or a good model to follow, but right now, and looking into 2022, I’m looking to do fewer things with deeper impact.

Just like broadly speaking, I tend to go shotgun approach on a lot of stuff. And you have to do that to experiment, like that’s the flip side of it is to really go scatter gun and experiment and try many things and then see which one of those bubbles up. And I feel like I’m in a place now where I’ve done that and I’ve seen what’s bubbled up. And so now I want to try and focus on those couple of things and have really deep impact on just a few things. So I think there’s going to be a lot of removing of things from my life in 2022.

Crys: That makes a lot of sense. To prepare for 2022, JP and I, who’s my co-host on the Write Away Podcast, have talked about doing quarterly planning a bit for us. Not for the podcast, but as individually. It’s something I’ve wanted to try for a while, but haven’t, so I was like, okay, like I can generally see about three-ish months into the future at this point. Towards the beginning of 2020, I could even see a month in the future, what I was going to be able to do, what I was gonna be able to accomplish.

But now I’m like, okay, three months is pretty good. But I find that I’m struggling right now in the moment because one of the things that’s happening in this first quarter is that Small starts school full time. And until that happens, I don’t actually know what my day-to-day life will look like. I have somewhat of an idea because we did summer camp a couple of weeks ago where he was gone every day. It was lovely. He’ll do another three weeks this month. But then the hours will actually change for what it is for school. We’ll have to see like, will I need an afterschool program? Will I need a couple hours every day extra? Because school ends at 1:15 for him. But it starts at 7:20, that works great for me because I’m an early morning person.

So as I’m trying to look at these three months, I’m like, okay, this is hard. I can’t see what the next three months are actually going to look like. I’m not even trying to look beyond three months. But I don’t have a feel for the shape of what it might actually look like in reality. So I find that’s holding me back a little bit.

And another thing has been, as I’ve been reloading my brain with everything that I abandoned in August and now I’m picking up, it feels like so much that it’s all scattering out of my brain. And I’m having trouble figuring out what my day looks like. Getting to the computer and starting my day and ending my day, that’s fine. That is set in stone now. But what happens in between those hours hasn’t quite filtered out yet. So what I have been doing, particularly today, is I really liked this idea that I saw a year or two ago called, building a second brain. And that’s like building a digital brain and the idea is that your brain is not a storage facility, it’s a creation facility. And watching that video the first time is what got me started using Notion, originally. And I’ve been using Notion since then, but I haven’t fully implemented a second brain system. And so I’ve been refreshing on that because I really liked it. I was like, okay, that kind of workflow will probably work for me.

I had a bit of it set up and then August just kind ended everything basically. And so I’m reloading all of that thought in my head to start to build, or at least learn like what processes might look natural for me, so that I don’t feel as if my brain is just too full and I can’t find the things I need because it’s already somewhere else that I can use a search function for.

J: Yeah. Yeah. I love that concept.

Crys: Yeah. So that’s my focus, and then that even contributes towards stability for 2022. Just getting workflow, getting an idea of what a day looks like, what a week looks like. Just cohesiveness.

J: Yeah. Yeah. Excellent.

Crys: Any other thoughts about your 2022? Anything you’re like super excited about, just as like milestones that you’re looking forward to?

J: Nothing off the top of my head or nothing that I can talk about yet. So yeah, I want to wish everyone a happy new year,

Crys: Yeah. Happy new year, everybody. I hope that if you’re a planner, that your plans are ready for you, that you’ve been working hard on them. and if you’re not, it’s not a problem.

Thank you so much for joining us this year. It’s been a really good year of having the TASM podcast going our first year. I don’t know when our anniversary is, I’ll have to look that up, but it’s coming up I’m sure.

J: February or March, maybe.

Crys: Excellent. So it might be good to look back and see what’s our top podcasts of the year, which ones got the most interest. But we looked forward to spending some more time with y’all in 2022.

If you would like to join this conversation in real time, we’d love for you to pop over and check out what The Author Success Mastermind is all about.

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