Lessons from 2011 / by Josh Guess

It's the second of January, the year 2012. I've had time to reflect on the last year of my life and now that my liver has recovered from the truly horrendous amount of rum it had to deal with on new year's eve, I want to share those thoughts.

I learned a lot over this last year. In no particular order, I'll toss them at you.

I learned how to be a better writer. I'm not talking about simply honing my basic skills here, but actually realizing that every moment of my day can teach me something about the craft. It's as if I've learned a new way to think. Every time I read anything now, I look at the structure of it, see the parts as well as the whole for what they are: examples I can learn from.

I've learned not to expect too much from my writing. Late in 2010 and into early 2011, I was having a lot of success very quickly on the Kindle store. For the first few months I was selling my books, I was making more money in each of them than the month previous. It gave me a heady, solid sense of satisfaction, but then came April. That was when sales began to slump, and I saw my income dwindle accordingly. That's how the market works, unfortunately--there are variations and no book is fresh and popular forever.

I got a very good piece of understanding from that situation. If my sales had continued picking up, I might have grown overconfident. I might have quit my job, or been less humble when writing. When the eventual slump did happen, I'd have been utterly destroyed. So I'm happy it came early. Now I know never to count my chickens, and to always strive to make everything I write the best thing I've ever written.

I've learned not to take on too much at once. At the height of my efforts this year, there were weeks where I was managing five or six thousand words a day. I wrote the majority of Beautiful during this time, as well as continuing work on Living With the Dead. I took two days off after I finished the final edit of Beautiful, and went on to start on the sequel.

The blunt truth is that I wrote thirty thousand words on the sequel while dealing with numerous personal issues and trying to make Living With the Dead as good as possible. That's not mentioning promoting my work and managing all the other aspects of my budding career that go on in the background. I wasn't just burning the candle at both ends, I was also putting a blowtorch to the middle.

I've learned that sometimes you have to relax. I originally planned to release Monster, the sequel to Beautiful, in early December. That would have meant in four months, I would have had to write 100,000 words that continued the story in a logical and interesting way, done a rough edit, sent it to the betas, gotten it back, done 1-2 more serious revisions, and a final meticulous edit. That, along with all my other projects and getting the cover and associated other parts of releasing a book done was just too much.

So, Monster isn't coming out soon. The first book is well-loved by the people that read it for the most part, but it isn't a big seller. I've finally reached a place where I feel as though I can work on the sequel and make it into the story I want to tell, but it's been a long way getting here. I estimate at least four months until I can put out the second book. Maybe as many as six. I'll endeavor to get it done.

I've learned not to ignore my own ideas because I feel like I can't work on anything other than what's on my plate. If I didn't have to work a full-time job, I would be able to put out six to eight books a year. That's no joke, though it seems like an insane number. If I worked eight hours a day, I would split it into three sections of writing for three different books. I write fast. It would be easy with all that extra time and energy. But where I used to focus like a laser on my current projects, now I make time to shake things up a little and work on fresh ideas. One of those has blossomed into an idea for a series that I'm really excited about. Don't know that I'll have time to work on it in the near future, but I can't help tinkering.

More than anything over the last 365 days, I've learned to trust my fans. Not just my friends and family, who are always very honest with their criticisms and supportive of my work, but all of you. I don't quite have legions yet, but your support through all the lean months has been crucially important to me. I've had great interactions with many of you on Facebook, in comments on book reviews, and in threads on forums. I put out the latest Living With the Dead book a few months ago, and sales have been good. It made my heart sing to know that so many of you were waiting to get the new book even though most of you read the blog already.

If I ever doubted you, my deepest apologies. You all have, again, my deepest thanks.

2011 was really the first year of my writing career. Though much of my work began in 2010, most of the actual movement in my career started after. I feel like a different person now, someone who has had to deal with some hard realities, but I think I'm better for it.