Celebrating 2017

I love the New Year. Honestly, it’s not so much about the fresh start as it is about the closed cover, the checked marks, the lid snugly fitted on the pot. I like to finish things. I like things tidied up, accounted for, and filed away. That’s my nature. So while, yes, a fresh start looks awfully pretty, for me it’s less about the opportunity to change things and start over than it is the reminder to pause and look back. It’s time to appreciate, reflect, and let go.

So I’m looking back on 2017, trying to get the taste of the year as a whole.

A couple days ago on the 31st, I sat down with my brand new planner all spread out with stickers and pens as per my annual tradition. (Yes, bask in my nerdom; isn’t it glorious?) I love filling out my new planner with all I know so far: birthdays, plans, trips, appointments. And I love filing away my old planner, all stuffed full and marked up. One of the final things I do with it is total my word count for the year. A few weeks before the end of the year I let myself get a preliminary total just from curiosity, and I was at 216,000. I was pleasantly surprised by that, especially considering that (unlike 2016, my year of 1k a day) I was not trying to get tons of words in 2017. No concrete daily goals, nothing. I was just working.

A month of thinking my total would be at least 220k, my best year yet, and then I counted up the year. 196,500.

3,500 words short of a nice even 200k, and thousands less than I’d counted. (And I still don’t know how I miscounted that first time, or maybe even if I missed recording some words somehow.) Not gonna lie to y’all: I cried. I was so disappointed. I knew it was stupid even as I was crying, but I felt how I felt. I know that 200,000 is an arbitrarily even number and doesn’t mean anything. I know that 196,500 is a fantastic word count. I wasn’t even trying for high words this year; my intent was to focus on the work and not the numbers—which I did beautifully until I saw 216k and got all happy about it. If I’d never had that number, I would’ve been content with my 196k.

The thing is, my job is so intangible. It’s a privilege to be able to write full time; don’t think I don’t know that. But it’s also really hard to work my ass off all the time and have so little concrete product to show for it. I don’t get a regular paycheck, and the income I do make is meager. Word count is one of the most concrete things I have to point to (for myself; no one is demanding this but me) to say, Look how much I’ve done.

Clearly this is an opportunity to get a better perspective and grow. I know. I knew it even as I was being all disappointed.

The next day, January 1, I did my traditional ordering of the year’s financials. (Again, glorious nerdom; try not to swoon.) For several years now I’ve used New Year’s Day to get all of my writing receipts and records in order so that taxes will go smoothly. And I am about to try to sell you here, but I swear every word of this is true: my traditional largest-chunk-of-the-day tidying has whittled itself down to ten minutes thanks to my Writing Expense and Income Tracking Spreadsheet. Yes, I use my own resource. And yes, it works really freaking beautifully. I opened it to delete the rows I never used and input my utility bills for my office portion of the house. That was it. It took ten minutes. Tradition happily spoiled.

[Even more blatant selling pitch: I love my spreadsheet so much, and believe in it so genuinely, that I’m offering a New Year’s discount for writers who want to start their own. You can use it year after year. Enter the coupon code New2018 to get $3 off, which means it’ll be 6 bucks. Steal.]

So anyway, I finished up my financials for 2017 and found one happy surprise: I’m in the black this year. I’ve made income for several years now, but by the time I deduct every last work expense allowed to me (retreats and conferences and printer paper and website hosting, etc.), I’ve always ended up technically in the red, even if it’s just a little. This year I’m in the black, and that gives me something tangible I can point to.

I made this family $32.07. 😀

Joking aside, it does feel good to have some concrete stuff. I also took a good hour or so making a big list of work things I did in 2017, which I’ll share here for anyone to skim or pick through if they’re interested in catching up (but feel free to skip down if you’ve been following me already):

I admit, I felt surprised by the time I’d finished that list. I did much more than I’d felt like I did. And when I went through my Joy Jar, I realized why:

It’s because day after day, week after week, month after month, I showed up. I did the work. I made the effort. Even when it didn’t feel good, when the work was slow or hard or crappy, I showed up. And that’s why, piece by tiny piece, I was able to cobble together a year worth making a list about. I’m proud of that. I wish it didn’t take a New Year’s list for me to be proud.

Which brings me to my resolution for 2018: I’m going to celebrate more.

Most writers don’t share the bad news. It’s not good business to share every rejection we get, each time we’re heartbreakingly close, each time we have to scrap or trunk or overhaul a thing we love. But this job is filled with more nos than yeses. I promise you, no matter how successful the writers you follow, they have heartbreak and trial and rejection going on behind the scenes—probably much more of it than the good stuff you get to hear about.

I have a tendency not to want to share my good stuff too much because I’m afraid people will feel like I’m misrepresenting the bigger picture—or worse, bragging. That’s bullshit. I know it’s bullshit, and I’ve already been working on it, but this year I’m going to work on it with more intention. I shouldn’t feel like I need to apologize for landing an amazing story publication or being endorsed by someone I admire or working my ass off to get an ambitious novel written. Each announcement doesn’t need to come with a humility caveat. I should just be happy, and share it, and let the people who want to be happy with me be happy with me. (And the others, well…)

So I will, and I hope you will too. I love to be happy with you all as well.

What do you have to celebrate from 2017? Have you named a resolution for 2018?

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New Office Peeping and All the Thankfulness

For me, this November is largely consumed by two things: NaNoWriMo (my #MonthOfGettinIt) and Thanksgiving. Hard work and deep gratitude. It has been a busy, beautiful, exhausting, delightful month so far.

Recently fellow writer Sean Easley posted a picture of his home office on Facebook, and it was so drool-worthy (the bookshelves, you guys—the bookshelves!) that I immediately asked him if he’ll share a whole album’s worth at The Decorative Writer. To my delight, he’s agreed to let us all admire his beautiful work space.

Sean Easley

The Decorative Writer is not the most prominent or active part of my website—but it’s still one I love. I love it enough to continue revamping it over and over, including this time around; it seems like every time I add a new album I discover my old plugin or formatting has self-destructed. But now I have a brand new shiny one that looks lovely and navigates well; I hope you’ll enjoy it too.

I’m a very aesthetically-oriented person. I believe that the spaces we’re in affect our  productivity and mood. Maybe that’s why I love getting to peer into the rooms of other writers—it almost feels like peering into their workflow and artistic hearts as well. If that’s the case, then Sean’s a very lucky guy. 🙂 Things to go swoon over: the moody lighting, the beautifully displayed bookshelves, the comfy chairs, the personal touches, the sweet tech setup, much more.

PLUS, be sure you click all the way through to the end, because my favorite thing about Sean’s album is when he shares his first workspace: a closet. A literal, functioning closet. If ever there were a symbol of dedication and determination, surely it has to be that. That big, beautiful office was well earned. I find that incredibly inspiring.

Which brings me back to grateful. My most recent post at Writer Unboxed is “Getting Back to Grateful,” where I talk about how easy it is for writers to forget how much we already have—and how important it is to stop and remember that with intention and thankfulness.

A couple things that are big in my heart right now on the gratitude shelves:

♥ My beautiful, fun, full road trip with my writer friend Kelsey Macke, where she did book research and we both did good work and good play.

♥ The kind, positive words so many people have said and shared about my story “So Sings the Siren” in Apex Magazine. It’s one thing to have a story picked up by a market you love—it’s another to have strangers read and respond to it. That’s why we do this, after all, and it feels amazing. Some highlights:

“This is a rather creepy and very short story about pain and about art and about performance. […] It’s how the story is able to establish and sell the darkness that is at first concealed […] I like how the story sets this all up and I like the implications of it, the way it seems to me to seek to shine a light on how we treat art […] It’s weird and messed up and uncomfortable but I think it’s a rather great read!” —Charles Payseur, Quick Sip Reivews

“Well done tale told very succinctly.” —Tangent

“A gruesome and moving look at the price of art. […] It’s disturbing, but very provocative. Wonderful horror story.” —Alex Clark-McGlenn, For Those Who Wait and Listen

“Though short, this tale engaged the reader from the beginning.” —SFRevu

“One of the most disturbing stories we’ve published at Apex Magazine.” —Jason Sizemore, Editor in Chief

If you haven’t yet, I would love for you to read it too! It does come with a content warning, but if you like sharp things, you can read “So Sings the Siren” for free on Apex.com! (And if you’ve left a review anywhere that says good things about my story, please do send me the link!)

Don’t forget to stop by Sean’s album at The Decorative Writer. (Thanks so much to Sean for sharing!)

Before I go to bake pie and drive and sleep and hug: a big, heartfelt thank you to everyone who’s in my life, in any capacity. It sure is a beautiful life lately, and if you’re reading this you’re (at least) a little part of that. So thank you, and happy thanks giving.

 

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How to Have the Witchiest Halloween Ever (Plus Our Winner!)

Happy Halloween!!

We have a winner of the #BooksBrewBoo giveaway. The lucky little goblin who will be receiving a Starbucks gift card + creepy poetry anthology is:

Traci Kenworth!

Congratulations, Traci!

I’ll be off soon to cavort with bats and sweet-talk cats, but first I wanted to share with you guys one last how-to: how to have the witchiest Halloween ever.

Click photos to enlarge!

Start early. (Witches plan ahead.) Two and half months before Halloween begins, find the coolest, quirkiest, most amazing witch hat ever and fall in love, deciding then and there that you’ll be a witch this year.

At the very, very earliest we-are-really-stretching-it-here-let’s-be-honest-it’s-basically-just-pretend hint of autumn, snuggle in with your crafting bestie and decide you’re going to make a witch book. Upon deciding what exactly it will be/look like, brainstorm so many cool ideas that the project quickly expands to become an entire grimoire of witch books, plural, that will fill your mantel. Go overboard. (Witches go overboard.)

Spend many hours over the next free evenings and cozy Sundays crafting strange, beautiful, macabre books befitting the finest witch.

Start dreaming about what else will go on the mantel with them.

Become bewitched by an enormous, shockingly well-priced black tulle skirt online. Order it.

When a few of mushrooms pop up in your yard after a heavy rain, pluck them and hang them from twine in the back of your closet to dry for the next month and a half, figuring you can do something cool with them. (You’re definitely right.) Likewise, save the dead, blackened flower heads from those potted plants you accidentally murdered. (Woops.) Dry them too.

On October first, pull out all your decorations and have at it. Begin pulling things from around your house that look particularly witchy.

When the weather actually gets cool, go for a walk and commune with nature. Find those weird green bois d’arc fruits you’ve always been secretly smitten with. When your husband gets home, tell him you’re going to get witch apples. Laugh when he doesn’t even question you (go ahead and fall in love with him a little bit more, as you do), just picks you up and drives you with your cauldron to the spot you found them, where you gather a potful like a sneaky little thief.

Marvel at the kismet of washing your old green drinking glass that’s been in the guest shower for years, unused, at the same time that you find the tiny baby doll your dad once hung in fake spider web as a macabre Halloween decoration. Realize said baby doll fits uncannily under the glass, which happens to be the perfect shade of green. Assure your husband that it is not, in fact, watching him every time he walks across the room.

Convince your besties that your skirt, which has arrived in fluffy, splendiferous glory, is too amazing, and that it simply must be photographed on a very cold night as sunset turns to dusk to night. Bring a cape you made on a whim one evening from sheer curtains you’ve had folded in a box for five years. Get weird. Get witchy. Get scary. Touch the moon. Keep some secrets. Laugh a lot. Come away with dozens of super amazing photos, because your friends are the best friends.

Play an ongoing game of hide-the-severed-foot with your husband. Be hilariously surprised when it shows up, complete with cleaver, in your sock drawer, under the bed, inside his boot…

Arrange your mantel. Gather some of the already-cut vines from your garden and let them creep from the shadows of your grimoire. Light your candles, cast your spell, throw some glow on it.

Have over unsuspecting victims friends and enjoy a night of magnificent revelry.

Rest up. Enjoy your witch nails for three more days.

Spend a quiet, nigh-holy night reading spooky, lovely things. Stop often to smell the air, to write a poem, to dance in the moonlight. Hand out poison apples candy to tricky little children brave enough to approach your cottage, where they’re greeted by your two familiars, eyes aglow.

Stay up until the witching hour, then fall asleep one content little witch.

Have the happiest Halloween.

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The Shed

It’s the 24th; do you know what that means? We’re right on the cusp of Halloweek! That’s right, you have one week left to comment, share, and love on my happiest month for your chance to win a free Starbucks giftcard + a spooky book in my #BooksBrewBoo giveaway! That’s a win for both of us!

Since Apex’s Undead anthology hasn’t come out quite in time for me to post a video reading of my poem (look for it next month!), I’ve decided today to reprint my poem “The Shed” that appeared in last year’s HWA Poetry Showcase Volume III by the Horror Writers Association. This year’s volume, by the way, is one of your prize options if you win! It’s on the right, below, in a satisfying chain of slim paperbacks full of bite:

“The Shed” is actually one of my favorites, so I’m happy to be sharing it here today. I hope you enjoy!


The Shed

The lawn lays wide
and bright with yellow
sunshine, spread flat
with no corners,

except the shed.

The shed’s paint is pale
but dull, as if the owners
who inherited it
thought the best
they could do was make it
“blend in.” And it does,
for a second

until your eyes catch
the black rectangle
of the haphazardly open doors
stuck in their tracks
gummed up with debris putrefied
to the same color of black,
jarring in all that wide bright.

And you try not to picture what lies in there
what things might collect and colonize in a structure
so low and squat,
but there you go picturing centipedes
and scorpions, spiders and weevils, snakes and rats,
and other, darker things that can’t be
—can’t possibly be in that shed—yet there
you go picturing them: tentacles from corners
and tall, pale men standing against the walls,
and chittering, creeping things that slide down off the ceiling and
open your doors at night, when they can’t be seen,
but then, then, that’s not the most disturbing
part of that old shed.

The most disturbing part is how the structure itself seems sly and sentient with its thin metal walls propped like foldable gills, with its near-flat little roof peaking subtly like an eyebrow, how its rotted wood floors lie in panels, like they could all be rolled back like a tongue shoving food to the gullet, how that open rectangle of black at the doors sits still, patiently, waiting, and how eventually, when this moment of feverish imagination has regressed under the rightful armor of adulthood and you have nearly forgotten all about it (nearly),
you will have to go inside it.

© Annie Neugebauer, 2016


Finally, a reminder to enter, enter, enter! Mix and match at will; here’s a list of all the easy ways you can be entered to win a book + brew:

Thanks to everyone who’s been helping spread my news this month! The winner is coming in a week!

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