This article, written by Trish Milburn is from the February 2022 edition of Nink, the monthly newsletter of Novelists, Inc.  (NINC). Nink, which is packed each month with informative articles for career novelists, is a benefit of NINC membership

Focus. Discipline. Choice. Manifesting. Positivity.

As 2021 gave way to 2022, authors picked these and other powerful single words to use as their theme and guide this year after deciding enough was enough. Because, let’s face it, the past couple of years have been…a lot. We’ve faced a global pandemic, social unrest, and a level of ugliness that has made it difficult to focus on anything other than binge watching Bridgerton or Squid Game. Many of us have languished, if not felt downright depressed. Katie MacAlister called what many authors have been experiencing “pandemic malaise cobwebs,” and perhaps there has never been a better description.

It’s not unusual to hear talk of goals and resolutions this time of year. But as we are hitting the two-year mark of the pandemic, authors are refocusing their mindsets to deal with the world as it is and not how they wish it was in order to benefit their careers, personal lives, and mental state. One tactic to accomplish this is the adoption of a guiding or focus word.

Sally Kilpatrick was able to work through 2020 and much of 2021 because of the necessity of meeting deadlines, but that changed in November.

“All of the stress I’d been ignoring hit me hard,” she said. “Suddenly, I couldn’t make myself write for anything.”

So she chose a guiding word that directs how she deals not only with others but also with herself.

“I chose the word Grace. In order to not sink into hopelessness or shrivel up with bitterness, I have to cultivate grace for others,” Kilpatrick said. “To move forward with my career, I have to cultivate grace for myself.”

During the pandemic, J.T. Ellison has dealt with a move, renovations, a serious physical injury, and a slippage in deadlines because of supply chain issues. She also realized she was spending too much time online and not enough writing. Her guiding word is Choice.

“I choose to stay offline, engaging on Fridays only,” she said. “I choose to write more words. I choose to not let the fear and uncertainty of the past two years affect my writing anymore.”

Part of getting to a better mindset as a writer can be making a conscious decision to look at the same circumstances in a different way. For Jean Joachim, this meant cleaning out, organizing, and renovating her apartment, creating a small office space in her bedroom.

“I find I love sitting in the big chair at the small desk writing and marketing,” Joachim said. “I no longer feel deprived or confined to quarters, but like I have a cozy hideaway. I now see this as a place safe from the virus, a haven, not a prison, which is what it felt like last winter.”

Michele Dunaway is all about Manifesting this year, and she’s gathering inspiration from several sources—a conversation during the NINC conference, The Perfect Minimalist’s Journal that she found while at Whole Foods, and the Abundance Mindset Authors group on Facebook.

“I’m going to make what I want to see happen,” she said.

Troy Lambert is getting twice the use out of his word of the year. Not only is he using Focus as you would expect, but he’s also turned it into an acronym for Follow One Course Until Successful.

“As authors we are often like squirrels,” Lambert said. “We get easily distracted, and it can become a form of self-sabotage. Having a focus word and putting it in front of yourself (as Lambert does on a vision board) every single day reminds us of what we are here for, what really matters, and helps keep us on track.”

Lyn Cote’s refocusing efforts were prompted by a downturn in her book sales. So her guiding word this year is the verb form of Progress.

“I thought over many words,” she said. “I considered Challenge, Forward, Reassess, but I think Progress combines all of them.”

Dealing with the pandemic simply as a person living through these times is enough, but for those who have day jobs in health care it’s even more difficult.

“I’m dealing with a bit of COVID burnout,” said Nicole Evelina. “Being in health care communications means I can’t escape it. Add book deadlines and lack of fun and travel to that and I am toast. This year I am all about self-care and learning how to live in a permanently changed world, both professionally and as a person. I’m turning to every source I can: spirituality, metaphysics, health coaches. I’ll take tips and tricks to rebalance anywhere I can get them.”

All that considered, it’s not so unusual that Evelina chose Glam as her word for 2022. “Glam is everything that is me: big, bold, outrageous, sparkly, beautiful. I certainly want to draw more of that into my life.”

Evelina points out that your word of the year gives you a touch point to go back to regardless of what is going on in your life and reset your mind. It can be a useful guide when you are trying to make a decision.

While a guiding word is often about refocusing, sometimes it signals an even deeper change in mindset. That’s true of my own choice of the word Positivity. The past few years have been a barrage of negativity that’s almost impossible to escape, but after watching some webinars in December (Alessandra Torre’s on Goodreads and making a business plan, and an introduction to Book Brush), something clicked inside me that said I needed to make this year about positivity even in the face of a negative outside world.

Allie Pleiter found herself in a somewhat similar boat. “I’ve chosen a word of the year for many years,” she said. “I never go looking for it—it always seems to find me. This year my word is Abounding. It’s listed as an adjective, but I am choosing to see it as a verb as well. I found myself falling into a scarcity mindset in the past year, and I knew that abundance is as much about outlook as it is about quantity or quality. I am making the choice to see this year as abounding in many good things and opportunities, even though it may not seem so at first glance.  I look for the idea to show up and be used in all kinds of ways—visuals, music, books, verbiage, and even the way I talk about myself, my craft, and my circumstances.”

Well before the pandemic, Pleiter had faced hard times that challenged her creativity.

“I think it takes a particular effort to remain creative, adapting, and moving forward in chaotic times (personal and global),” she said. “I ended up developing a series of practices to protect and nurture my creative energy when I felt so much push-back against it. These included:

  • utilizing music, visuals, and scents to ‘cue my muse,’
  • paring down my word count to a more realistic expectation,
  • writing about my stressors when I couldn’t escape them—and then finding where similar emotions showed up in my work-in-progress so I could use that description as a jumping-off point to make progress within the book,
  • setting a timer—even just 15 minutes can get your toes far enough into the water to enable more, and
  • a structured daily time of reflection for gratitude, daily goals, prayers, and affirmation of others so that I move forward one day at a time.”

During these past few years, even if writers have managed to stick the landing on all their deadlines, the enjoyment of the writing process has often suffered.

“My focus word this year is Joy,” said Jeannie Chin. “I’ve gotten bogged down in the grind of my writing career, and I hope to recapture some of the joy of writing that first brought me to this field in the first place.”

Another author who began to find her way back to her pre-pandemic writing self through classes is Katie MacAlister. She began with Becca Syme’s Write Better Faster 101 class (WBF), which helped her not only understand her strengths but also to recognize when she was too stressed to write. Late in 2021, she attended the virtual Romance Author Mastermind and left with 67 action points that were admittedly overwhelming until she took Sarra Cannon’s HB90 Bootcamp in December.

“I have a solid quarterly HB90 plan that integrates self-knowledge (WBF) and a bunch of ideas (RAM) I want to implement, and I feel like I am in a place to cope with the continued stresses of the pandemic world and my own writing goals,” MacAlister said.

There is power in deciding to make positive changes despite the world around us, and in choosing a word that will help guide us on that journey. The range of focus words authors choose is fascinating. Like Brighton Walsh, who chose Bloom because “I’ve spent the past few years planting a whole lot of seeds, and now it’s time for that garden to bloom.”

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Trish Milburn’s business plan for 2022 is ambitious but has infused her with a burst of positivity and excitement. Part of the plan already came to fruition with the release of the eighth book in her Idol in Love K-pop romance series, Shining Star, that coincided with the re-launch of the entire series with new covers and a new site at WordoftheK.com that highlights those books, K-pop and K-dramas.

Laura Resnick

Laura Resnick is the author of the popular Esther Diamond urban fantasy series. A monthly columnist for Nink, she is also a past president of Ninc.