One Year On: Some Lessons.

So, it’s been a year since I left the corporate world and entered whatever world I am in now (which is weird and strange, but mostly awesome).  In the past 365 days (give or take), I’ve accomplished quite a bit, but not without some frustrations and realizations along the way.

So, here, in no particular order, are some of the lessons I’ve learned:

  • Be open to new friendships.  With leaving a traditional office environment (and the various friends that came with it), other than Elena, I didn’t really have someone who was in the same ‘space’ that I was.  Fortunately, in early April, I connected with Zoe, and haven’t looked back.  We both tell each other (constantly) how different our lives would have been had our paths not crossed.  It’s funny the impact one person can make in your life.  (Of course, I’m still super bummed that potential friends Lindsey and Nate left before we could really spend time with them).  There are plenty of other new pals, of course, and I never know where the next relationship is going to start.
  • Keep up with old friends!  Fortunately for me, covering new restaurants has allowed me a great excuse to take friends out to eat in Abu Dhabi.  Not only that, the trip home last summer allowed me to catch up with some old friends.  In today’s uncertain times, I value seeing others in my life who have many of the same values that I do, and are willing to stand up for them.
  • Value time off.  Honestly, it could be my inner introvert, but (usually) my most favorite days of the week are the ones where I don’t have any reason to leave the house, set the alarm, or put on makeup.  It’s days like these when I get the most work done and I feel a bit stressed if I don’t include at least one ‘at home’ day during the week to keep up, catch up, and look ahead.
  • There are going to be down times.  I’ve gone through periods where I was in a reading slump, or an exercise slump (aka, not doing any), as well as a ‘why is everyone doing things and getting invited places but me’ slump.  For the most part they didn’t last long, or I was able to just power through them.  However, I recognize I can’t be firing on all cylinders all the time. Some days require a bit of mental health or self-care and that’s totes okay.
  • Routines can be a good thing.  For the most part, my week starts by doing food prep over the weekends with Hubs (so there’s at least some healthy food in the house), on Sundays, I’m off volunteering at K9 Friends.  Mondays are usually my at home day and then I filter in reviews and appointments accordingly.
  • Achievements are great, but not the only thing.  While I have completed a book, I’m still not ready for it to be out in the world.  Late in 2016, this fact was super bumming me out.  I felt like I had let my past self down — the one who had all these ideas and thought she was going to be a bestseller by now — the one who hasn’t published a book since the summer of 2015.  While it’s still a work in progress, every day I make peace with the fact that I’m at least moving forward on projects and that is enough for now.
  • Always be hustling.  While I had times where it felt like nothing was moving, I’ve been trying to get in the habit of researching and pitching restaurants and other venues I want to visit.  Sometimes they pay off, and some never get a response.  I’m hoping to translate some of this energy back to the Queen, once she comes along.
  • Always drink water before going to bed (I really need to get on that train, especially when coming home in the 2AM hour).

Anyway, I’m looking forward to what lessons the next year will yield.  I also need to figure out how to get paid more regularly…



One Year Later.

So, in November 2015, I wrote a list of goals for my ‘sabbatical’ year in 2016 (yup, that’s just how Type A I am).  Yesterday, Facebook reminded me that a year ago was my last day at NYUAD.  I thought it would be fun to dust off the original post and see what I had accomplished and where things were different.

  1. Edit 1st draft The Queen of England: Coronation
    1. Complete!
  2. Edit final draft The Queen of England: Coronation (to be complete at 75-80k)
    1. Complete!
  3. Publish The Queen of England: Coronation (and all that goes with it!)
    1. Nope.  Because of a number of reasons, I’m sticking to the fact that the book is nearly in its final form, but not completely there.  I have also not done nearly enough to support the book for marketing and promotion,
  4. Complete rough draft The Queen of England: Grand Tour (60K minimum, 15K complete).
    1. Complete!
  5. Edit 1st draft Lucky Penny (35-40k)
    1. Lol.  I didn’t even open the project once.
  6. Complete 1st draft The Queen of England: Grand Tour (pending time, energy and motivation)
    1. By December I was at least 100 pages into the first draft and as of now, am closing in on the completed first draft.
  7. Start rough draft A.U. (pending time, energy and motivation)
    1. Another lol — how much writing was I going to do exactly?  This will most likely be a project I get to later this year.
  8. Update all YA projects with back material
    1. Complete!
  9. Update Room 702/Life After Joe with back material
    1. Complete!
  10. Finish the pilot of DINKs (25-30 pages, screenplay)
    1. Lol, j/k.  Another one not opened.
  11. Drabbles for the Queen trilogy (January 2016).
    1. Complete!
  12. Maybe come up with a new cover for The Line (celebrating 10 years in February!).
    1. Realized the book is actually celebrating ten years THIS year and have not done anything.
  13. Follow up on the 94176128391 websites, articles and posts I have tagged to follow up as research, etc.
    1. Mostly, yes.

Overall, I think I was realistic in what I could accomplish.  While I didn’t start some projects, I did begin another manuscript that’s not even on the list (The Queen of England: Rogue Nation) and made it 20K in.  This is of course not including the thousands of words I dedicated to my food blog, A to Za’atar.  November 2015 Courtney just didn’t really know how things were going to go, and that’s totally fine.  While I won’t make specific predictions for this year, I predict finishing Queen #3 and starting A.U. (something I’m really looking forward to).  I also could make some progress on an unpublished (but complete) novel I co-wrote with a friend (Take One! at Mulholland High).  I’d like to continue my food and travel writing and work on getting paid more.  Let’s see!

  1. 60kgs and under – my new permanent weight class.
    1. LOL.  I’ve definitely not been keeping it tight.  Part of it is dining out so often, and part of it is sheer laziness.  Although I have been going to Flywheel, there is definitely more that I can do.  The struggle continues.
  2. Move and set up of our new place in Dubai.
    1. Complete!  (Even if we just recently finalized everything, it’s still before the year mark).
  3. Household maintenance (as a stay at home wife/author, I completely accept this responsibility.  My inner feminist is a bit hesitant about not having a regular paycheck, but as a partner, I accept that this is a good balance – one only made possible by Hubs working full time.)
    1. Easier than I thought.  Honestly, we’re still making lunches and dinners, and I’m happy to coordinate most of the traditionally ‘female’ endeavors in our life.  It’s worked well for us, so I’m still not in any hurry to go back to a regular job (I like my current situation just fine and am super privileged and lucky to have the choice).
  4. Online course, better website management, and other social media type skills (analytics, SEO and other terminology I shouldn’t be scared of).
    1. Still gun shy on this one.  I usually make some small amount of progress, only to get beat down by some frustratingly difficult thing that I keep not understanding (and everyone else seems to have no trouble with).
  5. 20% increase in ‘new’ traffic and followers across all social media (Pinterest, Twitter, blog, Tumblr).
    1. Maybe?  I’m not sure why I made this a priority.  Yes, things are tipping up, and that has got to be enough.
  6. Regular flossing.
    1. Uh… Next question.
  7. Beating insomnia once and for all.
    1. Sort of?  I have significantly limited how often I take any OTC (or any other) sleep aid.  Do I still have nights where it takes me 2+ hours to fall asleep?  You bet.  More days are a ‘win’ than not, but I still wish it was easier for me to pass out every night.
  8. Do something with the boutique villa hotel idea thing.
    1. A non-starter, but hey, it’s still fun to get a crazy idea with friends now and then…
  9. New hobby or skill (I’m thinking guitar lessons or getting back into fencing or salsa dancing).
    1. While technically not a skill, the past year was very positive for two reasons I would categorize here: K9 Friends (where I volunteer once a week in the office) and a new best friend (Zoe).  I’ve also done my best to maintain many friendships from my NYU days (let’s face it, when we get older, some things are just easier not to put effort into, and I think it’s easy to get lazy with friends).  Hopefully, some new skill is on the horizon, but with everything above, it’s all about finding the right balance.

If I look back at the last year, there was a lot of positive things happening — trips, books, friends, new endeavors.  I’m still coming to terms with the fact that I didn’t publish the Queen in 2016 (which weighs on me more than I wish it did).  And yet, 2017 already shows a ton of promise.  I’m still diligently working on my books, and the food blogging thing is bringing in all sorts of unique opportunities (that I get to share with Hubs and friends).  Other than Trump destroying a country I once knew and respected, I’d say things look great.


The state of the world and its direct proportion to my motivation level.

Yes, this is going to be a political post.  You’ve been warned.

It’s no secret I have not been as active on this blog in the past year.  Part of it is residual frustrated nonsense with Amazon (less than a month until my books are free from jail!), part of it is I’m pretty busy writing about food, and still more of my time is spent editing a final draft and first draft of the YA series I’ve been working on (the steampunk/gaslamp Queen of England trilogy).  I also try and volunteer once a week.

And yet…

I’ve been struggling with the ‘why’ of my writing.

As in, what’s the point of publishing in today’s world?  There are so, so, so many things I would rather people spent their money on than one of my silly little novels (and no, I don’t really feel like offering them for free just yet).  While I know reading is a wonderful form of escapism, do we really have time to spare in Trump’s America?  With the free time I have, I feel guilty not doing more, committing more time, energy and money towards protecting things, people and ideals I think are important.

While I worry over adjectives and adverbs, plot lines that make no sense, undeveloped characters, editing photos, number of Instagram followers, and how many ways one can describe steak, there are people with real concerns.  People whose lives are on the brink of being changed forever (and not for the better).  Women who could have basic rights taken away over their own bodies.  Loving couples whose marriages might not be recognized, or changed in some form.   An environment that needs saving.  A wall no one asked for.  A healthcare system canceled with no replacement.  Refugees who need an open border.  IT’S ONLY BEEN THE FIRST WEEK.

And so I keep asking myself, ‘why bother?’  At the rate things are going, by the time I do finally publish, I’m not sure if reading is going to be an approved past time.

I’m part of a few author’s groups and don’t see other people struggling with this problem (or maybe they are just doing a better job hiding it than I am).  There are groups who prance along merrily as if the world isn’t falling apart.  Maybe I’m jealous, maybe I want to be in that world.  Maybe I just don’t see the point of how cool my book cover is right now.

In the meantime, to the question, ‘when are you going to publish?’ The answer is honestly, ‘I don’t know.’  There’s a book ready, but I’m not ready to support it in the way it deserves.  Ask me again in a month.


2017 Reading Challenge.

2017 Reading Challenge

I always love these challenges!  Maybe one year when I’m not working on a novel (or 3), I’ll be able to commit to them.

In case you’re looking for some matches with the above list, might I offer the following?

  • A book by an author who uses a pseudonym.  Look no further than Ann Benjamin (I also publish under my real name, Courtney Brandt).
  • A book involving travel.  While technically Room 702 stays in one place it could count, but Life After Joe is all about a road trip, so I think it definitely ticks the box.
  • A book that’s published in 2017.  The Queen of England: Coronation is definitely coming out next year.  Actual release date: TBD.
  • A book involving a mythical creature, kind of a 2 for 1 with above.  There is a unicorn involved.
  • A steampunk novel.  Yay, this makes the Queen 3 for 3.
  • A book with a title with title that’s a character’s name.  See, Life After Joe.
  • A book set in a hotel.  Room 702 is completely set in a hotel.

And there you have it!  Lots of good choices this year.

Did you complete the challenge in 2016 or another year?