2023: A Year to Cultivate

For the past few years I haven’t chosen a word of the year. I’ve focused on equanimity, which is the core virtue of Enneagram Fours. It’s something I’m not super good at, which is why I’ve been trying to focus on it. But as I was doing my end-of-year review after Christmas, a word whacked me over the head and demanded to be my 2023 word of the year.

This is my year to Cultivate.

Yes, the “Cultivate” word of the year sticker is on my Etsy shop now!

What’s involved in cultivation? You have to prepare a place, plant things, water them, feed them, weed out anything that hurts them, and tend them as they grow. Eventually comes the harvest, and you see the final product of all that cultivating…but I think there’s also a lot of benefit to find during the cultivating.

Merriam-Webster’s definition is very helpful at teasing out some of the intricacies of this word.


1. to prepare or prepare and use for the raising of crops

2. a. to foster the growth of

b. culture

c. to improve by labor, care, or study: refine

3. further, encourage

4. to seek the society of: make friends with

Some of these sub-meanings are more applicable to my word of the year than others.

Cultivate: To Prepare

There are a lot of places that more preparation would benefit me. Preparing my budget each week and sticking to it would help. Preparing my schedule each week is definitely helpful. Preparing for work or projects I need to accomplish is important.

Cultivate: To Foster the Growth Of

There are a lot of things I want to foster the growth of in my life–better physical health, better mental health, better spiritual life, better finances, better relationships. When I look at any one of those things, I can see a lot of small steps I can take to better prepare for them.

If I want better physical health, I can prepare by creating space every week for physical movement. That helps me foster the growth of stamina and also helps me foster the growth of making movement a habit.

If I want better relationships, I can prepare by keeping in touch with my friends and family, scheduling time to spend intentionally with them, and being more attentive to their needs and desires.

Cultivate: to Improve by Labor, Care, or Study: Refine

I really like this aspect of the definition. When you plant a garden, you don’t just stick the seeds in the ground and hope they grow. You water them and tend the soil, you make sure weeds aren’t crowding them out and taking resources needed for the seeds to grow.

If I want to cultivate my writing this year, I need to prepare by scheduling writing, I need to foster the growth of it by sitting down every time I’m scheduled to write…and I need to watch for the “weeds” that crowd out my writing time. I’ve played a lot of Skyrim and Dragon Age games over the past year. My Steam replay was, frankly, no surprise to me. Participating in NaNoWriMo this past November reminded me that, if I sit down deliberately to write, and don’t allow myself to hop into one of my games first, I will get more written.

I’m not saying that PC games are weeds, exactly, but they’re sort of like mint. Anyone who’s ever planted what they thought was a cute little patch of catmint or peppermint can tell you that mint flourishes and crowds out everything around it. If I don’t pay attention to my writing before I game, I’m letting the game flourish into time I’d honestly rather spend writing.

And there’s another aspect of this sub-meaning, the refine aspect. I not only want to write more, but I want to write better. I want to learn more about my craft and hone my style–and the only way to do that is to write!

Every year I buy a bracelet from Positive Charm on Etsy for my word of the year (My photo is linked to the shop)

A Year-Long Practice

You don’t cultivate something overnight. Cultivation is the opposite of instant gratification–and don’t get me wrong, I love instant gratification! But I need to work on enjoying life without that constant dopamine hit of instant gratification. I need to learn to celebrate the small joys that happen every day.

This year’s word of the year feels different to me, and I wonder if part of that is that I’m going to have to keep coming back to this concept and revisiting it, redefining it, rediscovering what that looks like in my life.

And that’s a good thing! What good is a word of the year if it doesn’t become a year-long practice?

What about you? Do you choose a word of the year?


Part of reviewing my summer and planning my autumn involves looking at September's habit tracking and sleep logs

Autumn Check-In

We’ve reached October, and somehow I can’t believe this year is three-quarters over. Didn’t we all have high hopes for 2021 being better than 2020? What happened?

Of course, in a lot of ways, 2021 has been better, but I’m having a hard time reconciling all my emotions about October 1, 2021. In less than two weeks, I’ll turn 45. A month from now, I’ll be starting NaNoWriMo, and for the first time, I’m nervous about that. In just three months, it’ll be 2022.

My mental and physical health are better by far than they were two months ago. My blood pressure is back where I need it to be. I’m relying less on my anti-anxiety medications than I was a month ago. I haven’t had an alcoholic beverage for almost two months. And yet…

And yet…

And yet I’m feeling some regret for things I haven’t gotten done in 2021. I’m somehow managing to balance in the middle of experiencing quiet contentment on a daily basis and still feeling restless while I work. I’m exercising more and sleeping well, but my dreams are unsettled and often revolve around imaginary conflict at my job.

Autumn Reflection

One thing that’s on my mind a lot this week is wrapping up the third quarter of the year and embarking on the fourth quarter. Emily P. Freeman’s Next Right Thing podcast episode A Soul Minimalist’s Guide to Autumn is resonating with me. In part of the episode, she says,

Maybe there’s some invisible goals that you had for the year, things that either you wrote down at the beginning of the year that were intentions that have sort of fallen by the wayside or been forgotten. Or maybe they’ve changed. Or maybe you had some goals for the year that you never articulated, and now as the year begins to wind down, you’re starting to feel some  disappointment and you don’t know why. It could be because you had some things you wanted to do this year, but you didn’t really have a plan to carry them out, or maybe just the state of the world got in the way

I had some goals I did articulate, and I definitely didn’t accomplish a lot of those. When I did a soft reset over Labor Day weekend, I extended grace to myself and set out some more manageable goals for September.

Just September.

I didn’t plan ahead of that, because I wanted to try to be more present on a daily basis. And it sort of worked. At least, I’m aware of many more moments when I was completely present.

Part of reviewing my summer and planning my autumn involves looking at September's habit tracking and sleep logs

Autumn Quarterly Planning

I won’t do my task migration in my Bullet Journal until tomorrow, because I always hold out hope that I’ll get one last thing done before the end of the month! But in the meantime, I’m looking ahead to Quarter Four and I’m trying to set reasonable goals for the next 90 days.

I just finished reading Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski, PhD, and Amelia Nagoski, DMA. In it, they lay out useful criteria for creating better goals. “The new goal has to be soon, certain, specific, concrete, positive, and personal.” To me, these criteria make more sense than SMART goals. I’m trying to use those methods as I plan.

My goals for October include writing a short story, creating some winter-themed sticker packs, making sure my 2022 dated items are listed and updated, and scheduling time to rest each week.

My November goal is to win NaNoWriMo and finish my Christmas shopping before December 1.

Other Fourth Quarter goals include taking time each day during Advent to spend time with Tsh Oxenreider’s book Shadow and Light: A Journey Into Advent. I also recently purchased Tsh’s Rule of Life course, and I’d like to work through that by the end of 2021 as well.

Autumn 2021 Reading

A lot of the books I’m reading and podcasts I’m listening to advocate for slowing down and living in the season of life we’re in. I’m currently reading The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman, alongside The Sacred Enneagram by Christopher Heuertz. I’m also still working through my Daily Grace Co Bible study on depression. Through all of these, I’m feeling more introspective on a daily basis. I wish I could say that was leading me to answers, but right now I’m just living in the questions, and I’m trying to learn to be okay with that.

I’m also reading Foundation’s Edge by Isaac Asimov. September brought two lovely novels that I greatly enjoyed: Maggie Stiefvater’s Mister Impossible and T.J. Klune’s Under the Whispering Door. T.J. Klune gave everyone a great gift last year with The House in the Cerulean Sea, and at that point I preordered this year’s book. I’m very glad I did. I also hope this month to revist a book I read and loved years ago, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.

My autumn reading list

Summer Review

So I’m planning my autumn season, but as part of that, I also want to look back on my summer. This coming weekend I plan to work through a summer review and reflect on what I learned this summer. I want to list with what was life-giving and life-draining over the past three months. As I work through what reflection questions I need to ask, I’ll create Quarterly/Monthly Review stickers for the Etsy shop.

What have you learned this summer? What are you looking forward to in autumn? Comment and let me know!

New Year for a New You – Days 5 & 6


1. What are your main priorities in life (i.e., family, profession, marriage, personal wellbeing, etc.)? List them in order of importance.

  • God
  • Family, cats, & friends
  • Writing
  • Redhead Paper
  • Day jobs
  • Fitness

2. Use the graph to chart how you invest your time during a typical 24-hour period.

3. Does your time chart (where you’re spending your hours) reflect the priorities you listed in question 1, and in the correct order?

No. For one thing, I’m spending so much time at my day job I don’t have time to focus on my writing and Redhead Paper. I do pretty well at spending time with family, though I have a couple of friendships I really want to revive this year.

4. How might you rearrange your schedule for better results?

Make myself go to bed earlier so I can get up an hour earlier to work out. I know I feel better when I’m working out regularly. Working out in the morning isn’t my favorite thing (I hate mornings in general) but I know it would help me feel more energetic throughout the day and help me stay more focused and productive.

I would also like to eventually transition out of needing two day jobs so I can focus more on my writing and Redhead Paper.


1. Create a specific goal for each of the five pillars of life:

These goals are tied back directly to my objectives for the year, which I posted in Day 3. So I worked from those objectives and listed action steps I could take to achieve them.

FInancial: Create a debt snowball plan and stick to it. Eat out no more than twice a month. Post daily on Instagram to increase Redhead Paper’s visibility. Set up preorders for my book releases two months in advance.

Spiritual: Set aside time every evening to read one chapter of the New Testament a day.

Mental: Read one novel a week from the list of Books to Read in my Bullet Journal. Create a plan for the non-fiction books, including the number of pages I need to read every day when I’m working on them.

Physical: Hike once a week. Do a 30-day beginner yoga challenge in January/February. Have Shakeology for breakfast.

Relational: I want to spend more time encouraging my dad. I want to help my mom declutter her house, which I know is driving her crazy. And I would like to spend more face-time with my best friend, as well as deepening another friendship.

So this is how I want my 2018 to go. What about you? Are you working on goals for the new year? What are they?

New Year for a New You – Days 3 & 4

I’m continuing my answers to Lisa Jacobs’ A New Year for a New You blog series. Some of these are taken directly from my responses as I work through Your Best Year 2018, Lisa’s excellent business planning book. (She has a Life Planning version, but I’ve never used that one, so I can’t say what it’s like. I’m seriously considering buying it for my mom next year, though.)

Day Three


  • Pay down debts (personal and business).
  • Launch a novel with 100 preorders.
  • Have a $1000 Etsy month in Quarter 1 and $5000 in Etsy profits for the year.
  • Make $2000 from book sales this year.



  • Read at least 50 books.
  • Of those 50, make 25 of them #OwnVoices books.
  • Of those 50, make 10 of them nonfiction books.
  • Of those 50, let 1 be a complete read-through of the Harland book on sailing.


  • Encourage Dad.
  • Help Mom declutter and decompress.
  • Deepen friendships with two particular people.
  • Play with the kitties more often
  • Write 1 notecard a week to one of my friends.


  • Drop 30 pounds.
  • Build muscle.
  • Hike once a week.
  • Do yoga on a weekly basis.

1. What do I really want? (vision)

The ability to schedule automatic bill payments out of my checking account.

I know, this seems a little mundane and boring for a 2018 vision. But I have the feeling there are a lot of Gen-X and Millennial folks who will understand!

2. What is important about it? (values)

Being able to schedule all my bill payments means that I’m not living paycheck-to-paycheck anymore. It means that I’ve made some responsible choices in how I spend my money. It also means my side hustles are doing well enough that I have some extra cushion in my monthly income.

In addition, it’s important because I can focus on what’s truly important instead of feeling like I’m running from fire to fire, trying to put out the flames.

3. How will I get it? (methods)

For one thing, I’m going to continue adding to the products I offer for sale at Redhead Paper on Etsy. For another, I have two novels scheduled to publish in 2018. I also want to concentrate on selling more short fiction in the coming year.

4. What is preventing me from having it? (obstacles)

I have trouble scheduling my writing and Etsy creation times around my 2 day jobs. I sometimes resent the fact that I have a lot less downtime than a lot of people I know. Especially since, for Christmas, I got a 60-day pass to World of Warcraft! I’m going to have to schedule my time much more strictly for the next few months if I really want to meet my business goals.

5. How will I know I am successful? (measurements)

This is a easy one! I’ll know I’m successful when I can schedule all my bill payments on the first day of the month.

To achieve this I need to establish a set payday from Cathartes Press/Redhead Paper to Stephanie, and I need to stick with that date and amount. I have to make sure I leave enough in my business checking account to pay all the bills as well as making payroll.

I started writing myself paychecks in 2017, but I’ve been playing sort of fast and loose with the amount and the day of the month that I write the check. That’s no way to run a business, so I need to correct that in 2018.

Day Four

What would you do in 2018 if you knew you could not fail?

I think I answered this wrong. I said publish The Loyalty Factor, but the thing is–it’s still not ready to be published, and I know it. So if I knew it would be perfect and I couldn’t fail, sure. But I’m not sure that’s where this question was going.

If I knew I could not fail, I would cut back on my work hours to give myself more time to write and create Redhead Paper designs.

What are some things you could be doing that you’ve been too afraid to try? How can you stretch your comfort zone?

I think for me it’s less about being too afraid to try something. I tend to be impulsive by nature, so my comfort zone is leaping before I look. I think if I were going to stretch my comfort zone, it would be to act with patience and consideration and to take daily steps towards achievement instead of jumping in full speed ahead.

What have you been struggling with for entirely too long?

Getting into a routine of consistent work. I’ve always had the habit of throwing myself entirely into a single project and going whole-hog on that project to the exclusion of others. In addition, I tend to work hard and fast instead of slow and steady. I’d like to meet a weekly quota in my writing production and in my Redhead Paper design.

What could you outsource, delegate, automate, and/or stop doing in 2018?

I’ve been unable to think of anything for this question. I already have help filling Etsy orders and with house-cleaning. I suppose I might be able to outsource cover creation for Circle City Magic books. I already hire the art for my epic fantasy, but for the urban fantasy books I did the cover creation myself, and that’s time-consuming–not to mention there are people out there who can do a much better job than I do.

In what ways and which areas will you “upgrade” your life?

I’m going to repaint my office and set it up with a standing workspace.

New Year for a New You – Days 1 & 2

Every year Lisa Jacobs does a blog series at the end of the year, helping her people reflect on the past year and look forward to the next. I’m answering some of the questions here on my blog.

So here goes:

Day One

1. What was time very well spent this year?
Writing time was always well spent. Also time developing new products for my Etsy shop. I never regret the time I spend on those two tasks.

Research time was also well spent. Sailing on the Friends Good Will to learn how to steer a tall ship was a great experience. Learning about early modern warfare tactics and how gunpowder changed warfare had a profound impact on the plot of The Weather War.

Education money was well spent. I paid for a three-day Short Story Intensive workshop by Mary Robinette Kowal, and for the first time I feel confident in the short stories I write. I’ve never had a handle on writing short the way I do now. I also paid for her No-Prep NaNo workshop, which again refined my writing craft.

2. What was money very well spent this year?
Buying a new Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablet as my work machine. I love that machine, and it makes it easy for me to take my business anywhere I need to.

In August I ran an international Bookbub deal on my Storms in Amethir Omnibus 1, and that was definitely money well spent. That paid off not only the two or three days after the Bookbub ran, but also has translated into a lot of long-tail sales.

3. What are your favorite memories of 2017?
Sailing the Friends Good Will. Watching the heron aerie at Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Hiking at Prophetstown. The moment I realized Redhead Paper was going to be a hit. The Weather War release. Equus release. Getting an email from an editor I’ve worked with in the past and being asked to contribute to an anthology for her.

4. What did you accomplish or complete this year?
I launched Redhead Paper, making and selling stickers for Bullet Journals and paper planners. I published The Weather War. I wrote several short stories. My story “To Ride a Steel Horse” was published in Equus. I had another story accepted for publication. I participated in Giftmas 2017 and helped raise money for a food bank.

5. Did you make any progress on long-term goals?
I got one book closer to finishing the Storms in Amethir series. I just have one book to go. I wish I could say I got another book published in the Circle City Magic series, but that hasn’t happened yet.

6. What felt successful about the year, as a whole?
I went all in and started my own business, as well as becoming a hybrid author, with both self-published and traditionally published works. This seems to be the year my writing career is finally beginning to take off–four years in!

7. Did you overcome any obstacles or mental blocks this year?
I can’t think of any right now…

8. What did you learn about yourself after all that happened in 2017?
I need to schedule downtime for myself. I need it after finishing a book, and I always feel guilty about taking it, but I need to just plan around that need, instead of feeling guilty as I take it. The month after I finish writing a book, I need to recharge, and I need to anticipate that and schedule it.

9. Who nurtured or supported you most this year?
Several close friends were incredibly supportive. I couldn’t have made RHP happen without the help of a few key people. “My” editor was also amazingly supportive.

10. Who did you enjoy nurturing and supporting?
People in my writing group. My best friend as she launched her own creative endeavor. A friend who’s had a tough year.

Day Two

1. What was time wasted this year?
Any time I spent being envious of other people’s success. I also think the time I spent making a big deal of The Weather War launch might have been time wasted. I did a huge giveaway and ran promotions. While I’m happy with sales of the book, I’ve been disappointed in the lack of reviews–only three so far, when it launched in September.

I also feel that time spent reading Facebook feeds and engaging in political debate was time wasted. This year I need to investigate something like the F.B. Purity extension so I can continue seeing personal posts from people without seeing so much of the toxic political stuff.

2. What was money wasted this year?
I found a mistake in one of my Etsy products and had to correct it and ship new product to everyone who had purchased it in a sort of voluntary recall situation. I could have saved myself a lot of time, money, and expense, if I’d remembered to take the time to have another pair of eyes proofread it, instead of relying on my own judgment.

3. What was the biggest challenge you faced this year?
Trying to write a novel that lived up to my expectations of it.

4. If anything, what would you change about how you handled that challenge?
I think I would have soldiered through sooner, instead of tinkering with the plot as much as I did. Then again, I feel that tinkering made it work much better than it might have otherwise. It’s hard to say.

5. Are you ending the year with any unfinished business?
Yes. I intended to publish Circle City Psychic this year, and that didn’t happen. In fact, I’m still only about halfway finished with the novel. I’m disappointed in myself for that, but on the other hand, it gives me goals to work on for 2018.

6. Are there any outstanding goals you’d like to let go of?
My Patreon, maybe? I’m not sure. I’ve never gotten it off the ground the way I would like to. On the other hand, I had big plans for it for this year, and they got pushed back because I didn’t finish Circle City Psychic. I’ve rescheduled them for 2018, so perhaps I’m not ready to let go of this yet.

7. What was your worst setback in 2017?
I got behind on my personal finances in 2017 and really need to stop treading water and start swimming for shore.

8. Which bad habits or unhealthy patterns did you engage in that you’d like to give up once and for all?
While I know there’s science behind alcohol unlocking creativity, I indulged too much in it. I need to stop drinking at home, except on special occasions–and no, starting the next chapter in the book I’m writing is NOT a special occasion!

9. What or whom held you back this year? Did anything make you shrink into yourself or feel defensive about your dreams?
See #10

10. How did you hold yourself back this year? Which beliefs | ideas | excuses stopped you from pushing forward?
I allowed myself to be held back by my resentment against needing a day job. I need to embrace that day job as something that’s (mostly) paying the bills right now so I can pursue the things I’m truly passionate about. I need to stop believing that I deserve to be paid to create. (Yes, this is something I also need to keep believing. I realize this is crazy. But still.)

I need to embrace the fact that having a busier schedule actually enables me to structure my time better, so I should be grateful for the day jobs.


So there are my unfiltered answers to the first two days of the challenge! Let’s see where Day Three takes us tomorrow!