During the first few minutes of 2012, it’s time to cast one final glance back at 2011 for my traditional year-end retrospective.

Overall I’d say 2011 was a good year. While there was still some overtime at the day job, it didn’t seem to be quite as insanely busy as 2010, and I was able to devote a fair amount of time to after-hours pursuits. I released a new iOS app and tonnes of updates for all of my apps, attended more Bonsai meetings and workshops, visited Disney World, and wrote two-thirds of a novel. Not bad at all.

Since 2008 my fiction writing has essentially been non-existent, with only minimal effort devoted to submitting stories to various markets and keeping them in circulation. Even this died down to nothing in 2011. The bulk of my spare time was devoted almost entirely to app development and marketing. Writing and maintaining apps, dealing with customer support, and somehow trying to get the word out in a crowded marketplace all takes a huge amount of effort. I think this is something many writers would agree applies equally to writing, especially now that many are finding their way in the eBook market and exploring self-publishing. By October it was looking like yet another year would pass without any new activity on the writing front. And then in the final week of October, I got caught up in the excitement of various blog and Twitter posts talking about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, for short). In years past I’d toyed with the idea of participating, but quite frankly the idea scared the hell out of me, and it was always easy to dismiss it and use excuses like the massive time commitment required, or not having a novel-sized idea in mind. In that final week of October, the idea that I should finally throw my hat into the ring and participate became steadily more insistent. So without having a clue about what to write, in a brief blog post I announced my insane plan to try to write a novel in a month. As the last of the trick-or-treaters left our front porch on Halloween night, I threw together some rough ideas that would soon snowball into a novel. While I didn’t meet the 50,000 word quota, I wrote consistently throughout November and learned a tremendous amount about what it takes to write a novel. By the end of the month the novel-in-progress had become the longest single piece of fiction I’d ever written. The momentum came to an abrupt halt in early December when I felt burnt-out and decided to relax and spend more time with family. That, and some quality time with the Portal, Portal 2, and Left 4 Dead games ๐Ÿ˜‰ After all, I’d spent most of my evenings and weekends in November hunched in front of the computer working on my novel…

If there’s one thing I regret, it’s that I wasn’t able to read more fiction. Even my comic reading took a back seat to the writing and app work. Here’s my paltry list of reads for 2011:

Drawing out the Dragons
Elephantmen, HC Vol 1 – Wounded Animals
Invincible Ultimate Collection, HC Vol 3
How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months
No Plot? No Problem!

Audio books used to be how I kept myself amused during workouts and the daily commute, but this year I continued listening mostly to music or podcasts. Among my favourites were the Comic Geek Speak podcast, and the Comic Book page podcasts (The Mayo Report and Spotlight episodes).

Here are some of the various statistics I’ve been keeping track of each year:

2011 Stats:

New apps released: 1
App updates released: 24 (includes Lite and Paid versions)
2011 Word count: 35,769
Stories written: 0 (novel still in progress!)
Total submissions: 0
Total acceptances: 0
Total rejections: 0
Waiting for response: 0
Books read: 5
Comics read: 89

When 2011 arrived, my app plans for the year were fairly hazy. I knew I’d be updating my two existing iOS apps, Artwork Tracker, and Story Tracker, incorporating feedback from customers and generally adding more polish. I knew the Mac App Store was to be announced early in the new year, but I wasn’t yet committed to developing for the new platform. That soon changed when I had a chance to play around with it and download some apps for myself. The ease of use was astonishing, and it didn’t take long for me to realize this would be a fun and viable new platform for app development. I posted some thoughts, including the announcement of Story Tracker for Mac. So began several months of study and initial development on the new app. Unfortunately this proved to be more complicated than I thought, and several new developments conspired to make life difficult: iOS5, iCloud, and OS X Lion. With iOS5, I would have to re-test and update my iOS apps, and the impending arrival of Lion and iCloud would mean I’d need to either upgrade my slow, aging Mac to Lion (and not be able to test on OS X Snow Leopard, the other Mac App Store platform), or buy a new Mac. Finances being what they were, the latter was not an option in mid-2011. Meanwhile, I’d had an intriguing idea for a new iOS app. I’d been looking for an app to keep track of my Bonsai collection and various related activities, but there were slim pickings on the App Store. As soon as I’d wrapped up some updates to my existing apps, I wrote up some requirements for a new app called Bonsai Album and wrote a quick blog post about it. I put everything else on the back burner and spent the next three months working on Bonsai Album. On October 6th, it landed on the App Store. Initial feedback from the Beta testers was promising, and since then I’ve been very pleased with how well it has been received. Bonsai Album has been reviewed by App Advice, and even got a mention in the Midwest Bonsai Society newsletter (my club!), among others. While the app has had only modest success so far, it’s doing far better in its first few months on the App Store than either of my other two apps did. While I’m still yet to recoup my overall development costs for all three apps, 2011 is the first year in which I’ve made a small profit.

I continued to attend the monthly meetings of the Midwest Bonsai Society in 2011, along with the shows they run at the Chicago Botanic Garden. This year I again visited 4 Bonsai shows, three of which were at the Chicago Botanic Garden, and one at Morton Arboretum. I also attended 2 workshops (Satsuki Azalea, and Pomegranate) and added a new tree to my growing collection (a Bald Cypress). I’ve learned a little more about the art of Bonsai this year, unfortunately mostly related to the impact of pests and long-delayed repotting. Like most things, I anticipate this hobby will involve a lifetime of learning.

We didn’t plan much travel this year. We’d intended to just make some short road trips to Michigan and Wisconsin, but that was about it. What actually ended up happening was a totally unexpected trip to Disney World in Florida with my wife’s parents. We decided to make a big trip of it and spent a few days at each of the parks: The Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and the Animal Kingdom. We also made some side-trips to visit SeaWorld and Cape Canaveral, including catching up with some Florida-based relatives. We had an absolute blast, and our trip was definitely the big highlight of the year. For Thanksgiving this year we spent some quality time in Green Lake, Wisconsin.

One of my goals for 2011 was to get back into a regular workout habit. I managed to keep at it for about half the year, until hurling myself back into app development and writing the novel. I returned to it in December and promptly realized exactly how out of shape I’d become. Ouch!

Sadly, I wasn’t able to make much of a dent in our massive photo backlog this year. I’m still over a year behind! I think it has helped having to at least keep ahead of my wife’s scrapbooking. When she needs the photos, I make the effort to get them organized in time.

As is usual in the waning hours of the year, I like to come up with goals and hatch devious plans for the New Year. So what’s cooking for 2012? I’m glad you asked ๐Ÿ˜‰

I’d like to at least reach my previous level of fitness and build on that for 2012. I’m probably not going to bench press 170 lbs again anytime soon or start running marathons, but regular workouts and a decent level of fitness are definitely achievable. The pain of having to start all over again from square one should be sufficient motivation!

For apps, I’d like to put out more updates for my existing iOS apps, possibly including those much-requested language localizations for Bonsai Album. If the app continues to do well, that’s definitely on the cards. The big one, of course, is to finally launch Story Tracker for Mac. I know a lot of people have been waiting patiently for this one, and I hope they won’t have to wait too much longer. I finally bought that new Mac Mini, and I’ve spent the last few hours getting it all setup for app development. After I get Story Tracker for Mac out the door and have a few updates under my belt, then I’ll think about what comes next.

In 2012 I’d really like to get back into writing in a big way. Starting a new novel in 2011 was a good start, but now that I know what it takes, I’d like to build on that and finally break the writing drought of recent years. Task one will be to complete my novel, Plague Magic. You can track my progress on the sidebar on this blog. Task two is to get back into writing short stories and start submitting again. I may do some dabbling in self-publishing. I also plan to ramp up my fiction reading, not only for enjoyment, but also in support of my writing efforts. You can’t be a writer without being a reader, right? And though it’ll be a stretch, I plan to write at least one more novel in 2012.

While I intend to update the blog periodically, I spend most of my social networking time on Twitter these days. I mostly follow other iOS developers, writers, and Bonsai fiends. You can look me up at @andrewnicolle.

I wish everyone the best for 2012, and hope you have a happy and productive New Year!