2017 in Review—The State of Unusual Things

Before you start, there’s a Christmas Sale on! Colony and Dead Silver both are reduced prices through Christmas! Perfect for last minute gifts!

This year … was rough. I’m not going to lie.

To be fair, that wasn’t the writing’s fault. More it was other circumstances. Like the knee injury I acquired in June (which is still healing) and every thing that it brought with it. Okay, mostly it was the knee injury. Pretty much just that. With the knee injury came medical debts, which brought extra work shifts, and that then led to less writing time, and …

Well, let’s just say it’s not been the best year. Which is kind of a lousy lead-in to a year in review article, but it was bound to happen sometime, right? I mean, no matter what, one of the years writing had to be a rough one.

Anyway, 2017 marks the third year of Unusual Things being up and open. Which means that despite how rough this year was, it’s time for another look back at the year in review to see how I did compared to years prior, and make plans for what’s coming.

You ready? Let’s take a look.

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Being a Better Writer: Acknowledging Our Accomplishments

Welcome and Merry Christmas, readers, to this quite delayed Being a Better Writer post! First of all, it must be said, I’m sorry for the delays. I try to avoid letting these happen, but with the Christmas rush being what it has been … I’m fighting to get a lot of things done.

That said, this will also be the last BaBW piece until the new year. That’s right, I’ll be taking the next two weeks off for Christmas. A small Christmas vacation for myself (and a chance to finalize those last few chapters of Jungle when I’m not at my part-time).

Apology accepted? Good! Now, let’s talk about today’s topic. I’ll be up front with this one: It’s not from the Topic List. Nor was it something I’d thought of until I realized it was likely going to be the last post of the year, and maybe giving things a bit of a theme wouldn’t be a bad idea.

So rather than talking about how to invoke emotion with your characters, or how to pace a fight scene, or set up a armory of Chekov’s Guns, I want to talk about something else. I want to talk about acknowledging your own accomplishments.

Good time of the year for it, no? Like I said, year’s end …

There was a webcomic special I read once (I actually tried to find it for this post, but didn’t have much luck A reader found it for us!), about accomplishment. It showed the author climbing a mountain, fully laden in cartoonish hiking gear and working their way further and further up to the peak. Eventually, after much struggle, they reached the peak, planted their flag, and cheered.

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Being a Better Writer: Applying Writing Advice and Feedback

Welcome back readers! Another Monday is upon us, and I’m diving right in today. by picking up a request topic from Topic List X!

So, you’ve done it at last and found a like-minded group of people who’ve come together in a pleasantly pleasing—yet still critical—writing group (more on that topic another time). You’ve met, discussed one another’s work, and as expected, they’ve found some areas you can polish with your work. But then, as you sit down the next day to look over what the group had discussed and the fixes you want to make, you come to a sobering realization.

You have no idea how to actually apply the advice they gave you. You know where the problems lie, sure, and what didn’t work. You’ve even got a few suggestions that they gave you. But as to how to put that advice to work in your writing? Suddenly, you’re drawing a blank.

And to be fair, this isn’t easy. Sands, that’s why the question was asked! Getting feedback on what needs to be fixed and then figuring out how? It’s a challenge, especially if it’s your first time having received such. You might even feel a little overwhelmed!

But first step—and this is key—is not to worry. Feeling overwhelmed is often one of the first reactions when faced with the thought of apply writing advice or sticking it into your story. And once you’re overwhelmed, it’s hard not to focus on that feeling.

So first, let’s break things down, shall we?

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Being a Better Writer: Getting in the Zone

Welcome back, all, to another Monday! I’ve got to type fast with this post, as I’ve got another shift at my part-time today. This time, it’s in the afternoon rather than the morning, however, so as long as I keep my fingers moving, you’re getting a Monday post! Really quick, however, before I get started: some quick news updates!

Jungle is currently sitting at about 190,000 words (check the “Current Projects” page) and is over 50% done! The only part that saddens me about this is how long it has taken me—now I fully see the effect of working part time and trying to write a book: I just don’t have the same amount of time. I’ve been cutting back personal time, however, and gotten my monthly goals back on a somewhat reduced track … but it still sucks, because I’d really like to finish up Jungle and get started on the editing for Shadow of an Empire so that I can get that out by the end of the year. Granted, I could just stop writing massive epics … but what’s the fun in that?

Discord Day Care, meanwhile, is almost ready to go up. I’m going through the last stages of Beta right now, giving it the final polishing touches. That just leaves me with a cover to find, and to get it all uploaded and ready to post. The publishing schedule for the story, I have decided, will follow the timeline of the story itself. Each chapter will be published as it occurs in the story, in real-time. The only thing that won’t match up will be the dates. I debated back and forth about the best way to do this, but concluded that for Day Care, a publishing schedule like this one should work best. So be excited, it’s almost here at last!

Just a bit more, I promise, then we’ll dive into this week’s topic. First, last month’s Patreon supporter post was a pretty in-depth look back on the origins of my first book, One Drink. It’s something I’ve meant to do for a while now, and yes, for those of you supporting me on Patreon, you can expect in-depth retrospectives on each of my other works to make their way to you as time moves on. Those of you who are not Patreon supporters, it’s only a $1-pledge to become one, and you’ll get access to some behind-the-scenes stuff and previews. Plus, you get the satisfaction that your dollar helps support content like Being a Better Writer!

Now, last, I swear, and then we’ll be on topic: The Rolling Sale. No defined date on this one yet. I’m still working out some details. But the general idea is that it will be a month-long or so event, starting with One Drink and stretching up to Colony. The general idea will be that the first title in the chain will go on sale, alongside an announcement of tiers for the next sale. The more copies go out, the deeper the discount on the next book in the chain. Ditto for when the sale shifts to that title. Kind of a “the more people take advantage of this, the better it gets for everyone” angle.

Right, that’s all the news. Now on to today’s topic: getting in the zone.

So I’m fairly certain that some of you may be scratching your head over this title … and that’s partially my fault. After all, there are a lot of “zones” authors tend to get into when writing. There’s getting in the character’s heads. There’s getting into the world so it feels like we’re living and breathing it. And there’s even just hitting our stride and typing out endless chains of smooth sentences that come together to build the perfect paragraph. Technically, there are a lot of zones in writing.

But today, I’ve going to talk about the most general ones. This is, actually, a requested topic from a reader who wanted a bit of advice on this matter. I don’t recall their exact, word-for-word question, but it went a little something like this: When you sit down in the morning and get ready to write, how do you get yourself into the mindset to write? How do you clear your head? How do you pull yourself away from the rest of the world and immerse yourself in whatever fantastical world you’re putting together?

And … the truth is, this time, that there’s actually a magic bullet.

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2016 in Review—What’s My Progress So Far?

Sands and storms, it’s time for one of these already? Even more alarming, this nears marking the the third anniversary of Unusual Things?

Boy, the days really fly, don’t they?

Well, it is what it is. Time marches on. Which means that once again it’s time to take a look back at my goals, accomplishments, and the like during this year and see what I’ve gotten done. It’s time to put 2016 under the microscope and look at some hard data.

Honesty? I expect that I got less writing done this year … though I published more, and definitely worked just as hard. It’s just a byproduct of what I worked on. 2015 was lots and lots of writing, while 2016 ended up being the year I published a lot of that writing. Which meant that I spent a lot of time trapped in the editing process.

Plus, I started working a second job every week to make ends meet, which also cut into my writing time.

I mean, that’s not bad. But both definitely slowed my pace, and while my “total” word count for productivity stayed pretty good (remember, I count editing as a 20% wordcount for tracking reasons), my actual wordcount for words written probably dropped for the year.

Granted. Next year I think I may see a bit more equilibrium. Maybe. Right now I’ve only got one book in editing, and one that I’m working on. Then again, next year may be a repeat of this year: two releases, lots of editing.

I guess I’ll find out. For now though, let’s take a look at 2016.

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Being a Better Writer: Character Motivations

Why do your characters do what they do?

It seems like a simple question. And, likewise, a simple answer. Why do they do what they do? Because they want to.

Okay, but why?

Character motivation is one of those topics that seems pretty straightforward. You have a character, and you want them to do something, so they need a reason to do it, right?

Well … hopefully, yes. But in practice, is that what’s going on in our writing? Does our character really have motivation … or are we just putting them in a position to do something by necessity, or where they’ll go along with the flow?

Yes, this is a basic topic. But it’s one that feels justified simply because it can become a major stumbling block for newer writers. Often I’ve picked up a story about some characters setting out on a globe-trotting adventure only to wonder halfway through the opening chapter “Okay, but why?” because the author was so keen on getting to the adventure that they neglected to put much work into explaining how the character got there in the first place. Which isn’t to say that the motive may not have been there, just that the author neglected to mention it or explain it fully.

Right, so two possible problems, there. The first is that the author isn’t giving their characters enough motivation. The second is that even when they are, they aren’t explaining them adequately. So, what can we do about that?

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Being a Better Writer: Quotas, Objectives, and Measuring Progress

Don’t forget, Unusual Events: A “Short” Story Collection is out now!

This post was originally written and posted January 12th, 2015, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Today’s topic is going to be a bit lighter than normal, but personally I still find it to be of large importance to anyone who’s determined to make more of their writing than just a hobby. If your goal is to be a hobbyist writer, then what I’m talking about today probably isn’t going to matter much to you. For most hobbyists, writing is supposed to be a hobby. Which means it’s going to—or at least should be—fun. And some of what I’m going to talk about today can take away from that fun. Thankfully though, if you’re a hobbyist, you don’t have to worry about it!

What I want to talk about today is quotas. And objectives. Or really, any metric by which you can measure your progress. Because if you’re a writer, then there’s one thing you have to remember: You have to be writing.

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