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: 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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Being a Better Writer: Micro-Blast #4

Welcome back, readers, to yet again another Monday Being a Better Writer post that has obviously been relegated to Tuesday. Someday I’ll make enough money from my writing to be able to give up my part-time job, but right now … if they want me on Mondays, they unfortunately have me.

So, this week we’re doing another Micro-Blast! New? Wondering what a “Micro-Blast” is an what it has to do with writing? Thoughts already jumped to something non-writing related already, like those tiny fruit snacks with juice in them?

Okay, maybe I’m just hungry. Anyway, a Micro-Blast is something that usually happens as I near the end of another topic list. This being a real, physical list that I keep on my desk and consult each week to select a topic for the upcoming post. The topics on this list are collected from a variety of sources, usually anything that makes me think “Hey, that would be a good BaBW topic,” but also from readers that write in with questions and requests.

Anyway, these topics can often vary in the amount of effort needed to address them. Sometimes it’s simply a topic where I’d be better suited saying my piece and pointing readers elsewhere, other times it’s just a quick answer that isn’t really deserving of a full break-down on it’s own, but at least merits a paragraph or two, and sometimes it’s just a topic I haven’t done much thought about, and therefore needs more research before I can weigh in one way or another. And then, of course, there are the topics that don’t have any of those issues, and I can write a full post on.

But at the end of a list, what results is often a small collection of leftover topics, a hdgepodge of tiny summaries that, for whatever reason, never got posts on their own.

Micro-Blast BaBW posts are the answer to these small collections of topics. A way to “finish off” each topic list by rapid-fire tackling each remaining issue with a small posting of its own.

So, this said, it’s time to finish off, once and for all, Topic List 8 so that next week, I can start anew with Topic List 9! Which also means you can expect a post later this week asking for suggestions for the list. I’ve got a bundle of my own from the recent LTUE conference, but as always, reader suggestions are a welcome way to add topics.

Anyway, enough rambling! Let’s clear this list!

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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: Opening Pandora’s Music Box

This is a post I didn’t actually think I’d ever write.

Hyperbole? Not really, actually. As you may have gathered from the title, today I’m going to be talking about music, which is a common enough topic that I’ve been asked about by many a young writer. They want to know if someone can listen to music while writing, what I listen to, etc.

And for the longest time, I’ve just said “Yes” and left it at that. I listen to music when I write, you can too.

But the other day, as I was working while listening to some new music, I started thinking about how many had asked me this question, and the nature of my response. And I started to wonder if there perhaps wasn’t more to say than a simple affirmation that I did. Because, while true that I do listen to music while I write—constantly, in fact—there’s a bit more to it than simply turning on the radio and diving right into whatever I’m working on. Because if it were that simple for everyone … well, the question wouldn’t be coming up, would it? Would be writers would simply turn something on and go, no need to ask anyone else at all.

So today, I’m going to talk a little bit more about listening to music while writing. Because the more I thought about it, the more I realized that over the years I’ve developed a code of rules that determine quite a bit of my writing process. Or perhaps “guidelines” is a better phrase. Irregardless, the point is, I just don’t sit down and hit “play” before I start working. Not normally. There are restrictions I follow, little self-learned requirements I keep to. And now, I’m going to share them with you.

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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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The Year in Review – What’s My Progress So Far?

December once more. Dang. Time flies so fast these days. I still remember what I was doing this time a year ago. I was halfway through the first draft of Colony and averaging about 3500-4000 words a day. Now, I’ve reached that time of year on the calendar one year down the road, and it’s time for me to look back and ask myself: “What on Earth have I accomplished in the last 365 days?”

It’s a valid question to ask of myself as the new year approaches, because I firmly believe that nothing motivates like having firm, measurable goals. In fact, I can say that they’re one of the reasons I’ve gone from writing under a 1000 words per day to writing 4000 or 5000 with gleeful abandon. In fact, this year I shattered another goal, setting a new record for myself during the writing of Beyond the Borderlands.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Better to take things in stride. So, without further ado, here is the year in review.

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Op-Ed: Dealing with Detractors

I’m not filing this one under Being a Better Writer for the simple reason that it isn’t as much about improving your own writing as it is a tip for dealing with what may come when you do write. It’s definitely a writing tip, but a guide to make you a better writer? Well, it’ll touch on that, but this article isn’t entirely concerned with it.

So, detractors. For those of you scratching your heads right about now, what am I talking about.

Well, let’s make one thing clear. I’m not talking about critics. At least, not genuine, honest ones. Critics—good ones—are not detractors. Critics are critical, yes, but a good critic is also an individual who balances the good with the bad. They draw the creator’s attention to both the strong and the weak, giving those who view their criticism a balanced, aware presentation of the good and the bad.

A detractor, thusly, is not a real critic. A detractor is an individual who, for whatever reason, will never be satisfied nor happy with anything you create.

And once you put your writing out there, you can rest assured that the detractors will come. You will find them in writing groups. You will find them in comment threads. You’ll find them leaving “reviews” that serve only to savage. You can even find them in conversation about whatever medium their chosen target happens to fall in, bringing it up only to spread venom about it. No matter what your creation is, the detractors will come, and they will despise whatever you work, no matter the cause.

Why? Well, who can say? Some are simply trolls, the kind of individual who enjoys tearing others down for their own enjoyment. It doesn’t matter who, or what, if they sense a target, they’ll be there to tear into something or someone smug in the knowledge that even if the person on the other end of their words is going to have a day less sunny than it was before they spoke. They just enjoy making someone feel lousy.

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Being a Better Writer: Motivation

This post was originally written and posted August 12th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Still off the grid in Alaska. This post was uploaded ahead of time for your viewing pleasure.

I actually have been asked about this topic on numerous occasions, and it was something that came up from multiple people during my time at the Crystal Mountain Convention. Everyone has a variant on the topic, but in the end, they all boil down to a two-part question: what do I do that keeps me motivated, and—in connection with that—what advice do I have for them to acquire motivation and keep it?

I’ve attempted to tackle this discussion before, but ended up digressing into a discussion more about how I kept myself focused and on task rather than what I let motivate me. Which I suppose was because I probably see writing motivation as a bit different from what most new writers hope to hear. I get the feeling that a lot of times what people are really looking for when they ask me about motivation is some sort of “magic bullet” answer like “oh, it’ll come as soon as you get that one idea.” And to an extent, this does sort-of happen, but not in the way most are hoping. If you’re looking at this post to find the one thing that will suddenly, magically motivate you to write, make the work no longer seem like work, well … you won’t. That’s not how it works. Writing is work, and it’s always going to be work even if you enjoy it. The simplest answer I can give to motivating yourself to writing is “just do it.”

The problem a lot of young authors have is that they want the writing they’d like to do to be more appealing than say … playing Halo, watching television, or reading a book. They have this idea that they need to enjoy it, that writing should be just as fun and relaxing as sitting down with a controller in hand and playing a round of deathmatch. And the truth is, it isn’t. Not at first, anyway.

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