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Mid-Month Short Story Challenge: An Update

I’ve been doing the Mid-Month Short Story Challenge since July of 2017. In that time, I’ve posted 16 prompts covering a decently wide range of genres, story styles, and other gimmicks to try to challenge both myself and others who were participating in the challenge to create unique stories. During that time, I’ve enjoyed developing my own writing skills based on prompts that were often created in collaboration with other people.

I put the Mid-Month Short Story Challenge on hiatus in December because I didn’t expect to have time to write a new short story around Christmas, nor did I expect anyone else to do so. That said, as I was creating my writing goals for 2019, I came to a realization. While the MMSSC has been a great way to build my own skills as a writer, it has not taken off in the same way I had hoped it would. Through 16 editions of the prompts, there have been a total of 4 stories other than mine written from those prompts. Total, that is, not per prompt. And while I do enjoy the challenge myself, I don’t feel the need to produce new MMSSC prompts if no one is writing for them aside from me. I already have a work in progress I procrastinate on a ton.

While I may bring back the MMSSC in the future, it likely won’t be soon. If you are interested in writing a short story based on one of the old prompts, that’s awesome! I’ve linked the prompts below, along with a very short description of each.

As for my favorite stories that I’ve written as part of this challenge, I’m quite partial to the weirdness that was Earth: A Study of Simulated Planet Behavior from prompt 11, as well as my first attempt at a true fantasy story with prompt 2’s response, In Training. The other notable thing that these prompts allowed me to do was to expand on abandoned projects I’d used for other things, such as The Isle Charon as well as Foxtails.

Thank you to everyone who has read the Mid-Month Short Story Challenge posts over the past year and a half or so. It’s been a lot of fun to do. I’ll make sure to give a heads up before restarting the project if I do reboot it in the future.

2019 Writing Goals

In 2018, at the suggestion of Optimistic Millennial writer Kaytie Zimmerman, I decided to create some goals for my blog in an attempt to grow my blog and, by extension, build the community around it. Last week, I talked about how those goals went throughout the year of 2018 (not to mention doing periodic checkins throughout the year), as well as trying to explore whether the results of each of those goals was a success or a failure.

I’m happy I went that route in 2018, however, I don’t think it’s the right way to go in 2019. That’s not because I succeeded in every goal, nor am I completely happy with the results I did achieve across the board. While things did go alright, there’s always room for growth and improvement. Instead, I’ve decided to diversify my goals a bit in 2019. This is in an effort to better reflect what I’m looking to achieve not just as a blogger, but as a writer and freelancer. I’ll be sticking with three goals, in 2019, only instead of three blog based goals, there’ll be one each for blogging, story writing, and freelancing.

Goal 1: Blog Growth?

Last year, I had three separate blog growth goals that I set for myself. Needless to say with how things went, I have zero clue how to set goals for myself for blog growth. Since I clearly have no clue what I should scale my goals to, let’s go with the one that’s at least the easiest for me to measure: raw traffic.

This year, I’d like to average one view per hour for every day of the year. That’s 8,760 views for the year, which would represent a massive amount of growth from 2018 to 2019. Then again, that’s what I thought by setting a goal for 3,000 views for 2018 when coming off of 2,369 in 2017. I was wrong. I was over 3,000 views in September and 4,000 views in November. If the first four months of the year would have had better traffic, 5,000 would have been a realistic possibility. While I’m not expecting months upon months of traffic like November 20181688 views, my single best traffic month ever on this blog, and my best traffic month on any blog since 2013., I think breaking the 8,000 visitor barrier is an attainable goal, even if it might be a bit of a reach.

Goal 2: Finish a Second Draft of the WIP by July

Let’s just say it’s, um, been a while since I’ve given you all an update on my work in progress. There’s several reasons for that, some of which are understandable, others of which are not2All of which I will not be mentioning on this blog, for now.. That said, I’m planning to do another update on the project within the first six weeks or so of 2019.

That all said, I know for sure that once I get the initial draft finished, there will be some massive rewriting that needs done to make it presentable for beta readers. My alpha reader’s feedback, plus some of my own changes to the direction of where I want the story to focus, has proven that needs to be the case. As a result, once I finish the first draft, I’ll be re-writing my story (particularly the first 3-5 chapters) heavily.

In an ideal situation, both of these drafts will be completed by the end of July. I’m not going to set an official goal deadline for completing the first draft (mostly because January is particularly insane for me), however I feel like as long as that draft is done by mid-April, I should be in good shape to get my July goal for draft number two.

Goal 3: Take on Four New Freelance Projects This Year

2018 was an up-and-down year in terms of the freelance projects I took on. I had a large project come to me early in the year, as well as a ton of smaller projects that I took on. The problem was that the only one of those projects that I got paid for was the large project — all of the small ones came about as the result of my former company closing our office, which in turn meant resume editing work I did for free. While I did pick up a second, much smaller, project near the end of the year, the year was slower than I had hoped.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I ended up needing more of my free time than I expected on several other things that came up this year, including minor things like a redesign of my blog and launching my Patreon account. Even with that in mind, I’d like to do more this year.

I’m setting a somewhat flexible goal of taking on four new freelance projects in 2019, ideally one per quarter. I say this goal is somewhat flexible, as if I were to take on a particularly large project, I’d consider revising this down to three. That said, the project would have to be major in either complexity or the amount of time I have to dedicate to it (or both) for me to make said revision.

2018 Blog Goals – Year End Review

Welcome to 2019. How are you feeling? Excited? Confused? Hungover? Yes to all of the above?

2018 was an odd year for me, if for no other reason than I actually followed through on keeping track of my blog goals for the first time ever. As I’m thinking about it, this might be the first time ever that I’ve kept track of non-work related goals for an entire year. I know that might be a weird statement to make as a 31 year old, but here we are. I’ll be sharing my 2019 writing goals in a post coming on the first Monday of the year, however before I do that, let’s take a moment and look back on the 2018 goals.

When we last peeked in at the midway point of this year, I was only meeting one of the three goals that I had set for the year. While I was destroying the one goal I was meeting, the other two goals had continued to fall behind pace. The final quarter of 2018 was insane in real life for various reasons, so aside from my NaNoWriMo Tips series, the marketing I wanted to go into the blog never came to fruition. With that said, let’s see where I ended both Q4 of 2018 and the year as a whole.

Goal 1: 20 New WordPress Followers

Well. This had some ups and downs out of no where. Granted, I understand going from 5 to 6 to 7 and back down to 6 isn’t that big of a swing, but it is a volatile time considering how steady this value has been over the course of the year year and a half or so. This ended up being only 30% of my goal pace for the year. Even with that in mind, I’m not completely disappointed in how this turned out because of the way the next two goals ended the year.

Goal 2 – Average 250 Visits Per Month

Remember how in last quarter’s update post I said that 4,738 visits — exactly double my 2017 traffic — wouldn’t be a completely unrealistic number to hit? It was kind of nice to hit that number in the lead up to Christmas while talking about our charity drive. Though I didn’t quite get to the 5,000 visit barrier, this was still over 100% growth year over year, which is amazing to see. The final six months of the year were the six best months in this blog’s history, while nine of the top ten months all time also come from 2018. I’d love to see this upward trend continue into 2019, though (as you’ll see from my goals next week) I’ll be doing some refocusing on my priorities in my writing in 2019, so I won’t be trying to replicate my 100% growth next this year.

Goal 3 – Grow Comment Count by 20% Again

2018 was weird when it came to my comments. Consider the following:

  • January – March: 48 comments (16 comments/month)
  • April – September: 45 comments (7.5 comments/month)
  • October – December: 57 comments (19 comments/month)

What the hell happened in the middle of the year? I understand that my comment explosion in December had a couple of factors working in its favor — those being the fact that comments for 10 days in December caused a donation to charity, as well as an 11th hour commenter who tipped me over my comment goal. That said, it was still nice to hit this with how weird (and frankly not well) the middle two quarters of 2018 went from a comment standpoint.

How did you do on your 2018 goals? If you’re a blogger, podcaster, YouTuber, or other creator, I’d love to hear how you did, as well as your 2019 goals. Sound off in the comments.


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Ranking My 2018 Reads

It’s the end of 2018. Literally. Today is the last day of the year and I’m still cramming trying to write new content before the year ends. It’s like I’m back in high school. Except that I didn’t really cram study in high school so much as I just didn’t study. At all. Not developing study habits came back to bite me in grad school.

Wait…what was I talking about? Cramming.

So in 2018, like in 2017, I had a goal to read 12 books before the end of the year. 2018 was a borderline maniacal year for me — to the point where I’m hoping 2019 just consists of a nap for me. I miss having energy to do things. Now all my energy goes to my life, my job, or (if I’m very lucky) my writing. It’s a tiring thing. It’s why I’ve largely resorted to audiobooks over the course of this year. It’s also why I read 10 of the 12 books I read in 2018 in October or later.

I decided it made sense to do a small review post of the books I read over the course of the year. It’s been a while since I did I true book review post (if you want some of those, go check out Megan’s blog…she’s even done a full review on one of the books I read this year), and though I’m not in a position to do any of those in the near future3In terms of time spent per word written, book reviews take the most time of any post that isn’t creative fiction that I write., I did have some thoughts on the books I read. Most of them anyway. I’ve decided to rank 10 of the 12 books I read this year.

In addition to the books below, I also read “Candy Apple Butterscotch” by Rebecca MacCeile and “2666” by Roberto Bolano. I’ve chosen not to make these books part of this list. In the case of the former, I was involved heavily in the formatting process, so I don’t feel I could review it objectively in comparison to other books I read. In the case of the latter, the book was unlike anything I’ve read…to the point where I’m still not sure how I feel about it after the fact. I may come back and add it in as an edit to the post in the future, but as of writing this at the end of December 2018, it will not be mentioned.

10. The Red Inn by Honore de Balzac

The first book I read of 2018 was also the worst by a decent margin4It was a MUCH larger margin until I read the #9 entry on this list.. For a book that’s considered to be a classic novel, it was just boring. The Red Inn made The Iliad readable. It made Moby Dick seem entertaining. It was that bad. On the plus side, it was short, taking me only three days to read in spite of it putting me to sleep every night. I cannot recommend it enough if you have insomnia.

9. Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan

I’m generally a pretty big fan of books written by comedians, however this is one of the rare exceptions to that rule. You can always tell when someone is trying too hard to be funny, as it sounds forced and painful more than it does actually funny. Eighty percent of Dad is Fat falls into the forced and painful realm. There are a couple of entertaining moments in the book, but they’re few and far between. Having this as an audiobook made it better, as at least Gaffigan’s delivery was really good. That said, it’s one of the few books this year I actively had to put down out of frustration of reading it.

8. Hurricane Season: What Katrina Taught America by Susan Zakin

Not going to lie. I completely forgot I had read this book until near the end of the year. Huh. That’s not a good thing for a book. It was…unremarkable? Which is still better than the two entries below it on this list. But here it sits.

7. Angry Optimist: The Life and Times of Jon Stewart by Lisa Rogak

I had extremely high expectations of this book and came away completely disappointed. As someone who is a huge fan of Jon Stewart, I was hoping to come away learning something new about a man who I had idolized through much of my young adult life. That said, the book came across more like a long Wikipedia article than it did a narrative story or biography. The audiobook featured the worst narrator of an audiobook I came across this year, but even when ignoring that fact, the book was still not great. There was so much potential here, but nearly no execution that couldn’t be done as part of a research writing class.

6. Earth (The Book) by Jon Stewart

I’ve always wanted to read this book, in spite of the fact that people have given me mixed reviews. It’s a gimmicky book — written as a letter of sorts to the alien race that inevitably finds the remains of crumbled society — and fills that niche about how you would expect it would. It was funny at times, though not to the point where I found myself in constant laughter or in deep thought like I often was with The Daily Show itself when Stewart was at the helm. It’s worth the read if you like the premise of the gimmick behind the book, but not a required read if you don’t.

5. Monkey: A Journey to the West translated by David Kheridan

I completely blame Overly Sarcastic Productions for me wanting to read this book. After all, this is a thing.

The book itself was a great morning read during the time off I had from work early in the year and does tell an interesting story. As OSP shows, Journey to the West is a folktale that provided tropes that we see constantly in modern literature. If you have a child of a certain age5I’m thinking in the 8-10 range…I don’t know how old kids are when they stop getting bedtime stories read to them. I don’t remember ever getting one. And now I’ve made myself sad., it’s a great bedtime story to span over a few months.

4. The Black Prism by Brent Weeks

We come to the point of the list where I started actively being invested in the books that I read. The Black Prism is a very good story with an amazing magic system. That much is for certain. It’s also a fantasy novel wrapped up in all of the trappings of the typical fantasy novel, including cringeworthy gore and murder, as well as an unshakeable male gaze that makes most women in the story objects or plot devices first and characters second. There are two exceptions to the previous statement in Karis and Liv, however even they can’t avoid occasionally being nothing more than objects of desire6At least in the case of Karis, it’s somewhat justified, as two men feuding over their love for her was debatably the spark that caused an entire war. That said, she’s also a badass bodyguard who STILL has pages devoted to how she looks when dressed up by a creepy kidnapper.. There’s three more books in this series, and I’m torn on whether or not I want to read them at this point. The main story is great. The flaws are enough that I don’t know that I care about continuing reading the series.

3. Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

This was surprisingly good — though not for the reasons I expected when I started reading it. Anna Kendrick often come off as this super-relatable, funny celebrity. Scrappy Little Nobody showed that the funny is definitely still true, though I’m less sure now that I’d use relatable to describe her. That said, she tells a damn good story, which was something I didn’t know she was as good at as she clearly is. This was another one of my audiobook reads for the year, and of all of the narrators I listened to in 2018, she was by far the most engaging. Which is nothing to scoff at since Wil Fucking Wheaton is her competition.

2. What If? by Randall Munroe

Speaking of Wheaton, he was the narrator for XKCD creator Randall Munroe’s deep dive into the batshit craziest questions about science you could ever imagine. As someone who adores science and math, this was a joy to listen to, causing me to stay up far later than I had meant to more than once. Munroe’s explorations into the weird space questions he would receive were the most entertaining responses in the book, however the entire book was engaging.

1. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

The single best book I’ve read since high school…possibly ever7My ten favorite books list from 2015 needs updated at this point.

I’m not exaggerating. Go read this book. It was that good. I read this entire book in one day, then re-read it again over the course of about a week. I was swept away by the book itself, losing myself in the beauty of its story (something that has only happened one other time in recent memory). There are several relatable, compelling characters in the book. Its messages about fame and the social internet are inescapable truths. Even if the dialogue feels strange at times8Though that’s admittedly because I am not a female young adult, I think., the brilliance of the story makes any concerns forgivable.

2018 Charity Drive – Final Totals

Yesterday was the final day of our efforts to raise money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. This was the third year I’ve done something like this, as well as the first year that I’ve received some help from other folks looking to also raise money for this great cause.

After tallying the totals from all of our sales, comments, podcast downloads, and new Patreon pledges, I can proudly announce that we raised $220.50 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Donations from the various folks will be made to the AFSP tonight or tomorrow (depending on what time zone those folks are in).

I would like to take a moment and thank a ton of people for all of the help they were in raising money. First and foremost, a big thank you is owed to Eve Jacob, Rebecca MacCeile, Brian Fisher, Mike Lampasone, and Tim Kilkenny for their willingness to give donations based off of proceeds from their work. Without their help, this drive wouldn’t have been possible. If you’d like to give some patronage to them — such as by buying their books or listening to their podcasts — even though the drive is over, click the links on their names in the previous sentence.

I’d also like to thank some folks who helped advertise the drive heavily. In particular, thanks are owed to Tabitha, the crew at Sounds Nerdy, Stephanie, Cherie, Charlotte, Erin, and Kaytie for their repeated sharing of content. Additional thanks are due to David, Dem, Dr. Skyskull, TravelerSan, Megan, Joseph, Emmy, Doc, Biv, Mike, Lauren, Todd, Amy, Victoria, Vic, Justin, Casey, and several more people I’m sure I’m missing who also helped share the word in some way. None of this would be possible without all your help.

If you’d like to give to the AFSP directly, I would encourage you to do so. Click the link in this sentence to be taken directly to the AFSP’s donation page.