Wednesday, 24 December 2014

A Year in Review, Part One – Progress Report 2015

Here am I after another successful year writing a blog. It’s been a good year and I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to blog on a fix schedule. A lot of what I said in last year’s end of year review posts applies to this year. I’ve got more abandoned posts, I still have a secret project that my sister and I are working on which we will be definitively uploading in 2015. Plenty of stuff happened at SUR and I’m gearing up for plenty more good things to come for next year. Join me as I take a look at this year’s posts.

The biggest lesson I learned this year is that blogging at a rate of two posts per week drains you. It’s a lot especially since I continue to read and review more novels than I originally expected. I don’t know why it happens, it just does. I don’t focus too much on what I’m reviewing or worry about keeping strict balance or variety of mediums (comics, books, and movies or television). Somehow I manage to keep a decent variety of reviews but novels at still a pretty large focus. That’s unfortunate only because reading them is nearly always more time consuming than reading comics or watching a movie. Aside from that, there isn’t really a downside. It’s quite nice to have SUR there as an excuse to read books I’ve been wanting to read for years but haven’t because I was distracted by other things.

One of my goals this year was to focus a bit more on comics and I didn’t really do that. I stayed pretty consistent compared to 2013. For next year I’m hoping to increase the amount of comic-centric posts and I’ve got a reread project in the works. I’ll be announcing more about that in the future.

One of the reasons I want to read and blog about more comics is that I find they are generally easier to write about, though that’s not always the case. I read two volumes of Wonder Woman by Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang, Tony Akins, and Dan Green that I simply couldn’t bring myself to write about. It was, for better or worse, a very precise continuation of the previous two volumes. Any commentary I had on the first volumes can be applied directly to the following two volumes. The consistency in the writer and the art team as well as the progression of one large storyline, as opposed to one story per volume, left me at a loss for words. I like it as much as the previous volumes but I have no original comments to make about it. The more I thought about it and the more I tried to write something worthwhile, entertaining or informative it just sounded terrible and forced. Naturally I abandoned it.

That’s just one of many examples of posts or projects that I started and abandoned. Sometimes, when projects are concerned, I’ve written a couple posts from start to finish only to abandon the entire project before I’ve uploaded even a single post. The texts that are ready to be uploaded but I keep them tucked away on my hard drive because they don’t really belong anywhere else now that I’ve decided to stop working on the project. I might post them some day but for now I’m content to leave them off the blog.

This year I became very comfortable with choosing not to write a post about a book or comic that simply didn’t inspire me to write much about it. I find that writing reviews always involves some work but while some posts are a chore and demand a lot of work from me others just come pouring out. I often find that the easier reviews to write are the ones I’m most satisfied with. When I stare at the blank screen or when I take my terrible and mostly useless notes and begin to write, it’s incredibly satisfying for words to come pouring out onto the screen. I don’t care what they are, really. I don’t care if I end up with 2,000 words of messy thoughts and sentences that are only half good. As long as there is something on the screen I can work with. It’s fun and exciting to be inspired by something you read and have things about the work you’d like to discuss and think about further. That’s what the draft process is all about for me, just getting the ideas out.

Once I have that it’s time to get to work. It’s time to unravel those thoughts and organize them in a way that makes the ideas clearer to read and understand and to give the text some structure and context so that it can be read without the need to have also read the book that’s being reviewed. The second half of the process is essentially the work part and sometimes I just don’t want to do it. Other times the ideas and the commentary I came up with while writing a draft or making notes just aren’t worth the time and effort I would put into cleaning it up and making a real review out of it. It’s always work, even when the draft process is simple and fun.

I’m sharing this in my end of year post because I want to make it clear that writing reviews isn’t always easy. Most of all it’s time consuming. If you’ve ever read a review on SUR you’ll know that there are often typos and mistakes in my posts. Guess what, after writing notes while reading, writing a draft and reworking it to its final version (sometimes twice or more) I just don’t feel like reviewing it yet another time to find typos. In short, writing for Shared Universe Reviews at a rate of two posts per week is very time consuming. I like it, I really do. It’s a small dream come true for me and it’s the result of a lot of work but in 2015 I will be taking a couple of breaks. One might even be a full-blown hiatus. I’ll be announcing them when the time comes and I’m certain the breaks will be good for me but I’ll do my best to get a few guest contributors to fill in the gaps. Aside from that I’ll try and continue my two posts per week for the rest of the year but I will be moving away from the reviews only format and working more towards an ongoing projects format.  

I wrote one of my most successful projects this year with my daily rewatch of Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team back in July. It was tons of fun to watch that series again and it was very satisfying to take a project to completion. That’s especially true because it was a daily project that lasted over two weeks. It made me feel more confident about my blog writing and it’s a boost I needed after having so many failed projects like the continuously ignored Kung Fu Corner (I have to add more reviews there) and the potentially discontinued PokéJournal.

It’s also been interesting to note when I get caught up in a particular genre or franchise for a few weeks. This year saw at least four such moments. Late winter and early spring saw several new additions to The Blog Fantastic fantasy novel project. It’s yet another example of a successful ongoing project and I expect to continue expanding it next year. The three other franchise focuses weeks included Star Wars reviews in May, a lot of Gundam related stuff in the summer and plenty of Star Trek posts in the late Fall. It’s pretty great when you get to immerse yourself in a specific category of works. You build momentum and it kind of energizes you for a while. The only downside is that I eventual grow tired of the subject and I have to move on to something else.

Last year I ended the first part of my A Year in Review post with a list of 5 goals for 2014. Here they are:

1-Stay the course. I’ve spread out my interested nicely but I need to maintain the variety of the content on SUR.

2-Bring back some of the focus on comics while maintaining the variety of genres and creators.

3-Give Star Wars novels and The Wheel of Time another chance. That’s something I’ve already started. One of my friends gave me books he no longer wanted with the suggestion I bring them to the used book store for in store credits. I did just that during the holidays and I came back with another the third volume of The Wheel of Time, a Redwall novel, two Star Trek movie novelizations and a little stack of Star Wars. I did some research and I came up with a list of Star Wars novels that I think I will enjoy. If it doesn’t work now, it might be the end of my flirtation with the Expanded Universe and I’ll stick to the movies (well, the first six episodes anyway).

4-Complete and post the Secret Sibling blog project.

5-Get guest contributors to the blog. I have nerdy friends but I need to convince them to contribute to SUR. Guys, all I need is one post and it can be on nearly anything. You know you want to do it.

For those keeping score at home you’ll notice that I did alright. Let’s check out those items one at a time. Item 1: I think I did keep the variety on SUR. It’s tough going sometimes because I put a lot of effort to keep up regular content at the rate of two posts per week. That forces me to skip around from genre to genre or from novels to comics and a little bit of film and TV. I’m generally pretty scattered in my entertainment because I like a lot of variety. This goal basically takes care of itself because of my personality and reading habits.  This might be the easiest aspect of writing at SUR. I like variety and that continues to work well for me as far as varied content on the blog is concerned.

Item2: Well, I’m basically par for the course on this one. I haven’t crunched the numbers but looking quickly at the archives it looks as though I’ve written about comics regularly throughout the year. I’ll continue to try bringing more focus to comics as that’s the reason I originally starting blogging but also because I love comics and I’d like to give them more exposure here at SUR.

Item 3: I’ve done this! Woohoo, one goal I completely reached. Let’s talk about Star Wars first. I gave the Expanded Universe another try and it was rather successful for a while. I read the first ever EU novel, watched a Star Wars documentary and I had a wonderful time reading two omnibus collections released by Dark Horse. Everything was going so well in fact that I created a Star Wars page in order to put all of the reviews and posts in one place. Then I read The Truce at Bakura and it killed any momentum I had built up during the first half of the year. I promised more reviews to come on the Star Wars page and that statement still holds true. A few weeks ago I watched the teaser trailer for Episode VII and I’m jazzed about the franchise again despite my better judgement.

Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series has also been given a second chance this year. Sure, I’ve only read two additional books (The Great Hunt and The Dragon Reborn) the page count is more than the page count of all the Star Wars related books I read this year and half of that was comics. Two books might not seem like a lot but I spend a great deal of time in Jordan’s series. I have a couple more books waiting for me and I’ll certainly be diving into the series again as I’ve been enjoying each book more than the last. Next up is The Shadow Rising.

Item 4: Ah, the Secret Sibling project. Well, we haven’t posted it this year but we’ve almost completed it. It won’t be long now but I do fear that by announcing a secret project in the works I may have contributed to some unnecessary hype (though that’s also rather unlikely considering the low amount of regular visitors to the site). Still, I’m excited about this and I’m hoping we get some good conversations started in the comments. 

Item 5: I failed miserably at getting any guest contributors at SUR in 2014. I was hoping to have my sister contribute with our project but that hasn’t yet seen the light of day. 2015 looks good however. I’ve got a few potential contributors getting ready and as I mentioned above it’s looking very promising that my sister and I will post our project up in a few months’ time.

Goals for 2015: I won’t get into details just now but I have two big ongoing projects I’ll be working on next year. I’m really looking forward to finally post the project my sister and I have been working on for roughly 18 months now. I’m also looking forward to adding a few guest contributors as part of one of the two big projects. 

Overall, this year has been a big success. I like the variety of content I’ve developed on SUR and the blog is essentially the same as last year but that’s a good thing. I like science fiction, fantasy and comics and you can see that very clearly when looking at the archives. It’s all there. They’re my main interests and I write about them in earnest. The only area in which I’d like to improve is writing about things I’ve already watched or read. It’s mostly the comics that I’ve already read and enjoyed that I’d now like to go reread and write about. One of my main projects this year will be a reread of one of my favourite comic series ever. I’m very excited to start but I won’t say anymore here as I’ll be writing an introductory post for it specifically in a couple of weeks. I also want to pull away a bit from straight-up reviews. Working on this comic book reread project will help with that as I’ll be discussion the inner workings of the comics and analysing it throughout the reread. More details on that in a couple of weeks.

In a few days’ time I’ll be posting the second part of my Year in Review posts by listing the worst books I read last year.

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