It's a little bit past 10:30 PM on January 31st, so now seems like the right time to begin writing “A Reflection on Month 1.” I've been thinking about this for a while, since about mid-month or a little bit earlier, particularly so that I could keep mental tabs on things I didn't want to forget. I have probably forgotten details, and some things will get more or less attention than they deserve, but I hope that what I do tell will be sufficient. I also don't plan to edit this down to a more reasonable length, so if you want to read this be ready for a bit more rambling than I usually do.
I made the decision to go for it in the early hours of December 13th, and I sent the first message to Marcus at 2:50 AM. I'd been considering it long before then, working on the Sparkverse off-and-on, but I took a particular interest sometime in August. I spent September and October working a project that ultimately fell through, but I was slowly working my way through salamoor and lucian history in the meanwhile. When I made the decision, I didn't yet have a plan. Nor did I feel that I had one when I brought the Staff up to speed, though one had started to develop by that point. The idea of SparkComic had been tossed around for years. SparkWiki evolved from a sense of posting general information about the Sparkverse. In the early hours of December 19th, I had the inspiration to write short stories, and that was that thought that convinced me that I had a solid plan.
The first task was to decide on forum software. Our old version of IPB was riddled with seemingly unsolvable problems. SMF and MyBB offered what seemed to be the best of the free solutions, but IPS was the only company that seemed to be thinking beyond the scope of a forum to integrated community software. I may have started off with a bias in favor of IPS, but it was that focus on community-oriented software that sold me. Picking up the Blog software felt right, providing an avenue to post plots outside of the forum itself, and it also offered the potential to open blogs to users (a question I still haven't decided on yet). The Content software was something I didn't fully understand. I had heard of WordPress but had no experience with it (or any CMS for that matter, which is effectively what the Content software is). I was able to recognize its potential, I knew that it could probably provide a framework for SparkComic, I liked the thought of a content-driven home page, I liked the articles section, and I ultimately gambled on it.
Christmas was a week frozen in time. While I spent an enjoyable holiday with family, I only made a little bit of headway on Sparkbomb (spending some time redesigning the Mansion).
I got back into town after Christmas, trusted my gut to go with IPS, likewise trusted the Blog and Content software, and moved forward. I wasn't confident about that choice at the beginning. Coming into the new year, momentum was the thought in my mind. On reflection, I should have completed the hosting transfer first or even just updated the DNS servers. Of all the potential obstacles, I never expected the hosting transfer to be one of them.
I had wedding receptions to attend on both Friday and Saturday the 27th and 28th. Since I was going to be dressed up anyway, I decided that would be the time for me to record the news announcement. I'm well aware that the expectation is to edit out any pauses or hesitation, but I wanted the reality and sincerity of a single take. And that took time. Attempt after attempt after attempt. I was all kinds of nervous, I think because actually giving the speech made everything real. And I was having trouble getting started without tripping over the words. After several failed attempts, the speech was becoming so familiar that not only did I start to remember it on occasion, it was starting to feel fake in that way that a too-rehearsed speech does. And that bothered me: I had to capture the same sincerity I felt while writing it. Sometimes words are my friend, but speaking rarely is.
The first successful recording was nearly fifteen minutes long. I was running late for the first reception. I was upset at myself for that and for not having done a better job of the speech. So I gave it another go the following day, before the next reception. After a few tries, I was able to cut it down under ten minutes (meeting my goal), and I had a successful video announcement.
I know this part of this story might matter the least to most of you, but it was so important to me that I was doing things right from the very beginning.
The original plan was fairly straightforward: install the new forum, archive the old forum, install SparkWiki, get SparkComic up, and switch the hosting along the way. When the hosting transfer got delayed, I realized that SparkWiki would be delayed as a result. I remember making a post about the delay and thinking to myself, “Crap, I can't work on SparkWiki. This means I can't work on SparkComic either.” Which, as I realized in the next ten or so minutes, was completely wrong. I couldn't work on SparkWiki, but I could work on SparkComic. I think it was Wednesday or so by that point, and I spent the rest of the first week creating the layout for SparkComic and learning what the Content software was capable of. It was a huge change from what I'd been expecting to work on for the second half of that week.
That first week was much rougher than I expected it to be. Monday and Tuesday were exhausting. I've done a tiny amount of programming since mid-2010, and I was feeling very out of practice (and still am). Tuesday was New Year's Eve, and I remember going to a dance completely drained. Somehow that night was even more draining, but that's an episode in another crazy story.
By Saturday night or so, I had a functional part of the site ready and waiting for SparkComic. However, the first week had been more exhausting than I'd ever imagined. The obstacle of the hosting transfer weighed heavily on my mind, and the number of practical and programming-based things to be done made it difficult to switch from a “get things set up” mindset to a “work on creative content” mindset.
Erica (HummingGillz) coming into town was a welcome reminder of what everything was all about. Where my motivation came from. She's the eighth Sparkbomber I've had the opportunity to meet in person. It's a surreal, amazing feeling to finally meet friends you've known online for years. The only downside was how busy I was getting things up and running. It left me a bit scatterbrained, and each day I was out with her I wondered if the hosting transfer would go through and cause me to cut the day short. For better or worse, it wasn't until Sunday evening (the 12th) when the transfer finally completed.
To diverge for a moment, I'd like to discuss a couple of other things that have gone into my personal plan. Keeping physically active and maintaining a portion of my social life was part of it. My natural disposition leaves me much happier interacting with friends in person than online. It's something that that disappoints me (because I'd like to dedicate myself to all of you without any negative effects to my well-being), but it's very positive in being a force that drives me to tear down the online boundaries (through activities like Sparkbomb Hour). Exercise is also critical. I volunteer in dance classes twice a week and try to attend dances when I can. A person's mind isn't as sharp without physical activity, and that's certainly true for me.
I also get a fair amount of creativity going through reading, television, and gaming. Reading is something that I've neglected during the past few years, and it was something I knew I would need to start doing again regularly. During the past month, I reread the second half of How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card (whose writing advice is invaluable), continued reading Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress (a book I had started reading while working on Sparkbomb: Anarchy), read a little bit in Boom Start by Gary Rhoads et. al (a book recommended to me by a business major friend, though I haven't found much use in it yet), Joseph Smith Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Lyman Bushman (as part of becoming more acquainted with the history of my religion), and a crappy novel whose title and author aren't worth mentioning for how bad it was. Though I will say it's reassuring to know there are writers out there who I can surpass with my rough drafts even when my writing feels lacking.
On the television front, I rewatched season four of Gossip Girl. Dan shifts back to writing during this season, which was something that I resonated with quite a bit. I also watch a few shows on the CW, the only good one being Arrow. On the gaming front, I played through A Link Between Worlds and finished it sometime into Week 2, I think. A Link to the Past was one of the first two SNES games I owned (Mega Man X being the other) and is one of my favorite games of all time. It was a wonderful nostalgia trip and an excellent game. Sadly, I haven't made much time for gaming otherwise (and I have Bioshock Infinite sitting around unloved).
Going into Week 3, I felt like I was a week behind schedule. I had hoped to have the transfer, the old forums, and SparkWiki all up and running by the end of the first week. Instead, I had the new forums up and running, SparkComic's layout ready, the first episode of The Mansion written, and ideas floating around my head for the first Sparkverse plot. The old forums were (and still are) having a compatibility issue. (I think it's a compatibility issue.) SparkWiki, of course, decided to be an obstacle. Going into it, I knew that two things were essential: users had to have one login for both the community and SparkWiki, and SparkWiki needed to share the same header as the rest of the community. Rather than taking a single day to get up and running, SparkWiki took two days only to be discarded in favor of the articles section of the site.
Halfway into the month, I was finally at a point where it felt like things were coming together. A lot of the stress was temporarily gone, and I was finally able to transition into the more creative mindset I had longed for since making the decision.
I hadn't given the articles much thought until SparkWiki was up and running. I had assumed that the informative writing I had done for TCG Player would prepare me to write in a wiki-style. Writing the early articles was a struggle, in part because it made me realize which pieces of the lore weren't finalized or weren't ready to be revealed, and in part because I was simply having trouble writing. Celairiel was kind enough to offer feedback as I tossed article drafts at her. She knew a few bits and pieces about the Sparkverse, but she was uninformed enough to be invaluable in the process of writing articles that needed to be readable by someone entirely new to Sparkbomb. Another real life friend gave me feedback as I posted the articles, assuring me that they were comprehensible without a Sparkbomb background.
I finished drafting Episode 1 of The Mansion by the 10th, a week ahead of schedule as hoped (to leave time for Sam (Nebiros) to draw its corresponding comic). It was one of many cases, however, where my expectations clashed with reality. I had expected The Mansion to be easy to write. I thought I could just churn out episode after episode on a whim, not needing to think too deeply about it. I realized early on that that was a mistake. I'm rusty with writing, and if The Mansion is going to be a great story then it will need extra time and effort.
My thoughts turned, more than once this month, to my Digimon fanfic Illusory Memories. I've never since found the motivation I had while writing it, and I put a great deal of time and effort into the story. The writing was imperfect, flawed as I go back and reread it now, but the soul is there. And the soul is what is needed for a good story. I've been struggling to find that while writing this past month.
Shiftone and The Mansion comic ultimately fell behind schedule. A very early draft of The Mansion comic (mocked up before the end of December) had set the tone for the chapter, but its redraw was being held up while Sam tried to figure out a way to draw the stained glass window. It's one thing for me to describe, in words, a rainbow-colored piece of stained glass art whose colors don't clash. It's another thing to actually create such a thing. The first Shiftone strip was submitted, redesigned, and finished on time, but The Mansion wouldn't make the deadline. I felt that I needed to release all three simultaneously to have the desired impact, and being a week behind schedule was acceptable at the time.
Weeks 4 and 5 are a bit of a blur. On the 23rd, Sam finally showed me what the holdup was on The Mansion comic: rather than the four panel early draft done in a style similar to Shiftone, she had two pages of arty goodness sketched out. Sadly, they wouldn't be finished until the evening of the 1st. In the meanwhile, I worked on The Mansion. I worked on the first Sparkverse plot. And I think I ended up falling into a trap I had desperately hoped to avoid. For about the last week of the month, I didn't post on Sparkbomb. I slipped behind the scenes the way I have in the past, working on content (primarily the Sparkverse plot) without popping my head in to properly say hi and post in threads. This had been my MO in the past while coding, so it's not very surprising that it happened here, but it's something I feel terrible for. And to those of you who told me that you understood I was busy instead of asking why I had disappeared, I thank you.
Saturday the 1st was a busy day. The first Sparkverse story had been plodding along, and progress on it was as slow as ever. I finally sent a a copy of what I had to Rex, and he rightly pointed out the problems with it. The result is that I'll be scrapping some 2800 words (and keeping maybe 400), but the story will be stronger for it. Sam continued to rush towards the deadline while I debated my options if she wasn't able to finish. I couldn't afford to push back The Mansion much longer, but it needed its comic, and there was always the option of launching Shiftone on its own. Sam pulled through by completing two of the three pages of The Mansion.
I'm not sure what to say of things going forward. Episode 2 of The Mansion could easily be delayed. The draft hasn't been finalized, Sam's still working on Page 3 of Episode 1, and we're not yet sure what the norm will be for The Mansion's comic. It certainly won't be three pages per episode, and it could be as few as one per episode (with special episodes possibly having more). Shiftone should release on schedule. As for the Sparkverse story, who knows? Scrapping most of what I had written isn't easy even if I know that it's for the best.
As for Month 2, it's starting at a time when things are coming together. Having the first episode of The Mansion and Shiftone out was a benchmark similar to having all of the new software/areas of the site up and running. I've still got some cleaning up around the forum to do (finalizing rules, creating the stickied threads of each forum, etc), but I'm largely ready to settle into the creative mindset completely and simply gauge what the release schedule will be.
All in all, Month 1 was harsher than I thought it would be, but I'm excited about Month 2. I'm looking forward to giving you guys more of what you've been waiting for: stories.