In six more issues the story arc I started with Curveball Issue 1 will be complete. I'm almost finished with Issue 31, so it's really "five and a quarter more issues," so... yikes.
Usually I wait until each year's run is finished before I post some kind of self-indulgent musing here. (sorry, but you're all writers too so I feel I can be self-indulgent here and engage in a little writerly navel-gazing. So... yep. Here it is.) But Issue 36 won't just be the end of the Project Recall story arc, it'll be the point when I decide whether or not to keep going. And I need to start thinking about that NOW, because if I decide to keep going then #36 will just be "hey, it's the end of another year's run, hurrah" and then I'll need to start on #37. And if I decide to stop, I need to figure out what to do instead.
Well, that's not true. I have plenty of other things to do. That's kind of the problem I'm facing though: should I be devoting more time to those instead of this?
I'm very proud of the work I've done on Curveball. On a purely technical, abstract, workflow-based level, the way I set it up to be both a web serial and an ebook serial relatively simultaneously is pretty unique and has worked OK. On a purely writing level, I'm damned proud of the story I've built and the characters I've created. The choices I've made writing the story have made me a stronger writer overall. Writing in present tense has been a surprisingly enjoyable challenge, and that has also opened up new possibilities in story narration that I had never considered before.
But overall, if I look at the last four years, I'm forced to admit that the experiment has been a failure. It's disappointing (and depressing) to admit, but more often than not I find myself wondering if I've been wasting my time.
At the best of times, when you're writing in obscurity it's analogous to pouring all your time and energy into an anti-perpetual motion machine--there's so much entropy to overcome that you're lucky if you can get it to move even an inch from where it started. For the last four years I've been pouring a lot into this thing, and while it has actually moved forward it hasn't moved a lot. I have readers, even some who are enthusiastic about the story, but it hasn't been catching on the way a story needs to in order to grow properly. Four years, 31 (almost) issues, and it's not moving forward.
There are a lot of reasons for this. Some of them are simply that it's always a crapshoot -- sometimes things just don't catch on. A lot of them rest squarely on my shoulders: I'm a terrible marketer, I'm very easily distracted by unexpected crises in the "real world" (and I tend to obsess over potential crises even when they don't actually turn into a crisis) and there are any other number of reasons I could point to why I'm my own worst enemy when I do these things.
But also I think it's fair to say that my specific choices for production enhance any of those issues. I'm essentially publishing three times (Patreon, web, storefronts) and there are lots of fiddly bits in the process. Once an issue is written, it takes about a week to do the whole thing if everything goes well. If I'm dealing with other things at the same time, it takes a little longer -- for example, Issue 30 went up on my site on October 31, but didn't hit the e-stores until the week of Thanksgiving. November was a hell of a month. And that pushed my work on Issue 31 to the right, because what work I managed to do was being diluted by all my frustrations trying to get 30 out and done with.
It's a shame, because I think this idea -- to write a web serial with an eye for publishing each update -- has genuine potential for authors. I think, however, that Curveball will not the proof of concept I was hoping it would be. Someone else will have to give it a spin and claim victory if they manage to get it to work for them.
So I'm trying to figure out what to do after Issue 36. The story arc will be resolved, so I could say "that's all, folks!" publish the Year Three omnibus and move on to the next project. There are plenty of other stories I also want to tell, and my process for Curveball makes it challenging to carve out time for them as well (it's possible, but it requires a certain level of energy and enthusiasm I lack at the moment). I like writing Curveball but it isn't "catching on." Should I spend my time chasing something else that will? Should I double down and go another round? My default setting is "fuck you, windmill" but at the same time I'd like to actually, you know, knock the damn windmill down occasionally.
Well, OK, if I'm being honest I want to knock it down all the time but that could be the concussions talking.
I have other projects I can start (or resume!) that I might be able to make more progress on if I didn't have this Rube Goldberg publishing process to deal with every month (it's actually much less Rube Goldbergian than it used to be, but as I said there are still fiddly bits). I might find more success pursuing a different genre.
On the other hand, I'd really miss writing those stories. There's nothing that says I couldn't pick it back up again, of course, but the conceit was "Curveball is a comic book without pictures" and comic books start new arcs after the old ones finish. So calling it a day at Issue 36 would be giving up on the conceit, and I really hate that. It's a fun conceit.
And at the end of the day, I'm not interested in telling stories just to succeed. I have to want to tell them. I've wanted to tell this story thirty-going-on-thirty-one times now. Internet being what it is, a spark could happen at any time. Curveball could start moving forward.
But if I'm being coldly analytical, I have to acknowledge that when you set emotion aside it looks like I'm putting far more time and energy into this than I'm getting out of it. It might be time to say "yes, this was a fascinating experiment," pat myself on the head for being willing to take a few risks, and move on to something else.
Maybe pick a genre Wildbow isn't writing in, but I think I'm running out of those.
(j/k, Wildbow, you and Drew are my faux nemeses)
I still have another five and a quarter issues to write, and hey, that could take another year depending on how things go. So I have time to figure it out. But you know... it's the end of the year. Time for navel-gazing. That's what I'm doing here.