Sunday, 27 September 2015

A Math Writing Journey

If you’re going to put something out on the internet, be it a serial story, videos you scripted, an opinion column, whatever, you should know the reason you’re doing it. Is it to educate? To entertain? To make people think? Some combination of those? (If it’s to be famous, um, sure, good luck with that.)

For me, I am pretty sure my intention is to entertain, even though it trends to the combination. Heck, I have blogged about that fact before. That said, this post may not be so entertaining - it’s going to look at a writing journey from joy, down to misery, and back up to what I am currently calling a “Good Creative Place”. Featuring personified mathematics.

See, when you have a blog/website, you can totally do this sort of mental archive dive, because there’s a permanent record - the internet never forgets.


I wrote a lot in University. Mostly for mathNEWS, the student run publication out of the University of Waterloo. I had a non-fiction column, “Cynic’s Corner”, and I even published serials - “General l’Hopital” (the pun serial) and “Quantum Loop” (the Quantum Leap parody). For that matter, I drew covers too! I was “published” early, I guess is what I’m saying.

"Quantum Loop" had Sham Breakit & Hal Callalily
Outside of mathNEWS, there was fanfic, which I put online. In 2000, the year before graduating post-secondary, I won “Best Comedy” at the Anime North fan fiction contest (the second time I’d entered anything). That was followed by two years of not even placing in the finalists, a better 2003, and in 2004... I won the Grand Prize. Apparently, people thought I could write! Or at least write fanfic.

At the time, I said “six years later, I guess I’m a decent writer! Just takes practice.” That would be our high water mark. And then... the public writing petered out. I played around with making videos instead - I used to do mix tapes - and entered this short AMV into AC-Cubed 2006. But I was also trying to get a full time teaching job, and finish work on my (unreleased) time travel serial too.


“Taylor’s Polynomials”, personified mathematics, started July 2011. It updated twice per week, initially each part maybe 200 words. I thought it was pretty good, and it’s what sparked the song parodies (popular at my school). After SIX MONTHS of continuous updates - during a move, no less - I was getting five hits. Well, ten in a week, given the update schedule.

Disappointing, but not unexpected. So, the whole reason I started a blog, and joined Twitter, was to find a bigger audience for my math story. And I threw everything I had into Update #100, linking the plot back to my video work, with a theme tune, and entering it in MTT2K (Mystery Teacher Theatre 2000).

No one seemed to stick with me. This blog started shortly after, in August of 2012. We’ll now move to the 27 posts where I’ve mused on writing. You’re welcome to skip to the conclusion at the bottom.

1) If You Build It... So What? (Aug 2012)
In brief: If you’re looking for an audience, you’ve already lost. Everyone’s busy with something else. For the first time since starting (14 months ago), I have no buffer, thus am writing on the fly for... me, I guess.

2) The Pass in Passion (Oct 2012)
In brief: What if doing it for yourself is not enough? After 66 straight weeks, I’m only getting ten views per update (20 in a week). I’m taking a break. Any thoughts? *crickets*

3) Week as Math Educator Roundup (Nov 2012)
In brief: I wrote about a week of teaching, from the perspective of my math characters. With different narrative perspectives. Here’s some topics you can comment on? Maybe?

I would end up restarting the serial in January 2013, with a new buffer.


4) Drawing for a Webcomic (Jan 2013)
In brief: This is how I illustrate my mathematics, with screenshots. I need to improve; any tips? (This post was followed by another on how I mashed up song parodies.)

5) Writers Make Poor Teachers (Feb 2013)
In brief: I pay attention to detail. And I’m GOOD at that. So how the hell am I supposed to grade these tests on vague LEVELS, not POINTS? (I got some comments, but this was less about writing itself.)

6) Writing for Your Gender (Feb 2013)
In brief: Consider both a male and female lead in your story - is the less dynamic one the same gender as yourself? My females are more engaging, every time. Why? Is that me?

7) Seeking New Personifications (Mar 2013)
In brief: I’ve personified math for 20 months! Got any cool math relations I can use? Want a link shout-out? I don’t get much traffic, but I’ll do what I can! Thoughts?? *crickets*

8) Publicity Hows (Mar 2013)
In brief: Not strictly about writing, more a question of how do you get the word out on the internet? How do you stand out without seeming like a jerk?

9) The Web Serial (Mar 2013)
In brief: OMG I’M WRITING A *SERIAL*! I thought it was a weird text webcomic with math! It’s more than that! Let’s talk about serials (in 4 parts), and how it connects to teaching.

10) Why Do You Blog? (Mar 2013)
In brief: Who is my audience? Yeah, I still don’t know. I don’t think I’d even recommend this blog. But maybe you’ll say something to make me do better at this?

I’d posted a chapter of my Time Travel story in there as well. At this point, “Education Realist” became the first educator I knew on Twitter to actually comment on a writing post (previous writing post comments were by writers). There was a temporary blog redesign (of about 9 months) to try and “flag” the topics of my posts.


11) Mind The Gap (Apr 2013)
In brief: Report cards, school play AND my web serial buffer ran out. But here’s how I handled it without needing a posting hiatus! Here’s more ideas you might use!

12) Why I Write Series 5 (Jun 2013)
In brief: How can one personify mathematics and NOT have it become suicidal? Also, I think I’ve determined my audience is NOT students, or math teachers, or writers. I have low self esteem.


13) Being The Outlier (Jun 2013)
In brief: You’re in a group, and the awesomeness is happening around you, and somehow you’re not quite a part of it. This post is either profound or inane.

14) Draw Your Story (Jul 2013)
In brief: Are you a writer? Then you should be drawing. It helps for many reasons, here’s why.

15) Character Diversity Problem (Aug 2013)
In brief: This is a cry for help. I’m a white male, but my story is evolving, and I see a few options for diversifying my mathematical cast - what do you think? Anyone?

16) Writers Make Good Teachers (Aug 2013)
In brief: Counterpoint to the earlier post #4. Curriculum is writing, and there are crossover skills like observation, communication... perseverance...

17) Serial Rewrite Recap (Sep 2013)
In brief: The plot for Series 5 changed from the initial plans. I have recap videos. Here’s my preferences in the years I’ve done so far. Your thoughts? *crickets*

Yeah, this has only been a large part of my life for over two years, I can see how you might not want to chat with me about it... at least tell me why it’s not interesting? I want math to be a thiiiiing!


18) On Building an Audience (Nov 2013)
In brief: DEAR GOD, WHAT AM I DOING WRONG?! (That’s a direct quote.) I was here before Daily Desmos graphs, I did VERSINE before it got big, I want my story to be a fun math thing too, so WHY AM I INVISIBLE?

19) Putting My Serial Together (Dec 2013)
In brief: How I sink time and love and thought into this fiction writing thing that gets no comments. *crickets* (Is no comments irony?)

20) Writing at the Intersection (Jan 2014)
In brief: A regular schedule, original drawings, story arcs, they’re apparently useless - “fantasy” and “math” are DISJOINT SETS. What, AM I NOT INCENTIVE ENOUGH FOR YOU?

I cut my publishing here from twice every week down to once every week. (At a low estimate of 200 words per post, twice weekly, for around 120 weeks, we’re looking at over 24,000 words posted already. Twenty views per post a year ago, not even double that after weekly tweets/FBs.)

21) No Comments (Feb 2014)
In brief: Here are reasons people don’t comment on posts, now I feel better about why I seem to be invisible, except not really, whatever, who cares. (This post got comments!)

22) On Seeking Validation (Jun 2014)
In brief: Internal motivation can only get you so far. Ten years after winning a fanfiction contest, and three years after my lovely math serial began, it’s now OVER, and I stopped writing it ON MY BIRTHDAY, and YOU DON’T EVEN CARE and is my fiction writing even WORTHWHILE?! I’m stepping back from this cliff before I leap off it.

23) Why I Post (Jul 2014)
In brief: I write lots of recaps. My non-fiction gets views. But I want to be an entertainer, and random, and here’s more of my Time Travel story, and WHY YOU PEOPLE ON THIS BLOG NO READ FICTION? Sigh. (People did answer that question.)

Okay, so I’ve started highlighting the worst bits of my posts there. I swear, that wasn’t all about me whining. (The mark of a good writer is that he can try to spin his true feelings out into something a bit more worthwhile for others.) We are STILL on a down slide though.

In November, we hit Yi Can’t Even, which is when teaching imploded as a follow-up to the math serial implosion six months earlier. I was a mess. The kicker is, I’d started a new writing project in September too (2,000 words per week, based on votes). I have to write. It’s a thing.


24) Delayed Gratification (Jan 2015)
In brief: Every week, I’m teaching. Every week, I’m writing. Are people GETTING anything out of those things? I’m feeling micro-invalidated over here. Should I keep screaming?

25) Product of: It’s Time (Mar 2015)
In brief: What you write needs to get out there, because what was acceptable even ten years ago might not be acceptable now. Just do it. I’m releasing my time travel story.

This is also when I decided that I would reboot and/or resume “Taylor’s Polynomials”, at no specified date.

26) Guessed Writing 2015 (Apr 2015)
In brief: How I wrote an April Fools post for a guy who’s had a serial running SINCE 2007. Perspective!

That post got over 1,500 views here (seeing as I posted the link up in the comments on Jim’s site). That more than doubles the next most popular post. And here I thought the traffic was impressive when Dan Meyer tweeted out my post about the CMEF 2014 conference! (Okay, and it was impressive, but even now that’s still only at 600 views.)

27) ConBravo: Making It Online (Aug 2015)
In brief: If you think this isn’t going to grind you into the dust, you’re WRONG. It’s a huge amount of work. But if you love doing it, it pays for itself.

I may be a masochist, but I did love doing it. Summer 2015 is when I restarted my math serial - as a math webcomic. Now, here’s the reasons why I feel like I’m back in a “good creative place”:


a) For two months, each math comic has seen views of 100+. (Okay, last Monday’s is still at 68, I’m gonna call outlier.) In comparison, for the math serial, a few parts got to as high as 80 views, but most were lower. During the run itself, 40 views after posting was typical. One part (“Cliff Notes”) remains under 50 even now, which for a serial is effectively like purchasing a fiction book, then deciding not to read Chapter 7. You’re not really invested.

b) I’ve had TWO COMMENTS on the first eight posts - from different people! In comparison, Series 6 of the serial, which had almost 40 posts over 7 months, only saw two comments in ALL that time (by the same person - hi Scott!). Granted, I’m not counting the Author Asides, or my own comments.

c) Archive binges are a thing. In April 2015, when I wasn’t even publishing, I had 2,500 page views for the serial, and some remarks on the story’s Facebook page. There is something to be said for putting it out there, and hoping that years (and years) later, people will see the light.

Here’s what kills me. What I’m doing now, with the comic? THE. SAME. DAMN. THING. I. DID. FOR. THREE. YEARS. (ALMOST.)

I’ve simply trimmed the 200-500 words down to about 40 words, and have added figuring out word balloons, lettering (damn you, crossbar I’s!) and thumbnails to what I was previously doing. SAME characters, SAME content, SAME style... FEWER words, MORE pictures. Am I missing something? Apparently packaging is everything?!

Oh, sure, you could say my writing has improved, or that I’m more well known - EXCEPT. My Fiction Blog is on track for the WORST MONTH EVER. Seriously, it has been going for over a year, story posts EVERY week, and it has NEVER had a month with less than 100 hits... until, it seems, September 2015. (I may yet break 90.) Which breaks THAT theory.

I suppose you could say my writing has gotten worse, and people are pleased to finally have a format featuring less of it. But for the record, it’s actually damn hard to try and say in 40 words what I’d rather do in 100, plus my drawing is weak sauce, so I don’t really buy it.

The only other thing that occurs is it takes you maybe 20 seconds to read my webcomic, whereas it would have taken you 3 minutes to read my serial. (Or 15 minutes, in the case of my fiction blog.) Are people THAT busy, as I said way back in #1 up there? ... I guess I only read Justin Aion’s blog a couple times out of the week, so I shouldn’t judge.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

If you jumped down here, I don’t blame you. In summary? I want to entertain people. For three years, I tried doing it. I only sold a few tickets. Getting ever more desperate, I tried everything from requesting new personification ideas, to screaming into the wind for an audience, only to learn now that apparently the problem wasn't WHAT I was doing, only HOW I was doing it.

Webcomics sell, serials don’t?? (I miss the straightforward days of fanfiction.)

I’ve always known I can write. For years, it’s been a question of is my writing WORTHWHILE? Beyond the non-fiction recaps, that is. For the moment, I have an answer, and it’s apparently, YES. Hence why I’m in a “Good Creative Place”.

But more than that, things haven’t tipped over into “crazy” territory (yet?), where I’m so popular that people actually want my opinion on anything. (Sometimes I give it anyway, like when I embarrass myself by tweeting at Dan Meyer “Hey, I write too!” when he's talking to non-fiction authors.) Right now, I can keep up with my posts, and my job, and people are at least clicking on the comic links at a rate I’ve never seen before.

It’s been said, you never know what you had until it’s gone? I think I know what I have. For right now, I’m going to appreciate it. The way I appreciate you reading this. Peace out.


  1. This will sound weird, but I really, really enjoy your process posts, in which you recap your efforts and bewail your lack of audience.

    1. Doesn't sound so weird. For one, reality TV is a thing these days. For another, I sometimes find myself wondering/comparing my serial efforts to others I see out there, so it seems like others might do the same (maybe not with themselves necessarily). Finally, it's a sign that I'm still entertaining, in some sense! (Eventually, I might even stop bewailing.)