The more you practice, the better you tend to get. Sports, art, whatever. I’ve been writing this column for almost four full years, and I feel like my work has, on the whole, improved. Maybe not all the time, but no one’s awesome all the time.
For the past three years, I’ve published a column containing my best-ofs for the previous year. But this year I’d like to try something different — firstly because “year’s best” posts are passe, but also because I don’t think I can narrow 52 weeks of columns down to six favorites. So, with that in mind, here are six of the best types of columns I wrote in 2017. And, just to make it different, I’m starting with the best and working my way down.
1. Mental Health — Although I’m not a physician of any type, I suffer from mental illness. I treat it with medication, therapeutic techniques, writing, and occasionally just breaking down into sobs and/or screams. It’s super fun, really. As a result, I often find myself writing about mental illness, coping strategies, and triggering issues. This year I think my best work came around my birthday, which for me is a triggering event — I usually get upset or depressed around that time of year. I shouldn’t; nothing bad really ever happened to me on my birthday, except for one year when I was sick (I think I was turning twelve). But mental illness rarely makes sense, and sometimes I turn to my column to make sense of it.
- 5/17: Six of the Best… ways to stay unhappy
- 8/2: Six of the Worst… things your company can do if you have anxiety
Unhappiness is a part of life, and it’s something we all have to deal with. But we don’t have to reinforce it; remember, the US Constitution guarantees “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” — and that’s what happiness is: something you have to pursue. Unhappiness happens when you don’t pursue happiness. So go forth and pursue.
2. Writing — Writing a column every week* for four years has forced me to keep putting out words. If you assume that each column is 1000 words long, that’s literally more than 200,000 words since I started this little experiment. All writers turn their gaze inward from time to time, and when I start to inspect my navel, that’s when it’s time for me to write about writing. At this point I have more than a dozen columns containing what I generously call “writing advice”, although of course other writers’ knowledge may vary. Still, I like to think I maybe helped out a little bit.
- 1/18: Six of the Best… narrative devices you can’t use anymore (because they’re cliche’d)
- 3/29: Six of the Best… things about writing by hand
- 8/23: Six of the Best… little annoyances on TV shows (that I can’t ignore)
- 11/15: Six of the Best… ways to support your writer friends when they publish a new book
And that’s another benefit to writing by hand: people have no idea what I’m writing until I’m ready to share it with them. They can try to figure it out, but it’s not easy. Of course, it’s not easy for me either, but given how much I’ve written in the past two weeks, I think it’s worth the trouble. Plus, I can see how excited I am about a part of the story because the handwriting gets even worse, and the more sections there are like that, the better the story is. In my opinion, anyway.
3. Gadgets and Games — As nerds, we often find ourselves beholden to the latest technological fads — our new phones, drones, dashcams, Raspberry Pi, whatever. Even fidget spinners. The same goes for games; when we get a new game we play it over and over until our friends and family are sick of it. I played a ton of Ticket to Ride last year; hence there being an entire column about it. I also got a new phone and a fidget spinner. Pretty easy to write about things you do a lot, I think.
- 4/12: Six of the Best… Tickets to Ride
- 6/28: Six of the Best… things about getting a new phone
- 7/26: Six of the Best… things about fidget spinners
Everyone’s coping mechanisms are different. Sometimes you just have to accept that and move on. And for those people whose coping mechanism is to spin a fidget spinner, well… it’s cheap, it’s quiet, it’s not hurting anyone, and it just might help. Of course, figuring out who’s doing it because they need to and who’s doing it even though they don’t need to is another story, and I feel for anyone — especially teachers — who is put in that situation. I understand why they are banned at certain schools or in certain classrooms, but sometimes a blanket ban isn’t the answer. (Unless it helps improve standardized test scores, in which case administrations are like BANINATION!)
4. Genre TV and Film — There’s always something new on TV — streaming, cable, whatever — and it seems like at least every other week there’s another movie out that falls into one of the nerdy genres (sci-fi, fantasy, horror). It’s a fallow field, but the problem is that a lot of them are basically the same film (or show), with the same story beats. I’m reminded of Save the Cat, which it seems like every screenwriter has read. So I guess if everything is the same, then I can just rewrite the same article over and over and just change the details, right?
- 8/30: Six of the Best… reasons not to watch The Defenders
- 10/4: Six of the Worst… things about Toys
- 10/11: Six of the Best… things The Orville did better than Star Trek: Discovery
- 11/8: Six of the Best… times the hero and the villain teamed up
You have to have stakes that count. Otherwise why should we care? And, ultimately, I think that was the main problem with The Defenders: I didn’t care about any of the stakes, and that made me see all the problems with the show.
5. Genre Books — Everything I just said about genre TV and film? The same for books. I read a lot less this year than in previous years, I think because I kept getting sucked into social websites and communities at night instead of opening up my book apps. I really should change that for 2018. That’s why none of the three articles here are about books that came out in 2018, or even 2017.
- 3/22: Six of the Best… things about Chuck Tingle
- 6/14: Six of the Best… Heinlein books that deserve to be made into Netflix serieses
- 10/18: Six of the Best… things about Planet Builders
Regardless of what you think of Chuck Tingle, you have to admire him for getting his stuff read and pumping out* dozens of stories on Amazon. I’ve been writing “professionally” for eleven years and I’ve only had about two dozen stories published (plus some reprints). Some folks haven’t put out even that much over far longer. But Tingle keeps on adding more layers to the Tingleverse, and giving us excellent satire and creativity as he goes.
6. Everything Else — When I first started writing this column, my editor gave me some pretty simple direction: keep it nerdy. So when I write something that might not be, I try to aim it in that direction, at least tangentially. I had a few columns this year that weren’t really applicable (conference calls, email signatures, weird dreams), but for the most part I think I did okay. Still, some of my intentionally-nerdy columns didn’t fit into any of the previous categories, so they’re here. (I put the Cardassian one here because it’s about philosophy, not about Star Trek per se.)
- 1/25: Six of the Best… Cardassian philosophies
- 3/8: Six of the Best… methods of faster-than-light travel
- 4/5: Six of the Worst… problems with grounding your nerdy child
And, lest we forget, some authors take a… different… approach, as Norman Spinrad did in The Void Captain’s Tale. In that book, the ship is powered by, for lack of a better term, sexual energy. I mean, that sounds fun and all, but it seems a little hard to modulate, doesn’t it? Every person is different, every sexual interaction is different, every situation is different, so what can you do but just hope you don’t overshoot (or undershoot) your target?
A couple of months ago, I got one of those signs with the movable letters. It was 50 percent off, and may have been the most fun purchase I made last year. I put it up in my office and I’ve been changing the text every week or so. I can’t show you all of the images, because some of them contain information about work, but here are two good ones:
And yes, I borrowed them from /r/showerthoughts. I’m clever, but not always that clever.
Got an idea for a future “Six of the Best” column? Tweet it to me @listener42.
Memories of My Father is the story of a girl trying to figure out why her dad’s losing his memory — but the horrible secret causing it leaves her only one way to save him: to forget everything she knows. K.T. Katzmann, author of Murder with Monsters, says: “It gets to the science-fictiony widget early, points it out for the audience, and goes right back to tearing apart the reader with emotional human drama.” And if that doesn’t make you want to read it, then what more can I tell you? Get your copy today, while you still remember what last year’s columns were about.
* To be fair, I write a lot of them well in advance and then schedule them for later. But the theory is sound.