2020 Year in Review Blog

December 31st, 2020

     2020 was… a year. There are a lot of things that could sum up 2020, but most of them are rather depressing when examined through a wide lens. As much as cynicism is often amusing, I think it more apt to leave the opening statement as an ambiguous one. For me, 2020 was an odd year, one of contradictions and juxtapositions. In my personal and professional life outside of writing, 2020 was an absolute nightmare.

     My entire plan in January focused around competing for my country in the 2020 summer Olympics, which were cancelled in March due to the COVID-19 crisis. That was one of the worst days of my life, even though I had seen the decision coming for quite some time. There were a few weeks after that decision during which I didn’t want to do a whole lot of anything pertaining to sports, or frankly pertaining to anything in the real world. It certainly wasn’t a state of depression, as that word is far too strong. I never suffered from any of the symptoms commonly associated with that ailment aside from a rather hollow feeling and a lack of motivation pertaining to things in the real world. I would thankfully get that motivation back in fairly quick order and turn out a lot of positive work in my personal and professional life, but the weeks following the cancellation of the 2020 games were difficult.

     On the other end of the spectrum, there is writing, the thing that has brought all of you here. In terms of my journey as an author, 2020 has been unbelievable in the complete opposite way. After planning the story diligently following an airplane epiphany on the way to Paris in August of 2019, I published Harry Potter and the Ashes of Chaos on February 22nd of this year. Soon after, as mentioned, the Tokyo games were cancelled, which was a rather low moment in my life. I am a pragmatist above most things, and my usual solution to emotional upheaval is to throw myself head-first into an unrelated endeavour with the fervour one might expect of a child opening presents on Christmas morning. That is to say, I do so with the utmost intensity and focus, and I will let nothing else distract me from that goal.

     This year, that endeavour was writing. Specifically, writing Harry Potter and the Ashes of Chaos and improving myself as an author. In about a month, I had the rest of first year written, and I was watching in complete and total awe as the story’s popularity swelled to levels I would have never expected. Even now, almost a year after its publication and with me being far more confident as an author, it baffles me how popular the story really is. To think that nearly 5,000 people have added the story to their list of works that interest them is mind-boggling. Even more so is the Discord server, which I will touch on in short order. 

     I know that there is something to say for not being too caught up in the numbers, but I am an inherently competitive person who is very much motivated by success, among other things. Seeing the rapid growth of Ashes of Chaos really did inspire me to push myself further as an author, and it is a large proponent of the exponential increase in technical ability I have experienced this year. I honestly cringe when reading anything I wrote before this year, and even the early Ashes of Chaos chapters needed a lot of revision. I had a ton of bad habits when I started writing it, and I was not nearly as grammatically sound as I am now. It is actually incredible to me to look back and see how drastically I have improved in less than a year. I am an extremely obsessive person who does not do things in halves. It is something I have dedicated a lot of time and effort into since March, so the improvements are something I am very proud of, though there were a lot of people who helped me along the way. 

     Which brings me to the Discord server, which will be a rabbit hole of a topic in and of itself. The Discord server is something I had started in 2019, taking inspiration from the Sinister Man. You might know him as the author of Harry Potter and the Prince of Slytherin, and he is an author within the fanfiction community that I admire greatly. I have no shame in saying that a lot of things I have done in regards to fanfiction — honestly more in regards to Discord, how I respond to people on there, Patreon, and other initiatives — have been very much inspired by him, and I have followed his lead on a number of those things. In 2019, I really didn’t promote the server, and I allowed it to just be there on the side. When I realized just how beneficial it might be to grow the actual community of readers I had accumulated — particularly once Ashes of Chaos began to become popular — I realized putting more effort into the Discord server was something that should be done.

     Here is where I give a shoutout to the man who was my first beta on Ashes of Chaos, and the man who did a lot to help me this year. He is no longer a member of my team, but we parted ways on good terms. There were some internal matters that were just complicated, and it was in our best interests to part ways on a professional level. It was also doubtlessly better for our friendship, which is something I did and still do want to maintain. When I had mentioned wanting to expand the Discord server, Umar was really the brains behind the operation. He was honestly more responsible for the original layout of the server than me, and it was him who set up the original server bots and really helped to kickstart the server’s growth. It was extremely barebones before his involvement, and he turned it into something more. 

     On a personal note, I would like to thank Umar for believing in my ability as an author more than I believed in myself, at least in the beginning. It was he who first proposed a Patreon page months before it happened, which is something I will circle back to in a little bit. He is also mostly responsible for the founding of the Ashes of Chaos wiki page, which is proudly one of the largest Harry Potter fanfiction Wikipedias in the world. In addition, it was he who helped to originally setup my website, ACI100.com, where you are now reading this blog. 

     At the time, I thought all of these things were premature and that I didn’t have the popularity at the time, nor that I was talented enough to gain it in time. He vehemently believed in the stories I wrote and in particular, that Ashes of Chaos would grow to something I could have never imagined. We joked about it a lot later on in the process, but I would like to take this moment to humbly thank Umar for his confidence and for the hard work he put in. He is genuinely one of the hardest working people I have ever met, and I don’t think he ever missed a deadline, even the ones I said he didn’t have to meet if he wasn’t able. Without his help laying the foundations, I have no idea whether or not I would be where I am today on this journey, and for that, I will be eternally grateful.

     I did mention multiple people who have helped me along the way earlier, and I think this serves as quite the natural transition into the next one. 

     That person would be my friend and beta, Yoshi. He joined the Discord server back in February, and we clicked almost at once. That is very unusual for me, as I usually take a period of time before I warm up to people. Yoshi is one of the smartest people I have ever met, as well as one of the most versatile. He is a man of many talents, but his knowledge of history may be chief among them. In particular, Yoshi’s knowledge of Ancient Greece — both the culture/history and the language/dialects — is so expansive that he has helped to write published textbooks on the subject. In Ashes of Chaos, he helped me with an Ancient Doric translation, as well as a bit of symbolism. This was the first time Yoshi had helped me with anything, and he was immediately offering to help any time I needed it, which is something I appreciated immensely at the time, for I had not yet gained my confidence in this space. 

     One thing led to another, and Umar needed to take some time off to focus on his education, as his career path is a particularly demanding one. When he did, Yoshi became my go-to man for bouncing ideas off of, and the relationship really just evolved from there. Whilst brainstorming, we spent a countless number of nights on voice calls, often for upwards of six hours. I can remember a time we spent ten on a call, and a lot of it was just us chatting back and forth. Outside of myself, Yoshi is now the person who is most directly involved with the planning of my stories, and I usually run at least my more major ideas past him. Beyond that though, we have grown to be very close friends, and it is one of the things I am most grateful for this year. A friendship and a brotherhood that I hope will last for many years to come.

     At this point, it seems as though I am going through my inner circle in chronological order, so I suppose I will keep the trend going. 

     The next up is Fezzik, whose role has evolved over time. Fezzik joined my Discord server back in the Spring. I have channels on that server where readers can point out any errors they might have spotted in my chapters, since they are released on the server before they are published on fanfiction.net and AO3. Well… Fezzik is employed as a professional editor, and I was not terribly sharp grammatically at the time. I’m sure you can imagine the flooding of my editorial channels. I remember reading some of the edits and frankly being quite awed by the level of detail she went into simply from doing a quick read through. 

     After a particularly cruel cliffhanger of mine, Fezzik made what I thought to be a joke about editing the next chapter if I sent it to her early. When I reacted in a manner that indicated my assumption that it was a joke, she told me in no uncertain terms that it was a very serious offer. 

     I honestly would have needed to be a fool to decline, as I had already spotted Fezzik’s talent some time before, and I knew at this point that an actual editor could be exactly what I needed to take me to the next level. I love Umar, and he was good at what he did, but he was not an editor. He was a good beta with a very strong grasp on the language and most things pertaining to grammar, but Fezzik was something different altogether. I actually hadn’t spoken much with Fezzik before she became a beta for me, but that is yet another relationship that has flourished with the passing of time. Over the months, I have come to know Fezzik as more than just an editor, and her kindness and compassion never fails to amaze me. Along with arguably being the catalyst for my exponential increase in technical writing ability, Fezzik has proven to be a joy to work with and talk to, and she is yet another person I have grown to consider a friend, as is the case with all of the people I have and will be mentioning. She has an incredible mind and a heart of gold, and I am incredibly fortunate she sought to take pity on me all those months ago. Without her, I would most certainly not be nearly the writer I am today. Nowadays, I don’t even call Fezzik a beta. She is my editor, and that’s all there really is to that. To call her a beta would frankly be doing her abilities a disservice.

     Luq falls into a similar category. He was a reader who again gained my attention through leaving edits, and he is now another one of my beta readers. Luq may not have the same degree of experience as Fezzik, but one thing I have noticed about Luq is his ability to learn and evolve. It is truly astonishing, and things he was at first ignorant about are now things he catches me out on and corrects. It is a testament to his intellect and work ethic, as well as his willingness to question my decisions, both grammatically and narratively, which is something I greatly appreciate.  

     Next up is Sothis, who joined my Discord server a bit later. She fit into a similar category to Yoshi in the fact that we just sort of clicked. I don’t know what it was about her, but the entire server was practically in love with her within days of her arrival. She is just the kind of person that makes you want to keep talking to them, so she honestly caught my attention just by being Sothis. Over time, we became more closely acquainted, and she started helping out with the server. She had moderated a Discord server before, so she had experience in things the others didn’t. That was really how it started, and it spiralled from there. Nowadays, Sothis does more of the moderation on the ACI100 Discord server than anyone else and, like Yoshi, she is a great help when I need somebody to bounce ideas off of. As much as Sothis likes to joke around and put down her own intellect, she is actually incredibly sharp, and she is very gifted at looking at situations objectively and through a number of different lenses. 

     Finally, there is Athena, who was quite literally given the moniker — by myself — of Mrs. Too Much Time on Her Hands. This was not a mockery so much as it was a reflection of just how much Athena does. To give a quick breakdown of just some of the things she helps me with: Athena runs the ACI100 Instagram account, she posts quite often on the Twitter, she posts the podcasts on Spotify and Apple Music, she also helps to clean up my chapters before Fezzik does her edit, she moderates the Discord, she is the primary operator of my website, and she is basically the go-to person if anything needs to get done. The funniest part about all of this is… she asked for most of these jobs, and she does all of them extremely well. Like Umar, I don’t think Athena has ever missed a deadline even in spite of her daunting workload. Her helpfulness quite literally cannot be overstated.

     It is with the help of this remarkable team of individuals I have come as far as I have in 2020, which finally brings me back to the ACI100 Discord server. The Discord server — outside of Patreon, which we will come to — is what blows me away the most. More than 1,500 people have joined that server as of December 31st, 2020. That is truly unbelievable. The fact that many people have not only read and enjoyed my work, but wish to experience it on a deeper level is truly humbling. I have had the pleasure to speak with and get to know many of these members, and I have developed genuine friendships with a number of them. It is this server which drove the Ashes of Chaos Wikipedia page to such heights, and it is this server which has largely given me the confidence I lacked at the beginning of the year. I know I don’t always have the time to respond, but to anybody on the server, all of your messages mean the world to me. Every single person who has so much as posted is appreciated immensely, and those who have commented in-depth on my stories and given me legitimate feedback even more so. I know I joke about your outlandish theories from time to time, but reading them honestly is the highlight of my day at times. 

     This year has not been easy. The cancellation of the Tokyo games was crushing, and it has not been an easy year in my personal life, either. I will say something on here I don’t believe I have publicly posted on the server, because it really did not need to be out there. It still doesn’t, but I think it may put into perspective how much your support truly means to me. This fall, my parents divorced after having been married since before I was born. I have always had and still do have an incredibly close relationship with both of my parents, and the experience was difficult. Add to that the fact my family has been experiencing a number of financial struggles, and I think you get the point that it’s been a very long and difficult year. 

     When my parents first told me of their decision, I said I likely wouldn’t be on the server for a few days due to personal reasons. The influx of supportive direct and public messages was overwhelming, and I was honestly shaken and humbled to my very core. I stayed off Discord for about a day before I logged on just to do a quick check and got pulled back in. The community I have formed on there is honestly incredible, and I leant on it quite heavily in the days after that rather jarring announcement, even though I never made that fact public. I just wanted to thank you all for getting me through some very difficult times this year, and I thought it would be a good way of opening up a bit and showing how appreciative I really am.

     I’ve spoken of Patreon several times now, but I think it finally time to expand a bit on that, especially after speaking of appreciation. It was really Discord and Umar that made me do it. He was of the belief it would generate a great deal of support, though I remained very skeptical. After a time, there were even members of the Discord server asking if I would start one. I was always reluctant simply for the reason that I fear failure above most things. It is a cliche thing to say, but I really do mean it. It may not cost anything to setup, but I do not like starting an endeavour and watching it be anything but successful. It bothers me immensely, and I was very sure that would be the case with Patreon. 

     After a time, though, I capitulated. I said earlier that my family has gone through some financial struggles this year, so leaning on them for money really wasn’t an option. In fact, I was doing my best to provide them with support, even though I really couldn’t afford to sustainably give as much as I was. I compete for my country in athletics, but if I am being terribly honest, the pay is not great. 90% of the money in the sport comes from sponsorships, which is something I don’t yet have. Until 2020, I was actually losing money due to associated expenses. I am now making a net positive, and I am paid a monthly fee, but it is nowhere near enough to be anything close to financially stable. I don’t have many expenses right now, but I do have some. I was competing, writing, and helping to teach at a local high school despite not having the qualifications this fall. The latter was done purely to try and earn some more money. Especially considering I’m paying several hundred dollars a year just to keep my audiobook projects going. It could honestly be much more than that, but my incredible narrator, 3CP, has been kind enough so far to ask for no payment for his work, which is something I will be forever grateful for. Most nights days during this cycle, I would wake up at around 6:00 AM to prepare for the day, help teach, instruct, and assist until around 2:30, go to practice, come home, eat, workout again, take an ice bath, hop on Discord, then go write/edit until about 4 or 5:00 AM, and then do it all again. 

     It was not healthy, to say the very least, and the troubles in my personal life really just piled onto it. I finally took the chance on a Patreon page, and the support is genuinely humbling. I am now making nearly $800 a month on Patreon, which is even more than that when converted into Canadian dollars. It has allowed me to quit my part time teaching job — which I was being paid under the table for — and spend all of my time training and writing, at least for now, while I don’t have many expenses to worry about. My goal is to reach a point where I can pursue these two passions comfortably and without need of financial concerns in the long-term. I’m not there yet, but Patreon is what is giving me hope I may one day reach that status, and I honestly cannot explain to anyone coherently how much everyone’s support of Patreon really does mean to me. It has honestly changed my life already, and it is something that means more to me than most reading this could ever imagine. It is allowing me to pursue athletics and writing with all of my being, at least for now, while expenses are low, and I cannot explain how life-changing that has been. I am happier and healthier now than I have ever been in all of my life, and I think that has shown in my writing as of late. 

     I hope to continue this success in 2021, and I really hope to provide content for my Patrons that they will all enjoy. Again, the support is something I can never repay you for, so I will simply do my best at all times to ensure the content I am providing is of the highest quality I can possibly manage. My pledge to all of my Patrons and supporters in general for 2021 is that I will do my best to make your support worthwhile, and I will put everything into these projects and make good on the extra time that Patreon has afforded me.

     2020 was, as I said, a year of contradictions. It was a double-sided coin for me for sure, with one side being my writing journey, and the polar opposite being my personal life. Towards the end of the year, things began to level out and become better on both sides, and I only hope that continues into 2021!

     I wish you all the happiest of New Year’s, and I hope your upcoming year is fruitful and fulfilling.

Love and regards,

Ace

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