Tag Archive | writing advice

Writing Your Book – The Thousand Word March

I’m about to let you in on a secret that will help you write that book that’s been dying to get out. The best part is, you can do it without having an existential crisis.

It’s been too long since I’ve posted anything about writing in the trenches in this genre I love so much. Back when I was locking myself away in my room, tapping out words and getting nothing but rejection or worse, silence, I never dreamed I’d be in the position I’m in today. Sure, I did it with the goal of legitimate publication (whatever your own definition of that may be), but I just never thought I’d have a year like this one with three books coming out and writing four more for three different publishers for next year.

I’m not a full time writer. Writing doesn’t have health benefits, and if you’ve stopped by the blog and chain, you know I need them for my wife, who is the queen of auto-immune diseases. So I have a full time job that is more than that – it’s a solid career that can’t be ignored or pushed to the side. I have two amazing kids – teens now –the same number of cats, old friends, new friends, things to do and places to see every day.

The question everyone asks me is, ‘How in the world can you manage to write several books a year? Do you sleep? When’s the last time your family saw you? Or you saw the sun?’

My answer is usually that I just sit down and write because I truly enjoy the process. And yes, that is part of it. But what is the process?

Hunter writes

Basically, what works for me is something I’ve called The Thousand Word March – or TTWM if I’m too lazy to say or spell it out. When I started working with editors, I quickly found out that they think and talk in terms of thousands. Discussing the length of your work in progress, whether it’s a story, novella or novel, it’s all about word count, not the number of pages or file size of your Word document.

They’ll say, “I’d love it if you could get me that novel under 95,000 words, but no less than 90,000.” Or if you’re pitching a novella, they might say, “Anything between 28,000 and 50,000 words will do it.”

So, if they’re thinking in thousands, I had to rethink the way I worked and made my own projections. My first horror novel, Forest of Shadows, was a true labor of love. I worked on it for almost five years. When people asked about my progress, I’d tell them I was 185 pages in and so on. Come time to pitch it to the sole publisher I sent it to (fodder for a later post), I proudly stated it was 550 pages.

But to an editor, 550 pages does not translate. The number of pages I write will never equal the print pages in a book because of font and paper size, spacing, etc. It turned out my 550 pages equaled over 100,000 words, which was a little more than Samhain wanted at the time. So, I had to do some editing to get it under 95,000.

When it came time to write my next book, I came up with The Thousand Word March to wrap my head around the best way to proceed. Knowing that my editor would like something between 85,000 and 90,000, I looked at the calendar to see how long it would take me to get the first draft done. Since my editor also hinted that he’d like me to write two books a year for him, I knew I couldn’t just cruise along at my own speed. That’s a good thing. It prevents procrastination from rearing its ugly head. Nothing works better than a fire under one’s posterior.

Staring at the calendar, I thought, if I just did 1,000 words a day, I’d have a 90,000 word book completed in three months. Hmmm. A thousand words a day. I could do that. I don’t have tons of free time, but I almost always have time to write 1,000 words. In fact, as I started working on that book, I realized that even on a day when the words were hard to find, I could accomplish my mission within an hour. So, if I set aside an hour and a half each weeknight, I could hit my writing goal, that extra half hour spent doing all the other things a working writer has to do, like marketing, responding to emails and maybe tooling around with a short story.

On weekends, I shoot for 2,000 – 3,000 words a day. This way, I can finish ahead of schedule, giving me more time for editing later on. I know it sounds like a lot, but when you work at it all the time and get into a rhythm, it’s really not so bad. In fact, I’ve found that by writing on Saturday and Sunday mornings, before the day drains my brain, I can write far more in less time. The key is to get at least 7,000 words in a week so I can meet my goal of a full novel in three months.

Weekends are also a good time to catch up on days you might have missed during the week. Look, we all have lives to live and you can’t always find the time to write. Here’s what my past week looked like :

Monday – 1,900 words (I doubled up knowing that Tuesday was my day off, so to speak.)

Tuesday – nothing (It was St. Patrick’s Day and I’m Irish. ‘Nuff said.)

Wednesday – 1,100 words

Thursday – 1,000 words

Friday – 1,000 words

Saturday – 2,300 words

Sunday – 2,500 words

So, if my goal is 7,000 words a week, even taking a day off, I was able to write 9,800 words, putting me ahead of the game. Total time spent writing, marketing and other stuff – 10 hours. When you think of it, that’s not bad at all. I still had time to work, cook meals, watch movies, spend time with my family and friends and read. I read at least two books a week. I can’t function without my books.

Where do you find 10 hours? Look no further than your TV or YouTube or any other time suck. Turn ‘em off for a while. I promise, they’ll be there when you’re finished. Think of it as a reward for a job well done. What’s more important, watching housewife cat fights or creating your own work of art?

Some weeks are going to be far more productive than others. If you lock your mind on The Thousand Word March, you’ll always know exactly where you stand and what you need to do to accomplish your goals – all without having to become a crazed recluse.

Look, I know there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to writing. Everyone has to find their own way, just as they find their own voice. This is what works for me. If you’re struggling or feel intimidated by the blank page, give it a shot. The Thousand Word March can take you to some pretty amazing places.


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Why You Shouldn’t Write Horror

Yes, that little piece of advice did come out of my mouth when I was on Jason Brant’s DRINKING WITH JASON. Jason’s a kick ass author as well who drives in the horror lane. He has a great concept for his show. He asked me what my favorite drink is at the moment, which for some reason has been Rolling Rock beer. We then sat down with a sixer and shot the shit for over an hour. During the show, we talk about our writing, movies, why The Shining is great as a book and a movie, true ghost stories and why Mama’s, don’t let your babies grow up to be horror writers. You don’t need Rolling Rock to enjoy the episode, but it can never hurt!

Jason also interviewed my Monster Men co-host, Jack Campisi. Check this out for sheer hilarity.

Travelogue of a Novel

So often, writers give advice on how to write (or not write) a book. It’s high-time someone gave a glimpse into where to bang those keys for your next novel.

The answer is simple – you can write anywhere! There’s no need to wait until you have that perfect ‘study’ with the mahogany desk, shelves lined with important books, bay window overlooking Mother Nature in all her glory. If you want to write, if the words just have to come out of you like that little guy from Alien, you’ll write anywhere you can. SinisterEntity_v3

My latest novel, Sinister Entity, was written all over the place. In a year’s time, I worked on it everywhere from New York, to Pennsylvania and Maine. I worked mornings, afternoons, nights, basically any time I could steal away to purge the story from my mind.

I started in the corner of my bedroom I call my office. Here is where I’m surrounded by all my stuff, the things that make me comfortable, my reference materials, signed pics of Elvira, yadda yadda yadda.

Home office

About a dozen chapters in, we went with my family to our annual trip to the Poconos. I woke up early every day to write downstairs in the living room and kitchen (which had a great view of the sunrise, by the way).

shawnee

Then it was back to the home office. Before we knew it, summer hit and it was time to go camping, our my family’s version of camping that involves a cabin with cable TV, a full kitchen and shower. Again, I mostly worked mornings on the porch, smelling the surrounding forest and flicking dew drops and strange bugs from the screen.

Jellystone 2

That was a special year because we took 2 vacations. The second was to my home away from home and favorite place in the world, Maine. I wrote all times of the day, either on the back porch or by the lake. It’s especially cool and inspiring to write a horror novel in the very same town where Stephen King penned a few of his own.

Maine porch

Now all I had was the last fourth of the book to go. And after so many tranquil locations, where did I end up? My cramped kitchen, of course. Not sure why it is, but I seem to write best there. Go figure.

Kitchen

I also did some writing in an airport during a four hour flight delay and made quite a few trips to the library to tap out a few hundred words here and there. The thing is, I wrote wherever I was at the time. I didn’t have time to wait for the perfect moment or place. I simply wrote.

Now go out there and create!

The Joy of Deadlines

Whether you hate them or not, if you’re crazy enough to make it a go of this whole writer thing, deadlines are going to be a part of your life. I’ve heard people say they work better with a deadline – the sound of that little clock ticking lights their creative fire. Others lament that the pressure of a deadline drives them down Writer’s Block Lane, sometimes with a short stop at Xanax Drive.

In my experience, every writer vacillates between embracing and running from deadlines. It depends on your mood, the project (horror writer takes on romance novel for single grannies – wtf???), what’s happening in your life at the moment and – here’s an important one – the money. I’m not saying that money makes it easier. Heck no. Sometimes, the carrot of a big advance can cause temporary paralysis. Other times, you want to put that pool in and that advance will pay for it and the party to christen it, so watch those fingers fly!

deadline2So, what do you do when a deadline looms and you can’t get the words from your brainpan to the keyboard? Unfortunately, there’s no magic pill. I’m sure Pfizer is working on one, but we’re years from it hitting the market place.

All I can offer is my own experience. One thing I’ve done over the past few years is to set a personal deadline for everything I write, whether an editor has a set expectation or not. This way, I’m training myself to write both with a purpose and a plan.

Here’s an example. It’s May 1st and I’m about to start my new novel. Now, my editor has only asked that I send something to him any time in the next year. Well, if I want to build my brand, I can’t rest on my laurels. I have to write a couple of novels and some short stories and maybe even a novella for good measure within that year. Oh, and I have my day job that requires most of my time and my family.

If I didn’t set deadlines for myself, I’d be sunk. So, on May 1st, I estimate that my book will be about 90,000 words. I figure 4 months is a good amount of time to get ‘er done. In my mind, the book has to be complete on September 1st. I want to get that first draft finished by mid July so I have time to show it to my first readers and do several rounds of edits. That means I have about 75 days to write my first draft.

Editor deadline

If I do 1,000 words a day on weekdays, and 2,000 on weekends, I’ll cruise on in to my deadline. Then I have to take into account days when life just prevents my ass from sitting down and writing. Well, I’ll make up those words with a week of 1,500 words or maybe cram 5,000 on a Saturday.

The key is that through the entire process, I know exactly where I am, where I need to be, and what needs to be done each day to make it. You have to factor in situations that will throw a monkey wrench in the works. Shit happens. You’ll be fine as long as you’re planning ahead how to get back on track without adding more gray to your scalp.

It’s vital to remember that you’re in control. Writing is more than just something you’ve chosen to do – it’s something you love to do. Always, and I mean always, strive to have fun.

And repeat after me. Deadlines shmeadlines.

What’s been your experience with deadlines? What are some of the tricks you use to get over the hump? Inquiring writers want to know! I’ll give a free e-copy of my book, Sinister Entity, to a random person who comments about their deadline joy.

Staring Down The End

Before I talk about the topic du jour, I wanted to let you all know that there’s some exciting news on the near horizon that I hope to share in the coming weeks. I’ll give you a hint. I’ve been writing quite a few stories for various anthologies and things are lining up quite nicely. Over the holidays, I also finished the first draft of a follow up to Forest of Shadows and I’m putting the finishing touches on an adventure series for kids. Yet, I still found time to watch the entire first 2 seasons of Justified, which I now declare the best show on TV. (American Horror Story and The Walking Dead come in a close second) Raylen Givens is a complete, all American badass.

As I look up at my Vampirella calendar, I can’t believe the Super Bowl is already here. I was out and about today picking up food, beer and selecting some damn good cigars for the big day’s festivities. As a Seahawks fan, I have no skin in the game, but you can’t beat a day of drinking and eating with family and friends. And no, I don’t live in Seattle or the west coast, for that matter. I grew up a Steve Largent fan, plus the helmets were bitchin’.

Last but far from least, the Monster Men tackle the devil, possession, exorcism and a review of The Devil Inside in our 13th episode. Check it out, but make sure you hold onto your rosary beads.

OK, on with the show….

I’m going to attack this particular subject from the angle of a horror writer, but this applies to anyone who creates something, whether it be a  book, painting, video game, whatever, and gives it up to the world to see and, inevitably, critique. As human beings, we all just want to be loved. That’s why the Beatles are the greatest group of all time. They understood. When we create something from our soul or gray matter if you want to be pragmatic, putting it out for general consumption is a lot like streaking through the quad at lunch time. (Feel free to chant Frank the Tank at this point.) You’re utterly exposed, your stomach cramping, waiting for the worst, and odds are, there’s some shrinkage.

Every writer needs a very thick skin. (Gift idea for those of you looking to get the person who has everything!)You have to absorb rejection like a Shamwow. You have to work with agents and editors as they pick apart your words, fine tuning it until it’s something not only readable, but saleable. And when you’re done putting a spit shine to your book or story or poem, presto!, it goes out into the great beyond, available for all to read.

From that point on, all that’s left is the feedback, reviews, tweets, posts, and on and on. You pray that it will all be good, but you know deep down you can’t please everyone. There will always be people who don’t like your book. Hell, some will even hate it and ask Jesus in their prayers why He ever let you think you could become a writer in the first place.

And this is exactly what stops a lot of aspiring writers dead in their tracks. Sure, some of them will say they just need to give their manuscript a little tweak (possibly the 132nd revision in what seems as many years), but deep down, they’re terrified of what people will say. So they never get to THE END, constantly worrying that it’s just not good enough for everyone. Some folks will even change their theme or message, worried that it may offend some or cause even the slightest controversy. Any writer will tell you, you can literally tweak a work for the rest of your life. It’s up to you to end it.

For those of you who are struggling to face this fear, the only thing I can advise is to just stare it down with your best Raylen Givens squinty eyes and tell it to get lost. Even the very best writers have their critics. I think we can all agree that Stephen King is at the top of the horror game, and he gets a healthy dose of crappy, some downright nasty, reviews. Whether it’s love or hate, it’s an emotion, and isn’t that really what art is about; evoking an emotional response? So let it rip, scatter it to the winds of public opinion, and get to work on your next book. The End is just six key strokes away.

Radio Interview With Samhain Horror Authors

A few days ago, I took part in a radio interview for Diabolical Radio with several other Samhain Horror authors. We talked about our roads to getting published, why we love and write horror and of course, our current releases and upcoming books. I believe we were all sober and no one can be heard cheering or cursing in the background, since Game 1 of the World Series was on at the time. If you’ve ever wondered what makes a horror writer tick, you definitely want to check this out. Click here to listen to the interview.

Roll call of those who were part of the interview:

Kristopher Rufty, author of Angel Board.

Ronald Malfi, author of Borealis.

Brian Moreland, author of Dead of Winter.

Jonathan Janz, author of The Sorrows.

And of course, me, The Forest of Shadows guy.

Don’t forget to check out my fan page on FB where I run a new contest every Saturday with lots of cool giveaways. OK, have to get ready to go see Paranormal Activity 3 so us Monster Men can post a new review. Remember, if a vampire knocks on your door, DO NOT let him in. The bastard will think he owns the place.

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