Archive | Horror Writing Toolbox RSS for this section

The 4 Keys to Writing Success

I used to say there were 2 central keys to becoming a writer, with a lot of little caveats that add up to a big ball of wax. But without those 2 keys, you can’t unlock the door to publishing. In fact, I wrote a whole book about it and how to get published.

I was just sitting in my car waiting for traffic to unsnarl when it hit me that there are actually 4 keys to writing. The other keys were always there, just not in the forefront of my mind and advice.

“Dude, why do you keep prattling on about keys? Are you a valet or locksmith?”

Valid point.

I’ve been many things (and called many more), but those professions have so far eluded me.

What are these keys? Let’s dive right in. I’ll start with my first 2 tried and true.

READ – I’ll keep preaching this until I’m blue in the face and my tongue falls out of my mouth. You cannot expect to become a writer if you’re not a reader. It’s the equivalent of saying you want to be a baker but you have never tasted a baked good or know what goes into them. Every book you read, and you should read a wide and varied lot, is a vital part of your education and maturation as a writer. You’ll learn the art of writing and storytelling both consciously and subconsciously. I read over 100 books a year and still feel as if I’ve come up short. Read every chance you get. Read great writing. Read bad writing. Read shampoo bottles and fine print. Just read.

writing

WRITE – Pretty self-explanatory. You can talk the talk, but eventually, you need to walk the walk. Or, more accurately, sit the sit. If you’ve found a way to walk and write, call me so I can learn from a master. Writers have to write, either to satisfy their inner need to write or an impatient editor. You have to get the words all the way to THE END. Then you have to go back and edit and polish and submit.

Once you’re done with one project, start the next. Or do several at once. Remember, ABW – Always Be Writing. That’s not to say you can’t have days where you goof off or fall down the Netflix rabbit hole. That’s life. But you have to make writing a priority.

SUPPORT – Writing is a very solitary experience. It’s not natural. You can spend years toiling away, missing out on family events, trips, parties, never knowing if anyone will ever read, or better yet, buy your work. There are times you’ll feel like giving up. That’s where you need to have someone at your back. It can be a spouse, friend, fellow struggling writer, established writer who has become your mentor, even a stranger on a train who for some reason believes in you, writer dude.

Your support team needs to be there to run interference so you can concentrate on writing, pick you up when you’re down, and be honest with you when you need feedback. It’s a tough role for someone to fill, but absolutely necessary. I’ve been lucky. My wife has fully supported my dream from the start, even when it looked like I was spinning my wheels for nothing. She told me to never give up. I didn’t. I even tattooed it on my arm as a constant reminder. Find your rock, and avoid others who want to derail your efforts or mock you for even trying like the plague they are.

TALENT – I’ve read a lot of books on writing/publishing, and not many come right out and say you need talent to make a go of this. I don’t believe that if you lock a bunch of monkeys in a room with laptops that they will eventually write Shakespeare. I think you’ll get an eternity of monkey gibberish.

Talent is hard to define and impossible to create from thin air. You can fine tune and polish your talent (because it will be in very raw form at the start), but you can’t make it magically appear. You either got it or you don’t. That’s where your support system comes in. If they’re truly honest and good, they will tell you if your book is worth its weight in ink and paper.

Elicit the opinions of others that you trust and get their feedback. Hire a professional editor who will be blunt and impartial. Compare your writing to others in the genre. I know we writers can be poor judges of our own writing, but doing a little side by side can shed light on whether or not you’ve got the chops. So, feel free to tattoo Never Give Up if you have the talent. If you don’t, it’s perfectly fine to give up and find where your talents lie.

 

There you have it, my updated and revised 4 keys to writing. If you took the time to read this whole post, you can check off key #1 for the day. Now get back in your chair and start writing. I’ll be waiting for you at the finish line.

Loglines to the Rescue – Writing Aid

Elevator pitches are for more than just trying to sell a completed work. They’re also handier than a pocket on a shirt for boiling down the essence of your story, pointing you toward the heart of your tale.

Crafting the perfect elevator pitch isn’t easy. I mean, how can you boil a 100,000 word book into a single sentence (or at most, two sentences)? Better yet, you’re standing at the foot of your next big project with all these loose threads bandying about your brain. What magic incantation do you devise to make sense of it all?

calvin-writing

I have to give huge props to one of my editors who pointed me to an article by professional screenwriter Noam Kroll. He gives a step by step process for writing what is called a logline for your story. Now for him, he was talking about screenplays, but you can use it for anything. It’s given me laser focus for several projects I’ve been working on, and has also dramatically improved my ability to convey new ideas to my editors. Loglines eliminate all of the hemming and hawing and cut to the heart of your story.

They’re not simple to write, but with practice, you’ll soon be a master. And you’ll wonder how you wrote without them.

To read Noam’s article, click here.

Now nail that logline down and get to writing!

De-cluttering The Writer’s Life

I’ve been noticing a trend lately of people wanting to downsize (tiny houses) and get rid of all the clutter a lifetime accumulates. Even if your lifetime is only 20 years, it’s remarkable how much crap we surround ourselves with. Clutter equals mess. And when you’re wading through a mess every day, it’s very hard to get things done.

The same goes for writing. So, inspired by the bestselling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I’ve decided to delve a little deeper and address what anyone who wants to be a writer can do to pitch the useless crapola and make the writing/creative process flow like the mighty Mississippi.

tidy up 1

1. THE TBR PILE – I have two golden rules for writing – Read and Write. You can’t do one without the other. I know many of you have massive To Be Read piles. I looked at mine a month ago and saw that it had grown to over 4 feet! And that’s not counting the ebooks on my Kindle. Plus, I keep adding books to the pile. I realized I was never going to make my way through it and in fact, it was giving me stress. So, I sat down and went through every single book and weeded out the ones that had been there for over a year. Let’s face it, if you haven’t touched it in a year or more, you really don’t want to read it. That got me down to 2 feet of books. Then I asked myself, “If you can only bring 5 books away on a nice extended vacation, which would they be?” Believe it or not, it was very easy to just select the five. I then did the same with my Kindle, moving any unread books that I wasn’t really going to read to different folders so they weren’t staring me in the face every time I turned it on. My next step is to get a local store to let me put in a bookshelf where I can relocate my old TBR books with a sign – “Read a Book, Leave a Book”. I hate to throw books away, so this is a great way to spread my love of reading, and it gives other free access to new and used books.

2. WRITING SPACE – Now, I have a very cool corner carved out in my house for writing, but I tend to write all over the place. We’re talking the kitchen, living room, in bed, the yard, my car. I haven’t tried the bathrooom…yet. But, my special writing space is also where I keep my notes, printouts, receipts, supplies, you name it. And over the course of a year, it becomes a repository for anything without a proper home. When I look at it, I get queasy, wondering if there are any unpaid bills or parking tickets under that mess. There’s a simple solution for that. Get a 30 gallon lawn and leaf bag, set aside 2 hours one day and just dive in. Also, be ready to make folders so you can organize the things that are truly vital. And pay those tickets!

Messy Writing Area

This isn’t my desk, but you get the idea.

3. PODCASTS – I, like so many others, am a podcast junkie. Some I listen to for entertainment and others for inspiration or education. You’ll see me with my headphones on while I walk, clean the house, cook or do the yard work. I love them. Buuuut, I had subscribed to so many and felt obligated to listen to each new episode, they were eating into my time to write. I looked at my iPod. Holy moley, I was trying to keep up weekly with over two dozen podcasts! That’s just way too many. So like my TBR pile, I whittled it down to my 4 essentials, the ones I really look forward to each week. That would make it less than one podcast a day, which is perfect. Of course, I will allow for a 5th to be added from time to time, keeping that as a rotating slot, listening to an episode here and there if it interests me. What are my 4 essentials? It’s an interesting list – Gilbert Gotffried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast, Bloody Good Horror, Jim Harold’s Paranormal Podcast (and Plus Club) and Archaeological Fantasies. Right now, the 5th rotating slot flips between My Dad Wrote a Porno and Novel Marketing Podcast.

4. ORGANIZE YOUR WRITING PROJECTS! – Odds are, you have more than one iron in the fire when it comes to your writing. You may be working on a novel and some short stories, with plans for a  novella and a cookbook down the line. After a while, your wish list of what you want to write can get a little daunting. It sure did for me. I sat back one day and realized I had 16 writing projects lined up for the next year. How the hell could I manage that? And more importantly, why did I agree to so many? I needed some way to be able to not only see them all in one place, but track their progress. As long as I was able to visually see things getting done, I might be able to cut back on the Xanax. So I went to Staples, bought the biggest cork board I could find, a stack of different colored Post It notes and some push pins. I then created strings of Post Its for each project, listing the title at the top and a Post It for each stage in the writing process. For example, with my upcoming Loch Ness Monster book, the string of Post Its went like this – LOCH NESS REVENGE – 1ST DRAFT – REVISIONS – BETA READERS – FINAL REVISIONS – SUBMIT TO SEVERED PRESS. As I got each section done, I removed the Post It note. I can’t tell you how good it feels to pull a Post It away. Kind of like finally going to the bathroom after holding in your pee for an hour. Bliss.

5. MOVIES, MOVIES, MOVIES – Most writers I know love movies, and just like books, we tend to buy a ton and hoard them. Movies are a great way to settle back and relax, inspire and recharge our brains. I could happily spend every  minute of the day in my lounge chair watching movies. But damn, my shelves are now jam packed with DVDs, Blu Rays and even old VHS tapes. We’re talking hundreds and hundreds. No one needs that many movies. As a family, we’re going to go through them all and see what we can sell in a yard sale, donate or just toss (not sure why we have 3 copies of Fat Albert). And to stop ourselves from just buying more to replace them, we subscribed to Netflix and Amazon Prime. Odds are, 90% of the movies we watch we’ll only do so the one time. No sense owning a hard copy that will only collect dust.

6. CHORES – Now that you have all the things that help you write in order, you need to make sure you have the time to read, write, edit, market, etc. It’s easy to use chores as a way to avoid the business of writing. Look into hiring a maid service to clean the house. Hire the kid next door to mow the lawn. Hate food shopping? Farm it out to someone who loves wandering supermarkets, or use an online service to pick out your groceries and have them delivered. Outsource as many of the time sucking, irritating tasks as you can. Get rid of anything that aids in your procrastination!

Now go get organized and write!

Writing Full Time

Ever since I decided to become a writer, I’ve dreamed about what it would be like to pursue my passion full time. If I can write 2-3 books a year while juggling a day job, how much could I get done if I had all day to write?

Well, that day has come. After a divorce with the old day job a month ago, I became a full time writer, though without the full time pay. The adjustment of working for 30 years and suddenly not working took some time getting used to. So, what did I do to get through it?

I wrote. Writing has always been my private island, the perfect escape, the place where reality never gets past the bouncer. As the shock wore off, the time I devoted to writing increased. I actually looked at this as a needed break so I can devote proper attention to the slew of projects I had agreed to take on.

Now it’s time to reflect. After a month, what have I accomplished?  Well, I have 3 novellas that I was scheduled to write for an as yet unnamed publisher later this summer. Now that I had time, I set my ass down to start the first. Draft #1 was completed in two weeks. It’s now resting in my laptop. You need to give your story and yourself time to breathe before jumping in to the editing process. Or at least I do. Rewrites start in a few days.

Writing Room

At the same time, I started working on my next monster book for Severed Press. I have about 10,000 words to go before I can type THE END on draft #1 of that puppy. I figure that’ll be done around July 7th.

Then my family and I head to house-sit for a friend up in the country where I’ll finally finish the novel I started last fall, WE ARE ALWAYS WATCHING. There are literally just a couple of chapters to go, then I have to do a ton of rewrites because the story kept changing as it went along. This is a dark one. No monsters. Nothing paranormal. Just people at their strangest and worst on a Pennsylvania farm.

After that, I have a special project I’m going to write and self-publish, followed by the other two novellas I’m still contracted to write this year. And Lord only knows what else I’ll agree to along the way. Let’s just say this chapter in my life will be marked with a boom in my creative output.

I’m also catching up on my TBR pile and getting new books from the library every 3 days. I’ve decided to re-read everything Hemingway for the rest of the summer. Then there’s more time to spend with my family at independent league baseball games, movies and swimming at the pools and beaches nearby. My old day job actually gave me a gift – my first summer off since I graduated high school! I don’t plan to waste it.

 

 

My Editor, My Main Man, Don D’Auria

I’m a reformed editor stalker. At least that’s what the state shrink has declared in my case.

Actually, following the career of my dream editor, Don D’Auria, turned out to be a pretty smart career move. When I talk to people about writing and getting published, I encourage this kind of behavior. And if you want to be a horror writer, Don is the man you should make a point to follow.

When I was a wanna be writer and tried and true reader, I hoovered horror novels like they were dust bunnies. The 80’s was an absolute horror boom, with tons of great and oodles of bad books, all waiting for my little eyeballs. Things slowed down a bit in the early 90’s. Finding books by authors other than King, Koontz, Barker and Saul was like searching for the holy grail or my last shaker of salt.

And then came Don (you can sing that to the theme from Maude). The first time I spotted a Leisure paperback in the horror section of my local bookstore (yes, there were still shelves dedicated to horror in the mid-90’s), I fell in love. In the front, or back, of all these wonderful books, I saw a common denominator – they all thanked their editor, this mythical dude named Don D’Auria. I wondered, who is this guy who’s bringing me great works by writers like Richard Laymon, Jack Ketchum, Brian Keene, Tim Lebbon, Sephera Giron, Hugh B. Cave, Douglas Clegg, Graham Masterson, John Everson, Bryan Smith, Tim Waggoner and so many more? Talk about an eye for talent! As far as I was concerned, Don had an almost supernatural ability to find the brightest and the best, the old and the new.

Just look at that handsome devil!

Just look at that handsome devil!

When I set out to write my own horror novel, I did so with the express intention to write it for Don and Don only. I sent it to him at Leisure and waited…for years. Eventually, he offered me a contract with Leisure. Alas, the company imploded as I was signing, so I waited (while standing on the ledge of a tall building) until Don moved to Samhain, where he took me along for the ride. It’s been beyond my wildest expectations ever since.

I remember the first time I met Don face to face at a Horrorfind convention. The Samhain authors were making their con debut at a booth right where attendees checked in. Man, was I nervous. I was expecting this imposing Max Perkins character to come waltzing in. I did a lot of dry swallowing waiting for him to show. Turns out, he was one of the most down to earth, unassuming guys I’d ever met. I still couldn’t shake my fan boy apprehension during that con. He was the guy who rescued me from the slush pile. I owed him my entire budding career!

We discovered that we lived close to one another during that con, and made it a point to meet for drinks one night. That was many nights and martinis/beers ago. Don isn’t just my editor. He’s a true friend, a brother from another mother who grew up on Chiller Theatre and Famous Monsters Magazine. We’re two kids who get to play on the same field as the greats who shaped our passion. Sometimes, while we’re talking about Vincent Price movies or getting Barbara Crampton’s autograph, I feel like I have to pinch myself. How many people get to work with their dream editor? And of those, how many can call that person a true friend? I’m one lucky bastard.

As Samhain turns 10 this month, I want to thank Don for all he’s done for not just me, but all the lost boys and girls of the horror line. To show my undying thanks, I even tattooed their logo on my arm. Don’s portrait is next! 🙂

The Importance Of Taking A Writing Break

This blog post is the first thing I’ve actually written, aside from emails, in a week. I’m in the middle of a two week break. And despite having deadlines to meet this year, both hard and soft, I don’t feel an ounce of guilt. In fact, I’m sitting on the patio of my windy side yard on a sunny day, listening to three hawks terrorize every bird on the block. If it were just a tad warmer, I would probably be at the beach with my girls, getting sun, listening to the waves and reading a battered paperback. Oh, and waiting for the guy to come by selling coconut ice.

Lately, I’ve been listening to podcasts and reading posts by other writers who seem to never stop. Once they finish one manuscript, they set it aside and dive right into the next, maybe taking the time to drink a Coke before moving on.

Not me. I need time off. As much as writing has been both my life’s dream and a way to get away from my daily problems, I have to give my brain a rest every now and then. The break I’m on right now is already paying dividends. As I wait for my first readers to deliver their feedback on the book I gave them last week, I’ve done a lot of reading. (I’m going through some of Stephen King’s suggested reading list from his book, On Writing.  Just this morning I finished Anne Tyler’s A Patchwork Planet –  a book I would have never read if I hadn’t plucked it from his list. Thanks SK!). I’ve spent more time with my family – three of the four of us dealing with health issues. Netflix has gotten a workout. My wife and I anxiously awaited the latest B movie presented by Svengoolie on Saturday night and werent’ disappointed. I love creature features, even the awful ones. I’ve caught up on correspondence and even worked with my graphics main man to create some cool stuff like banners, bookmarks and my newsletter logo.

I decided two days ago to completely revamp a short story I wrote, expanding on it and publishing it on October 1st, just in time for Halloween. I’m also doing some research on the next book I start writing over the summer, as well as one I plan to write in the fall. While all this is going on, my subconscious is gearing up for the last round of edits on my next cryptid book. So even if it looks like I’m dozing in my chair, there’s actual work going on, I promise.

With time away from my laptop comes insights I would have missed if I hadn’t taken the time to just walk away for a spell. The last thing I want is for writing to feel like a job. I already have one of them. I don’t want two.

Learning meditation years ago has helped me immeasurably. When you calm your mind, the thoughts that have been bouncing around become much clearer. Even if I don’t meditate, I’ve learned the value of silence.

So if you’re feeling stuck or tired or in need of fresh ideas, just stop, kick back and relax. It’s not a bad thing. In fact, it can only make your writing stronger. Brains, like batteries, need recharging every now and then. And boy, mine was running awfully low.

Now, I’m off to take my daughters out driving, armed with their permits and my father’s spirit urging me to stay calm, just as he did when he taught me.

Lessons in advertising my eBook (what worked, what didn’t)

A huge thanks to author Matt Manochio who boldly explored the world of marketing and selling his book and lived to tell the tale…and provide invaluable information!

Scary Funny

How many books do I need to sell to make a bestsellers list?

Every author at some point has Googled a variation of that question. Because let’s face it: most of us want to see our name on The New York Times bestsellers list right above or below whichever 50 Shades book is befouling that list, and there’s no shame in admitting that. (Yes, technically it would be nice to be #1, but you’ve got to start somewhere.)

So how do I get on the bestsellers list without cashing out my 401k and buying 9,000 copies of my book? (I read somewhere that 9,000 is the number of books you’d need to sell in a week to get on the NYT list. Whether that’s true, I have no idea. God bless what you read on the Internet.)

My point is you need people to buy your book. And for a…

View original post 2,738 more words

%d bloggers like this: