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Fu** Your MFA

This isn’t me crapping on MFA (a Master of Fine Arts) degrees or everyone who has worked hard to get one. I know quite a few damn good people who have one they can add to their resume. This is about elitism and misguided entitlement. You can expand this from the microcosm of writing to all things great and small in our society.

For years, I’ve heard select MFA holders put down writers who they believe don’t possess such a degree, referring to them as hacks or worse. To them, only he or she who wears the MFA crown has the necessary skills to put words to paper. The rest of us are here to be dazzled by their command of the English language and storytelling prowess. I came across such a troll recently who lambasted my writing on Goodreads, basically saying I didn’t have the skills to be a good writer because it was apparent I never received the proper education to do the very thing I’ve been working at for over a decade. I read it and laughed, then looked up their name to find their writing credits. I wasn’t surprised to find zippo. (By the way, I’m a college graduate who never scored less than a 90 in English my entire life.)

Truth be told, the review didn’t make me angry. My skin is thicker than an elephant’s hide. If you’re going to do this for a living, you can’t let the bad or even the good reviews get to your head. What does make my blood boil is when I see a trend that deeply hurts earnest, honest writers.

An MFA degree doesn’t make you a writer, just as going to astronaut camp doesn’t qualify you for a stint on the ISS. In many cases, an MFA degree does put you in some serious debt, hoping to strike it rich in an industry that is pretty darn parsimonious when it comes to paychecks. As an author friend once said, better to learn a trade and be a fucking plumber.

I learned all I needed to know about becoming a writer from a chance meeting with the great Elmore Leonard. It was the late 90s and I was at a two day writers conference in New York City. I’d spent money I didn’t have to be there, hoping to learn from those who had scaled the mountain. I was in a classroom, sitting in the back because I had a hard time finding it and was almost late. A famous thriller author was giving a talk about the publishing process, but it was really an examination of the neurosis of a writer who never felt as if his stuff was good enough.

A small, older man sat next to me during the class. At one point, he leaned over and asked if I’d spent a lot of money to be there. I gave a quick answer, wishing he’d leave me be. He then said, “You see all these people? None of them will ever be writers. Don’t waste your money. You really want to be a writer?” Slightly annoyed, I said, “Of course.”

He said, “Then go home. Read a ton. Then write a ton. That’s all there is to it.”

I thanked him for the advice and shifted my attention back to the real author in the front of the room. When the class ended, the old man shuffled out and I headed for the next session. When lunch came, I grabbed a table by the podium, chatting with a world famous bestseller. Imagine my surprise when they brought that older man up to be the key speaker. It was Elmore Leonard!

I realized in that moment that I’d just gotten invaluable wisdom from a man who’d published more books than every writer at the conference combined. Who the hell was I not to listen to him? I vowed that day to never attend a writing conference. I was already a voracious reader, but I stepped up my writing game. Read a ton. Write a ton. I could do this.

And I did. As have so many others, all without the benefit of an MFA. You don’t need any high falutin’ qualifications to be a writer, other than a command of your native language, imagination, and limitless passion. I don’t care what degrees you have and don’t have, and neither do editors. Tell a damn good story they think will sell.

If you think your MFA makes you a better writer than someone who gets paid to write and publishes book after book, it’s time to dispel yourself of that delusion. That degree, especially if you’re not writing and publishing, is worth as much as the paper it was printed on. You are not entitled to a damn thing. You need to earn it. That means get off your high horse and get down in the mud and muck and write. Then go bust your hump finding someone to publish your work. Stop criticizing those who have accomplished the very thing that inspired you to get that degree. You are not the elite. You’re just a regular person who spent more on school.

Over the years, I’ve found that writers rarely criticize other writers because we all share the same story, the same grind. We not only know how the sausage is made – our hands are in it day after day. So next time you want to use your MFA to tear down another person, take a good, hard look at yourself and like most opinions, keep it to yourself. Writing is a great equalizer. You’d know it if you did it.

How To Build A (Horror) Writer

Just as I discovered there was more than one way to put my infant daughter’s crib together (to hell with those decorations written in an alien language!), there is more than one way to build a writer. Assembly usually takes a mere two decades. Batteries are not included, nor are they necessary.

This particular horror writer was not pushed by a Great Santini to become a wordsmith. My parents were quite happy to let me find my own dreams and goals and ways to achieve them. Looking back, I’ve tried to put all the connected, some loosely,  pieces of the puzzle that eventually made me whole. So, here is how I was ‘built’. I’m interested to hear how others who do what I do came to be.

First, there were books everywhere in my house. I had a nice little library as a kid. My father would read anything he could get his hands on, so books were in just about every room. In school, my parents always let me buy books from the Scholastic catalogue. Nothing was better than the day the books came in and I waited feverishly for my name to be called so I could grab my booty for the semester. I was taught indirectly that books were to be treasured and sought after. Surrounded by all those books, reading became a vocation of sorts.

Issues of Time magazine were always in the bathroom. I would read them even when I was too young to understand what the articles were saying. It gave me an appreciation for a whole new structure of writing, and I learned a hell of a lot about politics. The first politician I wanted to be president was a guy named John Anderson who ran as an independent in the 1980 campaign. So sparked a lifetime of voting for underdogs. Ralph Nader anyone?

My father loved movies, therefore I loved movies. And the movies we loved the most were horror movies. We caught all of the Universal monsters on PBS when they aired. He took me to the drive in and the movie theater (with a balcony!) by our house all of the time. We watched Chiller Theatre together and Kolchak and The Twilight Zone. Half of my room was decorated with pages torn from Fangoria and Famous Monsters. Those movies didn’t just give me chills. They laid the foundation for my knowledge of the genre. I knew the tropes before I knew what the word trope even meant. I watched the progression of horror from the 1920s to the 1980s and I knew what worked and what didn’t. It came as no surprise to anyone that when I started writing, I pulled my car into the horror lane.

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Until I was about 15, I thought I was going to be a artist, not a writer. My great uncle was an artist, even doing a lot of commercial art. That red French’s mustard flag – that was him. When I visited my grandparents, grandma would roll out what looked like brown butcher paper and give me a box of well-worn crayons. I would lay on the floor drawing tremendous space battles with star ships from Star Wars going mano-y-mano with Vipers from Battlestar Galactica. These scenes would be two feet high by three or four feet long. I wanted to be a comic artist. At age 9, I even created a one panel comic called Socks and Locks. It was about two buddies, ala Abbot and Costello, though with one of them being a psychopath. I submitted it to the paper and they gave me encouragement to keep working. Nowadays, they might have sent me to a shrink. I drew every character in the funny pages and comics. In grammar school, a friend and I created Mini-Hulk comics, with a diminutive and angry Hulk battling pencils and fingers and the whims of the artist.

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My heart was set on going to the Rhode Island School of Design, but I plateaued before it came time to apply. I got so frustrated drawing hands! Oh, and girls came into the picture. But creativity was firmly implanted in my DNA.

Borrowing my grandmother’s typewriter, I started writing a series of short, post-apocalyptic stories on onion skin paper. They were all inspired by Escape from New York. If I couldn’t be Snake Pliskin in real life, I could make myself a close knockoff in stories. I then tried my hand at poetry, banging out four Zombie Moon poems. Again, I was a huge fan of Dawn of the Dead and if I was gonna sit down and write poetry, it better damn well have zombies. I wrote a lot my junior and senior years, even penning a story called Night Prayers that scared the wits out of my girlfriend, who later became my wife. I wonder if I still have a copy…

From the moment I got my first tape recorder for Christmas, I became an international radio star. Well, at least in my mind. I recorded hundreds of interview shows, radio serials and movie sendups, often playing multiple characters. I would rewrite entire films on the fly, acting out a bevy of male and female players. It taught me to be a great mimic, and whether I knew it or not, I was writing stories, just on tape instead of paper. And as far as I know, all of those tapes are gone.

By the time college came around, I was only writing papers to be graded. But being on the college radio station gave me a great creative outlet. I studied to be in radio, but just a few years after I graduated, the world went digital and everything I learned was obsolete overnight. So, I went to work for the phone company as a customer service representative. That should have been the death of my creative life.

But it wasn’t. I was hired along with a dude named Norm (whose Severed Press book, HUNGRY THINGS, is a hoot) who would reignite my creative spirit. Watching and listening to him talk about writing got me off my sorry ass to give it a try.

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Little did I know, it would become a lifelong addiction. Luckily, I had done a lot of the heavy lifting all my life – by READING! Reading anywhere from 50 – 100 books a year gave me a subliminal master class on structure, plot, dialogue and all of the little things that go into writing a book.

I may not have been puffing away at a bubble pipe at five and struggling to pen the great American novel all of my life, but there was always creativity and a love of books. Whether it was drawing, watching movie, enacting radio dramas on a tape recorder in my room or writing bad poetry on paper so thin, it disintegrated a couple of years later, they were all outlets for an overactive imagination. Writers are dreamers. There are many ways to make those dreams come to life. When you marry the dream with a passion for the written word, well, no matter how many detours you take, you just might find yourself banging away at a laptop or going through legal pads like bath tissue. In my opinion, trying your hand at a myriad of different things will ultimately make you a better writer.

So, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

10 Christmas Present Ideas For The Writer In Your Life

Ho ho ho, Hellions! Have you finished your Christmas shopping yet? Yeah, me neither. Gotta visit Amazon later today. I already hit up Fright Rags for a ton of gifts for the family. Love their shirts and socks.

One thing I’ve noticed is that most readers know writers, whether they be aspiring scribblers or established hunt and peckers (insert snickers). If you’re wondering what to get them for Christmas, let old Hunter make some suggestions. I guarantee you’ll be their favorite person to have under the mistletoe if you pick something from the list below.

OFFICE SUPPLIES GIFT CARD – Office supplies are like porn to writers. We love pens and printing paper, index cards and storage bins. When I have time to kill, I often find myself walking the aisles of Staples, glassy-eyed and wobbly, overwhelmed by all the stuff I want to revamp my office for the hundredth time.

A COMFY CHAIR – It can be an office chair on casters so they can roll around the room, a rocker from Cracker Barrel or an overstuffed armchair you found at a tag sale. Find out where they like to write (at a desk, in a corner of the room, the yard) and find something comfortable for them to park their ass. Writers spend a lot of time on their keisters and it needs to cozy.

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BOOKS – What have I said a thousand times? You can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader. If your writer pal loves mysteries, buy him or her the latest C.J. Box or Lee Child. Do they write cookbooks? Go old school and buy them a cookbook written by Julia Child or James Beard  (or, for a horror foodie, Vincent Price’s wonderful collection of culinary delights). For writing inspiration, I always suggest A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway and On Writing by Stephen King.

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BOOZE – It’s no secret that we authorly types like to tip back a few. We’re more than happy with a cold six pack or a flask of liquid fire. A great recommendation is Writers Tears Irish Whiskey. It won’t break the bank at a little over forty bucks a bottle and even if they don’t drink it, the bottle will look great on the shelf.

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A NEW LAPTOP – Technology has made writing so much easier, and there’s no better invention than the laptop. It gives writers total freedom to write anywhere at any time. This is no casual gift. You better love the hell out of the person you give this to and believe me, they will thank you profusely. My mother-in-law bought me my first ‘computer’, a nifty Brother word processor. When that died, my wife got me a Gateway desktop computer that weighed more than my car. Still two of my favorite gifts ever.

A HOTEL STAY – Does your friend or loved one need some alone time with their manuscript? Maybe they need to sprint to the end of a book or buckle down and do revisions. A day or two at a hotel does wonders. Almost every writer I know has holed up in a Marriott or Days Inn to focus on their work. Go to one of those hotel dealie websites and book a room at a discount, but understand you can’t go with them. They need total alone time.

A FANCY SHMANCY PEN – A nice pen is a great gift for a writer, but only if they write in longhand often. If they spend the vast majority of their time on a computer, a fancy pen will only stay in the box and collect dust. We want to get some practical gifts this Christmas. You don’t have to go all Montblanc, but you can get some pretty amazing writing utensils for around a hundy.

A LAPTOP TRAY OR DESK – I’m writing this on a laptop tray that’s resting on my knees. This is especially awesome for writers who prefer to create in bed. Since becoming an early morning writer, my laptop tray has proved itself to be invaluable. I literally wake up, pluck the tray from the side of my bed, plop my laptop upon it and get to work, all while still under the sheets.

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TIME AND UNDERSTANDING – Writing, especially in the early years, is exceedingly difficult. Friends and family wonder what the hell you’re doing in that room or repeatedly ask why you’re wasting your time since you didn’t land a JK Rowlings-type deal yet. It’s soooo damn easy to get distracted, and usually the ones doing the distracting are the ones closest to you. Give the writer in your life a daily coupon book, good for X amount of time of uninterrupted writing. When the door is closed, don’t go in. Respect their time and passion. This might be the best gift you can give.

MOVIE PASS – Nothing sparks creativity like a day at the movies. Or it can be used as a time to unplug your brain and just enjoy the show. Best part is, this is one thing you can do together! Then, after the movie, let them redeem a coupon for writing time so they can whip out their laptop desk, knock back a shot of whiskey and get to writing.


What are some of the gifts you’ve gotten for writers in the past? You might come up with something I’ll want to put on my own list!

Top 10 Ways To Increase Your Writing Productivity

As I struggle today with getting my butt in gear to hit my own writing goal, I thought, why not share some of the things that have helped me write 24 books over the past 7 years? No one ever said writing is easy. Okay, this guy I call Three Chins said it once, but he’s full of beans. So, Three Chins, this one is not for you.

10. READ – Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know reading isn’t writing, but it is essential. I’ve said it time and time again. You cannot be a writer if you’re not an avid reader. The act of reading both educates and inspires. You might come across a book and declare with your fist raised above your head, “I can write better than that!” Renew your love of the written word every day and your need to create will follow.

9. TURN OFF YOUR WIFI – If you write on a laptop or computer, disable your wifi the moment you sit down to write. Doing that will prevent you from falling down time suck rabbit holes like checking Facebook or reading the latest rant against Trump. All of that mindless chatter is a distraction, and you need to avoid distractions. I do recommend that you go old school and have print copies of a dictionary and thesaurus on hand. The online versions are great, but then again, you need wifi to access them.

8. LOOK AWAY FROM THE TV! – There is no bigger time suck than television. Whether it’s network programming, Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime, you need to limit the hours spent melting your brain. This is a tough one, especially now with so many quality shows turning up almost daily. Sorry, you’re not going to be able to watch all of them. Pick and choose, and make sure your TV time doesn’t gobble up your writing time. Baseball season is especially hard for me. If I had my way, I’d watch every Mets game. But my desire to be a writer far outweighs my need to let the Mets both elevate and crush my dreams.

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7. MAKE  YOURSELF ACCOUNTABLE – How do you do this? Tell everyone that you’re going to be a writer come hell or high water. Have a good friend who will put the screws to you if they see you veering away from your declared ambition. Now that you’ve declared your goal to everyone around you, the pressure is on. As Woody Harrelson says in Zombieland, “It’s time to nut up or shut up.”

6. SET WORD COUNT GOALS – Writers judge their progress by word count, not number of pages. So why not set a daily word count in your mind? A typical novel is 90,000 words. If you made it a point to write 1,000 words a day, your first draft will be done in three months.If 1,000 words seems too lofty, cut it in half. The key is to have a fixed word target. I know that life sometimes gets in the way and most people can’t write every day. So take your daily number and multiply it by seven for your weekly number. That way, if you miss a day or two, you know exactly how many extra words you need to pump out on the days you do write to hit your weekly quota.

5. LEAVE YOUR PHONE IN ANOTHER ROOM – I never, ever have my phone nearby when I sit down to write. It’s too easy to pick it up and get lost in messages and calls and apps. We’ve become little Pavlov’s dogs, instantly responding to every ding and chime our phones produce to let us know there’s something waiting to tear our attention away from our writing. Put that sucker in silent mode and leave it in a closet in the room down the hall. It’ll be there when you’re done. Plus, it’s good for the body, mind and soul to unplug for a while each day.

4. FIND YOUR BEST TIME TO WRITE – No two biorhythms are the same. My creative peak most likely won’t be close to yours. Experiment by writing at different times in the day to find your sweet spot. I remember hearing John Grisham talk about how he wrote at five in the morning before he had to go to court. I used to think I could never function that early. At the time, I was a seven PM writer. Well, cut to a decade later, and I’m now a six am writer. Your creative peaks change as you age, so if suddenly your noon schedule isn’t working, switch it up.

3. SET A DEADLINE – This ties in nicely with point 6 and 7. If you’re a first time writer, you’re not going to have an editor’s deadline hanging over your head. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have one. Set a deadline in stone. Write the date on a sticky note and paste it where you write. Tell everyone the date. Fixate on that date. If it gives you night sweats, good. Nothing inspires a writer more than a deadline. Tailor your word count goals so you can meet your deadline head-on.

2. HAVE MORE THAN ONE PROJECT TO WORK ON – Tackling a spy novel set in Bulgaria? Try your hand at romance novella or a series of articles on bee keeping. Create projects that match your experience or interests, or take on something new and challenging. You should always work on multiple projects. Why? Some days, that spy novel is going to hit a wall. You need your subconscious to work things out so you can go through or around that wall. To do that, you need to focus on something else, something completely different. That’s when you set to working on your side project. I guarantee, when you sit down the next day, you’ll be ready to jump back into your spy novel. Heck, that’s why I wrote this blog post! **Here’s a pro tip – If your first book lands a publishing deal, the next thing an editor will ask is, “So, what else do you have?” Don’t stand there with your mouth open. Tell your editor all about the other novel you’ve been working on (or if you’ve been really productive, send them the finished manuscript). Having more than one book in hand puts you head and shoulders above the competition.

1. DRIVE – Ernest Hemingway famously advised would be writers to Never think about the story when you’re not working. Remember what I said about your subconscious working things out for you? That soft and silent part of your brain is where everything comes from. You need to let it do its thing. The best way to do that is to drive. Get behind the wheel and let your conscious mind worry about getting from here to there. Most of my big aha moments have hit me in the car. I used to keep a voice recorder in the car so I could dictate the gold nuggets my subconscious allowed to float to the top. Now I use the app in my phone. If you don’t drive, walk. There’s something about being in motion that encourages ideas to generate. Just remember, while driving or walking, don’t think about your work in progress. Concentrate on not hitting that hybrid car in front of you or the scenery in the park you’re ambling about. Believe me, the rest will come to you.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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!

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