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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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! 🙂