Tag Archive | writing advice

The Hustle of Balancing Life, Work and Writing

It’s Sunday morning at 9:00 and I’m already tired. But no matter how tired I feel, this old man is not taking a nap. I’ll be going at it full force until my head hits the pillow. Why? Because I want to…and maybe a lot of ‘because I have to’.

I may have written and published over 25 books, but that doesn’t mean I get to coast. No way. Not until Stephen King and I can trade investment secrets. Writing, or better yet finding time to do it, hasn’t gotten any easier. Like most scribblers, I have a day job. At age 50, I embarked on a totally new career, shucking 20 years of experience and clout to do something I would enjoy. The day job takes up about 11-12 hours of my day, Tuesday through Saturday. It’s mentally and physically demanding. People half my age bail when the going gets rough here. Oh, and I get to work on Saturdays for the first time since I was a stock boy in Gristedes supermarket back in 1990. Yay me for missing out on a lot of fun.

Because I get home later than ever now, I had to adjust when I write. Fortunately for me, my ability to sleep in was broken long ago by my children (who are now adults). So instead of writing a night, which I did for almost two decades, I’ve had to retrain myself to become an early morning writer. It wasn’t easy, but I knew if I didn’t push myself, I would miss every deadline, both professional and personal. And I had to learn to write in bed so as not to clunk around the house and disturb everyone.

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On workdays, I wake up, write and answer emails and do a little marketing for two hours. Then it’s time to get ready for work and head off to my one hour commute.

What about weekends? Take today for an example. It’s a gray Sunday, my first day off. What do I do? Wake up at 5:30am. I watched an episode of Mars on National Geographic because I want to write about the series. I then read for thirty minutes, a little for pleasure and a little for work. The sink was full of dishes so I cleaned them and started a load of laundry. I cleaned the bathroom and saw the toaster oven was in need of some TLC, too. We’re (finally!) shooting new episodes of Monster Men today, so I put together a list of things to do for one of the episodes. Now it’s time to write on the old blog and chain, get in at least 1,000 words on my new book, SLASH, and prep the house, aka – the set – for Monster Men. We’ll record for several hours, watch a movie and then I’ll be hosting a live viewing party of THANKSKILLING with my special hellions on Patreon. By the time that’s over, I’ll be in bed, dead to the world until tomorrow before dawn.

Within all of this craziness, I’ll be with my family, the most important people in my life. Those of you who follow this blog know my wife is disabled. When I was writing CREATURE, she was sick with pneumonia. Cut to a year and three months later and she’s still not over it. In fact, we’re waiting for the CDC to deliver special medication formulated just for her, as her compromised immune system just can’t do the work it needs to do. Being with her and my girls is crucial, which is another reason why I write when they’re asleep. When I get home from work, it’s dark out and I’m tired as hell. Better to spend that time recharging the love battery by hanging out with them.

I can attest, spinning these plates does not get easier as you get older. Some days, it sucks. It sucks real hard. But I love my family and I love writing, and heck, I even like my job, so for me, there is no other choice. Whenever I’m about to bitch and whine about doing something I hate or dread doing, I think of this : If I was laid up in a hospital bed right now and unable to ever be healthy or get up again, I’d trade everything for a chance to do that thing I think I don’t want to do. Would I rather go food shopping in a packed supermarket than have terminal cancer? If the answer is shit yeah, it’s time to shut up and tarry on.

Despite all of this, don’t feel like you have to tackle the world each and every day. Carve out time, even if it’s only ten minutes, to recharge. Meditate, read, do air guitar in your car to Metallica, make a dump cake. Find your zen. Watching the laundry spin is a personal favorite. Kinda like watching the flames dance in a fire.

I have big ideas and projects for 2019, as I’m sure you do as well. Now’s the perfect time to plan and figure out how to make them happen, and the best time to do so. It ain’t easy. But neither is Sister Mary Margaret Bernadette. There is one vital thing that nun knows how to do – get into a habit.

What new habits or changes to existing ones do you need to hit your goals? What is the one thing you want to accomplish in the next year? What are you major stumbling blocks? We can kick some ass if we decide to kick it together. Spill the beans right here, tell the world and make yourself accountable. It does wonders.

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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!

Writing A Book From Start To End – Stand Over My Shoulder

I’ve decided to try something new…at least new for me. At the start of 2015, I set a goal to write 4 books before the end of the year. Well, it’s time to start book #4. But this time around, I don’t want to do it alone.

I get asked questions about the writing process all the time. I tell everyone it’s a marathon, with highs and lows, successes and failures. Some days, I can’t wait to get to my laptop. Others, I’d rather give Brazilian waxes to gorillas than sit down and write even one page.

The rest of this year is going to be tough. Aside from all the holidays, there’s a ton of personal stuff lying in wait for me and my family. We can see it all written down on our calendar for October and November. So, writing my new book for Samhain will be a challenge and a half.

This time around, I want you to follow me every step of the way. No, I don’t have room in my house for everyone. But thanks to Twitter, Facebook and this blog, I have plenty of ways to share the process. You’ll get to see the good, the bad and the ugly. Each day will be different. I’ll share pictures of where I wrote, word count for the day, how I felt, what stumped me, what worked – all the things that go into getting to The End.

Twitter will be my daily stop. You can check it out by following the hashtag #HunterWrites. I’ll stick larger posts on Facebook and this blog from time to time as well. Feel free to send me questions along the way, words of encouragement, your own tips, hell, whatever comes to mind. When it’s all said and done, you’ll know exactly how I managed to write my fourth book this year over the next few months.

The name of the book will be WE ARE ALWAYS WATCHING. Now, you’ll always be watching me. I started it off in my little writer’s lair, pictured below. Before it’s finished, I suspect I’ll have written parts all over the place.

Writing Room

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.

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