Tag Archive | writing advice

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.

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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 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.

Writing Your Book – The Thousand Word March

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

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

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

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

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

Hunter writes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday – 1,100 words

Thursday – 1,000 words

Friday – 1,000 words

Saturday – 2,300 words

Sunday – 2,500 words

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

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

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

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


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Why You Shouldn’t Write Horror

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

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

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