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.
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.
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.
The new year, with all its resolutions, is just a few weeks away. I’m going to tick one of my resolutions off the list right now with this announcement that I’m starting an editing and writing coach business. If your goal is to have a completed manuscript or get published in 2018, we can kick some resolution butt together.
Writing is a lonely endeavor. Writers need support and encouragement (along with a stiff drink every now and then). Getting to THE END isn’t always easy. Neither is polishing that manuscript into a diamond. All successful writers have a stable of people with critical eyes dissecting their work well before you ever see it in print.
The big question is, why me? Well, aside from having written and traditionally published over 20 books in the past decade, I’ve also been senior editor for a trade magazine, have coached and edited several books for struggling authors and secured their first book deals.
I may have railed against the nuns in school who drilled grammar, spelling, reading, and writing into my thick head, but I thank them now. And so can you.
So, what kind of services am I offering?
- Setting goals and accountability to meet them
- Sounding board for ideas and turning them into action plans
- Feedback and editing
- Deciding whether to publish traditionally or self-publishing
- Agent and publisher searches
- Writing query letters
- Building author platforms across social media and blogs
- Creating fresh and consistent content
- Creating mail lists and vital newsletters
- Finding reviewers
- Curating sources of inspiration to keep you writing
If your goal is to become a working writer, you want help from someone who’s not only been there and done that, but is still doing it. My advice and expertise is current, which is vital in publishing since it has changed dramatically over the past five years alone!