Author: admin

This is It. This is All You Get.

This is It. This is All You Get.

Two weeks ago, I decided to try a writing experiment. If you ever think, “Man, I never have time to write,” this is probably something worth trying.

For the past several years, I’d been working on my novel only on the weekends rather than throughout the week. I consciously decided this because when you’re a freelance writer and editor, it’s hard to put appropriate mental distance between the writing you do for clients and the writing you do for yourself, hence the weekend-only idea made logical sense. Of course, quite often my writing time on the weekends wouldn’t pan out due to us all having plans throughout the day, and by the end of the day, writing motivation is already gone.

After talking with one of my author clients, Kira A. McFadden, a few weeks ago, she mentioned something about trying to take an hour each day to work on personal stuff. Now, this was sound advice, of course. However, I’d tried that before, but it never worked out because “other people’s work” always ended up sliding into the hour I had set aside for personal stuff, and I’m a writer, so procrastination and bad time management are things I excel in. And to compound things, even on the weekends, I’d noticed that I’d been struggling to manage even 1,000 words (my self-imposed single-writing-session quota) in an afternoon. Now, I’m not a lightning-fast writer by any stretch of the imagination—I used to average 500 words of prose in an hour—but somehow it was getting to where I was taking three or four hours just to bang out 1,000 words. And this was not from lack of interest in the story. Far from it.

Back in the old days, I used to preach constantly about Chuck Palahniuk’s writing motivation method—I still do, in fact—which is especially useful when you’re just not feeling it on any given day. With Chuck’s method, you sit in a chair and set yourself a kitchen timer for one hour. You can do whatever you want in that hour, but you have to sit in the chair and at least TRY to write during that hour—no Facebook, no solitaire or whatever, just your word processor. Once the timer dings, you’re free to blow the writing off for the day and go do whatever, regardless of how much you got done. But during that hour, you’re at the desk in front of the word processor, and the sneaky trick is that usually when the timer dings, you’re so into what you’re working on that you keep right on going. I used to use this approach long ago, but in past years, motivation to write was never the problem (unless it was super late at night, and then motivation just goes out the window). I could easily sit at my desk for a few hours and not feel like I was really getting anywhere, so Chuck’s method wasn’t what I needed. And when I had time on the weekends to write, I made little progress; and when I wanted to write during the week, I didn’t really have the time to commit to writing. Or at least I thought I didn’t.

So I came up with the idea for an experiment that was sort of the reverse of Chuck’s motivation trick: two weeks ago, after dinner I set a timer for one hour and told myself, “This hour is all the time you’re going to get to write today, so you darn well better make it count. When it goes off, you’re done. Hands in the air, step away from the computer. Finito.”

That timer, that “this is it, this is all you get” mentality—that’s what I needed to put me back into high gear. After two solid weeks of this experiment, I’m back to 500 words an hour, and sometimes over. And I don’t find myself sitting at my desk and think, “Man, I wish I could be doing X instead.” I sit there and think, “Once that timer goes off, THAT’S IT. That’s all the writing I can get done for today.” And it’s worked out wonderfully so far. A few times I’ve cheated and spent a few extra minutes after the timer to finish up the sentence/paragraph/though that I was working on, but that’s about it.

So in short, if you want to write but don’t think you have the time, just do the following:

  1. Give yourself about 5 minutes to review what you wrote yesterday and/or think about what today’s writing hour needs to entail.
  2. Set a timer for an hour.
  3. Sit at your word processor.
  4. Tell yourself, “This is all the writing time I’m going to get today, so I better make it count.”
  5. Write until the timer goes off (or until you reach a logical stopping point).
  6. Do the same thing the next day.
Madness Unleashed

Madness Unleashed

Some of you longtime readers might remember I wrote an entry awhile back about writing horror stories and what I think is the most effective kind of “horror” as far as I am concerned (check out the entry here, if you missed it before). Well, as it turns out, I sent all of those stories to an editor friend of mine, and after several long months of polishing (and no small amount of blood sweat and tears), those stories emerged as my first collection of short stories, Madness & Monsters.

Since writing that entry last year, I’ve come across quite a few people who share my feelings towards horror being more personal rather than just plain startling for the sake of shock. In fact, quite a number of people I’ve talked to say that they find most horror movies, especially those made during the ’80s, to be funny, which, barring some notable exceptions, was never the intent of the filmmakers. For these kinds of movie watchers to see a horror movie or read a story that doesn’t strike them as unintentionally humorous, a film or story needs to touch certain very personal nerves. Since everyone has different emotional triggers or believes in different things, for something to be truly horrific across the board, one needs to find deep and primal triggers that apply to people everywhere, regardless of who they are. That’s a hard thing to do, which is why so many films stoop to making things jump out of shadowy corners rather than having them slink out … slowly … scratching the cement floor as they come for you.

I touch on this idea in my introduction to Madness & Monsters, as the notion provided the genesis for the anthology.

Those who are interested in checking out the anthology can find more information on my news page and in my store.

A big shout-out goes to Bill Bicknell, who edited the collection for me, and to Michael Martin and layout guru Matt Heerdt (of BattleTech, Shadowrun, and Cosmic Patrol fame) for putting together a fantastic cover for me:

A Novel’s Soundtrack

A Novel’s Soundtrack

Every writer is different and has their own way of doing things that works for them. Some people might benefit from the tip, while others wouldn’t, but I’ve always found other writers’ quirky methods fascinating, even if they don’t work for me.

One of my quirky methods is I need to write with music. “That’s not very quirky,” you might say. “Lots of writers write to music.” True, but with me, not just any music will do. It needs to be instrumental, preferably a movie or even video game score. It absolutely cannot have words in it, because the words in a song lodge themselves into my brain and keep the words from making it to my keyboard. (A strange aside: I can edit to music with words in it just fine.) “Okay,” you’re probably saying to yourself, “that’s less normal, but I can still understand that.”

Well, here’s the clincher. With a few exceptions, nearly every novel and short story I’ve ever written features multiple viewpoint characters (that’s not the weird part, of course). What’s weird is that I inevitably end up embracing some kind of theme music for each point of view: a particular album or a group of songs that I feel embodies the character’s essence, mood, and tone. And what’s interesting is these themes have still stuck with me.

My first multiple viewpoint novel, an epic fantasy I wrote back in 2001 (that I hope will someday end up being the middle volume of a pentalogy), had three viewpoint characters. You had Eagan, the young kid trapped in the middle of a war he didn’t understand—all of his chapters I wrote to the Braveheart soundtrack, with a little of Lorena McKennitt’s Book of Secrets album—the instrumental pieces, of course—thrown in for good measure, specifically “Prologue,” “Marco Polo,” and “Night Ride Across the Caucasus.” Those three all have a certain kind of magic to them, I think.

Then you had Artur, the monarch who inherited a realm he didn’t feel equipped to properly lead, which ended with him fighting more battles to defend that realm than he was initially prepared to wage. His chapters were mostly written to the Gladiator soundtrack, especially the imperious-sounding battle scores. Lastly, there was Mjorra, the aging mystic who had lost his sense of purpose. His chapters were largely written to—and don’t laugh—a Yanni album called If I Could Tell You. I’m not normally one for New Age-y music, but there are a few gems on that track that really fit the mood I was going for, and for me to remember details like this even twelve years should say something. Even today, I could listen to that album’s title track on an endless loop for days.

My most recent finished novel, Spectrum, is the most ambitious multiple viewpoint novel  I’ve ever written, and even in this one, the idea of character themes continued.

Gretta, the abandoned biologist with no home to return to, she got the hauntingly tragic and beautiful Whale Rider score. Jun, one of the last surviving leaders of his race, got the I am Legend soundtrack, which helped drive home his world-on-my-shoulders feeling. Lora, the wandering young girl frightened of her own shadow, merited the childish darkness of Pan’s Labyrinth with occasional smatterings of the Alan Wake video game soundtrack. (If you haven’t listened to the Alan Wake score yet, then do yourself a favor and go find a copy: it is seriously one of the best creepy soundtracks to write to. If you ever write anything supernatural, strange, twisted, or suspenseful, that soundtrack is your secret weapon. Trust me. Also, the game is amazingly atmospheric, and the story is fantastic too, if you’re into that sort of thing.) Now, for the character of Reinard, I honestly can’t recall any one specific throughput music for him, which makes complete sense considering he’s the mercurial character of the story. Sometimes he’s not even quite sure whose side he’s on. Lastly, we have Adlar, the emperor who believes himself divine. He ended up getting the Gladiator treatment again, but instead I wrote him more to the Commodus music scenes: “Patricide” and “Am I Not Merciful?” were absolutely perfect for the mood I wanted. Granted, I used a touch of other music here and there—The Village, Deus Ex (the original game soundtrack, not the newest one), Ergo Proxy (a futuristic anime series), and Fate/stay night (a fantasy anime series) also got a fair amount of usage—but by and large, the music previously mentioned had a big part to play in shaping the tone of the novel.

Got a favorite soundtrack that you use in your own writing? Let me know. I’m always on the lookout for my next character’s theme music.

Thus concludes the novel

Thus concludes the novel

First draft of my latest novel is complete, and it’s been a long time coming. Started writing this novel at the very end of 2006, and for various and sundry reasons it took me a lot longer than usual to finish it. On average, I’d finish a novel every year or two (even monster novels like this current one), but this one was a challenge, partly because it is the most complex work I’ve written.

Of course, there’s still some work that needs done before I can foist it upon my alpha readers. For example, as I write I tend to keep track of things that I want to fix as I go along, stuff like deciding a term or concept I created in the first few chapters doesn’t really work as the story goes along, realizing I need to add a small reference to something in earlier chapters, or other various continuity fixes that would make the story less confusing for my first batch of test readers. This takes some time, but it’s not nearly as arduous a process since I’ve done this many times before and I have a checklist to work through.

Another thing I still need to do: At the beginning of each chapter is a little snippet—a proverb, a “scripture” passage, or a pithy saying—that relates to the chapter in some way and serves as a way to highlight the differences between the forces at work. I’ve written probably a full third of them, but the creative momentum often dictated I skip them and leave a placeholder so I could come back to them later. Likewise with chapter titles. For some reason, I’ve always named my chapters. It’s not always common practice within the genre, but I feel it adds another level of depth, as even a title can show an insight into the mind of a given character.

Lastly, I still need a good title. My working title was from ages ago, long before I really even knew what the book was going to be about, and things have changed a lot since then. Coming up with a good title is much more difficult than one might think.

But at least the novel’s done. I’ve deposited the lump of coal, and now all it needs some time and pressure.

The Endgame

The Endgame

Hurtling down the home stretch of writing a novel’s first draft is always a fun, thrilling, rewarding, and sometimes melancholy occasion.

For me the fun comes from finally being able to write scenes that I’ve spent sometimes years picturing in my head. All of the world shattering events and Scooby Doo reveals are finally coming out of the woodwork, and they’re coming out in droves. Love it!

The thrill comes from not knowing 100% exactly how everything will turn out. Will a character that I wasn’t planning on killing off end up getting the (sometimes literal) axe in the penultimate or even last scene? Will X happen? Will Y? Sometimes I learn that X isn’t even necessary; sometimes Z worms its way in and is ultimately a far better idea than even X or Y. Every writer’s process is a little bit different, but for me, writing the endgame of a novel is like sledding down a mountainside. The writing tends to fly right by, which is a good thing, when compared to some days where the writing seems to have me stuck in an knee-deep bayou infested with leeches and water moccasins. Everything is flying at me all at once and at breakneck speed, which makes me wonder some days if I even know what I’m doing. This can be a bad thing, but sometimes a writer’s best work happens on those no-clue-what-I’m-doing days: it’s all a matter of perspective.

The melancholy comes from the idea of this novel being your child, in a metaphysical sense. Typing “THE END” on the last page of one’s manuscript is akin to sending one’s firstborn off to daycare or kindergarten for the first time and watching the bus drive away with your kid on it. Some writers like to get the draft out and be done with it, but I think the longer you spend with a novel, the harder it is to button up its jacket and send it off to school. This current novel, for example—which has the working title Spectrum—is among the hardest simply because I’ve been working on it for so long (that’s a topic for another day, however). The short of it is I first got the idea for it back in ’02, started writing it at the beginning of ’07, started seriously writing it near the end of ’08, and now I am an estimated 5,000 words away from completing the first draft. It’s a monster book, granted, and I worked on a lot of shorter pieces between chapters, but that’s a long time. About three and a half years of actual writing is a far cry shorter than the five or six years one spends with their kids before sending them off to kindergarten, but the sentiment is still the same.

Writing Horror Stories

Writing Horror Stories

I’ve written a handful of short stories over the years, and apart from my work-for-hire pieces, I’ve noticed that the vast majority of them fall into the same category. Two things about these stories strike me as odd. First, all but one of them are written in first person perspective, which I rarely use; second, all of them hail from the horror genre, which isn’t my go-to genre. Most of my other work is almost exclusively either fantasy or science fiction written in what I call “third person limited” (contrast this to “third person omniscient”).

I think the reason most of my short stories are horror-themed is because, for me, horror is a very quick and simple ordeal compared to a plot-and-character-driven fantasy or sci-fi story. I doubt I could stretch a horror tale out beyond short-story length, but not for lack of trying. I did write a supernatural novel long ago (although I’m hesitant to classify it as outright horror, per se), and it ended up being the shortest novel I’ve ever written. Go figure. I think the reason these stories came out in first person is because horror is all that much more terrifying when it’s personal, and first person puts the reader at only one point of remove from the protagonist.

Of course for me, horror is a little bit different. I much prefer a horror movie dripping in creepy ambiance than a slasher flick with cheap, heart-attack-inducing moments where something jumps out with a loud noise (and I REALLY hate when that cheap thing that jumps out isn’t even a threat, like it’s one of the stupid friends grabbing the protagonist on the shoulder). If you want to know the kind of horror I appreciate, watch The Ring. Or Event Horizon. Alien, anyone? Sure, there are some jump-out moments in these movies, but just try to stand there and tell me those movies don’t have an atmosphere that makes you feel really uncomfortable in between all the jumpy bits. Some more creepy references: The Game or any of the first few Resident Evil video games. Odd dolls? Empty mansions (never mind the zombies, of course) with creepy art and sculptures and riddles hanging about? That’s what I’m talking about. And that is the kind of short story I like to write.