R.S. Hunter

Science Fiction & Fantasy Author

Category: Blog (page 1 of 13)

How I Started a Writing Habit

DisclaimerThis post is about how I, personally, started a writing habit. It’s not a writing every day sort of thing, but near enough. However, I know that this doesn’t work for everyone. Every writer has a different process, and this is not supposed to be prescriptive in any way. Ultimately, you gotta do what works for you! (And that may change from project to project)

I’m lazy. I have a tendency to take the path of least resistance. In some cases, that’s actually not a bad quality to have! When it comes to my writing… *handwaves and ehhhhhh noises*

I should do some writing BUT I just got home from work and I’m tired and I need to make dinner and take care of the dog and now it’s like 9 pm and I’m tired and the couch looks comfy and there’s a new episode of Chopped on and look at that now it’s bedtime I’ll just have to write tomorrow but I have that errand to run and well we can write the next day then okay yeah sounds good.

Repeat ad infinitum. The specifics of the stuff after the BUT would be swapped out depending on the day.

I’ve tried writing everyday before, but any time I’d fall behind I’d beat mentally myself up. That would create a cycle where writing just wouldn’t happen.

I tried creating spreadsheets to track daily word counts. And I set goals and deadlines. But again those didn’t work for me. I think they didn’t work because they didn’t account for time spent thinking and plotting. Those activities don’t always result in words on the page in the rough draft. Sometimes they are just thoughts. Other times they get written down as notes. But ultimately I couldn’t figure out how to work them into my idea of progress as measured by Excel.

So what changed? How do I now have a (probably premature to say this) successful writing habit?

I changed what counts as success. And I changed what I use to track progress over time.

Gamify Your Life!

Okay, annoying attempt at a marketing tagline aside, this helped. I’ve always been drawn to to-do lists, checklists, what have you. So I knew I needed an online way to do that.

Enter Strides.

Ignoring the marketing bullet points, Strides gave me what I needed; a way to:

a) set goals online with a variety of metrics to choose from

b) track progress

c) see that progress over time

Instead of just having a word count goal, I set up a “Writing X of Times per Week” goal. From past experience I knew trying to write 7 days a week wouldn’t work. I settled on 4 days per week. It’s a little over half, gives me a “weekend” off if I want it, and seemed–this is important–like an achievable goal.

 

There were no other strings attached to this goal. And even the name is a misnomer. The goal wasn’t necessarily writing four days per week, but just focusing on my work-in-progress on four days (non-consecutive even!) during a week.

Added a few paragraphs to a rough draft? Success!

Worked on an outline for later chapters? Success!

Spent an hour doing character sketches or some worldbuilding in a notebook? Success!

This system allowed me to place greater value on the creative parts of writing a novel, not just the “writing” part. And it worked! There were a couple of weeks, especially in the beginning where I was still building this habit, where I missed the mark. But right now I am at 20 consecutive weeks where I’ve hit that goal of working on my novel projects at least four times a week.

I’m using the free version of Strides, so it only keeps my data for small periods of time. But it works!

And now that I got that habit on its way to being entrenched, I added another goal. I did what had gone so wrong before: I created a word count goal.

For whatever reason, telling myself that rough drafts can be bad has finally stuck. This time my word count goal isn’t hindering my progress. If I write only add 50 words to my draft, I record that. It’s okay. It counts toward my 4 times per week goal, and it adds to my word count total.

Back to those Caveats

This post is what I found worked for me. Maybe something similar would work for you? Stride is (kind of) flexible so you might be able to add your goals to it. There are other gamify goal tracker to-do list apps too. For example, Cat Rambo references Habitica in this post. As a big ol’ RPG nerd, I’m definitely going to check it out.

And hey! Maybe none of these works for you. Maybe you don’t need a system to codify your progress, or you work better without a set schedule. I know Kameron Hurley’s talked about how she works well by writing in big chunks on the weekends.

Like I said before, experiment. Find out what works for you for that particular project. And good luck!

Addendum 8-1-17

Since I started this post, I’ve made a couple of changes to how I track my writing habit. I still use the “4 Times per Week” goal, but I’ve added a more traditional “Word Count Goal” as well. I did that because deadlines occasionally motivate me, so I set a goal to write 75,000 words before 8/31 in this hybrid outline/draft thing I do.

Ignore the Daily Goal part. That’s a bug in Strides that they’re fixing.

I think part of the reason why an “X Words by Y Date” goal worked for me this time is because I’d already spent months laying the groundwork. I built the momentum of writing every day, so I was able to set a word count goal without it causing me to shut down.

This is also a special case because I’m reworking an old draft. So I’m able to copy and paste large chunks of text in between new sections. This definitely inflated my word count, but *insert I don’t caaaaaaare gif here*

 

Unstructured Thoughts on the Tethys Chronicles

I had some thoughts about writing a series–especially over a long period of time–ever since Magen Cubed did a Twitter thread about this sort of thing. (I can’t find the exact one, but here’s one about “pulp” that’s great. Go follow her. And buy her books (superhero or fucky)! I wanted to do something similar, but I don’t know if Twitter’s the best venue for it. Instead, I’m going to write out some rambling, unstructured thoughts about The Exile’s Violin, its sequels, and my weird, tangled emotions about coming back to the series after a hiatus.

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The Exile’s Violin 3rd Edition in the Works

exile's violin 3rd edition cover banner

It’s been a little over a year since I wrote this post about the future of my Tethys Chronicles books. I needed that time to distance myself from the series and the ridiculousness of PDMI. (Seriously, I count myself lucky getting out when I did. It could have been much, much worse)

I used the past year to work on a few different projects. Unfortunately I haven’t sold any books or landed an agent in that time. But if I’m being honest, I don’t consider this time wasted at all.

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Keeping Track of Your Worldbuilding Part 3: Wikis

Last week. month. year. ohmygodit’sbeentoolong time, I covered mind maps as a tool for fantasy and science fiction writers can use to keep track of their worldbuilding. And we’ve already covered plain ol’ Word documents. Now we come to what I currently use: personal wikis.

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Keeping Track of Your Worldbuilding Part 2: Mind Maps

Last time we talked about using multiple Word documents as a system of keeping track of your worldbuilding. For some, that system is the be-all end-all. I used Word documents to keep track of the worldbuilding for my first two novels. But over time, as the series went on, trying to work with multiple, often conflicting documents didn’t work.

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An Update

Quick update for you all. As of May 11, 2016 (which is when I received the signed paperwork), all rights to The Exile’s Violin and the unpublished sequel, Terraviathan, are mine. The series is no longer with PDMI Publications, and I have no further affiliation with them or any of their imprints.

So what does that mean for the series? It means The Exile’s Violin is now out of print, and I’m stopping work on Terraviathan for the foreseeable future. I may have a handful of fans out there who will be disappointed by this news. To you, I’m sorry. There’s a lot of stuff I can’t go into about all this, but finishing Terraviathan and then self-publishing the series is just something I cannot do anytime soon.

Thank you to everyone who bought, read, and loved the book. Thank you to everyone who bought, read, and hated the book. And everyone in between. I’m so, so grateful for all of you.

Moving on, I have lots of other projects in the works. I have a sword and sorcery series that got a tiny bit of agent and publisher attention. That’ll be revisited sometime soon. And I have another urban fantasy novel in the works. My sights are set on getting better as a writer, at not being fucking scared to find my voice.

I’ll come back to Jacquie Renairre and her steampunk world someday. I just don’t know when that will be.

‘Til then, I’ll be over here scribblin’ words and makin’ up worlds.

Keeping Track of Your Worldbuilding Part 1: Word Documents

It’s a beast that hounds all writers, but especially genre writers: how do you keep track of your worldbuilding? How do you keep it all straight?

Inconsistent worldbuilding (I’m looking at you Supernatural!) is one of my biggest pet peeves. And keeping everything in order, especially when you’re working in a huge multi-volume universe, can be tricky.

One method that I’ve used before (not anymore) is a collection of Word documents. A file separate from your manuscript can be used to catalog your worldbuilding efforts.

Pros

This method is easy to get started with. You just need to use the same word processing program that you write your drafts in. So you’re already instantly familiar with the interface and capabilities of what you’re working with.

You can write in sentences and paragraphs, or just keep track of everything in bulleted lists.

Cons

To be honest, even though I wrote two novels using this method, it’s not my favorite. No matter how careful I tried to be, I always ended up with a dozen different worldbuilding documents. Outlines, character sketches, worldbuilding bibles, timelines. It was too much. Too many contradictions.

But for some writers this may be all they need! A single file that lists important aspects of their story world. Maybe your book is set on Earth in an era or place you’re intimately familiar with. Maybe you’re the kind of writer who makes things up as they go along and keep it all straight. More power to you!

Alternatives?

For those of us who can’t make this method work, don’t fear! In the next couple of posts I’ll talk about some alternative methods I’ve tried including mind maps and personal wikis.

2016: Refocusing on Art

Bear with me here. This is 100% going to be one of those New Year, New Me but Not Saying the Word “Resolutions” Totally Navel Gazing-y posts. I’ll do my best to make it not be insufferable.

2015 was a rough year, for reasons that you don’t want to hear. And quite frankly some of them feel whiny–or at least according they feel that way to that nagging voice in the back of my head.

So instead this whole post, this whole year is dedicated to looking forward. And what do I see in front of me?

ART

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A Tale of Awkward Handshakes

I’m not a cool person. I like “dad jokes”, puns, portmanteaus, chiptunes, and pretty much everything else that’s the antithesis of youngcool, or hip. Do the kids even say those words anymore? I have no idea.

And yet, I think I have one of those faces that says “Yes, I am down to attempt to a weird handshake high-five gesture-thing in this serious business context.”

This has happened twice now in quick succession, and each time I’ve walked away from the experience cringing and wanting to die from embarrassment.

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Let’s Talk About: Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig

I have some thoughts about Aftermath by Chuck Wendig and the state of the Star Wars Expanded Universe in general. On the one hand, it’s kind of exciting to start with a fresh slate; the byzantine EU of decades of comics, books, RPG tie-ins, video games, and more is gone. So the post-Return of the Jedi universe is brand new for everybody. But on the other hand, I have some questions and thoughts about what Disney’s doing. And finally, I have some specific thoughts about Wendig’s book–the first official canon, post-RotJ story that’s going to help set the stage for The Force Awakens.

The New Expanded Universe

I wish I could be a fly on the wall inside Disney. I want to listen in on their Star Wars-related conversations and meetings. And I wish I could get a behind-the-scenes look at the communication between Wendig and Disney. Because the entire old Expanded Universe is now marked as “Legends” then it stands to reason that pretty much everything was thrown out.

But at the same time, in order to keep a sense of continuity between this new canon and the old canon, some stuff’s been retained. For example, Aftermath makes a reference to a Carrack-class cruiser. If I remember correctly, that ship was first introduced as part of an RPG sourcebook. Wouldn’t that be part of the old, discarded EU canon?

What gets to be included in the new canon and what is truly gone? Or are things like ship classes not really gone, just on a back shelf until an author, comic book creator, video game company gets permission from Disney to resurrect them? The nerd in me wants to know!

databank_superstardestroyer_01_169_d5757b90

This is especially poignant when you consider the epilogue to Aftermath. I won’t give it away because spoilers, but if it turns out the way I’m hoping… then it would be really cool and another instance of something from the huge Ex-Expanded Universe finding its way to the new canon.

Sidebar: It was hilarious and a bit of a trip to open Aftermath and go to the page where it said “The DelRey Star Wars Timeline” and there were only like 10 things. It listed the 7 movies, Rebels, and a couple of other official books. For somebody’s who’s used to the two-page spread that goes from 10,000 BBY to over 100 years AE seeing such a short timeline was weird.

Aftermath: The Book

So that was Aftermath as a cultural artifact, but what about Aftermath the book? It was okay. I appreciate what Wendig is trying to do with the use of present tense, but it’s not really my bag. It’s definitely a “Wendig book” through and through, but with the inventive curses from the Miriam Black series replaced with Star Wars sanitized versions.

Sidebar: He really likes the phrase “pistons a fist” to refer to somebody punching somebody else. “Character Y pistons a fist into Character X’s side…” It was really prevalent in the last few chapters. 

My biggest complaint about the book is that it felt long. And for being a Star Wars novel, the first new one post RotJ, the action felt confined–makes sense as the book was set mostly on one Outer Rim planet, Akiva.

Rae_Sloane_Orientation

Wendig attempts to give a more galactic perspective with numerous interludes, but to me they just slowed things down. Hopping from world to world–many of them not featured in previous books/comics/etc. (at least as far as I know) and spending a brief few pages with random characters… It was hard to care.

The more successful interludes were ones that focused on Mon Mothma and Admiral Ackbar.

Another thing that bothered me–and will probably be addressed in future books–was how vague everything was. With only interludes giving glimpses of the galaxy at large, I was left wondering:

  • How long ago was Endor?
  • Have the Rebels taken Coruscant?
  • How long does it take to get from planet to planet?

The last one is more important than you might think. It’s an important plot point where Imperial Admiral Rae Sloane is figuring out whether to withdraw. She says that the New Republic could have a fleet to Akiva in a few hours, a fleet large enough to take on her three Star Destroyers. And it just made me think? Where would they be staging from? I was under the impression that it sometimes took days in hyperspace to get from place to place. It was just a potentially incongruous bit to the novel.

As for the other two points: the interludes try to give you a bigger picture, but most of the time the only other hints you get are exposition from characters. Over and over characters mention Imperial governors have been defecting to the New Republic. It’s also mentioned that somebody within the Empire has been feeding intelligence to the New Republic to facilitate their string of victories, but what string? How many? Where? When?

Here’s a thing I had 0 problems with and want to point out with a big ol’ fuck yeah: Three of the main characters are women. Admiral Sloane is a woman of color. Multiple characters are gay. Yes. The Star Wars galaxy is a big fuckin’ place; it’s characters should reflect how wide and diverse it should be.

A lot of my issues with Aftermath’s pacing come from the fact that it’s the first book in a new trilogy, and the first new canonical book in the timeframe leading up to Episode VII. So it’s gotta spend some time setting things up; I just feel like it took a bit too long to get there. I mean the Inglourious Basterds vibe I got at the end where a second book might go was super cool. Admiral Sloane is super cool too. Give me some space battles! Give me the Empire turning into an insurgency. Cool stuff. Personally, I’d love to see his new characters interact with the OT heroes a bit more. The glimpses we got of them in the interludes weren’t enough!  (But please never refer to Coruscant’s city as Coco-Town ever again. Please.)

All things considered, I can’t wait to see where Wendig goes next. It’s a big ‘ol galaxy of narrative potential out there waiting to be explored.

 

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