R.S. Hunter

Science Fiction & Fantasy Author

Tag: writing tips

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*

 

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.

Learning from Bad Manuscripts

Today I pulled the plug on my WIP manuscript, The Swarm. At final count, the unfinished collection of garbage words weighed in at just under 53,000 words. Considering that novels run anywhere from 60,000-75,000 words and up, shouldn’t I be sad that I stopped so close to “the end?” Hell no!

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Obligatory “It’s been too long” Post

Obvious title is obvious. Well now that’s out of the way, let’s get to the actual blogging.

I just finished The Briar King by Greg Keyes last night, and I haven’t been this disappointed or bored with a book in a long time. But there’s something to be said for sticking with less-than-stellar books, especially if you’re a writer. Sometimes I think it’s just as valuable to learn what not to do.

(Before I begin, I want to say that Keyes is probably a fine writer. I haven’t read any of his other books, but considering his bibliography I’m betting he has skills. The Briar King just wasn’t too my liking. But this isn’t a knee-jerk reaction and I’ll explain why)

First of all Keyes does a great job of worldbuilding in this novel. The depth he put into developing the different countries, peoples, dialects (especially dialects) is pretty remarkable. There were two problems that ended up squandering all of this worldbuilding potential though. One: the map included in my mass market paperback was so damn tiny I couldn’t read any of the words, so I had no idea where any of the places were in relation to each other. Two: nothing really interesting happens to capitalize on all this awesome development.

I get that The Briar King is part of a series so not everything is going to be resolved at the end, but there’s a limit to how much slack I’m willing to cut it. Almost nothing gets explained and the characters barely grow (and that is definitely me being generous). The chivalrous knight continues to be a noble knight. The monk trying to unravel an ancient conspiracy is still in the dark. The grumpy old guy is slightly less grumpy, but still about the same. Every character feels like they were taken from a barrel of stock epic fantasy characters. And the love interest for the grumpy old guy–she kind of just gets thrown in there and next thing I know they’re confessing their love to each other with barely any set up or even mention of her.

It’s strange, the book is filled with action and bloody, gruesome fights, but I can’t remember a time where so much action left me so bored. I couldn’t care about the characters, their motivations were shallow and one dimensional, and the world-ending threat was still as vague as ever by the end. I was happy to put the book down and move on.

For me The Briar King is a great reminder that even if you’re writing a series, you still have to give your readers something. Star Wars: A New Hope was written more as a stand-alone so things wrap up nicely, but even Empire Strikes Back, which was clearly designed with a sequel in mind, resolves enough plot lines to give the audience some sense of resolution despite creating even bigger questions: will Luke take Vader up on his offer later on? Will Han get unfrozen and rescued from Jabba the Hutt? What will happen to the Rebels after they got their asses handed to them down on Hoth?

The Briar King ends with all questions, and one particularly damning one: why should I care? As a writer you have to constantly ask yourself: what are the stakes here for each character? Why should the reader care if the princess gets rescued or not? Why is it so necessary to stop the bad guy from taking over the kingdom? If the writer has done their job properly the reader will know why the bad buy needs to be stopped from taking over the kingdom–because he’ll outlaw dancing in the kingdom and the people need dancing to appease the rain gods, of course.

So sadly I’ll end The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone with this question and answer: do I care enough to keep reading? No, I don’t.

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