R.S. Hunter

Science Fiction & Fantasy Author

Category: Writing (page 1 of 3)

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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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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Leveling Up as a Writer

Level_Up

Being a writer can be a mentally and emotionally exhausting profession (especially for those of us who work full-time jobs, have families, have kids, have other obligations, try not to be crusty shut-ins who do nothing but write, etc. etc.). Writing, editing, and polishing manuscripts and then sending them out to publishers and agents. You play the waiting game, and then you deal with the hundreds of rejection letters–more emails these days than actual letters.

So how do you keep it from getting you down? I try to celebrate every little success. I think of it as some sort of experience points bar–really it’s the one from Pokemon because they have such fun sound effects as they fill up.

Each word I write, each book or story I finish, each one I edit and polish, and each manuscript I send out on submission–all those things fill in the bar.

And then whenever I hit a new milestone in my career, it feels like I’m leveling up as a writer. I hear a little ding in my mind, celebrate for a minute or two, then get my ass back to work.

So what were some of the milestones that I’ve celebrated?

  1. Finishing my first short story
  2. Getting my first story acceptance
  3. Finishing my first novel
  4. Making that first novel not suck*
  5. Getting that first novel published
  6. Finishing a sequel
  7. Making that sequel not suck*
  8. Writing a novel in a completely new genre, new style, and new series
  9. Making that novel not suck*
  10. Getting form rejection emails from agents
  11. Getting partial requests from agents**
  12. Being asked to submit directly to a publisher**
  13. Getting a personal rejection email from a publisher and being told to reach out directly with other projects**

These last three are huge to me. Getting agents to request something based just on a query letter feels like a big deal. But also my experience submitting Gifts of the Earth has been a huge step forward.

Even though the publisher passed on it they said the “quality of the book wasn’t in question” and that I should reach out directly the next time I have something to submit. Anyone who’s trying to submit manuscripts knows that being able to bypass the slush pile is an enormous advantage.

Rejections are never fun, but the important thing is that there’s a trajectory here. I can’t help but celebrate that. And now if you excuse me, I have more books to write.

What about you, fellow writers? What milestones count as “leveling up” to you?

Gender-Swapping Writing Experiment

Author’s Note: this is a very, very simple thought experiment I’m throwing out there. Obviously these sorts of issues have to consider intersectionality as well. So this sort of thing can, and I’d say should, be done across multiple axes of oppression. I purposely chose a high level example for this post.

Another Author’s Note: Gender is not binary. But discussing the fluidity of the concept is beyond the scope of this post and what I was trying to accomplish with this little experiment.

You’ve all heard of the Bechdel Test, right? It’s not without flaws nor is it necessarily a quality benchmark. At the very least it just tells you that a particular work has two women who have a conversation with each other about something other than a man.

Tying into that is: how often as writer do you make secondary or tertiary characters men by default? Until it was brought up to me a while ago, I had no idea I even did that. I always thought I was pretty good about making sure I had women in my books and stories. But then I went back to my WIP at the time and saw that almost every time I needed a:

  • restaurant owner
  • business person
  • guard
  • solider
  • police officer
  • friend
  • colleague
  • doctor
  • random passerby
  • etc. etc.

These characters would be written as “he” in my outline. Even if they didn’t have names or more than a line or two of dialogue, almost all of them were men by default. It blew my mind to realize that. It wasn’t that I was trying to actively exclude women characters, it was just I was conditioned to think of and create men characters first. As if it had been ingrained and reinforced across multiple spectra–especially pop culture–that men were the important pieces in a story.

As I’ve gotten older and have attempted to be more aware of these issues regarding representation  and intersection, I’ve wanted to fix my shortcomings. Not only does it help a tiny bit to improve the field, but it also helps me grow as a writerThis kind of thing–unconsciously emphasizing men and just writing the same things over and over–requires no effort. It’s lazy. And lazy writing is boring writing. Lazy writing doesn’t challenge the creator nor the reader. This kind of lazy writing accidentally “punches people in the face.” And I don’t want that.

So going forward I decided to do a little experiment. In my current WIP, the main character, Itjani, is a woman detective, and the women in her family are all major characters (mother, aunts, and grandmothers). But there were other characters in the first draft of the outline that were men, including a character that teams up with Itjani outside official police channels to move the plot forward. Let’s call that character K for right now.

I stopped halfway through my outline and went you know what? This book already emphasizes interpersonal relationships between women in a post-colonial context (i.e. how do they form communities and identities going forward and dealing with centuries of colonization in this secondary world fantasy), so why not make K a woman too? How would that change the dynamics of the relationship I’d written into the story? I changed absolutely nothing else about K’s personality or actions other than their gender.

All of a sudden tons of new nuances entered into the story, themes that resonated with other more personal, familial sections. Itjani already had a male partner on the police force and they had a whole slew of interactions (based on gender, tenure at work, political power, ethnicity, social status, etc.) so it made the story better to give a counterpoint to that. Itjani and K interact across those axes in completely different ways (plus a few more that I can’t talk about right now without giving away too much plot).

I continued the experiment throughout the outline. A god became a goddess, a police coroner with a few lines became a woman as well. And so it went. Not every character was changed, but the majority of them were. And you know what? Even just re-reading my outline, it feels like a stronger story with more nuance, more subtext, more everything. I think part of why things felt better goes hand in hand with what Liz Bourke discusses in “How Do We Talk About Strong Female Characters?

This isn’t revolutionary stuff, and I’m not claiming that consciously changing a bunch of characters to women will somehow give this book a free pass. Or that these characters won’t be problematic in other ways. Nope. Chances are I’ll manage to screw something up, but that’s part of being an artist–especially one in a privileged position. It’s how you react to learning of those screw ups, listening to marginalized voices that’re telling you how you screwed up, learning from those mistakes, and not repeating them in the future.

Still, I’d rather make these choices than play it safe and churn out the same face-punchy science fiction and fantasy you’ve seen for decades (see Puppies, Sad & Rabid). This experiment is a small step, but it’s one I’d urge other writers to take too.

How Not to Respond to Reviews

Reviews are part of being an author. Some people are going to love your book; some people are going to hate your book. And if you’ve written multiple books, multiple series, some people are going to enjoy some installments and dislike others. It all comes with the territory.

And it’s not just for writers but for any artists, musicians, creators that put their work out there for the public to see.

I’m of the mind that reviews are primarily for readers and potential readers rather than authors. That’s not to say that an author can’t look at reviews and find common threads running through them. Maybe a bunch of reviews noticed that your secondary characters were cliche or that the book’s middle section lagged. Those are things to learn from. But for my money–you, the author, do not step in and debate these things. It never ends well.

Which brings me to this perfect example.

Reviews aren’t for you. And everyone on the internet should familiarize themselves with the Streisand effect. Trying to suppress a review, getting the reviewer to change it, disagreeing with their opinion, is a terrible idea and only makes things worse.

I’ve never heard of this particular book or author before (which pretty much everyone can say of me too), but based on his behavior, I can damn well say I’m far less inclined to ever read any of his works in the future. That’s what happens when authors try to attack people over reviews that are less-than-glowing. The internet amplifies their terrible behavior and soon people like me–people just scrolling through their Twitter feeds or whatever–see the thread linked and come take a seat to watch the meltdown. I mean as soon as I saw this author’s first comment on the review, my mind immediately went to that gif of Michael Jackson eating popcorn.

Yeah that’s the one. Good stuff.

Do not engage with negative reviews. They aren’t bullying. They aren’t comparable to physical abuse (as that author said). They aren’t cyberbullying either. Maybe if a reviewer wrote a negative review that attacked the author personally, then continued to contact the author across multiple social channels to send personal attacks their way, that would be cyberbullying. But I’ve never seen a reviewer do that before.

It bears repeating: Do not engage with negative reviews. Just stay away from ’em. Learn from criticism. Grow as an author. Don’t tell somebody their opinion is wrong and that they’re hurting the consciousness of humanity because they gave your book a one-star review on Goodreads.

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