R.S. Hunter

Science Fiction & Fantasy Author

Category: Writing (page 1 of 4)

Talk It Out: How I Chose What Project to Work On

Lately I’ve been going through a real rough patch with my writing. The world’s on fire so at times making the words happen is a struggle. But it’s been more than that too.

For a good portion of 2018 my mind has thrown every variation of “You’re a poseur writer” “You’ll never come up with any additional good ideas or concepts” “You basically had three ideas and you’ve done them already” at me.

Spoiler alert: even if it’s categorically untrue, it doesn’t make those thoughts hurt any less.

But then something happened that helped. I talked about my writing!

My wife Erin and I were taking our dog for a walk when I shared that I was beating myself up mentally. That by itself is a big deal.

And in the course of our walk-n-talk I described some of the works in progress I have…in the works. Again, this is also a big deal.

A detour if you will ’cause maybe some of you other writers feel the same way. Do you ever feel almost “ashamed” to talk about what your books are about? Especially with people like coworkers who either A) don’t know you’re a writer and/or B) don’t read/like your genre? And you’re describing what your book is about and it just sounds so, so silly and ridiculous and cringe-worthy? I don’t mean cringe-worthy in the sense that your book has problematic rep (though that’s always a possibility!), but just that somehow people will judge you for liking this kind of stuff, let alone creating it.

Wow okay, that’s a lot of shamebaggage to unload on you all. Solidarity if you feel the same way. Solidarity.

Anyway, I talked to her about some of my projects. And to my surprise she stops and says, “That sounds awesome!”

*record scratch*

What? One of my ideas sounds good?

We talked some more as we wrapped up our walk. And just that 15 minutes of discussion gave me such a boost. (It also helped that I put this particular project on the shelf after hammering out a very, very rough draft a little over a year ago). But still!

Talking about a project–highlighting what you want to do with it, the thing that got you excited about it in the first place–as a way of restoring your writerly morale. Who knew that would work?!

Of course, YMMV, but I’m so grateful that I have somebody in my life who will listen to me ramble about my ideas without judging how “cool” they are. And yes I mean cool as in the tool-cool-for-school-caring-about-things-is-for-losers kind of way.

If you’re looking for a way to quiet down those doubting voices, try talking.

 

Portland Snow – Feb. 20-22, 2018

Been snowed in and sick for most of the week. Made progress on the writing front despite losing and accidentally deleting a document that had material I wanted to use. All things considered I’m pretty pleased that I’ve written over 4,000 words this week.

Please enjoy a few pictures I took of the snow.

See you around, space cowboy.

 

 

Book Playlists and Why They Don’t Work for Me

Science fiction wallpaper, blue planets and blue star field

The other day I saw a fun conversation going around about author’s creating playlists for each book they write. It was fascinating because I love hearing about others’ writing processes. It took me to Delilah S. Dawson’s fantastic post. (Seriously, go check it out) But it got me thinking: I’ve never created a playlist for any book I write. Why is that?

I opened up the ol’ Spotify and tried to put together a playlist for my current WIP. Right away, I ran into a problem: what sort of music works with a secondary world fantasy novel? An orchestral score of some kind? That’s not really my jam. I knew the mood of the book I’m working on. It’s a sword and sorcery novel starring an older woman who’s been around the world a time or two, who’s struggling to figure out what’s next, and how to do what’s best for her found family. And what happens when what you think is best doesn’t line up with what your family members think is best? Oh yeah, and there’s some political intrigue, some magic, annnnnd fantasy equivalents of weapons of mass destruction.

K. Cool. I got all that in my mind. How does that translate to music?

*shrug*

Fuck if I know.

Now to be fair, I gave into one of my worst habits: stopping when hitting a minor wall. I stopped trying to come up with a playlist for my WIP.

Now to be unfair (and let me rationalize), after I did that I saw down to analyze why the exercise was so difficult for me.

One: Spotify is overwhelming.

Spotify is great when you have a starting point in mind. You go to an artist (or an artist from an already existing playlist) and then you can explore the “Related Artists” and then just keep going. Plus Spotify shows you an artist’s top songs. Once you got a starting point, an initial artist for your book playlist, it should be relatively easy to keep adding to it.

But what if you don’t know where to start? You could potentially try searching some keywords and see what other user-generated playlists come up? But that just seems overwhelming. You could crowdsource this and ask social media? Again that just seemed overwhelming to me.

Okay, but that’s kind of a surface level rationalization. It’s one that with sufficient time and willpower, I could overcome.

But then I went a little deeper.

Two: I am a visual learner

I’m a much better visual learner than an auditory one. When I read something it sticks in my brain much better than if I’d listened to it. I don’t know why that is. That’s just how I work. If I need to learn something I like to read it or watch somebody show me how to do whatever the thing in question is.

How does that connect to writing and music and playlists?

I like to construct scenes visually as I write them. Sometimes I go so far as to draw out diagrams or blueprints of how a place looks and how the action occurs. That’s just how I process the information, and it helps me get it onto the page.

I love listening to music as I write, but! I do it more as a distraction. Strike that. Distraction’s not the right word. It’s more of a certain noise (pleasant noise! though some might call death metal unpleasant) threshold I like to have while working. Words or no words, the music gives me that background buzz.

It doesn’t matter what kind of scene I’m working on. I don’t connect the music to it. Sometimes I even put my headphones in and forget to turn something on. Just that slight dampening of real life helps me get into that creative space.

To Each Their Own

And now the thousand dollar question: should I try to connect my music to my writing more?

This is a bit of a cop out, but fuck if I know.

Part of writing is learning what process works for you and when to try shaking it up. If I was starting a new project or felt like I was in a creative rut, that feels like it could be the right time to try and change how I use music with my process.

But now? In the middle of a WIP in the middle of a series with one entry already done*? It doesn’t feel like the right time.

Maybe when I finish this draft and start on a brand new sci-fi novel I’ll try to find some killer synthwave music to work as a soundtrack.

Right now, I got some tunes to jam to and some ink to sling.

How ‘Bout You?

Writers, authors, heck even painters, illustrators, and other artists: how do you use music as part of your creative process? Does it help you find a mood for whatever you’re working on? Or is it more of a “block out the world” kind of thing? A combination of both? Or do you not listen to music while you create at all?

Oh and if you’re curious about what I’m listening to (please don’t judge me), I’m here on Spotify. And here is my greatest playlist.

Enjoy. Remember, no judging.

2017 Writing Year in Review

I saw this going around Twitter and Mastodon yesterday: lots of the writers I follow listing things they’d accomplished in 2017. I was happy for those who had a good year career-wise. But I didn’t want to try and compile anything because I was sure that I wouldn’t measure up by comparison. (Note to self: writing is not a zero-sum game. You don’t have to compare yourself to others in that way).

But then I made a quick spreadsheet, did the math, and had a moment of pleasant surprise. Turns out I wrote way more words in 2017 than I thought I did.

So inspired by Alex Acks’ format, here’s what I wrote/did in 2017.

Writing This Year

Novels: 2

I finished a draft of Red Magic* and Terraviathan. Both need to spend some time in the trunk, but they are finished drafts. They’re the first drafts I’d finished since mid-2015.

*Title subject to change

Total words: 257,500

This total was much higher than I thought it was going to be! I was barely expecting to break six figures. Considering everything that happened this year, I managed to put more ink on the page than I expected. It wasn’t until I started going through documents and adding them all up that I realized Holy dang, you wrote a lot of words! Is it the biggest total out there among all the writers I follow? Absolutely not! But that doesn’t matter. This word count total is mine, and I’m damn proud of it.

Publishing This Year

Queries: 0

Rejections: 0

Acceptances: 0

I didn’t submit anything in 2017, so no surprises there. Basically I knew I needed to finish new material before I could start the agent search again. Kace Alexander had some good advice on that front, in between trying to navigate floating platforms in Destiny 2.

Works Published: 1

I touched up The Exile’s Violin and my wife redid the cover (so good!!). And I put that thing back up on Amazon.

Life This Year

Jobs Changed: 3

I quit the job I’d been at for the past two years in March 2017. I started a new job in April and was laid off from that in September when the company got rid of over 10% of its workforce. I was unemployed for about a month and a half. Finally, I started my current job near the end of October.

 

Despite 2017 being a shitty year, I wrote more than I thought. And I’m going into 2018 with some very clear goals:

  1. Finish this Song of Siya sword and sorcery book
  2. Replot book 1 of aforementioned sword and sorcery book
  3. Submit to agents again
  4. Write a sci-fi novel. (It’s been too long since I’ve written about space ships n’ shit)
  5. Stop being scared and go after what I want

That’s pretty much it. See you all in 2018.

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.

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