Resolutions

2016-new-yearI’m not big on New Year’s resolutions. I think if you’re going to do a thing then the best time to start is right now. Forget that “I’ll wait until Monday” or “I’ll do it next month” nonsense; just cut the shit and start already.

It ain’t gonna be any easier come Monday.

That said, I do look at the new year as a clean slate of sorts. More of a planning timeframe, if you will. An accounting period.

I wrote more than a quarter million words in 2015, with 75% of those words written between August and December. In other words, I fucked around for the first seven months of the year before figuring out how to be productive.

But that’s all good now because it’s given me a blueprint for the future. I write 1,500 words per day and at that rate I’m on track to write more than a half-million words by year end. Crazy to think one can do so much by working on it an hour a day. That’s why I always say that it’s about consistency and not speed.

The theme for 2016 is writing. Write better. Write often. Write more.

I’m not sure exactly what I’ll have completed by year end since I work on projects that suit my mood at the time. So when a book is done I consider what mood I’m in, pick an idea, and run with it until it’s complete. After that, I do it again.

What I write depends on the mood. That I write is predetermined.

I’m considering doing some short fiction and packaging it up in a collection for next year. I have an idea for six short stories, all unique but built from the same inciting event. That’s a short story every other month…pretty doable.

I’ll be publishing Badlands #3, my Mothman book and my weird western this year. Probably the next Yesterday In Black book too. After that, who knows? Maybe I’ll write that sci-fi book I’ve been thinking about or a sequel to The Crossover Gene. It’s a blank slate, after all.

So check back later and I’ll keep you up to date. Sign up for my newsletter if you like; you get a free book after all. And don’t forget to buy my crap while you’re at it.

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Weekly Digest, Episode 1

Well, look at that. Here’s the first weekly post. I’m one for one, right out of the gate. 🙂

Let’s talk about the last several months to get up to speed here. Here are my word counts, totaled by month, since I started Chris Fox’s “sprint” methodology (August is low because it’s not a full month; only 20 days):

  • August: 31,275
  • September: 46,523
  • October: 42,226
  • November: 42,597

December is sitting at nearly 34,000 words (I’ll probably hit 39-40k by end of month).

Let’s talk about this past week’s counts (12/20 – 12/26):

  • Sunday: 1,203 words, 2 sprints
  • Monday: 1,418 words, 2 sprints
  • Tuesday: 1,015 words, 2 sprints
  • Wednesday: 1,556 words, 2 sprints
  • Thursday: 1,485 words, 2 sprints
  • Friday: 751 words, 1 sprint
  • Saturday: 930 words, 2 sprints

Total: 8,358

Friday was Christmas, but I wrote. How did I do it? I only did one sprint instead of two (it was Christmas, after all), but 30 minutes is easy to fit in. My wife took a nap and the kids were busy playing with their new crap. I sat down for 30 minutes and worked, simple as that. Then I took the rest of the day off.

If you didn’t read my other posts about sprinting, here are the Cliff’s Notes: a sprint for me is thirty minutes of uninterrupted writing time. I close the office doors, put on some music, figure out my next scene, set a timer and start writing. (In a later post I’ll go into more detail on what a typical day looks like for me, but for now this gets the point across.)

You can see some days I struggled with the words. Some days are harder than others. Just a fact of life. It doesn’t excuse me from putting in the time and hitting the quota.

See, my quotas are sprint counts, not word counts. That’s critical to remember.

I set a quota of two sprints per day. Rarely do I ever miss. I gave myself a break on Christmas, for example, but I still wrote. I strive to write every day. I’m currently at 41 consecutive days without a miss, my longest streak  yet.

I used to set a quota of 1,000 words per day. Once I hit it, I’d quit it. That produced fewer words in the end. By setting quotas around sprints (duration) I don’t artificially limit myself to a word count.

I break my sprints into 30 minute intervals. That’s about the longest I prefer to sit and peck away at a scene or chapter. Yours could be longer or shorter. I get up in between, usually to take a shower and think about my next scene, then I sit back down and get sprint #2 finished. After that, I’m done for the day.

Why only two sprints per day, you ask? With my schedule that’s good for me. It keeps me productive while not burning me out. I tend to be a workaholic, so if I don’t put a cap on things I’ll burn too hot and too fast. Two sprints nets me an average of 1,500 words per day. That consistency is key, but that’s a topic for another post.

How did you do last week? If you wrote more than 8,000 words then congrats, you’re better than I am. Or maybe you didn’t. Maybe you wrote a thousand or so. Less? Maybe you didn’t write at all.

But…but…the holidays…family…work…responsibilities…porn…[insert excuse here].

That’s okay, let it go. The past is gone, so focus on the future. Remember, your future starts tomorrow; not next year, not next month. Tomorrow. Hell, today if you like.

Regardless of when you start it, your future should not include excuses. We’ll talk about that later too.

I’ll be back next week with more rambling, word counts and random crap. Until then, if you read, keep reading. If you write, keep writing and reading.

More In 2016

I’ll probably spend more time here in 2016. I’ll shoot for weekly posts, give or take, to give you some insight into what I’m doing and how it’s working. If you’re a reader, maybe you’ll get some insight into how I write the books. Maybe that’ll interest you, maybe not.

If you’re a writer, then maybe my lessons learned can also help you. I’m not a bestseller and I’m not an old pro, but I’m a full-time career person with a family who writes at a pace of six novels a year. So if you’ve been making excuses about why you “don’t have time” to write or writing feels more like work than fun or you just can’t squeeze out more than a book every other year then maybe my experiences can inspire you.

Or maybe just piss you off enough to actually write. That still counts as inspiration, right?

I’ve written eight novels. One of them will never see the light of day (you guessed it, my first novel). Three of them are finished, but waiting to go out to my editor. The rest are ready for you to buy. I also have some novellas and short stories out there. Buy those too.

I got back into writing five years ago and made out like a bandit during the “Kindle Gold Rush”. I’ve survived the sales decline after those glory days and I’m still hanging on after the “KU Apocalypse”. I’ve seen other writers come and go in the past five years, but I’m still here. I’m tenacious, if nothing else.

2016 will be all about production for me. No focus on marketing my books or frenetic sales checking. No worrying about sales rank and all that business. With my mind laser-focused on writing new words, we’ll explore that in depth.

I’ll talk about consistency and I’ll share word counts. I’ll talk about rewriting traps and bold choices, about making self-doubt my bitch and staying focused on things that matter (and ignoring things that don’t).

I’ll piss on uppity attitudes about “real literature” and being a “hack” and “writing fast”. I’ll talk about why consistent is better than fast. I’ll talk about the hard truths I’ve learned from this business and the craft of writing itself. And more. All kinds of stuff to talk about.

If that sounds like your kinda thing, then tag along. 2016 is going to be a fun year.

New Preorder – Yesterday In Black

Yesterday In Black Cover 100x160You heard right. All that productivity I’ve been yammering about is finally starting to bear fruit. My editor is due to have my first crime novella back to me tomorrow, so I’ll be publishing it on December 15, 2015, just in time to stuff your virtual stocking. You can get it on preorder right now from Amazon, Kobo, Apple and Smashwords (sorry Nook readers, B&N’s system won’t allow preorders).

Here’s the gist:

Three years ago Tom Miller lost his entire family to a brutal serial killer. Now drowning in alcohol and haunted by the ghosts of his past, he decides one night to finally end it all.

But when he sees the face of a murdered little girl on the evening news, Tom thinks he might know who the killer is. Desperate to stop the next murder before it happens, Tom mounts his own investigation—and quickly finds himself in over his head.

When the next little girl goes missing, Tom will have to come to terms with his past and face his demons in order to track down a monster. But with time running out and his leads falling short, his chances at finding the killer are quickly diminishing.

Along with a child’s chances for survival.

Sounds awesome, right? You know it does. I had a great time writing this one and I think it turned out nicely. I plan on doing a whole series of these books, taking Tom all over the place as he hunts down the hunters, bringing those motherfuckers to justice.

In other news, I’m currently about 1/3 of the way through revisions on Badlands #3 and I’m just about finished with the first draft of a new monster novel called It Came From the Mountain. My homage to Mothman, if you will. Look for both of those books early next year. And if you missed it, check out my Halloween-themed short story Cycle. You can pick that up for less than a buck. My kids loved it, so if you’re looking for third-party validation, there you go.

Stay up to date on all things me by signing up for the newsletter. And if you really want to make my day, buy some more of my crap here.

Until next time, take it easy.

Brian

1,000 Days

Not too long ago I passed the 1,000 day mark since publishing my first novel back in 2011. I thought I’d recap some of the finer points of this experience and where I think the next 1,000 days might take me.

I’m a better writer.

I’ve put in about a half-million words and I’m getting better at this whole fiction thing. I’ve read maybe a dozen books on the craft and I’ve received some great critique from beta readers and fellow writers (and occasionally reviews). I’m not where I’d like to be (will I ever be?), but I’m getting closer and each book (I think) is better than the last.

I spend most of my time writing now.

With all the research I had to do in the beginning on publishing to Kindle, marketing, book cover design, editing, starting a small business and more, I spent less time writing. With so much of that administrative legwork done, I’m spending upwards of 80% of my time creating & polishing new content. This is where I need to be if I want to build a backlist.

I stopped reading reviews.

I rarely got anything valuable from them as to how to better write my books. The problem is that every bad review seems to negate all the positive reviews (and my books tend to rate 4 stars or higher). I know it’s just me, but my skin isn’t really thick enough for it. I’ve since adopted Kathleen Hanna’s stance: You’re still going to get criticized, so you might as well do whatever the fuck you want. That’s exactly how I see it. I take feedback from those I trust to be honest, critical and supportive and fuck the rest. I sleep better and the work I produce is better for it.

Positive reviews are no different. As much as I love them, they don’t help me to be a better writer. They do, however, gauge reader satisfaction (which I’ll get to later).

I turned off the news.

A year and a half ago I just stopped watching and reading it. I haven’t looked back. Same with Facebook. I’m better for it today.

I track my sales monthly, not daily.

And sure as shit not intra-day. That made me crazy. I check sales rank a few times a month, mostly out of curiosity. I do not let it affect my attitude, confidence or creativity. I have a bunch of reporting that gets the monthly treatment, but I don’t spend much time analyzing it these days.

I’m working toward a five-year plan now.

I’m mostly foregoing marketing until I have a proper backlist. I’ll be finishing up my Badlands series and writing some more novels in the horror and thriller genres. Within five years I should have eight novels (at least), so I figure I can then shift some of my focus over to marketing. Until then I’m plugging away at the keys and writing new words. That’s actually been pretty good for me.

I don’t focus on other writers’ successes.

Not that I obsessed too much over it, but I rarely ever look at it these days. Too busy writing and focusing on my own work.

I’ve rolled with market changes.

The market has cooled since I started this back in 2011. The temporary sales growth was nice, but it’s not reality. I’ve come to terms with this and I’m just working that much harder to produce new content. It never really was about the money anyway.

I’ve learned that I’m just as much of a writer as anyone else.

I sit in a chair, by myself, and pour hour after hour into a manuscript, just like any other trad-pub mid-lister. We both go through editing, proofreading and critiquing. We both get our books sent out into the world with no advertising (aside from what we do ourselves). And like other mid-listers, I do it all while working a full-time job.

By foregoing traditional publishing, I’m not shortcutting anything. I do as much work as any other writer and by publishing myself I incur all the costs and take all the risks. Hell, I’m actually creating more work for myself.

So if you need a publisher to tell you the work you do is worthwhile, so be it. While reader reviews don’t help me as a writer, they do help me as a publisher to gauge satisfaction. If the readers are generally happy, then I’m doing it right. I don’t need a middleman for validation.

In conclusion…

A couple of years after the “Kindle Gold Rush” I’m still writing. I’m here to stay. Where will the next 1,000 days take me? A few more novels, another quarter million words and hopefully a thousand (or more) fans. It’s been a wild ride these past few years, that’s for sure. Now that much of the dust has settled, I’m digging in for the long haul and writing away (and having fun while I do it).

Let’s you and me catch back up again in 1,000 more days and see where it all went. Until then, I’m back to writing.

Final Push

I’m in the final stretch of finishing the first draft of my sci-fi thriller The Crossover Gene. I started this manuscript back in November, 2012 as part of NaNoWriMo. I hit my 5ok word goal and then got back to work on Beyond the Badlands, the second book in my Badands series.

Since publishing Beyond the Badlands, I’ve made headway into Revenge In the Badlands (Badlands #3) and I’ve completely revised the 50k words I wrote back in 2012 for The Crossover Gene. Currently, the manuscript sits at 52,186 words with a goal of around 75k.

Now it’s time for the final push to finish the manuscript. I have roughly 25k words left to write. To many writers that’s not much at all; maybe a week or so. But for me, with a full-time programming job, a wife and two kids, it’s a challenge.

I figure there are others out there like me, writing part-time, who have challenges to face in order to meet their word count goals. Whether it’s difficulty getting started, staying motivated, organizing thoughts or squeezing in time around all the distractions of life, we all have our challenges.

So, the plan here is simple: I’m going to write a post each day, detailing the final push to get this manuscript finished. I’ll share a summary of my day and how my writing fared on that day. And I’ll keep it as brief as possible to avoid making it boring.

How many hours did I write? How did work or home life affect my writing? How many words did I write? What is my enthusiasm and energy level? What problems did I have to get around? Where did I succeed or fail? I’ll share these experiences so that others might find parallels with their own writing lives.

I think this will be a useful exercise for me and hopefully beneficial to others.

Let’s get started!

It’s Already April?

Somehow, we’re already halfway through April. Not quite sure how that crept up on me. That said, I figured it was a good time to provide an update. Besides, some of my friends probably think I’m dead since I haven’t shown my face in public in months (or maybe years).

I hit 2014 hard, writing nearly 30k words in January. I know that’s not a lot for some folks, but it is for me. Then February came and work got busy with a trip to San Francisco and some deadlines.

By the time April rolled around, I was burnt.

I suppose it’s inevitable, since I’ve been running hot since the end of 2010. I’ve written three novels, a novella and a bunch of short stories. I also have two partially-finished novels in the wings. I’ve done a lot of re-writing as I’ve learned how to be a better writer. Thousands of hours. All that with a full-time programming job, a wife and two kids. I think the hours just got to me.

“So, stop whining,” you say. To which I respond, “Yeah, yeah…I know.”

But seriously, I think I just needed a break. So after pushing through March with revisions to my sci-fi novel, I took the first week of April off. I think it did me some good, because I’m feeling anxious to get back to work. Plus, I buckled down and finished the outline for Badlands #3 and #4, along with my sci-fi thriller.

I’m going to take a month and finish that sci-fi book’s first draft. Then I’ll tuck it away and finish the first draft of Badlands #3. If all goes well, Badlands #3 will be out by the fall. I might even have that sci-fi book out this year too. After that, I’ll hop on Badlands #4 and finish up the series.

Going forward, I’m looking at my writing schedule to see where I can build in some time off. I might take off one weekend a month. Sure, it’ll slow me down a bit, but if I burn myself out I’m stopping production altogether. I think that’s worse.

So hang in there; I’ll have some books finished this year. And with some tweaking of my schedule, I think I might actually get out of the house and live a little in the process. 🙂

What’s the Hold Up?

So it’s no secret now that Beyond the Badlands, the sequel to my debut novel Into the Badlands, is behind schedule. Here’s a little insight as to why I’m in this particular boat.

First off, the book ran long. I was shooting for 90,000 words, but the first draft ended up clocking in around 114,000. That added another month. After the beta readers finished the book I found that I needed to tweak, expand or (in some cases) completely rewrite sections of the book. Fleshing that stuff out added several weeks to the mix.

The nice weather caused delays. Last year we suffered through two months straight of over 100 degree days. This year we hung in the 70 to 80 degree range. My family and I ended up doing a lot more together outside the house. This was great from a family perspective, but it without a doubt caused a slowdown in the progress of the book.

And beyond all that, the first draft was in many cases pretty damn terrible. Lots of over-writing, lots of superfluous and repetitive descriptions, more telling than showing. Some aspects of the plot were sketchy since I was still trying to pin down where I wanted the story to go. In the rewrites over the past couple of months I’ve had to rewrite entire chapters. Slow work.

The day job, the income stream that keeps the lights on and the mortgage paid, has been in high gear this year. We’re working on a big project and that’s been sapping my energy. I’m spent when I get home, falling asleep behind the keyboard on more than one occasion. That puts a dent in forward progress.

And lastly, I’ve been working on this book since December of last year. So that’s nine months so far. I got to a point where I just couldn’t look at it anymore. I’m sure I dragged my feet for a while because I just couldn’t bear the sight of it.

That’s pretty much it. I’m not bitching, just explaining. I figure folks don’t really get to see much of the behind-the-scenes stuff related to the writing of novels, providing me an opportunity to show how alike we all are. There’s no “writer’s block” here, just time constraints and other real-world hindrances.

When’s it coming out? That’s a tough call. I’m 50% through the rewrites now. I figure a couple more months and then editing, proofing, etc. I’m confident that it’ll be before Christmas, unless something comes at me outta left field. I REALLY need to hit Christmas. I can’t afford to miss that.

So thanks for hanging in there. Sign up for the mailing list if you want to be notified the moment it’s available. Until then, take care.

Quotas and Goals

When I wrote my first self-published novel Into the Badlands, I simply worked on it when the mood hit. I wrote most days, but not every day, and I had no real sense of how much I was getting accomplished day to day or week to week. Over the course of 210 days I wrote 84,000 words. That’s around 400 words per day.

My next book, The Desolate, was written in a similar fashion. Over the course of 120 writing days I wrote a 70,000 word first draft. That’s 583 words per day. Better, but not great.

My latest novel, Beyond the Badlands (the follow up to Into the Badlands) has seen 114 writing days so far. It’s nearly completed now, sitting at 105,000 words. That works out to 921 words per day.

You can see the trend here: I’ve more than doubled my daily word count since my first novel.

There are some reasons for this. For one thing I’m a better writer now. I can write more, faster. But that only goes so far. I was a little better when I wrote my second novel, but it was written at a pace only slightly faster than the first novel.

The secret is the daily quota.

I’ve set a daily quota of 1,000 words for myself. I’m not quite hitting it, but you can see here that I’m pretty damn close with this latest book. That word count is always nagging at me, each and every day I wake up. I know that if I don’t make my quota for the day then I’m going to be playing catch up over the weekend. If I don’t put in the extra work to get caught up then my release date will slide.

But the daily word count is a means to an end. The real end is the finished novel. So when I project out my year, I see it as 365 days. Using 90,000 words as the average novel, that means I can finish the first draft in three months. Add in another two months for revisions and another month with the manuscript out to the editor and I’ve just written and published a book in six months. That’s my ideal time frame.

If you took my 90,000 words and averaged them over six months instead of three months, you’re not going to get 1,000 words per day. But the 1,000 word per day quota is necessary for me to write and publish a book in six months. So the quota isn’t a mindlessly ubiquitous daily word count for the entire year, it’s a purposeful number required for a period of time in support of the larger deliverable: the novel.

Your goals and your counts will vary. That’s not the point. The point is, if you figure out what you want to produce and how long it will (actually) take you to produce it – and then stick to those quotas – you’re likely to see an increase like the doubling in word count I did.

If you’ve been at the writing game for some time, then this is something you probably already know. But if you’re fairly new to the game like me, then maybe this shift in thinking will be helpful for you. This year I’ll publish two novels instead of one, simply because I use my time more wisely now. And since books sell books, having more books available is a good thing.