We’re All Scaredy Cats (or, Why You Need to Write Through the Fear)

Pretend with me for a minute.

Let’s pretend that we’re novice explorers and we are about to start scaling the side of a mountain that is called Killdrop Mountain. Thousands have died trying to reach its summit and you and I have no experience…there’s just doom, fear, and one hell of a climb ahead of us. Scary, huh?

Well, yeah. But still, we’ve come all this way to Killdrop Mountain and to turn back now would be admitting defeat. Also, all of our other explorer friends would make fun of us.

Now, let’s stop pretending and be honest for a while.

Writing is sort of like this…without the fear of falling to your death of large jagged rocks. Unless you’re on some sort of weird retreat with other thrill-seeking writers.

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one that has sat down behind the computer, stared at the white screen, and felt a slow and creeping fear enter my mind on occasion. Sometimes it’s because that old whisper of you’re not good enough creeps in. Other times, it’s because the idea I have seems too big. And others times, it’s something much deeper. But do you know what I do to shut that fear up?

I write.comp

I write through that fear. Sometimes the result is pretty bad and needs to be rewritten. But even sloppy first draft drivel is progress. And every now and then, I’ll use that fear as fuel and the words that come out of it aren’t half bad.

So what about you? Where does your fear come from and how do you stave it off?

Based on what I know of myself and a rather large portion of the writing community, here are some of the fears that tend to pop up, as if birthed by your internal Idea Factory or the Blank Screen, and how to overcome them.

That idea is stupid. Try again.

Maybe it is stupid. But you won’t know unless you try. Getting down 3,000 wasted words just to test the waters is better than never trying the idea out at all and then finding out years later than some other writer used a similar idea and is reaping the rewards.

This idea is too big for you. Try something smaller.

While writing can indeed be a roller coaster, it’s not the type that has the You Must Be This Tall To Ride This Ride sign at the gates. It’s your idea…it can be as big (or as small) as you need it too.

You don’t have time for this.

Good. Write it anyway. It’s called sacrifice and it’s likely going to help you become a more dedicated and driven writer.

Actual fear.

As a horror writer that goes for selling the tone, I have actually sat down behind my computer and written something that had me looking over my shoulder. This has happened to me several times…once so much so that I had to stop writing and come back to it a few days later. This is an awesome feeling and if you can use it to your advantage, I believe you have a one-up on most other writers.

What if you think it’s awesome and everyone else hates it?

So? Everyone’s a critic, and most of the snobbier ones are self-serving and miserable, looking for anything to complain about. Do you like the idea? Are you enjoying it as you write it? Then forget about what everyone else thinks. (Well, up until you send it off to beta readers).

What if it doesn’t amount to anything?

Oh well…lesson learned. Scrap it and start again. Even bad writing can be used as a workshop, particularly to find the areas where you need improvement.

But the white screen is yelling at me again.

This is a problem. Seek psychiatric help immediately.

But what will people think of me after they read this?

Hopefully they’ll think you’re a writer. As a Christian that writes primarily horror, this is a fear that pops up all of the time. But I hold to the old adage of writing for yourself first and your audience second. Who cares what people will think of you? You wrote the book and they didn’t. The way you should be seeing it is that you wrote a book…an actual book that a few people might read. Don’;t worry what others think…what do you think of that?

How about you, fellow writers? What are some of the fears that keep you terrified as you hammer out the words?

9 Lies Writers Need to Stop Telling Themselves

I’ve come to the point in this writing journey (I hesitate to call it a career just yet) where some decisions need to be made. Some hard truths need to be faced, primarily that the raging chorus of the internet should not dictate what I write and when I write it. This simple fact has helped me to kill off some of the lies I have been telling myself about the journey, the craft, and the online writing community.

(It also helped me decide that sure, I can write two series at the same time and that has been something of a nightmare).

And then I realized that there are a lot of lies that us writers live by…lies that we tell ourselves in order to cling to a dream or to destroy it and give up.

So let’s do away with a few of them, shall we?

Life is busy. I don’t have time to write.

I often fall back to this lie when sales aren’t going my way and the day job gets in my way. But I have learned to sneak in writing whenever I can: 10 minutes while waiting for feedback during the day job, 5 minutes of notes on Evernote in a waiting room, whatever it takes. While I do prefer those 2-3 hour sessions behind the computer, sometimes I’ll go a week without getting one. So you have to learn to take whatever time you can. For some, it means staying up later and for others (the masochistic sort), it means waking up earlier.

Yes, life is busy. But if you really want to be a writer, you need to find a way to make it busier with your writing.

The money I’m making doesn’t justify the time I put into it.

This also describes just about every 9-5 job available today. And besides, let’s be real…if you’re in it for the money, you need to check your delusions at the door. Of course, we all want to land a lucrative deal or hit that undefined sweet spot in the self-publishing fog and be able to write full time for a living. But if dreams of making money is why you’re writing, you might want to consider another hobby…like day trading or bank robbery.

I’m going to make an instant fortune with self-publishing just like INSERT NAME HERE.

Sorry…but the odds say that this is not going to happen. Not overnight anyway. Yes, it has happened. But you’d have a better chance of winning the lottery. The thing with self-publishing is that it’s more than just the writing..it’s also the marketing, the cover, the networking, the word of mouth, the blah blah blah. Nothing about writing is instant. Not the work behind it and certainly not the money.

I’ll never make any money with self-publishing.

This is technically not true. Even if only your friends and family buy your book, you’ve made something. Also, you can’t approach self-publishing with that attitude. Make up some very reachable goal. For instance, let’s say you publish your first book and shoot for a goal of making $10 in your first month. Some basic social media presence, sales to family and friends, and then those random ghost sales will give you more than that. Once you reach that $10, maybe make a goal to earn $25 the following month. And on and on…but always remain realistic or you’re going to get very frustrated.

And above all, keep writing. There’s an avalanche of self-published books out there and if your name isn’t kept fresh, then you’re going to get lost. While some put out one or two books and fixate their attention on those for a year or so, there are others that manage to publish 3-4 books a year, constantly building on their income. Decide which path seems more to your liking and stick with it.

I’m not good enough.

This might be true. But you know how to fix that? Keep writing. Seek honest feedback from your peers. if the feedback is too brutal and makes you cry, again, choose another hobby because writing is not for you. Also, if you find yourself lacking, read more books and more blogs from writers you respect. If you legitimately think you’re no good, the only way to get better is to keep writing.

I’m awesome.

Shut up. Even if you are a great talent, no one wants to hear you brag about yourself. And you know what? As awesome as you might be, there are probably about 50 writers that are barely getting any attention that are much better than you. That’s the one good thing about the infinite number of self-published titles out there; competition helps keep writers active and constantly improving their game. Keep that in mind before you shout your own praises from the rooftops.

Author X is selling really well. I need to write like them.

No you don’t. You need to write like you. Sure, you might get some inspiration and motivation from other writers, but please don’t write like them. You take away a certain something about your own writing when you try to mimic others. If you need proof, I can show you about 20 short stories I wrote in high school and college when I was convinced that Clive Barker was the greatest writer on the face of the planet. Those short stories suck. Reading them is painful and the voice in them is certainly not mine. It’s a watered down version of Barker and the only reason I haven’t incinerated those stories yet is because they are a reminder of this very rule for me.

This genre isn’t selling well. Maybe I should start writing another genre that I’m less passionate about but is obviously popular.

No. Don’t be a sell-out. While I can’t stand to use this as an example, think of this: When Twilight was released, there was an infinitesimally small market for the YA chick-lit-vampire-shapeshifter-sparkle-stalker genre. That genre exploded and out of it, an entire flood of YA literature was born and instantly took up far too many shelves in bookstores.

So take chances and write that weird off the wall stuff that’s rattling around in your head.. Don’t abandon the genre or style you feel is the right fit for you just because some other genre is selling well.

If an agencies and publishers reject me, this dream is dead.

It’s becoming painfully clear that agencies are out of touch with what readers want (says the writer than has vowed that he will continue shopping to agencies while also self-publishing). If an agency or publisher rejects you, consider the feedback they give you and improve your book. But don’t abandon it. See the comment above about feedback. If you’ve had enough “professional rejection” then it’s time you explored all of your options.

One of the many great things about self-publishing is that a rejection from an agency is only eliminating one of several options to get your words in the hands of readers. So no…a rejection from an agency is not a death sentence. If anything, it’s like a big mean Mama Bird kicking her black sheep bird out of the nest onto the prickly rocky ground below. And once there, it’s time for the baby bird to do some exploring.

So stop lying to yourself. All it does it cause doubt and give you an excuse to not write as well as you can. I am in the camp that believes that this is the best time in the history of ever to be a writer. So take advantage of the ample opportunities to get your stories to the public and stop with the lies.

If you must lie to yourself, here’s a good one to start with: “I can hit 7,000 words today.”

Take that lie with you and start writing.

11 Crumbs from the Writer’s Table

Every writer has their routines and strategies…the things that anchor them to reality while making up stories. Go hunt down the blogs of any dozen or so writers and you’ll quickly see that these strategies and lessons are often quite different from writer to writer.

However, I find a lot of inspiration in some of these blogs. As of late, it has taken a few poignant articles from Chuck Wendig and  Ksenia Anske to give me the harsh yet soft and reassuring kick in the pants I have needed to get on my with own writing. More than that, it has helped me to remember some valuable lessons about remaining unique as a writer and to never question my own stories or motives.

That being said, here are eleven points that I feel are super important and highly suggest every writer, whether aspiring or seasoned, to give some serious thought to.

 

1. You must have coffee…or if not coffee, something that you can make yourself, with your own two hands, that serves as a motivator. Being able to create the thing that is providing you with sustenance and energy is sort of godlike and, let’s face it, is something all writers struggle with. Coffee works best because, aside from being delicious, the smell alone can perk you up. Whatever works for you, though.

2. If you haven’t read a book in the last 3 months that made you think “This is amazing writing and everything I have ever written is wretched in comparison” then you aren’t reading the right books. Being intimidated by great writing makes you strive to be better. It teaches us more about humility than non-writers will ever understand. Hunt down some new groundbreaking books through social media to make you re-evaluate yourself and leave you in awe. (My suggestion…start with Eleanor by Jason Gurley).

3. You know that thought you have that goes something like “No, no…that’s idea is too far-fetched” and pops up at least once or twice a week? Yeah, you need to hunt it down and silence it. It needs to be slaughtered. Possibly in a violent way…on the page.

4. Music. Any kind. Use it. Even if you’re one of those weirdoes that says music distracts you while writing, put on something with super low volume. Try ambient. Set the mood. That moment when you realize that you writing has sort of blended with the music is magical.

5. Writer’s block is awesome. There’s no bigger challenge to a writer. Welcome it and even taunt it. Then tear through it with your words and fingers and teeth. (I find that when using my teeth, my writer’s block tastes surprisingly like butterscotch). The longer I write, the more convinced I become that writers block doesn’t really exist…it’s just an excuse.

6. Another thing on writer’s block or lack of motivation…if all else fails, pretend that you’re Paul Sheldon. Write yourself out of that bed and away from the crazy cock-a-doodie lady with the sledgehammer. Unless she’s your muse. Then you must simply appease her and take the beatings. (If you don’t get the Paul Sheldon reference, that makes me sad. Also, see #2).

7. Try something different. Those that frequent this blog (God bless you) know that it’s not my fiction but my ghostwriting and copywriting that pay the bills (a problem that is looking to be remedied within a year or two if things keep going as they are). My ghostwriting has led me to write in genres and styles I never would have touched a few years ago. This experience resulted in my signing a contract for three books under a pen name in a genre I am not very familiar with (more on this in the future). The experience has been fun, rewarding, and has the potential to help me reach a new audience…albeit under a different name. Best of all, it has stretched me as a writer like nothing else has.

8. The internet is a blessing, but also a curse. Case in point: I was researching firearms for a work in progress not too long ago because I know nothing about guns. But somehow, researching what sort of firearm is most commonly used in the FBI got me on a rabbit trail and I was eventually reading reviews for the new X-Files comics. For me, what this means is that if my mind isn’t at least 90% focused on the story at hand, I should not open a browser under any conditions.

9. Speaking of research…don’t let it hinder your writing. Not sure about a place, the make and model of a car, or some other tidbit? Put a place marker in (I use XXX and highlight it in yellow) and keep going. Don’t force yourself to slow down the writing unless it is absolutely necessary. I do most of my research either at the end of a chapter or during the first round of edits, wherein I fill in those XXXs.

10. Find someone you trust to bounce ideas off of. Someone that is familiar with your work and your genre. It has to be someone that isn’t afraid to hurt your precious feelings. And no, Twitter is not a someone.

11. Reading advice and taking it are two different things. There’s tons of it out there…particularly on how to sell a trillion books overnight. Some of the advice is accurate but I find it hard to put much faith in any list that includes LUCK as a tactic. So while it is super helpful to see what has worked for some, don’t waste your time trying to immolate others. Forge your own path with your own machete and weed-eater and wave on the hesitant others behind you to follow along.

 

How about you fine folks? Any morsels you’d like to toss under the table to the sly hungry dogs?

 

A Writer’s Toolbox

Every writer has their own schedules and quirks, their own methods and madness. But we also have our own little personalized toolboxes—the place where we keep our inspiration and motivation locked up.

I always enjoy getting a glimpse into some of the tools that keep writers going and help them stay on track. Here’s a little glimpse into the things that help me to keep the words coming, whether its for my ghostwriting projects or my own fiction.

Coffee. I’m not one of those coffee snobs. As long as it contains caffeine and has a coffee-like aroma, I will drink it. Very little cream, and a little mound of sugar. When I know there’s going to be a massive word count to hit, I brew a pot. But if it’s a more relaxed day, I resort to the Keurig. (Yes, we have two coffee makers in the kitchen).

Spotify. I’m not sure how I ever made it without Spotify. Before, I simply tossed together some iTunes playlists for my projects. But with Spotify, I know that I’m just a click away from discovering artists similar to the ones I’m listening to. Also, the social aspects of it are amazing. It’s cool to get a glimpse into the playlists of other writers to see what they have been listening to. Currently, I’m listening to two playlists over and over—one for my Cooper M. Reid books and another for a project that is going on a year or so in the making.

Ambio. This is a new addition to my toolbox. It’s a smartphone/tablet app that was created as a noise-maker for sleep. It allows you to build your own noises, blending together textures and sounds that you might think wouldn’t go together. I use this for sleep but also have a few tracks created for just zoning out and coming up with ideas. From looped synth noises to the more traditional nighttime forests and crashing waves, Ambio has everything. My writing drone consists of a blended loop of Urban Rain, Cosmic Om, and Heartbeat. My sleep track is a blend of Ocean Wind, White Noise, and Cosmic Drone.

Vanilla Coke Zero. Because sometimes, the coffee pot is empty.

Twitter. I know I don’t use it like writers are supposed to in terms of marketing, but I love using it to get inspired by other writers. It’s also a great way to keep up with how the industry is changing on what sometimes feels like a daily basis.

Plain old boring voice recorder app. I have one on my phone. Most writers know the pain of coming up with a great idea while driving or walking or, let’s be honest, on the toilet. Without pen and paper, the voice recorder on my phone comes in handy. And with the hands free function, this becomes an invaluable tool while in the middle of traffic.

It’s not much of a toolbox, sure. But I prefer to keep it clean and simple. What are some other tools you’ve been using that have been helpful?

Intel from “Almost There” Territory

A few months back, I wrote this post about how there are a huge group of writers that are planted in the “Haven’t Made it Yet” camp.

I am happy to inform you that in that time, I have been upgraded to the very similar but a bit more exciting “Almost There” camp.

How did it happen? Well, I’m not sure. But here are some things I experimented with in the last six months that seemed to have helped sales increase. Keep in mind, I am still not earning enough to make a living on my writing. Not by a long shot. But since I wrote the previously mentioned post, my sales have more that tripled.

So what did I learn?

The 0.99 Price Point is NOT Dead…But It’s Not Throwing Any Parties Either.

Every now and then, I’ll drop the price of one of my novels to $0.99 in the hopes of selling a few more copies and increasing the chances of a review. In the last year, this tactic has usually resulted in a few more sales. In the past six months, this has remained true. In the case of The Bleeding Room, dropping the price to $0.99 resulted in it breaking the top 25 in its category and hanging out there for 2 weeks even after I knocked the price back up to $3.99.

So while I wouldn’t suggest LEAVING your price at $0.99, I think there is some value with dropping at least one of your titles to this price point for a week or so every month. Also, if you decide to do this, place a headline in your description, stating that it’s a sale so the Amazon browser realizes that they are getting a deal.

I’m Not Sure About the Effectiveness of Box Sets.

This probably changes for everyone, but my collection of 3 novels, These Dark Woods, has sold miserably. This, to me, is odd because it is priced at $5.99 whereas The Bleeding Room is $3.99 and still sells very well. I am planning to run a week-long sales on These Dark Woods soon. Maybe a KDP Countdown Deal and hope for the Amazon exposure. Speaking of which…

KDP Countdown Deals Work

Every single time I have launched a countdown deal on my books, it has worked. I have noticed that it seems to be pointless to set two price reductions (from $0.99 to $1.99 and then back to final price). It’s been apparent to me that after that first increase towards regular price, the sales basically stop cold. But when it is set at $0.99 and labelled as a countdown deal, sales have always seen a spike. This was especially true when Nests somehow managed to land on Amazon’s own Countdown Deals front page. (Still not sure how that happened…)

The caveat here, of course, is that what had sort of worked for me might not work for anyone else. I think it comes down to genre and, naturally, the popularity of the writer.

What other intel can you share that might help others get upgraded?

How Writers can Stay Out Of Their Own Way

If I’ve learned anything about writing in the last few years (especially since the Self-Publishing Juggernaut started stomping all over the landscape), it’s that far too many writers are trying to mimic what other writers have done to become successful. It’s okay…you can admit it.

I’m guilty of it, to be honest. Especially when it comes to trying the latest Amazon magic trick.

Here’s the sad thing, though…doing this works for some people. But for others, it’s the equivalent of building a second Great Wall of China between you and your writing goals.

Far too often, we as writers are the biggest obstacle in our way. I know this all too well because I am constantly tripping over myself.

But right around the time I finished Nests, something changed. I wasn’t really looking to what other writers were doing in terms of their writing and marketing. I didn’t use someone else’s standards to etch out my path. Instead, I wrote what I wanted and I marketed the way I wanted (which, honestly, isn’t much and often hit or miss).

And here’s the weird thing…within 6 weeks or so, my sales started improving. And they have been steadily climbing ever since. I’m not making huge numbers by any means, but compared to sales 6 months ago, the change is pretty drastic.

Also, best of all, I decided to start writing two books that I was pretty sure would not be very popular. I still get a barrage of WTFs from the ending of Nests…but I sort of like that. So I am writing stories that I wouldn’t have if I were taking all of my cues from what “successful” indies are doing.

Are you getting in your own way? Not sure how to tell? Here are some things to think about.

 

THERE IS NO RIGHT WAY TO DO SOCIAL MEDIA.

I admit…this one makes me a hypocrite, as I recently asked Ksenia Anske how in the world she managed to get 44K followers on Twitter. But I asked not only because I also would like that many followers…I asked because I was genuinely curious. Why does Twitter work for some and not for others? Why do some find success (and fulfillment, blech) in Facebook while others don’t?

It’s because regardless of what any so-called expert will tell you, there IS NO SECRET formula for success in social media. It comes down to how nice and relatable you can be on a screen. And I suppose tact and creativity also come into play. But don’t let this worry you. You’re a writer, not a social media expert. Don’t let social media get in your way of writing.

 

THERE IS ALWAYS TIME TO WRITE.

Busy? Yeah, me too. I ghostwrite most of the day while also keeping the kids out of danger (as best I can) and trying not to blow a gasket to not snap every other ten minutes on one of the days when the baby gets into the Tupperware drawer, the 5 year old has smeared peanut butter on the floor, and the 7 year old is practicing her attitude for when she turns 16.

Here’s the thing. There’s still always time to write. Got 15 minutes between two tasks? Use it. Don’t fool yourself by saying 15 minutes isn’t enough time to write. That’s a lie that procrastination likes to plant in our heads.

15 minutes is plenty of time. Ever take a power nap? Aren’t they awesome and refreshing? Do that with writing. Make your writing the equivalent of a power nap. Do it whenever you have a sliver of time and a keyboard at your fingertips.

 

DON’T SETTLE FOR YOUR CURRENT BEST.

If you’re indie publishing, you don’t have agents or a publisher to appease. You can write what you damn well please. Take advantage of that. Of course, whatever you release into the digital ether will be a representative of you, so you want it to be good. But don’t find that comfort zone that you’ve been looking for and kick your heels up.

Challenge yourself. Like the ever-intelligent Mr. Bixler from My Girl said (and, more impressively, John Bush later on): “Be dangerous and unpredictable…and make a lot of noise.” Surprise yourself as well as your readers. Don’t get in your own way by limiting yourself to what you think is a great story FOR NOW. Always be thinking about how you can evolve and stray from what you KNOW you can do. Then, get good at that new thing and venture elsewhere.

 

So tie your shoelaces, lest you trip. Hold the scissors blades-down lest you fall and stab yourself in the chest. Get the hell out of your own way and just write.

Why Horror Needs More “Less is More”

I’ve always been a huge advocate of having the big scares in horror being more subtle in nature. To me, a great horror movie is built around scares that occur off-screen. When you have to show right slap dab in the middle of the screen what it is that we’re supposed to be scared of, then I question the strength of the story-teller.

Case in point…

 

That short film won the best director category at the 2013 BC Horror Challenge. In my opinion, it does an excellent job of building suspense and really just creeping you out. The way we stay under the covers with the lady for a bit is well done. I thought this was an excellent short film…

…but the final 2 seconds killed it.

Had we not seen that thing (girl?) it would have been so much more effective. I won’t even blame it on a small budget. Hollywood money couldn’t have made up for it. It was unnecessary and, in my opinion, negated the fright that the rest of the film built up.

This is just me, though. Maybe it’s all part of the way the story is delivered. Thoughts?

Scenes From the State of All Bookforms 2014

This whole journey towards trying to become a self-sustaining independent/self-published writer has taught me a lot about the craft and the industry. I think that’s one of the best things about it…there’s no better way to get a feel for the inner workings of an industry than trying to become a part of it, watching people succeed and fail on a fairly regular basis.

But one thing that has always alarmed me is the sheer bitchery between the two sides. There are blogs I once read religiously for ideas and motivation that I no longer visit because their space has become nothing but a forum to tear down the opposition. It’s frankly getting old pretty fast, and it doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon.

There are days where it all comes down to being just a bunch of static…noise that gets inside a writer’s head and buzzes like a drill operated by a tiny mind-gnome. There are days when it sounds something like this little imagined scenario from an event I believe I will call The State of All Bookforms 2014.

Self Publishing walks in like it owns the place, swagger and confidence in his step. He knocks aside the rows of bargain bin books that were crouched quietly in the back of the conference room. In the opposite back corner of the room, Barnes and Noble can be heard squealing and making a commotion as it hides behind a chair.

MODERATOR: Can you NEVER be on time, Self Publishing?

SELF PUBLISHING: Hey man, I do what I want. Deal with it.

BIG 5 PUBLISHING REP: See that? Mr. Moderator, are you going to let him disrespect you like that? If we let him have his way, he’ll tear this room apart. He’ll digitize us all! And he’ll do with with terrible formatting, typos, and covers that are really all starting to look the same. WHERE WILL I MAKE MY MONEY?  I mean,…erm, let’s think of the readers here. Yes. That’s what I meant to say.

MODERATOR: Settle down before you have a heart attack.

Big 5 Publishing Rep, sweaty and pouty, mumbles something about bookshelves, marketing, and how faulty electronics are Satan’s work.

SUPER SUCCESSFUL INDIE: May I speak please, Mr. Moderator?

MODERATOR: Of course.

SUPER SUCCESSFUL INDIE: Thank you. I’d like to start this meeting by stating that the attitudes of the Big 5 are really beginning to cause the entire industry to…..

(three hours pass)

…and, basically, to sum it all up, that’s why self-publishing is awesome and I am the god of all things bookish.

SENSIBLE SUPER SUCCESSFUL INDIE: (slightly embarrassed) That could have been shorter. Please do shut up. You’re making us all look bad, you know.

INDIE WRITER MAKING AROUND $50 A MONTH: WTF? He scratches head, tries to take notes, really starts to get irritated with his leaders.

BIG 5 PUBLISHING REP: You see?! They can’t even get along with writers that are taking their side! Do we really want to hand over the platinum gold shiny keys to the kingdom to warmongers like these?

MODERATOR: Order please, order. Can we please…

BIG 5 SELF PUBLISHING REP: Look! The new Stephen King novel! All 23,000 pages of it. Look how pretty and big and expensive! And mmmm….that new book smell.

INDIE PUBLISHING: Look! The new Stephen King novel. It’s the same size as my Kindle. And I won’t have to cut a new hole in my wall to make room for it on my bookshelf.

STEPHEN KING: Ha! That’s awesome. Did you know I wrote that in like 2 weeks? Also, Stephanie Meyer sucks.

JONATHAN FRANZEN: (stumbles in). Bwaaaaaah why wasn’t I invited? Doesn’t matter. I hate you all anyway.

INDIE EROTICA WRITER hits PUBLISH on release #37596 during all of this.

BIG 5 REP: Did you see that? She didn’t even copy-edit that! She just sent it out into the—

AMAZON: Your title has been published. You now have ALL THE MONEY.

INDIE EROTICA WRITER: Hooray! (starts writing release #37597).

Suddenly, the doors swing open and a bright light shines in. A CASUAL READER steps into the room amid all the noise.

READER: What the hell is this?

ALL ATTENDANTS: BLARGH RABBLE ARRRRGH ME ME ME MEMEMEMEME! CUSTOMER REVIEWS! BECOME A MEMBER…MORE THAN 100,000,000 IN PRINT…BLAAAAAAARGHHHH

READER: (Backing away slowly and in terror). Um…yeah, no thanks. I’ll just wait for the movie.

DISNEY and UNIVERSAL: Mwahahahahahahaha!

The Myth of the Stay at Home Writer with Kids and Successful Time Management

Working from home as a freelancer and story peddler can be rewarding on an innumerable number of levels. We’ve all seen the thousands of articles on the benefits of freelancing from home, so I won’t repeat them here. What I will do is try to explain the formula I have come up with to better handle the mythic creature known as Time Management while working  from home…with children.

I have three kids, ages 6, 4, and 9 months. The decision to freelance full-time came from the fact that I could stay at home with the baby and save nearly $7,500 a year on daycare expenses. It also came from the fact that I had recently been laid off, so the timing seemed sort of perfect (in that scary reckless sort of way) to make a go at ghostwriting full time while also trying to get my own writing off the ground.

Often, people ask how I manage to get any writing done with three kids in the house, especially during the summer when school is out. (Notice I said “people” and not “friends”; freelancing from home with three kids doesn’t really allow time for “friends”).

It’s a good question and one that is surprisingly easy to answer, given that the person that has asked has nothing to do for the next few hours.

Here’s the breakdown. Hopefully it will help some of you freelancers and/or writers with kids at home see that you are not alone in what feels like a slow but certain downward spiral into madness. I am aware that schedules fluctuate in terms of married life and how much evil energy your kids have in them so adjust accordingly.

  • I get two solid hours of work in while the baby is down for her morning nap. This includes answering e-mails and responding to any comments on social media.
  • I get another hour and a half or so in during the afternoon. This is after I have left the house with the 9 month old in tow to pick up the 4 year old from pre-school.
  • I can usually sneak in another half an hour after the 6 year old gets off of the bus. This is snack time for them and what I like to refer to as “free roam time” for the baby. Once she learns that dust bunnies are not to be eaten, we’ll have this down.
  • My wife gets home soon after that and while she spends time with the kids, I take another 20 minutes or so to catch up on e-mails.

Count that up. We’re up to a whopping 4 – 4.5 hours of work in the course of a workday. Not nearly enough to handle up to 4 ghostwriting projects and a new contracted series of my own writing, now is it?

Ah, but the workday of a freelancer that works from home is not over when everyone else’s ends. Follow along closely, as this is where I think the real secret to a freelancer’s time management success is buried.

I’m not a totally negligent husband, and I do try to spend some time with my wife. Often, this means watching DVR’ed shows after the kids have gone to sleep or simply sitting on the couch and staring off into the distance, wondering where the day went.

After this, usually after my wife has called it a day and gone to bed, I often get back behind the keyboard. Sometimes this starts as early as 8:00, and sometimes as late as 10:00. This is where most of my serious work is done.

Headphones in, music up (I suggest electronic/ambient sort of stuff for maximum results and yes, I can make recommendations) and zone out.

Seriously, this is when I feel that I am most productive. This is especially true on weekends when, on a Friday night, I can work as late as 2:00 in the morning because there is nothing to do the following day. Note: See above when I mentioned having no time for friends.

Now, here’s the amazing thing. This hectic and all over the place schedule has been much healthier for my family than when I was working a 9-5 that I often had to bring home with me. It was a job that made me absolutely miserable and it was reflected in the way I responded to my family after coming home from the office.

While I am currently far from the perfect picture of fatherhood, I can comfortably say that the time I spend with my children is much more relaxed and fun that when I was doing the 9-5 gig. It’s also a small blessing, as most freelancers will tell you, to be able to leave the “office” whenever you want—when a kid gets sick, to play with your kids on the trampoline or in the snow, to head to the fridge for the occasional beer when pulling those late nights and not having to worry about office policies.

Time management is really just one of those spooky things that seminar pushers and HR heads drill into their employees to scare them. It becomes something totally different when you’re a freelancer that works with a variety of clients on a variety of projects.

But as a stay at home freelancer with kids, I know that the schedule always manages to sort itself out. It sometimes requires late nights and rushed afternoons where it feels like you’re having your brain turned into strips of beef jerky, but it always works out.

And as for me, it’s always worth it when my son asks: “Can you stop working and come play on the trampoline?”

Because my answer is always going to be yes.

And later, near midnight when I am trying to make loose plot ends tie together in my dark little corner of an office, the ache in my shins from all the bouncing reminds me that I wouldn’t trade this schedule for anything.

Albums Guaranteed to Stomp Writer’s Block

It’s been a while since I wrote a music based post. It’s mainly because I am pretty sure that, like my wife, most people that come to this blog get tired of hearing me talk about music.

However, in planning for my NaNoWriMo project (which I don’t have time for), I was listening to a certain album while outlining and the overall tone to one of the songs set a mood that resulted in my revising the last half of the outline. And I think it’s going to be a much better book (if, indeed, I write it) in the end because of it.

So here are albums that I believe can help break through any case of writer’s block…if not for the mood they set, then for the lyrics and stories within. Feel free to share your own in the comments.

Murder Ballads – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Despite the fact that none of his fiction has really impressed me all that much, Nick Cave is easily one of the best story-tellers via lyric form in the history of ever (Leonard Cohen is right there with him, though). Murder Ballads is a grim, dark, messed up dive into violence, darkness and everything rotten you can think of….even in the slow pretty songs. There’s not a single track on this album that I’d consider weak. This, in my opinion, may be Cave’s masterpiece, as the tone and the lyrics of each song work so well together.  Songs to check out: “The Kindness of Strangers” and “The Curse of Millhaven.”

Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska

I’m admittedly not the biggest Springsteen fan. But this album was before he featured his denim-clad rear end on an album cover. It’s an album that is bleak, beautiful and entirely stripped down. The whole album has a Gothic feel to it. Some of the stories told within are brilliant and sort of whimsical. A single verse can take you from melancholy to entirely depressed and weary in just a few words. A great album crafted by a version of Springsteen that put story first.  Songs to check out: “Highway Patrolman” and “My Father’s House.”

Bohren & Der Club of Gore – Sunset Mission

I can only listen to this group when I am writing. It’s not the kind of music I could just chill out to. It’s very intense and mood setting. It sort of feels like an episode of Twin Peaks while you’re sick in bed with a high fever. It has a noir vibe to it but has a dark core that will strangle you if you get too involved in it.  Songs to check out: “On Demon Wings” and “Nightwolf.”

Brian Eno – The Shutov Assembly

Not one of his more popular works by any stretch of the imagination, it’s the only one I’ve heard that I can listen to all the way through. There is a tone and mood to this album that is very calm and somehow catastrophic at the same time. I’ve relied on this album for mood setting more times than I can count.

The Butchers and the Builders – Salvation is a Deep Dark Well

I just recently discovered these guys and am continually surprised that I really like them, as this style of music is not usually my cup of tea. There’s not a weak album in their discography, but this one sticks with me every time. The lyrics are like something out of a novel and the music has a certain grit to it that is hard to explain. Dark folk, rock, Gothic country…I’m not sure what you’d label their music as, either.  Songs to check out: “Golden and Green” and “Vampire Lake” (see below).

Fever Ray – self titled

This is one of those albums that gets better with each listen. Lyrically (and a maybe vocally, as well) it almost borrows from Bjork. But the music, tone, and creepy atmosphere is like something out of a Lynchian sort of fever dream. If you try to make sense of the lyrics, you may just come up with a story of pure lunacy…or genius.  Songs to check out: “If I Had a Heart,” “When I Grow Up,” and “Keep the Streets Empty for Me.”

Deftones – White Pony

This is the Deftones’ best album.  And that’s because it is their most artistic album. And as a result, this album is great for damn near everything. Driving, working, writing, the bedroom (wink wink), screaming at people, crying, anything. Seriously. The story-telling element isn’t as obvious as a Nick Cave album, but the subtlety to the songs on White Pony is what makes them so powerful. There’s even a bathtub electrocution on this album. It has everything. Even if you’re not a fan of louder tunes, there are a few softer gems on here.  Songs to check out: “Digital Bath,” “RX Queen,” and “Knife Prty.”

In closing, as promised above, here are The Builders and the Butchers with a stripped down version of “Vampire Lake.”