How I wrote a million words in twelve months – A week in the life of…

This post is the next in this series, examining the details of how I managed to achieve the word count above. However, I wanted to start with a quick bit of clarification. I have, in the last twelve months, committed one million, creative, fiction-based words to paper. This equates to a bunch of novels, short stories, novellas etc. However, I want to say up front, that these are first draft manuscripts, all requiring some degree of work to complete them. It’s fair to say, based upon the way I write, some of them will need a considerable amount of work.

So, this blog is not about how to write ten perfect books in a year. It’s about the writing habit, about being in a place where you are consistently and regularly committing words to paper.

Writing every day isn’t essential. I keep telling myself that, but then, drinking tea and eating chocolate every day isn’t either, and I’ve managed to make a religion out of both. What is essential, is writing regularly. In order to make the last couple of posts, and the one to follow this, clearer, I wanted to outline ‘a week in the life’, the technicalities of how I get down the almost three thousand words a day needed to hit that elusive one million in a year.

Monday  – Friday

Morning: I work full time, so I’m up at 5:50, and out the door to work by half 6. Arrive at school by seven, or ten past. School begins at 8, so I have an hour. I’ll spend half of it practicing the drums, and the other half writing. Average word count: 1000 words (the drumming, aside from being good practice, is great for waking my brain up. I believe it has value in and of itself, but could be replaced by a brisk walk, or short gym session).

Daytime: I have a half hour lunch break, and will normally find a half hour to an hour after school as well, in which to write.  I’ll never use all of them, but I will try to find a good hour over the course of the entire day, in which to write. Average word count: 1000-3000 words.

Evening: I’m home by half 5, and hanging out with wifey and daughter until her bedtime (daughter, not wifey), which is around 7. From seven until nine, I’m editing, marketing, tweeting, etc. This time is flexible, and changing this year with the addition of recording podcasts in there as well. However, normally, by nine, I’ll reward myself with a little more writing. Average word count: 1000 (unless I carried away with a short story, or am fuelled by chocolate brownies, at which point it might climb to 2000)

 

So, a daily word count aim of three thousand minimum. On a good day, I’m there before I leave work, and on a less successful one, I can make up then numbers post-marketing time. I can normally rely on picking up a few extra here and there, say a couple of four thousand word days, which is essential come the weekend…

Saturday/Sunday:

 

I will start this off by saying that having a two and a half year old, and a chocolate obsession, has given me very little room for a social life. Just saying.

Morning/Afternoon: I may, if I’m feeling cheeky, wake up and grab the laptop, sneaking in a quick five hundred words before heading down for breakfast. Then it’s family stuff, be it visiting a gorgeous park, old house, coffee shop, chocolate-tasting session, or heading into London for a wander. If we drive somewhere, wifey likes to be in the pilot seat, so I can be the passenger and bang out another few hundred words, in between my monosyllabic and not-at-all-annoying contribution to the conversation. J

There are also occasions, now and then, when another mum will be up for a play date, or wifey and Pickle head for greener pastures, and I get an hour or two of dedicated writing time in, but these are few and far between, and though treasured, cannot be relied upon.

So I’ll often hit the evening with somewhere between one and two thousand words down.

Evening: This continues in the same vein as the week, with editing always the priority, mingling with marketing and actually talking to people. (electronically of course. I mean, can you imagine actually talking to people, like face to face?) And once again, when the jobs are done, I’ll reward myself, and try to hit, at the least, two and a half thousand for the day.

A quick bit of maths tells us that at three thousand per week day and two and a half thousand at the weekend equates to twenty thousand words a week.

Times that by fifty weeks, thereby giving yourself two weeks off (slacker J), and you reach one million. Easy. :)

So, to take away:  I’m using pretty much every free moment. I do understand that I’m lucky in that, for me, writing is down time, relaxing time, so I don’t feel the loss of no longer chilling in front of a movie for an hour or two. We don’t have TV so I don’t have that distraction either.  My real, away-from-the-screen downtime, comes when I go to bed, and read.

I’m exercising the self-discipline I spoke about in the last post, ensuring that I don’t have days where I just say stuff it.

And, above all, I’m enjoying myself. There are so many quotes about the tough life of the writer, about bleeding onto your keyboard, and I know for some people that’s the truth. For me, I believe that if it’s that tough, then it might be worth finding something else to do. I am in no way demeaning the efforts of those people. Nor am I criticising those who have a difficult story to tell, and so for whom the writing is an exorcism. Everything is valid, and hey, this is art, it’s supposed to be messy and challenging. But to reach the word count I do, I have to enjoy it. But that’s just me.

Creating Awesome Fantasy Characters – Guest post for Forbidden Future Blog Tour

I’d delighted to welcome to the blog Terra Harmony who has written a great guest post for us as part of the blog tour for Forbidden Future – A Time Travel Anthology from The Masquerade Crew.


FF Cover

So without further ado here’s the post:

Creating Awesome Fantasy Characters

Characters lack depth? Have no voice? Reader can’t connect? As I an avid reader, I’ve seen a lot of it. As a self-published author, I have been guilty of it. Strong stories can only come from well-developed characters. Here is a few hints to help you create unforgettable people/elves/aliens or whatever the case may be:

1 – Give them goals. Everyone wants something, even if it is to be left alone to watch reruns of Baywatch all day long. Make it clear what they are after, then put some obstacles in their way. This leads us to our next hint…

2 – Show development. Throw the unthinkable at them. How do they react? The readers have got to love them or hate them for these reactions. A ‘meh’ response is not what you want.

3 – Give them an arc. This goes along with hint #2. Just as the plot or storyline follows an arc, so does character development. Characters must evolve, grow, learn, or change as the plot unfolds, and generally the main character ends up in a ‘higher’ or better place than where they started.

4 – Show, well, um – character! Give them a look, an accent, an attitude, and a unique trait. Make them real. If you have to, use examples from real life around you. Remember, everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Give your characters a chance for these to come into play.

5 – Give them a backstory. Fill in the backstory by writing up a brief character sketch. Use hobbies, interests, education, and childhood. Throw in a significant event that shaped who they are today.

Still stuck? Try likening the character to an animal. We all have our quirks – chattering like a bird, grumpy like a bear, sly like a fox. Pick one and run with it! This worked well for me when writing my newest release, ‘The Rising’. With so many mermaids, I had to give each one something to stand out from the rest.

Thank you so much, Michael, for having me on your blog. I hope everyone enjoys the rest of the Forbidden Future tour!

Terra Harmony

terra-author-photo

Terra is author of the eco-fantasy novels in the Akasha Series, ‘Water’, ‘Air’, ‘Fire’ and ‘Earth’, as well as the Painted Maidens Trilogy. Terra was born and raised in Colorado but has since lived in California, Texas, Utah, North Carolina, and Virginia.    Terra has served a 5½ year enlistment in the Marine Corp, has earned her bachelor’s and master’s degree and presently runs the language services division of a small business. Terra currently lives in a suburb of Washington, DC with her husband of 14 years and three children.

 

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Thanks Terra, great post. For those of you who have been following Scarlet’s Walk, the next installment is out tomorrow.

Life without Tumblr – Part 12

Part One can be found here.

This time, his voice was the sound of the coffin creaking slowly open, to reveal the dirt above where she’d been buried alive. God, it was like some bloody Steven King novel in her head. He was laughing, shoulders shaking, and Martin’s words came back to her. He was trying to scare her, to make her feel weak. It was all an act. ‘And you can’t stop me.’

He moved, without moving, and was right in front of her, glaring balefully down. Her heart was racing, her mouth dry like ashes. She screwed up her eyes, muttering, ‘there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.’ She peeked, and whimpered at the face, inches from hers, top lip curled in a sneer. She hadn’t seen him move.

She bit her lip, the taste of blood bringing her back from the brink. She opened her eyes, and stared back. He hadn’t moved, and she could see the lines that ran from the corners of his eyes, the tiny burst blood vessels that crept spider-like across his eyes. He was old, and tired. She glanced round and saw mum, staring at them with wide, frightened eyes. This wasn’t going to happen. Somewhere, far away, her computer was waiting for her to update her status, and there was no way she was missing the chance to talk about this.

‘You smell of fear and weakness, little girl.’

‘Yeah, and you smell of shit, and old age, and hate, and there’s no place for you in my world.’

His thick eyebrows raised, his snarl growing, but there was something else in his eyes, a flicker that hadn’t been there before. She hoped it was doubt or fear, and not indigestion. ‘We’re leaving here, me and Martin and my mum. You should get rid of the cage now.’

He was going to hit her, like he hit Martin, and he’d rip her head off. She screwed up her face, waiting for the blow. Instead, he spoke. ‘What can you give me for your mother, what do you have to trade?’

‘How about I forget I know your name, once we’re home, and I burn that page?’

The demon cocked his head to one side, nodding slowly. ‘That might be enough.’

Was he bluffing? Martin had said his name was power and… what exactly had he said? Dammit, it was either that she had, like, complete control, or just that it was quite useful. She couldn’t remember which. Sod it. She thrust her chin out and stared at him. ‘How about I say it’s enough, and you say ‘thank you’?’

The demon hissed, raising a hand. She stood still, her legs shaking so hard she expected to topple over at any moment. Then he stepped back, and waved a hand. Mum’s shouts exploded into the room as she charged over. ‘Get the hell away from my daughter!’

The demon turned to her, hand raised again, and time seemed to slow down. Scarlet saw his clenched fist begin to move, and heard her own voice, long before her brain caught up. ‘NO!’ It came from deep within her and carried something, power, like the smell before a storm.

He froze, turning slowly to face her, lips drawn back in a snarl. ‘You dare command me?’

Next instalment: Monday 4 November

Life without Tumblr – Part Ten

Part One can be found here.

He shook his head. ‘There’s no way we can open this. It was created by the demon, and only he can unmake it.’

‘Why imprison someone in somewhere they can never get out of?’

Martin looked at her, eyebrows raised. She spread her hands apart. ‘What? Come on, really, even when they say you have a life sentence, you still get released after, like, ten years. It’s ridiculous. Surely if he brought her here, it was for a reason, not just to leave her in a cage?’ She was shouting, and turned back to mum, putting her hands out. It was freaky her being in there, still shouting, still silent, and she had the sudden need to hug her, which was even freakier.

‘I think that life sentence means something a little different here. But as dramatic as it sounds, unmaking the cage would be the act of a simple thought for the demon that resides within this castle, easier than turning a key.’

She nodded. ‘So, what, we have to find him?’

Martin glanced around the large hall, brow furrowed. When he turned back to her, she winced at the look on his face. ‘I don’t wish to sound negative, nor do I suggest we shouldn’t do this, but finding the demon may prove to be a very foolish move. He is powerful, and we have nothing, no bargaining chip, no reason why he shouldn’t just imprison us also.’

‘So why did mum come here in the first place?’

Martin shrugged. ‘That would be very useful to know, but the prison does more than trap her body, it retains every part of her essence, hence why we cannot hear her voice.’

‘Did you actually just say ‘hence’?’

He nodded, looking offended, then shook his head and looked around the room. She pulled out the spell book, leafing through to the page she had stopped on, and scouring it. Surely there would be something in there to give away why mum thought she would be safe here. ‘So, what sort of things could we use to bargain with?’

Martin held his hand out, ticking things off on his fingers. ‘First, ourselves. They want humans, more than anything, so you could trade yourself for your mum.’

She snorted, and felt instantly guilty. Martin ignored her and went on. ‘You could have some sort of magical artifact, something that possessed power. You could have information; knowledge of something the demon is interested in. Of course, if you know its name, you have a real advantage. It isn’t a guarantee, but it gives you a good head start.’

He peered over her shoulder, just as she turned the page, and they were presented with a word that made her want to be sick. It was written in English, but the letters writhed and twisted on the paper, as though they needed to escape. She began to read it and he clapped his hand over her mouth. Ow, that hurt. ‘Ow, that hurt, what the hell?’

‘That is his name. We are most fortunate, but once you have read it, he will be here, and we need to be ready when that happens.’ He leant forward until his head was level with hers, and he stared into her eyes. ‘Listen to me, Scarlett, this is important. He will try everything to convince you he is in control, that he can do whatever he wants, and he will terrify you.’

She sniffed. ‘Not sure there’s much that will scare me after that fog stuff.’

He shook his head. ‘The fog, the noises, were nothing compared to him, trust me. He is pure evil, squashed into some semblance of a living being, but evil nonetheless. Just remember, you have his name. You are in control.’

Next instalment: 30 October

Life without Tumblr – Part Seven

Part One can be found here.

He handed her the book, open to the page. ‘Simple. Read the words, and think about your Mum. Also, hold my hand.’

He held out his dirt-stained fingers and she made a face, then let her hand rest on his. He closed around it, squeezing it tight and she had to work hard to not pull away. She read, sounding each word out carefully. Surely they just made it up as they went along, this was complete gibberish.

The sage was lit, and the room filled with a nose-itching tang that made her fidget. A light came up from the floor, like the dodgy sunken spots they had in clubs. It grew stronger, until the entire room was glowing, pale blue. It was getting more like a club every second. She half expected to be barged in the back by some cow with a beer and a glow stick, then she squeezed her eyes closed as it became brighter still.

‘Step forward, Scarlet, step through the light.’

His voice was different, stronger, clearer, and she moved as he told her, nervous steps until the soft carpet vanished and she heard the click of her shoes on stone. The light went, just like that, and she blinked, looked around, and yelped.

They were in a valley. Sharp slopes of stone, dotted with dull scrubby bushes rose on both sides. She shivered. Why the bloody hell hadn’t she brought a coat? The path they stood on looked like something out of a Tim Burton movie, winding and sunken, and heading into the gloom of the narrowing canyon. The sky above was the same colour as the floor, and felt just as close.

She sniffed. There was a smell she couldn’t place. Something like the Chem labs at school, only with the vaguest hint of cheap perfume. So just like the labs then. She turned and jumped again.

His raggedy clothes were gone, replaced by dark, rich leather that fit like a glove. Her worst fears were true. He was buff, like, really hot. His hair was tousled and disturbingly well-cut. ‘Who are you?’

He chuckled. ‘You’ve already asked me that. My name is—‘

‘Martin, but you can call me sugarplum, blah blah, yeah, you already said that too. OK, what are you?’

He smiled. ‘A better question. I help people, people in the kind of trouble your Mum is in, stuff the police can’t help with.’

‘Why?’

The smile left his face as he shook his head. ‘Some things are best left alone.’

She folded her arms, and stared at him. He stared right back, and she blushed. ‘OK, fine, fair enough. So why did you need me, I mean, couldn’t you just do this yourself?’

He nodded. ‘I could, but what would you have learnt?’

‘Oh for fu—‘

‘Life is growth, Scarlet, growth and change. You mother changed, not so long ago, and found a new life for herself. It was one she didn’t want to share with you, for fear of what it might lead to. Was she right?’ He shrugged. ‘I don’t know. From my experience, the unknown can be far more dangerous than a little knowledge, if that knowledge is taught correctly. You have power, just like your mother, and you needed to be introduced to it.’ He smiled. ‘And, after all, it is your Mum.’

She looked at the floor, then back at him, and nodded. ‘Yeah, guess so. OK, what now?’

He motioned past her down the path. She turned, and sighed. It was dark, the path winding out of sight as the cliffs closed in, and the very sight of it made her shudder. Things never went well in places like this. He set off and she hurried to keep up, falling into step beside him. As the path grew narrow, he slowed, letting her take the lead. Oh joy.

Next instalment: Wednesday 23 October

Making the case for scraping sub genres of fantasy…yep, including Sci-Fi

Urban Fantasy, Hard Sci-Fi, Epic Fantasy, Space Opera, Steampunk, Soft Sci-Fi, Dark Fantasy…alas, the list goes on in yet more attempts to fit a many-sided shape into a dragon-shaped hole.

The label of fantasy means the imagining of something impossible or improbable. This definition would seem to me to encapsulate all of the genres above and many others, which begs the question, is there really any need for a separate categorisation at all, let alone the hundred or so sub-sub-sub categories?

In particular I am debating the need to separate out Science Fiction from the wider genre of Fantasy.

Before you Sci-Fi fans aim your M41A Pulse Rifles in my direction, please let me expand.

If you are a newbie to Fantasy then you may not yet fully appreciate the extent to which readers and geeks across the world will defend their particular genre, flaming sword of Darkthor held up against the darkness of the Blaster rifle of Death-Tech.

Before getting swallowed by the Sarlacc of styles, the catacombs of category, imagine, if you will, a world where goblins and aliens rub shoulders without us having to assign some random, barely relevant, yet highly specific label to it.

I recently contributed to a fascinating forum discussion on Goodreads on the nature of Fantasy and Science Fiction as genres. The question posed was whether they should join forces and become one, giant uber-genre, or remain separate, forever destined to confuse and confound the afore-mentioned fantasy newbie. Being a fan of both fantasy and science fiction, my reading habits leaning towards more traditional Fantasy while my writing has a more Sci-Fi / contemporary bent, I thought this a highly relevant topic for debate.

What’s the point of having genres in the first place?

Readers shopping on-line or browsing a bookstore require genres in order to make an informed choice about what they are going to read. I too find it useful to have certain labels to guide me in the right direction. One such label is the author name. I know the authors I love and will get their books without reading the back blurb, confident that I’m going to enjoy it.

When I am looking for a new book to read, it almost invariably comes about from a recommendation. I don’t ask what the genre is in advance, and it isn’t really important at that stage. If it’s from my mum, I stock up on happy pills and prepare myself for some serious ‘literature’. If it’s from my brother, it’s more than likely to be fantasy in one guise or another. If it’s from my other brother, it’s probably Edge magazine, or…nah, just Edge (he’s not a big reader). Regardless of genre, the first question is ‘Is it any good?’ So genre is useful, but it doesn’t define what I read. In fact staying within the virtual bricks and mortar of our one or two pre-defined genres of choice would mean I would miss out on the treasures that might be found beyond the walls.

From a writer’s perspective this excess of categorization does little to enhance the elegance of the publishing process.  My publisher, aka my wife, had the joyful experience recently of researching the Amazon genre list for the release of my new novella.

She had to check with me whether some of the sub genres were actually real or perhaps an in-joke with the Amazon Fantasy crowd designed to drive her crazy.

Having become convinced that they were genuine, she then had to figure out exactly what the key features of each genre were. Having reached the ‘New adult with a car but no girlfriend and only average prospects fantasy’ tag, she actually ate the Mac before running gibbering down the garden. After hours of coaxing with a mug of tea and copies of Shakespeare, she finally came out, but still gets the shakes when I mention the ‘G’ word.

My wife is often the first to remind me that it is essential that we are very specific when it comes to marketing and promotion and she’s entirely right. Knowing our readership and understanding what makes them tick is, particularly in this era of self-publishing, a must. I am, however, not convinced that the degree of specificity emerging in our labeling of art adds more than it jeopardises.

The more specific the genre, surely the greater the chance is that the reader may feel let down or betrayed should the author stray from the blueprint and this is a real concern. Keeping our promise to the reader is essential if we are to maintain a trusted brand. Some of my own books, for example, exist in space, with aliens and spaceships. However, there’s also magic and some hippy-shit thrown in as well. Why? Because I think it’s what the story needs and I’m not sure sacrificing good story to fit with marketing conventions is ever a good move.

The idea that by putting just the fantasy tag (and nothing more) on my book I may inadvertently drive away, or not attract in the first place, lovers of space ships is a bit saddening. That it will also drive away lovers of romance and soul-searching coming-of-age stories is also a shame, because there’s some of that in there too.

So, whilst I can recognize and appreciate the value of genre, it also strikes me as maddeningly limiting.

In an ideal world, if I went to buy a fantasy book, I could expect one or more of the list below:

  • Dragons
  • Magic
  • Space ships
  • Werewolves
  • Rings (always with the bloody rings)
  • Swords
  • Snakes
  • Elves
  • Planets
  • Very tough men
  • Very tough women
  • Priests
  • Pickpockets
  • Castles
  • Horses
  • Crazy-ass guns
  • Vampires
  • Succubus (every book should have succubus really. Where’s the bad?)
  • Giants
  • Trees talking/walking/doing the boogie
  • Evil empires
  • Tyranny on an intergalactic scale
  • Shnoos.

I guess I don’t get why space ships are ok, but vampires aren’t; why elves are fine but giant killing robot things not so much.

So let our improbable imaginings be named Fantasy and let’s be done with it. Let us focus on taking our readers on the journey the story dictates whilst having the freedom to do so.