How I wrote a million words in twelve months – Seven more tips for motivation

In the final post in this series, I wanted to talk about all the motivators I didn’t fit in the first one.

They didn’t go into the first one because my focus for that was internal, the way I approach my work and what makes the difference mentally. These pointers have an element of that, but they are also about reaching out, about using the global community to help inspire and enrich my writing life and keep me going when things get tough.

So, without further ado, another seven ways that I stay focused, self-disciplined and motivated:

Inspired by success: There is a lot of talk on blogs about there being enough audience for everyone, and I couldn’t agree more. Few things are as inspiring or exciting as reading on a blog, or via twitter, that someone has managed to sell some books, or connect with a publisher, or had a great book launch. Tapping into those things every day keeps my excitement sky high. On a more personal note, I read a couple of blogs that have been created by people coming to terms with grief, or personal issues, and seeing those people find peace and support via their platform, is a wonderful thing.

Seeing how others work, (or, pinching the good stuff): The great thing about being part of the community of writers is the sharing of ideas. I find the comments sections on the great websites I’ve listed below to be particularly good. People will share where they are, what they are working on, and how they go about their writing via that medium. I am endlessly inspired by what I read, and will often leave a blog fired up with ideas, and desperate to try things.

Common ground: A few days ago, I was going back through last year’s manuscripts, and discovered that somewhere in the backing up process, the last thirty thousand words had been chopped off one of them. This is where being a pantser comes back to bite me, as I have only my memory to fill in the blanks. But I tweeted my pain 🙂 and was blessed with some lovely responses, people commiserating, and offering welcome advice. Nothing like people being lovely to make things easier to deal with. That and chocolate.

Trying new things: Way back in January of last year, my wife pointed me the direction of Chuck Wendig’s blog. There I discovered, amongst many disturbing things, the world of flash fiction. My first short story in about twenty years was inspired by one of his challenges and I then made it a rule to search out some form of flash fiction each week. Sometimes I write something and bin it straight away, sobbing into my brownie. Other times, more rarely admittedly, I’ll post the results, and enjoy trawling through what everyone else came up with. This normally goes like ‘oh of course, why didn’t I try that, oh, bloody hell, that’s what I was trying to do, only they got it right’ and so on. But it’s fun, and inspiring, and the perfect way to shake off those mid-manuscript blues that can slow you down and demoralise you.

Finding and learning from my mistakes: OK, it’s confession time. The last time I studied English on a serious level, was back in school. I did my AS level English Language a year early and got an A, then ran away from Wuthering Heights, not daring to look back until I was ensconced behind my drum kit. What I have spent the last year discovering is that, for the most part, I’m not too bad at the basics. I understand how language goes together good, and can say stuff quite good, too 🙂 But boy oh boy, is there still a lot to learn. From story structure, to the finer points of grammar, to conflict and a whole lot more. Most of that stuff, I do naturally, but do I do it as well as I can? Hell no. In my published books, I’ve had the help of an editor, and beta readers to help drag the good stuff from me, and ensure I’m producing stuff people actually want to read, but aside from the guilt I feel at inflicting my shoddy first drafts on the poor souls, I want to be better, all on my own. So learning where I have holes, and filling them, is not only a constant job, but also an inspiring one.

Reading: I feel slightly embarrassed I didn’t mention this on the last one. It should go without saying, that reading comes before everything else. I won’t harp on about it, because so many, far better writers than me have said it better, but it does bear repeating. Also worth mentioning, is the importance of reading everything. I read classics, fantasy, mysteries, scifi, horror, YA, modern literature, comics and anything else that comes my way. I haven’t yet found time for much romance, but I loved Gone with the Wind, so there’s that 🙂

Wifey: For me, the greatest source of encouragement and belief comes from my wife. She has been nothing but completely supportive since I put my first word to paper, and continues to be so, even taking on some of the less exciting tasks of the business, and forming an integral part of the marketing and promotion side of things. This could of course be your best friend, your mother, anyone who believes in you unconditionally. As an author it’s essential to have all those people who question; critique partners, editors, beta readers and so forth, but I think it’s just as important to have some to turn to when the well of self-belief runs dry. Being a successful writer demands patience and an eye for the long haul, and having someone for those moments when the sales aren’t quite what you hoped, or you get that first edit back and realise how much work you have to do, is a wonderful thing.

The pick of the blogs that motivate me:

The Other Side of the Story with Janice Hardy

The Creative Penn

Mythic Scribes

Elizabeth Spann Craig

Your Writer Platform

Thanks for reading. I hope this series has inspired you in some small way, and if so, please drop me a line and say hi.

Scarlet’s story will continue next week in a new series entitled ‘A Change of Status’, in which Scarlet discovers that unicorns are grumpy bastards, learns that cults are filled with wierdos, and gets a girlfriend.

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…



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.

How I wrote a million words in twelve months – 7 ways to stay motivated

Self-discipline is something I lacked for a long time. Most of my childhood years were blighted by it, leading to me crashing out of my school with shocking results and no place at university.

This was, it turned out, the best thing that could have happened to me, because I attended a music school, where I was taught by some of the best drummers in London at that time. What I learned there, amongst the hundreds of wonderful drumming lessons, was the direct correlation between hard work and discipline, and success.

If there is one way to instill discipline in someone, it is to show people to him or her who have used it to get somewhere he or she wants to be. I was surrounded by drummers who were really doing it, playing professionally and making a living from it. It didn’t take long to recognise that in order to achieve the same, I would have to practice, and practice, and, well, practice.

So, having applied this practice routine to writing, I tried to pick apart the things that enable me to have the self-discipline to write every day, and remain focused, aside from chocolate brownies, and the promise of more chocolate brownies tomorrow. I’m going to drop the drumming comparison, and just focus on the writing, but I do believe most of these points will fit for most things.

I’ve split self-discipline into a few different areas, and the one for today’s blog is motivation. How do I remain motivated to write every day? Below are seven things that help me, and will hopefully do the same for you.


1. Word Count: It’s a cliché, but I have a big blackboard up in my kitchen, and every night, before going to bed, I write up my word count, along with ‘scenes edited’, and a few other things. Having it there, in white and black, keeps me focused, and also gives me the urge to beat myself, to write more today than I did yesterday. As an added help, I also have a weekly total that I aim toward. At the moment, it’s thirty thousand words. It’s crept up steadily since January 2013, when it was around ten thousand. I’m not sure how much further I can push it, but knowing that’s what I’m aiming for really keeps me going.

Word count board

2. Characters: My books are based, first and foremost, around characters. This is partially due to the fact that all my favourite books have great characters, and partially due to my desire to create fantasy books with strong characters and emotional weight, something missing from some fantasy. So for me, every time I sit down to write, is a chance to not only interact with the characters, in that weird, ‘I’m a writer but also a bit strange and lonely’ sort of a way, but also to find out what they’re going to do next! It’s like reading a great book, only if there’s a bit you don’t like, you just go back and change it. (I tried that with books that weren’t mine, but wifey got mad at the red ink all over her copy of Twilight)

3. Getting Better: The idea of getting better, of learning something new about myself and my skills, is hugely exciting. Every time I sit down to write, I’ll try to find a new way to say something, a new way to describe an emotion, to show not tell. This is never ending. I will never write as well as Charles Dickens, or Sarah Waters, or Stephen King, but every time I write, I get a tiny bit closer. What better reason is there?

4. Pantsing: My style of writing is pretty random, in many ways. I find some characters, and let them tell me who they are, then I start writing, and they tell me what happens to them. My planning is often done fifty thousand words in, and takes the form of a half side of A4 scribbles. Now, I do hold a lot of stuff in my head, and constantly revise as I go, but the sheer excitement I get from sitting down thinking. ‘Hmm, is Aryan going to get out of the whole ‘broken leg, freezing to death on the side of a mountain’ thing? And if so, how? And if not, what the hell is Darryl going to do, what with the whole argument over Lissa thing?’

Every thousand words is a revelation, and that’s way more exciting than pretty much anything that doesn’t involve chocolate.

5. Past Experience: All of my experience, both good and bad, tells me that doing something every day, and persevering with it, leads to success. Now, I must confess, I (mis)spent many hours as a teenager playing headers and volleys and drinking tea instead of going to school, yet I remain entirely inept with a football. I am, I’m pleased to announce, exceptionally good at drinking tea. However, I am of the school-of-thought that says try everything, and if you love it, keep trying it. If you have an aptitude for it, you’ll find it easier, and it will take less time to achieve a certain level of mastery. But if I spent two hours a day, every day, kicking a football, I’m pretty confidence I’d be… quite good. In a few years.

6. Freedom: Not so much in the ‘FREEEEDOOOOOM’- ‘Braveheart’ sort of way, but more the freedom to step away from a nine to five job and the structure and binds that accompany it. I love teaching, and imagine I will always do it in some form or another, but being able to get up and have breakfast with my girls, and go for a walk in the country side, then return to write, would be a dream come true. I am, in most senses, right at the beginning of my path. I’ve been doing this seriously for only one year, and have a long way to go, but that elusive freedom makes it remarkably easy to sit down at the computer. The thing I did to help with this was to plan, in detail, what an average day would be like for me, were I writing full time. Any time I get disheartened at how long everything is taking, I return to that plan, and have a little dreaming time. And eat some brownie.

7. Self-expectation: I teach students between the ages of 11 -19, most of whom come from deprived, difficult backgrounds. Something that ties many of them together is a shared lack of worth, of not believing they can achieve. For every one that leaves our school and goes to university, we get a massive sense of pride, and achievement, and they get a dose of confidence that cannot be underestimated. I have done many things in my life that, looking back, I feel reflected poorly on me, and my parents, things I would take back, or change in a second. But I can’t, and that’s fine. But with that realization, and with the sense of self I now have, to expect any less than the best from myself would be criminal. So, there it is, that helps too.


So, these are seven things that get me sat every day, in front of my computer, fingers tapping. Next blog will look at how being connected, and learning, helps my self-discipline.

How about you? What keeps you motivated to write? And how about editing? I’m not nearly as good when it comes to that, so any help would be most appreciated!

Six lessons from writing one million words in twelve months.

In a rare break from story, I wanted to have a quick review of 2013. Looking back can sometimes be as useful as looking forward, if only to get a real sense of how far I’ve come, and perhaps learn something along the way.


So first, a quick list. In 2013, I have done the following:

Written a little under 1 million words.

This equates to…

Nine full length novels, either contemporary fantasy, epic fantasy or sci-fi, but not yet with any dragons.

Nine novellas, all scifi.

Twenty-ish short stories, of varying lengths, and various genres.

One, very bad, young adult romance novella that shall never see the light of day.


Edited four novellas, and two novels, and found, if not joy in the doing, then at least a great deal of satisfaction.


I have, after six painful months, found what I want to blog, and for the last three months, maintained a blogging schedule of three times a week.


Created, maintained and enjoyed a twitter account, a goodreads account, a facebook page, and a pinterest account. I say enjoyed, because of all the things I dreaded doing twelve months ago, social media was right at the top of the list. It turns out, I enjoy twitter almost as much as throwing some poor character into almost certain death. Whilst eating chocolate brownie. That’s me eating the brownie, not the character. They’re normally screaming, or looking up at me as I play with their strings, with that sort of ‘really? Do I have to?’ look on their face.


And last, but by no means least, published a full length novel, and three novellas, all of which I am thoroughly proud of, and still see as only the tip of the iceberg.


Actually, sorry, not quite last. I’ve also sampled at least seven different brownie recipes and found one I consider to be the pinnacle of the chocolate brownie world.

Chocolate cupcakes

mmmm, brownies…                                          © Falcon stock | Dreamstime Stock Photos


So what have I learned?


1. Always be writing: I write every day. This is partially because I told my family I would, and with brothers like mine, you don’t mess around with those sorts of things. It’s also because I love it, and can’t imagine doing anything else on a Saturday night. Nah, just kidding. Actually, not so much.

On a serious note, though, I believe the very act of writing makes us creative. For anyone struggling to get the words out, or make the ideas flow, just keep writing. Write anything. Start with a sentence, then figure out how the next sentence can make the first one really interesting. Then work out how the third sentence can make the character come to life. Then work out how the fourth sentence can introduce chocolate brownies to the story…


2. Time is precious: this isn’t so much to do with putting aside that set time, and making it clear to those around you that to disturb you could very well tear a hole in the space time continuum, and create a very grumpy writer bear, although I do think that’s a good idea.

No, this is about using every second you have. Where once, I might have taken a queue to mean Angry Birds time, it’s now a chance to find a blog through twitter, and learn something new about writing. Where I could once have spent quality time with my wife and child, I now barricade myself in the bedroom and, in the seven minutes it takes them to break through the quilts and pillows, scribble down a couple of hundred words.

More seriously though, it’s about recognizing when you are wasting time, and putting it to use.


3. The people you work with are crucial to your success: When I began this back in January, I was lucky to have some very experienced and helpful friends to call, and they put me in touch, or pointed me in the direction of, the people who now, in my own little head-based universe, make up my team. My editor, Steve Parolini, I cannot recommend enough. My cover designer, Derek Murphy gave my first book early recognition through the sheer quality of his work, and my print formatting is looking very lovely so far thanks to the great products now being created by JF Bookman. Add to that my wife, who through endless support, patience, tea, and of course, chocolate brownie, has made it seem easy, and you realize how lost I would be without those people


4. You gotta play the long game: my initial sales were pretty poor. There’s no denying it, nor shall I ever. But having said that, we did no advertising, relying only on my social media presence, and a relatively small blog tour. So it was friends, those who caught the tour and liked the sound of the book, and maybe a few others. But that was fine. Because I’m not here for a year or two. I will be writing in ten years, I’ll be much better at it, and I’ll have a heck of a lot more books out. Hopefully by then, we’ll be able to afford some advertising too J


5. Keep an eye out for the coincidence: This is maybe a weird one, but I haven’t been able to avoid the strange way in which twitter brings me what I need. There I am, sat on the sofa, thinking how badly I need to get a really good handle on the correct way to write dialogue. Flick through my stream and lo and behold, there are three blogs back-to-back about dialogue. Two days later, I’m looking for brownie recipes and bam, more blogs about writing. Amazing. However, all of those blogs will be about something I haven’t even considered, and help me take another step on the road to being better than I was yesterday.


6. Relationships are good: My first blog tour, which was beyond exciting for an introvert like me, came about because of the relationships I’d built on Twitter. My wife told me, at least one or two thousand times, that knowing ten people well on twitter was worth a thousand followers, and she was, predictably, yet still sickeningly, entirely right. I’ve been blessed with the people I have met. They have been generous to a fault, made me laugh, made me feel good when I’ve run out of chocolate, and a hundred other things.


So, 2013 has been pretty busy for me. It’s also been thrilling, revelatory, tiring, chocolaty, frustrating and satisfying. Indeed, much like eating a chocolate brownie. Except the tired bit, I could eat brownie forever.


Best wishes for the New Year, here’s to making it tastier than the last one.

How do we ensure quality in self-publishing?

The ease of self-publishing, not vastly more difficult these days than hitting ‘Tweet’, has led to a huge range in the quality of books now available. Booksellers like Waterstones and Barnes and Noble are still seen by many as purveyors of the actual truth, a theoretical guarantee of good writing and quality product. Whereas, the wonderful world of the ebook is often viewed, fairly in my eyes, as a minefield of uncertainty and variably quality.

I read a great article recently about the Leveson enquiry, and the potential roadblocks to any resolutions it may put in place, and it got me thinking about the parallels between the press and the state of the publishing industry at present. You can see the article here, but the general gist was that, regardless of how well policed our print press may be, there is an element of pointlessness to these recommendations. This is because the internet exists, and one can find pretty much anything there with enough interest and patience (and coffee), therefore making any attempt at regulation all but redundant.

So in the case of both the press and the world of publishing, the internet, or more specifically, the opportunity for un-censored content to be made available at the click of a button has had a huge impact upon how they exist and their relevancy.

In both arenas, there is still undoubtedly a market for the way it has always been done. Papers will always sell because:

  1. Some people just prefer to read something physical that crinkles and demands origami-level folding skills to be able to use it in a public place.
  2. The organised media theoretically provide a guarantee of higher quality journalism.
  3. The little pull out magazine with articles about making your garden beautiful and Lady Gagas’ dogs.

Physical books, released by big name publishing houses will always sell, for pretty much the same reasons as one and two above, minus the whole folding thing.

Returning to on online media for a moment, it’s often suggested that it can be dangerous in spreading lies and rubbish, but that actually it is also strongly self-regulating. As soon as someone says something controversial or questionable, thousands of others do everything they can to discover the truth of it, and the original poster is discredited. This is something I have seen myself. The power of the people is particularly impressive when faced with something it sees as erroneous. Unless the original post was funny, or involved cats. Put a cat photo in there and you can get away with pretty much anything.

So whilst it’s not a perfect system, there is a level of regulation to the internet-based news, particularly through the big social networking sites. But how does this kind of regulation happen for self-published books? To begin with, you have what I would define as ‘external regulation’

  1. Reader Reviews: These are generally clear and very easy to find, whether you shop on Amazon, Smashwords or one of the other online vendors. But how easy is it to get a truly balanced or objective opinion, and how much do they actually matter? Studies done by a number of independent research groups suggest that they have a huge impact on shopping habits. They also say that reviews give a good idea of the word of mouth currently existing about a product. Despite the occasional ranting of madmen, I consider reviews to be a strong source for regulation, and one that does, without a doubt, impact upon your success as a self-published author. Of course, what you do with reviews is up to you, but accepting them as valid feedback and acting on them can only improve your writing. Unless your reviewer has threatened to beat you to death with your own leg unless you remove your book, at which point you’re probably best to just ignore them.
  2. Other Writers: Many new authors work within writing groups and clubs and these can also be effective in ensuring a high quality output. Although, in my experience, writers are a friendly and supportive bunch, they aren’t generally willing to put their own credibility on the line if they don’t believe in something. Despite the frustrating new guidelines from Amazon regarding writer reviews, most other sites still allow them and I know that the seal of approval from an author I admire will lead me to seek out a book.
  3. Editors, and other professionals: Of course, some of the less impressive self-pub’ books on the market have bypassed this part of the process entirely, but many haven’t. The power of a good editorial review or line-by-line edit cannot be underestimated, both for improving the specific WIP but also your writing in general. This is a really powerful way to raise the quality of your product.
  4. Beta readers: These are the people who read your final draft before you hit publish. Hopefully a group of honest, interested friends who read your chosen genre and aren’t afraid to tell you what they really think. Like the reviewers of point 1, they are your actual readership, or as close as you can get before your work is out there, so ignore them at your peril!

Then we have the all-important ‘internal regulation’:

  1. Have you written the book you wanted to write? If at any point in the process you’ve changed your vision in order to make money, or perhaps aim at an audience you don’t feel comfortable with for the sake of sales, then you should probably start again. If you haven’t written the kind of book that you’ve always dreamed of, it’ll show, and in all likelihood, it’ll suck.
  2. Have you worked on your writing? My first book took me three months to create the first draft. The second, happening as my daughter was born, nearly eighteen months. The development in my writing over that time was huge, partially just through practice and partially because I took every opportunity I could to learn and increase my knowledge of the craft. Of course, having finished the second one, I immediately went back and started tweeking the first, applying my new skills to language and dialogue that then felt awkward  and simplistic. It may not always be realistic to do exactly that, but it is incumbent upon you, should you want success, to make yourself as good a writer as you can be.
  3. Have you made your book as good as it can be? This really comes back to everything I’ve said above. Have you put enough effort into your edit? Have you got opinions from as many people as possible and really listened to the feedback? Imagine someone buying your book and reviewing it. Are they going to rave about the glorious language you’ve used; the way the characters leap out from the page/screen; the intricate yet apparently effortless plot twists? If you don’t think that they will, then you might need one more pass at the editing.

In the long run, the buck always stops with you, the author. The decision of whether to hit that ‘tweet’ button, or ‘publish’ key lies in your hands.

So, just as in the media, and particularly the modern world of twitter and the internet, the future is in the hands of the individual. Just remember, it’s only up to you until you press that button…