Seven Habits of Highly Effective Writers

For the past month, I have lived by a grid telling me what to do each day. For Type B people, this may seem ludicrous. But since graduating from college, I’ve been winging it and have almost nothing to show except one long suffering manuscript and no progress on other endeavors. I wasted two years that I could have been building my film portfolio. Two years I could have been freelancing my graphics skills. Two years I could have been writing and publishing short fiction.

I’m not wasting time anymore.

But a schedule means nothing without discipline, and that discipline is something I have to grow. I don’t meet all my goals every week. I barely meet my goals every month. But I do reach 70-80% of them, and it gets easier every day. By the end of 2015, I hope these goals will instead be habits. And since the point of this blog is to share both my progress and philosophies so that they may help other writers, here are a few tips to transform ideals into real habits:

Multiple projects. I wasn’t always a supporter of this, mostly because one project tends to overwhelm my brain at a time, leaving no inspiration for other things. In some ways, this remains true – I still can’t write two novels at once. But a novel and a short story? That’s okay. A short story and a website? That’s cool too. Spreading your projects across different mediums is a great brain hack, because I think we all have a set of muses instead of just one. You can fire all of them up at the same time and work steadily on everything, rather than burning out “the novel muse” before you’re even done with it.

Meditation. You know how the best ideas come to you in the shower, or on the ride to work, or as you’re about to fall asleep? There’s a reason – those moments are when your mind is most relaxed (assuming you’re not driving in D.C. traffic every day!) Stepping back and letting your mind wander is like instant inspiration. I swear, half the plot twists for Paradisa were born in the bathroom. You could try setting aside 15-30 minutes every day to physically meditate, but I personally haven’t made time for that yet. Instead, I harness my brain’s natural meditation cycles by keeping a small memo pad close by, and by using my smartphone’s voice recorder app. Like dreams, a lot of ideas and writing envisioned during this period can be fleeting, and I don’t want to forget them!

Schedules. Again, some more. Sorry, but they’re essential for me. I have road marks for all of my mediums going all the way through 2020! But some things, like my ambitious feature-length mocap project, actually take that much preparation. When you’re trying to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for something, you need the luxury of time and a multi-year game plan. And for anyone trying to be an indie anything, you need time to build a platform before you can expect to be successful.

Another thing about schedules – they ensure all months have a fairly even workload. I have allowed myself a hiatus on most things during months where I’ll draft a new novel. Similarly, during months where my novel is in beta, I focus more on non-novel things. I don’t want to reach March and realize all my deadlines have converged at once and I’ve given myself an impossible workload (only to be followed by a month where everything is slow and I’m basically wasting time).

Know your limits. In my prime, I could write 2000 words/hour. That seems like a fantasy now, because I no longer live alone and I have a much earlier bedtime. In fact, I didn’t really have a bedtime two years ago and constantly showed up to work bedraggled. In exchange for getting 8 hours of sleep every day, barely drinking caffeine, and being a decent live-in girlfriend, my maximum daily word count is about 1000 words.

When setting goals, don’t pretend you’re someone you’re not. Remember that sometimes you have sinus headaches, sometimes you want a nap, sometimes you have to work late, sometimes you want to marathon Lost on Netflix. If you schedule yourself like some kind of creative workhorse, you’ll burn yourself out if you meet your goals or you’ll be disappointed if you fail them. Or, like me, you’ll end up at the chiropractor for six months because being hunched over a laptop like a machine crippled your back. >.> Books like “How I Write 10,000 Words A Day” are tempting to emulate, but remember that those people are usually professional writers whose sole job 8 hours a day is to write fiction. For the rest of us working stiffs, especially those of us who want some semblance of a social life even if it’s just with our partner, that’s simply not realistic.

And even with a mere 800 words a day, I’m still writing more than I would have otherwise. It looks like I will complete Paradisa Draft 6 in two months, when it took me 7 months to do the same amount of work on Draft 5.

Priorities. Sleep is now a priority for me. Giving my partner attention is a priority. On the other end of the spectrum, I try to prioritize my art over playing video games and watching TV (which is a shame, because I love Fallout 3 and wish I had time to play it!) But now I’m talking about prioritizing your actual projects. Right now, Paradisa Draft 6 comes before anything else. It’s what I spend the top chunk of my energy on because if everything else fails, I still want a completed manuscript of this book to show for it.

Then there are bonus goals that do not have immediacy behind them, and do not have any particular external deadline (like an anthology reading period) or self-set deadline to meet. I work on these second.

Taking A Day Off. Unfortunately, I did not design a day off into my schedule, which has so far been a terrible idea (as a side point, I’d like to stress that schedules and goals are organic things. Too many people see organization as a prison. It’s not. It’s entirely in your control, and you can make the variables be whatever suits you). When I get the chance to reorient things, I am definitely leaving Saturdays free of responsibility. I never accomplish anything on Saturdays as it is, and I need a day to recharge from the combination of my full time job and the creative work. It’s tempting to shove all your creative projects onto the weekends, but personally, I get a surprising amount done on weeknights. Which leads me to…

Treat writing like it’s your job. Ideally, I will treat Sundays as if I’m a work-from-home writer. Austin works on Sundays, so I have the whole house to myself. I rarely have responsibilities on Sunday aside from household chores and making dinner. So that leaves me 7-8 hours to sit in my office and, for one day every week, pretend like this is my job. I’ve yet to do such a thing – probably because I haven’t given myself Saturdays off yet ;) This is my ultimate goal by the end of the year though, because imagine how productive one could be if they devoted a whole day to writing and creating?

Hope this helps some of you who struggle to find the time or motivation to complete your projects. One of the most admirable methods of creativity that we don’t utilize enough in America is focusing on what you can do with the resources you have rather than aspiring towards goals that are beyond your scale. Time is a resource. Energy is a resource. Find out how much you have of both and work within those limits rather than pretending you have more of either. If you simply commit to working on something – anything – it’s pretty amazing what you can build.

Writing vs. Having Written

“It’s not the destination,” they say. “It’s the journey.” I have never believed this, at least not for myself. I’ve never fancied road trips or Lord of the Rings or cruises to islands I don’t care about or any other stories/events/situations that depend on me enjoying the journey instead of the place I’m actually going. I live for the destination, for the end game, and I mean that both physically and metaphorically.

As writers, we should love writing, yeah? We should enjoy the process of tearing down worlds, breathing life into characters, creating something our own. I enjoy this well enough, probably more than most “journeys” I could name, but the real satisfaction comes from having written. I live for that sense of accomplishment, for seeing a 200 page stack of fiction bound on my desk.

I am not excited about the massive rewrite I’m working on. If I was excited, I wouldn’t be procrastinating on editing Chapter Six. But I’m super excited about the future finished version of this draft, and how fun it will be to share  with a new group of betas, and how I’ll be more confident in this draft versus previous ones.

I’m curious about your thoughts. Do you prefer the writing process, or do you live for the finished product?

On a personal note, my short story Goliath was rejected from its first anthology submission. I guess that’s a whole new journey I’m beginning, and I will definitely prefer the destination!

The Writing Process Blog Tour – My Writing Process

Thanks to Millie Ho for tagging all her followers on this!

Why Do I Write What I Do?

I’m a 90’s kid. I grew up with Disney movies, ensemble action disaster movies like Independence Day and Jurassic Park, and my mom’s profuse love for Star Wars (she has a Star Wars room in her house to this day.)

So, I like fun stories with big stakes and deep relationships between characters. A story usually has to have both elements for me to fully appreciate it. I can’t bring myself to care about all-action-no-substance flicks like Transformers. The Fast and Furious movies, on the other hand, have a HUGE amount of heart and great character chemistry. I also like watching Moulin Rouge simply to see Christian and Satine be in love; a movie that revolves around a good relationship can sway me, even if there isn’t much epic action going on.

I want to write fun commercial or genre fiction with characters you actually care about. It may be plot-driven, but that doesn’t mean the characters should be boring! If you’re not shipping all my characters together by the end of the book, I feel like I have failed. Additionally, the themes of my work usually have to do with science, space, or religion. That’s just a general statement, and the basis of my blog title “Aether House.”

How Does Your Writing Process Work?

1. Have an idea. Let it stew in my mind or a year or more. Paradisa stewed for 4. “Shannon-verse” has been stewing for 19. My short story Goliath stewed for about 10 months.

2. Decide on a project. I’ve got a masterlist of about 80 ideas, with about 10 that are favorites, and it’s often a process just picking one.

3. Research, character design, world building, etc etc. All that fun stuff to work out who I’m writing about.

4. Outline the book. REALLY outline. Most of my book have a 10k-20k word treatment that breaks down every chapter, every conversation, etc. It’s like a miniature first draft. I am not a “pantser.” Writing without a plan is miserable to me.

5. Analyze and revise the outline. When it’s happy, begin writing!

6. Write the first draft in 1-2 months.

7. Revise for a year or more, doing at least eight drafts and three rounds of beta readers. At least one of those rounds will be copyeditors, and at least one will be strangers. I’ll usually start on a 2nd book during this time, because I’ll have down time during those reading periods.

8. Profit?

What Am I Working On?

My novel Paradisa is on its fourth draft. Paradisa follows a half-Iranian half-Irish chef named Connor Bishara, who’s lived on autopilot since DADT discharged him from Navy SEALs. His only joy comes from supporting his much younger sister, Clara, as she pursues an engineering degree.

On the very first page, their car hits a pedestrian that is definitely not human – it’s a Spectre, or a strange new creature that gods nor angels can explain. Without giving too much away, I’ll say that their near-miss with a Spectre entangles their lives with the archangel Raphael, as well as the Greek gods Hephaestus and Aphrodite, who reveal that *all* mythology is real. Unfortunately, even the pantheons of the world are not strong enough to defeat the demonic threat hovering over Earth…but with Connor and Clara’s help, perhaps they could be.

How Does My Work Differ From Others In Its Genre?

I write human protagonists. Not elves/vampires/half-chimeras. My secondary characters have extraordinary abilities, but the story is told from the eyes of humans. One issue I take with most fantasy is that the leads are all magical, or half-magic/half-human, as a way to give them great power while still making them relatable. But I like to take the Doctor Who approach – I write about the ordinary human companions of someone extraordinary, and show why the powerful person and the human person can be equally useful and strong. I don’t go for prophecies, “chosen ones,” or any sort of destiny that points towards my humans being ‘special.’ They get thrust into the supernatural world due to circumstances beyond their control, but they’re ultimately the ones who choose this life.

Now fly, my pretties! I tag all of you!