You ever get halfway through a particularly long and challenging manuscript only to realize you’re bored? Not bored with the story or the process, just … your mind needs something else to ponder for a minute. Not a week, this isn’t one of those times where you need to take a week off and work on something else. Just a day. Maybe an hour so you can recharge. You don’t want to stop writing for the day, though, you just want to work on something different.

Diversity is important. Variety, as Morris Day said, is the spice of life. At these times I have a list of alternative things I could work on just for a minute, something to kick start my brain, put me into writing mode, but not bog me down in the same thing I’ve been working on for the past three months.

Reviews. I love writing movie and book reviews. They’re a quick way to force you to organize your thoughts, you’re getting to praise something you love, or learn from something that didn’t quite work, and you’re getting your fingers limbered up and your mind focused, ready to get back to work. Sometimes writing something that isn’t the thing you’ve been working on, even for an hour, is enough to make you miss the real work.

Blog posts are another alternative. Sometimes I’ll take a minute to post something quick, like what I’m currently reading, or the posters to any movies I’ve recently watched. I actually haven’t done this in a while, but once upon a time it was a regular thing. Back when I had more time to watch a lot of movies and whatnot. Or you can talk briefly about what you’re working on. No details, but a few words on what research you find yourself doing, just enough to tease.

Have you updated the CTAs (calls to action) in your books lately? This is another quick little job you can do when you need to get your mind on something else for a minute.

Something I love to do when I’m bored looking at the same page for the past two days is CLEAN MY DESK. You know your desk is the messiest part of your house, admit it. And it’s much easier to work on a clean desk. If you’re bored with your current work in progress, take the day off from it and clean your desk. And your office while you’re at it. And your inbox.

Sometimes I’m not bored, I’m just tired. I need to step back, take 20 minutes and rest. I often find when I do that, I can come back to it, maybe not wide awake, but not dozing off mid-sentence, either. Set a timer and close your eyes, the world isn’t going to end. And if it does, at least you didn’t have to see it coming.

And the last suggestion for when you’re bored working on the same manuscript every day: work on it anyway. Seriously, sometimes the best work I do on something is when I really don’t want to and I make myself get the words down anyway. I don’t know where the reluctance to work comes from, maybe I’m only bored with it because I know what comes later and I want to hurry up and get to a particular scene. But that’s not going to happen if you don’t write the damn thing. So the only thing to do is shut up, put my head down, and power through whatever downtime scene I’m on so I can get to the fun, exciting one behind it.

There you go, 6 tips to help fight boredom when you want to be productive but just can’t face that same story AGAIN. A quick diversion will keep you working, keep you productive, but give your brain and eyes the break it needs without convincing you that abandoning it altogether is the only option.

Now stop reading blog posts and get back to work. Slacker.

What do you like better, writing, or having written?

Me too.

Having written something is always so much more enjoyable than actually writing it. The work is hard, the after is the reward, and are we not a reward-based culture?

So having written is always favorable to writing.

But we can’t have written without doing the writing. So we have to get started. And I don’t know about you, but for me it’s always the beginning that’s toughest.

There are so many possible ways to start any and every story, it’s like a kid in a candy story lined wall to wall with all the best chocolates and gummies and whatever you like, but you’re told you can only pick ONE.

So that one has to be just perfect, doesn’t it?

Welllllllll. See, this is the nice thing about beginnings in writing. They’re just a starting point, but 9 times out of 10, that beginning is going to change by the time the story sees publication. NO beginning is ever perfect the first time through, because at that point we’ve only got the vaguest idea what direction or tone the story is going to take.

I can’t tell you the last story I wrote that didn’t have at least one or two false starts attached to it. Sometimes you just need to work your way through the story and see where it leads, then go back afterward and make adjustments to the beginning so it falls in line with the rest of the work.

There’s no shame in it; sometimes going back and re-working the beginning is a vital part of the process, especially in a longer work where the distance between the beginning and ending is greater.

But sometimes that false start is all kinds of wrong and doesn’t even convey the story you want to tell. That’s fine, too. My short story, “The Foodies of Mars,” I started writing that with only the vaguest notion of what the story was about, and for several days I wrote a solid beginning before trashing it the next day and starting over, because while those false starts could have worked okay, they weren’t the story I wanted to tell.

So I started over, with a completely different angle, point of view and main character, a different location, trying out story openings like school clothes, just waiting til I found the right combination that made the perfect first day of school impression.

Every story has to start somewhere, but don’t feel bad if you don’t nail it right out of the gate. That’s natural and doesn’t reflect on you as a writer at all. It’s much easier to go back after and fix a beginning than it is to keep working the front end of the story and never even getting to the back half.

Just GET STARTED and KEEP WRITING.

When it comes to audience, there are as many opinions as there are people offering them. William Zinsser, journalist and teacher, says, “‘Who am I writing for?’ It’s a fundamental question and it has a fundamental answer: You are writing for yourself. Don’t try to visualize the great mass audience. There is no such audience–every reader is a different person. Don’t try to guess what sort of thing editors want to publish or what you think the country is in a mood to read. Editors and readers don’t know what they want to read until they read it. Besides, they’re always looking for something new.”

John Steinbeck has a slightly different approach with, “Your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person–a real person you know, or an imagined person, and write to that one.”

I like Erica Jong’s response to the question of audience: “Writing is one of the few professions left where you take all the responsibility for what you do. It’s really dangerous and ultimately destroys you as a writer if you start thinking about responses to your work or what your audience needs.”

Look, the audience will appear if the work warrants it, but thinking about them before you’ve even figured out what kind of artist you are is only going to keep you from developing anything even close to a voice that’s yours. Speaks the bitter voice of experience.

For the first … I don’t even know how many years I was writing, I was writing to one particular audience: Stephen King’s audience. Because I wanted his career. It took a while but eventually I realized I’m not going to be Stephen King, he and I are two totally different writers. And once I realized that, it made writing so much easier, and it made finding my own voice so much easier too.

To me, the answer to the question of audience changes as you move through the stages of your career and expertise, as you become more comfortable with who you are as a creative person. In the beginning, you HAVE to write for yourself, otherwise you’ll never find a voice that belongs to YOU.

Once you find that voice, once you’re comfortable enough in that skin, it won’t hurt to find that one other person you can write to. But at the end of the day, the only person you HAVE to please is yourself.

I’ve run into this a time or two as well. You write something you love, but with an eye toward making that one other person happy too, and if they give it back and say “Meh, it could be better,” hear them out. They may have some good ideas, things you never thought of. Outside opinions are always helpful, but opinions are all they are. Take them in, digest and turn them over and, if you think they’ll make the work stronger, excellent. But if those opinions are going to lead to you compromising the story to please someone else … well, that’s something only you can decide.

Ultimately the question of audience is one you have to answer for yourself. All I can do is give you what I’ve learned from my experience with it over the years. For me, I have to like it first. And then, once I like it, I can take those bones and shape them into something other people will like too, while also maintaining the heart of it that I loved enough to bring to fruition in the world.

Or just remember Cyril Connolly’s words, “Better to write or yourself and have no public, than write for the public and have no self.”

So here’s a question. When you sit down at your desk, or wherever you write, what’s the attitude with which you approach the work?

Are you coming at the day’s words as one who really doesn’t want to be here, but knows they need to get something done, so you show up begrudgingly and jot down a hundred words just to say you did it? Or do you attack the page, firing off a thousand words in thirty minutes?

Margot Fonteyn said, “My attitude has never changed. I cannot imagine feeling lackadaisical about a performance. I treat each encounter as a matter of life and death.”

Now, I’m not saying you should go to THAT extreme when you come to work every day, but whether you realize it or not, your attitude when you sit down to do that day’s work has a huge affect.

I’ve got this day job–night job, really–that I hate. And it shows every day when I get there. I’m always in a grouchy mood, wanting to be anywhere but there, and the waves of disgruntlement and discontent radiate off me. I get my work done, but that’s all I do. If the line is down for a minute, there’s just as much chance I’m standing there, silently waiting for it to start up again as there is I’m doing something productive like cleaning my area or changing the trash. Because I just don’t care. I want to care, I’ve tried to care, but I just don’t. And that attitude comes through loud and clear.

But when it’s time to write every morning, man I’m ready to go. I’m smiling inwardly, my spirits are high no matter how exhausted I am from the night before at work, and I know I’m right where I’m supposed to be. That love for the work, that fire to get started, it comes through loud and clear as well.

And that carries over to every part of the process. No matter how slowly a story is coming along, or how mangled I feel the plot is, whatever the problem that’s keeping me from finishing this damned story already, my attitude is always positive because I know that, eventually, the plot will reveal itself, the twist will untangle itself, and no matter how stubborn a character or situation can be, there’s nothing better in the world than sitting at my computer, writing fiction. Even on a bad writing day, that’s still better than anything else I had planned for that day.

And on the good writing days … ho boy, that’s when the clouds part, and God smiles down on me. And I really feel a lot of that is due to my attitude about the work. At my old fast food job almost 30 years ago, they used to tell us to smile, even if we were taking an order through the drive-thru speaker, because the customer outside could hear your smile. At the time I thought it was a bunch of crap, but time, and doing work I love doing, has shown me that, yes, your attitude about the work comes through in the end product.

So when you sit down to get started every day, don’t let the bills, the spouse, the kids, the day job, the everything else get to you. Shrug it all off and just do the work you were meant to be doing, the only work you ever truly loved doing, and do it with a positive attitude knowing that, at least for these couple of hours, or however long, all is right with the world.

Are you plotter, or a pantser? A sitter or a stander? Do you type your stories or dictate them? Would you believe, in this day and age, there are writers, Clive Barker, for instance, who still write their novels longhand, and do an edit when they’re inputting it into a computer?

And they’re absolutely right in doing it that way. So are the writers who wouldn’t dream of writing longhand. So are the ones who dictate their work into their phone. So are the ones who write while walking on a treadmill desk.

They’re all correct in their approach to writing, because they’re doing what works for THEM.

I know how confusing it can be, when you’re starting out, to figure out what works for you, and you’ll try a dozen different methods before landing on the ONE. And I’ve been through many of them. I’ve written longhand, I’ve plotted and pantsed. I’ve never written standing up, but I’ve often taken walks and thought about what I was going to write. I still haven’t dictated my words, and I don’t see that happening. It’s just not how I work. But if you want to try it, that’s your choice.

You’re going to go through a number of different approaches, and every time you learn of a new way, you’re going to want to try it. That’s an excellent idea. Try them all. But never insist there is only ONE way to write, to compose, to paint, or whatever. There are as many approaches as there are art forms and every one of them works for SOMEONE.

So don’t feel hindered by one way of doing things just because that’s how “best selling author” does it. That works for them, do what works for YOU.

 

Sometimes we dream too small and it leads us nowhere.

I had a week off work, 7 days with nothing to do but write. If that’s what I wanted.

Now, I didn’t want to spend the ENTIRE day writing–a lie, I really did, but I also had other stuff I wanted to get done on my week off–but I did want to use that time to do something AMBITIOUS.

So I did. Normally my writing routine is to work on one thing at a time, rotating between projects every week. But this time I figured I’ve got the week off, why not work on ALL of them this week? Could I do 1000 words a day–my usual daily word goal–on all four current works in progress? Sounds tough, but not impossible. And anyway, if I pull this off, I’ll have proved something very important to myself: that I could do it.

See, some days those 1000 words come easy, but some days they’re like pulling teeth with no Novocain and it’s all I can do to eek out exactly 1000 words. Some days I don’t even make that. But this one week I was determined to do it. And if I missed it one day, as long as, at the end of that week off I had 20,000 new words written, I would consider it a success.

Know what happened?

I made it. It took writing the last 2000 words on Saturday, a day I had originally planned to give myself off, but I did it. Twenty. Thousand. Words. In SIX days instead of five, but I still got it done.

For someone like me who also has a day job–night job; I work second shift–to even consider writing so many words in a week feels impossible. It feels like the kind of thing you say “yeah, one day,” but then one day never comes because, holy crap there’s no way.

As artists, creators, the day we stop indulging in our ambitions, that’s the day we might as well stop creating at all. It was our ambitions that led us to picking up the pen in the first place, or the keyboard, or the instrument, or the microphone. It’s ambition that guides us every day when we sit down to work on our art.

We must learn to trust those ambitions and indulge them when they speak up, because it’s those ambitions that show us what we’re capable of. I never would have believe I could do 20,000 words in a week. If told I could do it, I’d have said something like, “Oh, yeah, I could make a good start of it, but I don’t see being able to maintain it for a whole week.” But then once I got the idea, and let it grow and grow over a couple of weeks, the ambition grew, the goal began to form, and by the time I got to that week off work, I knew I was going to do it. I’d built it up so big in my head by then, I knew I HAD to. Why? Because I learned years ago to trust my ambitions, listen to them and let them guide me to where I’m supposed to be.

Hell, if I’d listened to my head back in high school, I would have continued in my computer programming classes and MAYBE gotten a decent job in computers. But at the time I already knew my heart wasn’t in it, that I was just taking those classes because I’d heard programmers made good money and, at the time, there was really nothing I wanted to do with my life.

Then one day I got the idea to try writing this story that had been in my head for a few weeks before, and soon the idea turned into an obsession and that obsession turned into an ambition: to be a writer.

I followed that dream and I’m still following it and I honestly can’t imagine having taken any other path in life.

So live ambitiously, dream of things you never thought you’d do, and then do them.

For the longest time, YEARS, every time someone found out I was a writer, the next question was always, “Oh? What do you write?”

And like a wimp, I always shrugged it off and gave a vague, evasive answer. Oh, you know, little bit of everything.

Which wasn’t a lie. In addition to horror, I write reviews, I have written poetry. I have several comic book scripts, and even a play tucked away in a safe place away from prying eyes. But horror has always always always been my first and most important love. If I was told I could only write in one genre for the rest of my life, there wouldn’t even be a hesitation: horror.

But I always dodged the question and gave a very … ambiguous answer. A little bit of everything.

Why did I do that? Was I ashamed of being a horror writer? Surely not! Was I?

To be fair, I only said this when a normie would ask me that question. If it was a horror fan, I had no problem admitting the dirty truth. I’m a horror writer. But just someone off the street?

I was out to lunch with my ex wife one day–we were still married at the time, so it wasn’t weird–and I was wearing my “I’d Rather Be Writing” t-shirt. I’ve had this shirt for years, didn’t even give a second thought to wearing it out to lunch. This guy gets up from his table and, as he’s leaving, stops by and asks, “What do you write?”

A little bit of everything.

DAMMIT! I did it again.

When it would have been so easy to just say, “I’m a horror writer.” It’s even easier to say; it’s one word less than my usual answer.

And I wonder how many others out there do the same thing. What kind of movies do you make? What kind of music do you play? What do you write?

Oh, you know, this and that, little bit of everything.

I’ve gotten over it and now I don’t hesitate to say I’m a horror writer. And I admit it took some time and courage because outside of the horror community, the genre just has such a … cheap feel. But still, man, there’s nothing I’d rather write for the rest of my life.

When you’re trying to make a name and a life for yourself with your art, ambiguity is not your friend. And yeah yeah, there’s always that one that has to claim I love ALL genres. Sure you do. We all do. But if it came down to it and you could only work in one genre and God said pick? That’s your genre. Own it.

An audience who doesn’t know you is going to find you because they like a particular thing. I have found dozens of horror authors I fell in love with, because I love horror and was looking for horror. I just happened to find these authors I never would have heard of otherwise because they were in the horror section. So don’t shy away from the thing you love and want to do. Embrace it.

Make a show of it. You can see it on the homepage of my website, C. DENNIS MOORE–HORROR AUTHOR. I may have spent the majority of 2018 writing a serialized super hero story and not a lot of horror at all, but it’s still my number one right up front.

I’m proud to be a horror writer. But in my years writing, I’ve come across a number of horror writers who insist that’s not what they do. They do “a little bit of everything.” I’d list their names for you, but you’ve not heard of them. And you probably won’t because in their quest to distance themselves from this wonderful genre, or from ANY genre, they’ve released a mish-mash of stories that confuses readers.

Chances are VERY good if you’re reading my fiction, it’s most likely horror–last year’s production notwithstanding. Chances are very good if you read a Stephen King novel, it’s going to be a horror novel. Chances are very good if you read an Ed Lee novel, it’s going to be a horror novel. Not that I’m equating myself with those guys, they’re masters of the genre.

But, when I want to read some horror, I know who to go to because the authors I read aren’t wishy washy when it comes to what they do. They write horror. And I don’t want to turn this into a discussion about the validity or pitfalls of genre-hopping, I love genre-hopping. But at the end of the day, no matter how many super hero stories or love poems I write, I am a horror writer.

Period. End of discussion.

Yes, I want to play in every genre there is, I want to write in every style, I would love to be known as a great writer no matter what comes out of my head. But first and foremost, I want to be known as a great HORROR writer.

And so that is where my focus lies, and where my current goals are leading. How specific are your goals? Are you just hoping to be a great filmmaker, or do you want to make the funniest comedies ever released? Or the most exciting westerns? Do you want to make music, or do you want to record the best heavy metal tunes around?

If there’s a genre you like, don’t deny it. Genres are how our audience finds us, especially when we’re still unknown to the general populace. No one saw STAR WARS because they were after the next George Lucas movie at the time. They saw science fiction space opera and that’s what drew them in.

Find your genre. Own it. Live it. And then make in synonymous with you.

Let me ask you something, when you set your goals, how high did you aim? I know, I always say to set realistic goals, but when you did it, did you go for realistic in the sense that you’ve performed at that level before so you already know you can? Or did you set realistic goals that you know you CAN meet, but it’s going to take a little work and, in the end, you’re going to come out of the process a stronger, more confident person?

I’m gonna guess it was the former. And there’s no shame in that. We’re fragile creatures, we don’t react well to pain, and setting a goal we know we can’t reach, and then living with the inevitable disappointment of being right, that can hurt.

But what if you set that higher goal and you met it? My God, what a world that would be, huh? I’m not saying set impossible goals, we’re still determined to set goals we know we can reach. But if there’s a goal you know you could hit, but it would be a struggle … imagine hitting that one?

That’s the thing with people, sometimes our vision is higher than our aim. We can SEE that lofty goal, but nah, that would be too hard, we’ll just settle for this mid-range goal instead. That’ll be good enough, right?

Well, sure, it WOULD be good enough. If you want to be like everyone else.

Or you could aim higher and really accomplish something. Set those goals, and set them so you can achieve them, but don’t make it easy on yourself. Sidney Sheldon said “It is an unfortunate fact that too many writers–like too many people in other fields–are satisfied with less than their best.”

Ain’t it the truth? So many people are happy to live a C average life. But what’s the fun in that?

Aim high, then do what it takes to achieve that level, and WHEN you reach it, believe me, you’re going to feel so much better about yourself. In fact, it could very well change everything. Like Tyler Durden said, “How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?”

Also, “Without pain, without sacrifice, we would have nothing.”

Suck it up, aim higher, and go kick some ass.

An affectation is defined as “behavior, speech, or writing that is artificial and designed to impress.” And we’ve all been guilty of it. Luckily, for most of us, we only did this in the beginning, before we found our voice.

I remember a time, in my first year of writing, when I would scour the thesaurus, looking for the word that made me look like I knew what I was talking about. I once used “stentorious” in a story because I thought it sounded impressive. It didn’t. Eventually I replaced it with “loud”, which means the same thing and doesn’t require a dictionary to be in the reader’s back pocket. Also, it made me look like less of douche.

Avoid affectations in your art at all cost. So what if you don’t think your work measures up to the masters in your field yet. Neither did they when they started, but they got there, through hard work, commitment to the art, and discipline. I see this in a lot of cooking shows, especially ones with Gordon Ramsey’s name on them. These young chefs trying to impress the master with fancy plating or weird ingredient combinations but missing the most IMPORTANT ingredient: them.

Affectations are nothing more than you trying to be someone you’re not. And everyone else can tell when you’re doing it, whether it’s writing the most “extreme” horror you can imagine (which is usually not very imaginative, to be honest), or putting on a cheap smile in the face of impossible conditions and hoping a good attitude will see you through.

I see this particular one a LOT in my daily life. You should see the number of people at work who smile and say “it’s not so bad” when we end up working that “emergency 12 hour shift” or the guy who says he’s going to bid out because he doesn’t like the conditions when two weeks ago he was angling for that team lead job he didn’t get.

Rejection sucks, we can all admit it. But the thing to do with rejection isn’t to pretend it doesn’t bother you, that you’re perfectly content when your book didn’t sell in the numbers you’d hoped it would or connect with an audience as quickly. Instead we have to, not necessarily embrace rejection, but definitely admit it. I’ve got over twice as many rejection slips for my fiction as I do acceptance letters. And they all sucked. But I didn’t pretend it was all okay. Instead I took that, accepted it and admitted that it hurt, and I used that to help me try to write a better story next time, while resubmitting the rejected one, sure that somewhere out there was an editor who would appreciate it.

Believe me, it’s ok to care, and it’s ok to be yourself. Because in years to come when people know your name and audiences are waiting for that next release, YOU are the person they’re coming back for, and in the long run YOU are the only thing that is sustainable in your art. I used to try to copy Bradbury or Barker in my prose, but that becomes exhausting because it’s not ME. Eventually I had to learn to put away those affectations and just write as myself; it was the only way I could keep writing day after day. When you strip away those affectations and be the best YOU that you can be, that’s when you’ve found your voice, and THAT is when your art really starts to shine and people start to notice.

Last week we talked about adjectives. YOUR adjectives, more specifically, and what words you wanted people to use when describing you. This week we’ll take a look at the other A-word: adverbs.

Everyone says you shouldn’t use them, but everyone does. And sometimes adverbs can work to your advantage. Obviously, I’m not talking about in your writing. I mean in life. In goals.

Adverbs can help to add a little flavor and mood to your goals if, instead of saying, “I will finish my new novel in 90 days,” you say, “I will EASILY finish my new novel in 90 days.” Or, “I will HAPPILY write 1000 words every day.” Or “I will eagerly get on that treadmill every morning.”

Sometimes stating what you’re going to do isn’t enough and you need to give yourself a boost. What other adverbs can you use to motivate yourself everyday and keep on top of your goals?

Effortlessly is great one. I will effortlessly learn a new song on the guitar in February.

I will gladly put away some of my check into a savings account every payday.

Enthusiastically. Readily. Cheerfully. Whatever word it takes to help you face those goals every day without letting the weight of them tear you down. Use them, that’s what they’re there for. Whatever it takes to achieve your goals, use the tools at your disposal. Even adverbs.