People often underestimate the value in brainstorming. You don’t have to sit down to work every day, ready to fire away and write full steam ahead. Sometimes the words just aren’t there. This is when brainstorming comes in handy.

Despite many people thinking brainstorming is a group activity, you can in fact brainstorm on your own. The goal in brainstorming is just to toss ideas into the air and see which ones land as you work to sort out a particular problem.

For example, I had this really long short story call “Blue Moon Story” that had a good IDEA, but the execution never excited me all that much. I knew the idea behind the story was worth pursuing, I just knew I’d gone about it all wrong the first time.

So on the drive home from work one night, I started throwing ideas out, talking to myself out loud. I had a character and an opening, but nowhere to go from there. What if this happens, I said? Where does the story go from there? Where do I want it to go? Okay, I know how I want it to end, but how do I get there?

I brainstormed ideas and directions for this story on the full 15 minute ride home and by the time I pulled up, I had the story ready to go and I tackled it the next morning, finishing a first draft in only a couple of days.

That’s not to say every brainstorming session ends with similar results, but at least you can walk away with a list of ideas that don’t work and directions you know not to take.

I’ve done this with titles dozens of times. Not every story has a title built into it. My STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE sequel short, “The Dichotomy of Monsters” went through a handful of possible titles before settling on that one, and each one was CLOSE, but not THE title. I used a brainstorming session one morning on the way to work to get that one.

Hell, even the name Midwest Creativity Control was the result of a brainstorming session with my team, everyone throwing out ideas in a group email and discussing each one until we finally came up with the right one, complete with rationale on why it’s the perfect name for our organization.

Brainstorming sessions can be a lifesaver to a creative, especially when you have a group of people involved, but even when it’s just you throwing ideas around yourself. I talk story ideas and details out with myself all the time, and they always bear fruit for whatever I’m working on.

Don’t feel pressured every day if you don’t know what you want to write about or which direction a story needs to take. The possibilities are nearly endless and you’ll find the right one with a quick brainstorming session.

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.”

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.

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.

Voltaire’s line about “One should always aim at being interesting, rather than exact” does not apply to all aspects of life.

In writing?  Sure. I’d rather read an interesting book that fudges some details over one that compromises the plot in favor of realism.

But we’re not about the writing here.  Not about the details of the writing, anyway, the content.  That’s on you. What we do here is help you specify and achieve your goals in a realistic and repeatable manner.  And to do that, we need to be exact.

What was the last goal you set?  Lose weight? Eat better? Save money?

All worthwhile goals, but how do you know when you’ve achieved them?  Skip dinner and you could wake up tomorrow to find you’d lost a pound.  Goal met. Oh, you meant you wanted to lose a significant amount of weight.  Well, what’s a significant amount? What’s “significant” to you might be all in a week’s workouts to me.  Have rice with dinner instead of greasy fries and you’ve officially eaten better. Buy generic instead of name brand and you’ve officially saved money.

But that’s not what you meant when you set those goals, was it?  Who can tell? You weren’t exact. You weren’t specific.

When setting goals we hope to actually ACHIEVE, we have to be as specific as possible.

I want to lose 20lbs.

I will cut out sugar from my diet.

I’ll put 10% of my paycheck into savings before I even see it.

These are specific, achievable goals.  But the work’s not done.

Because once you set the goal, you have to come up with a plan, a SPECIFIC plan, to meet it.

HOW will you lose that 20lbs?  What steps will you take? Working out?  Eating less? How quickly do you want to lose it?  Give yourself a deadline, deadlines are so important with goals.  Otherwise you could just keep going forever. I’m going to lose 20lbs.  When? Eventually.

This also applies to writing.

When you set your writing goals, BE SPECIFIC.  How specific? As specific as you can. How many stories do you want to write this year?  How many days can you devote to writing? How many words a day can you write?

The most effective way to make sure you achieve your writing goals is, oddly enough, with math.  People use this approach every year when they participate in NaNoWriMo. You’ve got 30 days to write 50,000 words, so how many words do you have to do a day?  1667. Or 12,500 words a week, however is easiest for you to measure.

I know from experience that sometimes that daily word goal gets away from you, so setting a weekly word goal can be even more helpful as it eases some of that daily pressure when life starts intruding on your writing time.

12,500 words a week for four weeks and you’ve got a novel.  And if you write 7 days a week, that’s 2000 words for six days and a measly 500 the last day.  But first you have to set the goal.

Now, obviously your goal isn’t going to be to write a novel a month for an entire year, so that 12,500 words a week word count is actually going to work out to something a lot more realistic.  Say you want to write a first draft in three months. Over 12 weeks, that means you’ve got to do 4167 words a week, or 834 words every day for five days.

Holy crap you could probably do that before you’ve even had coffee.  Think about it. 834 words a day. My daily goal when I’m writing new words is at least 1000 and anything over that are bonus words.  834 is cake. So if I set myself a goal of writing a 50,000 word novel in three months, and I started on January 1st and wrote my usual 1000 words a day, even at only five days a week, I finish that first draft the first week of March, not the last week.  Goal not only met, but CRUSHED.

But first I have to SET the goal and be specific.  Telling myself, “My goal is to write a novel” means nothing if I don’t give myself the parameters within which to reach the goal.  I need a deadline and a plan. I’m going to write THESE days every week, at THESE times, and in that time on those days I’m going to write THIS many words.  That means that, within that allotted writing time, I’m not checking emails, I’m not taking phone calls, I’m not answering texts until that day’s words are done.  Maybe even use those emails and texts as a reward for having finished the day’s words. I’ve got a DVR full of shows I want to watch downstairs, but I’m not letting myself do it until I finish this blog post because I had written on my calendar for today “movie review and blog post.”  I finished the movie review a while ago, all I have left is this post and my day’s work is done.

The gist here is this: it’s not enough to tell yourself you’re going to do something.  Going to and DOING are two different things. Yeah, you’re GOING TO, but what action have you taken TODAY to move yourself closer to that goal?  Nothing? Then shove your “going to” up your anyway the important thing to remember when setting writing goals is this: BE SPECIFIC.

“I’m going to write a novel” means nothing.  “I’m going to write a novel in this amount of time”, now you’re talking.  Now you’ve got a serious goal you can reach, because you know how much work you have to get done within that amount of time.  From there it’s just the simplest of math to set yourself on the path to achieving this goal. Never set a vague goal. You won’t reach it.  Be specific and take action.

The most difficult goal in the world becomes  just a little easier, a little more feasible, when you’re specific.