Why I Wake Up at 4:00 A.M.

 

earlybird1I get up at 4 in the morning to work.

Not to go to work, which starts at 6.

I get up at 4 in the morning to work on what I don’t have time to work on the rest of the day.

People are always saying, “I don’t have time to accomplish my dreams, or do what I want to do.” They’re saying this as they’re flopped in front of the TV mindlessly tuned in to The Bachelor or Game of Thrones.

“I hate my job,” people say as they sleep in as late as they can without being late to their day job.

I say, Get up at 4 (and earlier if the alarm hasn’t gone off yet and I’m awake). Freedom didn’t come freely or easily, so why should your independence, or your dream job, or your money?

I get up at 4 because I believe, with all my heart, that if I work hard enough and sacrifice enough sleep, that my dream job will come true. So I get up at 4 in the morning and write, and write, and write.

At least, at the end of the day, I can say, “I got to do what I wanted today.”

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On Writing: Curing the Creative Rut

giphyYou writers and creative-types – you’ve been there. It’s a hellish place, for sure. A chasm of fear, doubt, agony, frustration…

While everyone else around you seems to be excelling in their craft, accolades are given to everyone but you, your neighbors hit the jackpot…

Come on, I’m not the only one. You’ve surely been there, right?

Idea-less.

A hellish place for sure. It’s worse than that moment you’re about to start the first sentence on a blank page.

It’s worse than having to wait 119 days until Jurassic World finally opens.

You know how I find my ideas when I at this point? It’s embarrassing, and no one has ever seen me do it, except Sarabeth when I thought I was alone, or my little girl who just thinks it’s hilarious. 1tumblr_lgp6q5NhE21qcjtu8o1_500

I dance.

I talk out loud.

I sing.

I act.

And I’ve yelled.

It’s humbling, but true. I imagine myself standing before the heads of Universal Studios or Disney and I’ve got five minutes (I’m generous) to pitch them my idea.

So I yell, I act, I pitch like a storyboard artist convincing the director that my idea is the only thing that will work. I talk aloud about something that I believe in.

I might not yet have an idea to believe in, but I believe that I will find one.

I encourage you to give this a try. Crank up some Fun. or Owl City, or Delta Rae on the ipad and dance.

ac-slater-dance-o

Yes. Just start dancing. Let your body go. Just release the stress of everyday life. The last thing you want weighing you down when you’re trying to be creative is the rock-hard facts of  life that your readers are looking to escape from.

numa-numa-kid-oSo… escape.

Dance.

And talk.

And then ask yourself later, What did I talk about? Anything interesting? Jot it down.

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On Writing: Stretch Yourself

Stretching-the-Rubber-Band-tzgc5e

The awesome thing about writing is that it probes us authors to explore in more ways than one. Not only does writing encourage us to seek out and discover uncharted territories in our imaginations and throughout the world, but we are beckoned to explore the vastly wide expanse of the available genres themselves.

I told Sarabeth just last night while doing research for a book I’ve been too afraid to write for years, “I’ve discovered a new love.”

She glared at me for a moment then said, “You shouldn’t say things like that to your wife.” (I didn’t realize that Jennifer Lopez was presenting a Golden Globe on the TV wearing a dress with a V-cut as wide as the Grand Canyon.)

I said, “No, not that. Biography-ing. I know it’s not a ward, but I feel like I’ve found a new niche.”

I thought I’ve already been stretching myself out of my comfort zone of writing mainstream fiction, by working on not just a teen book, but a young readers historical novel. But due to a long-festering force of inspiration, I began a third project recently – a biography about a man you admire but don’t yet know by name (I’ll be dropping hints on my brand new author’s page on Facebook).

Crazy? Sure. But people don’t achieve their dreams by not being crazy. What’s so crazy about flopping down in front of the TV to watch another episode of Family Guy and then sleeping in until 9:00 the next day? That sort of doldrum behavior is to be expected. Do the unexpected.

You’re not going to discover new loves without being crazy enough to get out of your element and explore what the world has to offer.

They say to write what you know, but I disagree with that. I say write enough about what you don’t know, and the research will make you an expert.

On Writing: Read Less

ibooks-shelfSince 2011 I’ve kept a log of books I’ve read and the dates I read them. At the beginning of each year I go back and count the number of books I read that year.

So far my average has been about 30 books a year.

And then it dawned on me. I’ve got three books in development, two ofEditing_Red_Pen1-300x225 which are to be completed by the end of this year, and I’m only allotted so much time within the year to write them, then edit them, edit them, and edit them again.

Looking at my track record of reading 30 books a year and having one book published every two years, you’d think I was striving to be a professional reader, not writer.

Now don’t get me wrong, I will never underestimate the power and benefit of reading, especially for writers. You can’t possibly write without constantly reading, so why am I resolving to read less?

Out of 365 days a year, there are a total of 8,760 hours.

I sleep on average seven hours a night, so that’s 1,251 hours I’m forced to disregard, which means I only have 7,509 waking hours.

mathWith 2,640 of those hours being spent at work (and commuting to work), I’m now brought down to 4,869 hours.

Additionally, I have a daughter to play with and a wife to adore, movies to watch, and walks to take, so averaging in three hours a day plus weekends, I’m now at 2,709 hours available to devote to writing.

But wait. There’s time spent doing errands, miscellaneous trips to Taco Bell and new pizza joints, social worker visits, time wasted scrolling through iTunes and surfing on IMDB… a rough estimate brings my writing time down to 1,1749 hours for the year 2015.

Compared to the 7,509 hours I’m awake, 1,749 hours seems kind of small. But it is what it is and as my daughter grows older, that number is going to go down even further.

So the question is, do I spend that thousand-plus hours out-reading my previous book totals, or do I spend that time working to achieve my sub-goal of becoming a bestselling author so I can quit my day job and earn an additional 2,640 hours to my schedule, traveling the country with my family, reading (and writing) all I want on a sunny beach?

FROZEN

So yeah, I’ll keep reading in order to keep improving my writing skills, but it is not going to be as big of a priority as it has been. For me, it’s a bigger accomplishment to write two books and read 15 than read 40 books and write nothing in a year.

On Writing: Write Awful

When most people think of writing, they associate it to writing an email or a letter: Articulate your thoughts, dot your i’s, and send it away to your adoring audience.

That might be well and true for some writing forms, but not so for books. You don’t just get an idea, jot it down over a length of time, and ship it out to a pristine publisher.

Unfortunately, many who share this false assumption are, in fact, writers. So this post is going to clear the air as to what writing actually is like. Some say it’s like sculpting, some say it’s like architecture, I’m going with the illustration that writing is like drawing a picture.

book 11) Write Awful – You’ve got your brilliant idea, you write it out in book form, and several months later you go back and read your first draft and you think, Wow. I’m a terrible writer. This book stinks! Like the old break-up adage: it’s not you, it’s the process. Trust me. The brilliant minds at Pixar even say that every one of their movies started off as the worst movie ever.

 

book 32) Fix it a little – So if you think your book is awful but you’ve still retained your original idea, then yes, keep at it. Read through it again and change all the “your”s to “you’re”s and all the “their”s to “there”s. Get it a little more readable, a little more articulated. What you’re doing in this draft is removing some of that access dirt around the good idea you’ve uncovered, like sweeping away the dirt to reveal a fully-formed fossil. A word of warning must be inserted here. If, in all the chaos of writing your book, you lost track of that great idea that propelled you to write it in the first place, you might want to start from scratch. I’ve done it, I’m sure Stephen King’s done it… it’s like talking to yourself; it’s more normal than you think.

book 43) Add some detail – Now that you’ve got your book cleaned up a little bit, the main idea shines and the typos are fixed (don’t be fooled, there’s still plenty of typos still hiding), you can now start adding some detail to the narrative by adding color to the sky, rust to the park benches, and acne scars on the misunderstood antagonist. And you can also start breathing life into the dialogue exchange between your characters. Suddenly, your book is going to start taking on a more defined and grounded form. And with any luck, people will actually be able to read it and make sense of it.

book 54) Critique it – By this time you’re so tired of reading your book, just the thought of it makes you want to pull your hair out. But you’re not done. You’ve got to read it again. Heck, put it aside for a few months then return to it with a fresh mind. But this time through, you’re reading it not as the author, but as the reader. Read it with the utmost objectivity. Be hard on yourself. Ask yourself the hard questions (“Why did he say that?” “Is this convincing?” “Does she have reason enough to do this?”). Email some PDFs out to some willing friends to read it, and don’t take their criticisms personally. I’ll tell you, my wife is my toughest critic, to the point that I’m afraid of giving her my work to read for fear of having to start over or make too big of a change. But a story won’t be any closer to perfection until you put in the hard work and ask the hard questions. And it’ll be worth it in the end. (And yes, there’ll still be typos hiding.)

I_Am_LionTreat yourself to a new book for your Kindle, my newest work, I Am the Lion

On Writing: Force the Conversation

Calvin and Hobbes

No matter how good of a planner you are, no matter how much you outline your novel, you’re going to get stuck at some point.

Telling a writer that he’s/she’s going to inevitably hit a writer’s block is like telling a whale that it’s going to eventually get beached, no matter how hard it tries to avoid it.

But it’s reality. And you’ll find pages upon pages and articles upon articles on how to avoid (or get through) writer’s block, and I almost feel like I need to apologize for contributing to the cacophony of mixed and mingled suggestions.

But I won’t.

I also won’t claim that my way is the right answer or even the best way.

I believe everyone has a different way of getting through writer’s block, just like we all have a different way of accomplishing our writing.

I’m simply just going to share my way of getting through it. And bare in mind, I’m writing three books at once, so I run into it pretty frequently.

How do I get past it and go to bed each night with yet another couple of pages under my belt?

It’s simple: I write.

On my teen book which I’m working on, now titled, These Great Effects, I had my main character sitting on her bed, flipping through her crush’s phone to learn more about him. I needed another scene with her interacting with her mom, so I had her mom enter her room (“Knocking as she entered, of course”), and… I hit a wall.

But how did I get through it? I forced the conversation. Sure, there’s a lot of awkward silences and hesitant comments as I struggled through the scene, trying to decide why mom had come into her room.

But the more I wrote the scene out, stumbling along, finding my footing, learning about my characters, I hit on a line that will eventually turn the book into the direction I want it to go.

(Mom asks Adele, the main character, to attend one of her dad’s campaign gatherings with him, which is where the plot of the story will pick up.)

The point is, you’ve got to struggle through those scenes when you just don’t know where it’s going to lead you. It might take a few tries; you might change it tomorrow or you might change it a year from now. The point is, you just built in one more step to get the rest of your book completed.

And even if it’s a little wobbly, you can always go back and fix it.

Remember, it’s a writer’s block – intended for writers, and if my baby’s aiqddKkiMpresence has taught me anything, it’s that blocks are pretty easy to pick up.

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So You Want to Write Part 11 – How to AVOID Writer’s Block

Pages and pages of suggested cures and tips for overcoming writer’s block are easily accessible to the afflicted all across the Web. With a quick Google search there’s no end of  advice for overcoming the author’s worst enemy.

Jon-Acuff(A good page I came across recently is on Jon Acuff’s page – he often gives sound advice.)

But rest assured, I’m not going to add to the potpourri of suggested writer’s block cures.

Read on.

 

I appreciate when my GPS warns me of potential roadside construction, traffic jams, and tumblr_mz0tciaEZ11t35jb8o1_400large bodies of water that might obstruct or delay my end goal of reaching my destination.

So instead of giving you some cures for writer’s block, I’m going to give you a few tips on how to avoid it in the first place. But keep in mind, nothing is a guarantee – and the absolute best tool you can put to use is your own ambition, which is something no one can give you but yourself.

 

HOW TO AVOID WRITER’S BLOCK

1. Keep your story interesting

I’ve found that most of the time I run out of something to writer or get stuck, is not because I’ve lost momentum, but because I’ve lost interest. The book (or story) might still be a great concept, but somewhere along the way I took a wrong turn, or I’ve lingered too long on an anticlimactic scene. Avoid this by always having an ending point in mind for each particular scene. If you’re writing at point A, know the steps you need to take to get to point B, and take them. Remember, if you lose interest, your readers will certainly give up reading.

2. Write different

In X-Men: The Last Stand, there’s a scene where big, tough Wolverine gives this super-Joey-dave-coulier-30111015-300-225cheesy speech about how “we’re X-Men; we stand together.” I mean, seriously? Look kids, it’s Joey Gladstone with claws and sideburns! It’s a painful scene to watch. We’ve all heard the “We are united” speech a million times. Blah, blah, blah. Avoid stuff like that. If you don’t, you’ll read over your work in a week, realize how bad it is, and lose stamina and fall into a permanent writer’s block. Stop copying templates; write your own template.

3. Don’t read too much

e0fc57b64b14ce730c828ca088394c1b_answer_4_xlargeI cannot agree enough with all of the advice for curing writer’s block which says, “Read great books.” Yes, read books of your book’s genre. Read award-winning books. Read! But don’t read, read, read. I struggle with this more than anything else. First off, reading takes time away from writing. Secondly, you might end up with more good ideas or ah-ha moments than you know what to do with. And though that’s better than having no ideas, it can become overwhelming and next thing you know, a block has been dropped in your writing groove.

4. Always, always, ALWAYS have something unpredictable in mind

Whether your outlining your book or writing by the seat of your pants (plotter or pantser), tumblr_m8fcinfzZT1r76lino1_400you should always have some major plot point in the distant future that’s so unpredictable, so unthinkable, so surprising that you just can’t wait to get to that scene and shock the life out of your readers. This makes for great storytelling and plot twists, but it also provides gallons of stamina to keep those fingers flying over your keyboard at 230 wpm. (Tip: resist the urge to write that scene ahead of time; work up to it. It’ll be like a reward when you finally reach it. If it’s shocking enough, you won’t even need to take note of it.)

5. Write multiple books at once

This might not be feasible for most people, since everyone has a good book in them, not “books.” But since my end goal is to be a bestselling author, I’m working on three books right now (all very different genres). If I need a change, I simply switch over to another book just to help keep things fresh.

6. Observe the world as though it’s your book

alien-invasionOne of my books is about a world-wide alien invasion. Quite often I stop and look up at the sky and wonder what the guy walking his dog would do if he were being shot at from an invisible spaceship. Or when I’m watching The Office with my wife, I’ll catch myself wondering what we’d do if everything just went black and things started blowing up around us. This helps me add scenes or thoughts or feelings that otherwise would not have been in the book, thus more material to write.

Follow these steps, and you’ll be that much closer to that coveted “The end.” Happy writing! And remember, it’s the weekend; not the work-end.

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