One Hundred Days, Ten Books, And One Million Steps!

Day One

I should preface this writing by placing the blame (or credit, depending on how you look at it) squarely where it belongs: on the shoulders of Dean Wesley Smith. After all, it was he who first gave me the idea of using a challenge as a tool to drive myself toward improvement.

It’s Dean who showed me how darn much fun these challenges can be, too. And finally, it was also Dean who (as far as I know) first came up with the crazy, dumb, ridiculous, and insanely fun idea of writing ten books in one hundred days. As of this writing, he hasn’t done the challenge set, but he will be later in 2019.

That said, taking his challenge and ramping it up another notch is entirely my own fault. There’s a very old Chinese saying that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. It’s a terrific proverb, with deep wisdom which is both obvious to a child yet still holds great value all through our lives. The journey I’m embarking upon isn’t a thousand miles. According to my Apple Watch, it takes about two thousand steps for me to walk a mile, so I’ll only be walking five hundred miles. But that voyage also begins with just one step.

I’ve done challenges before. I find them to be a good tool to help me stretch my perception of what it’s possible for me to achieve. Pushing myself is good for my growth. setting goals which match only my abilities doesn’t encourage growth or excellence. But goals which match my potential do both.

I talked about trying the ‘ten books in one hundred days’ challenge back at 20Books Vegas 2018. It sounded a little nuts. Michael Anderle and I went over the idea some and came to the conclusion that it wasn’t worth the headaches.

What changed my mind? I’ve gotten better at writing. Faster. More organized. I still have much to learn (thank goodness), but I feel more able than ever to take on a serious challenge and win through to success. Why add the million steps to an already difficult challenge? That’s a great question.

It was the idea of adding the new element which finally made me decide to go for this, actually. One of the biggest challenges writers face is the sedentary nature of our work. We sit – usually inside – while we write. Getting in high word counts and also exercising can be a real problem for many writers, myself included. I’m still in pretty good shape for 46, but I could see my fitness deteriorate over time.

Stepping up my fitness game was an obvious priority. I’d been trying on and off through the years to work with dictation software for my writing, generally without much success. But I recalled Kevin Anderson blogging years ago about how he wrote books by taking long walks through the hills speaking his story into a recorder.

Nervous that it wouldn’t work well in noisy downtown Boston, I figured I would give it a shot anyway. I bought a new cardioid microphone for my iPhone and gave it a try. The results weren’t perfect, but they were good enough that I grew really excited about the challenge idea!

I was writing more slowly than I was used to, but much of that felt like my fault instead of tech problems. What if I could couple high speed writing and walking for fitness? The challenge was born: 100 days, 10 books, and 1,000,000 steps. That meant averaging at least ten thousand step and six thousand words a day. Partnering my goals together in this manner just feels right.

So we’re off and running! Or walking. Day 1 was May 9th. The final day will be August 16th. The first day went well, with about 4500 words and 19,198 steps. A little ahead on one target and behind on the other, but I am already seeing improvements in my dictation speed, so I anticipate more gains in word court as I go along.

Thank you for reading! I will continue posting regular updates, and you’re welcome to follow along as I try to do this crazy, fun, game-changing challenge!

The Pursuit of Happiness

A writer recently asked an interesting question. I’m paraphrasing, but the general idea was this: “Do you believe that the prerequisite for success as an author is to write X words every year, where X is a very large number?”

My answer was: No, I’d disagree strongly with that statement for several reasons.

1) There are (rare, but existent) authors who produce just one book a year and make a full-time living.
2) I’d have to know how big “X” was, which in this case is sorta like asking “how long is a piece of string?”
3) We all define success differently. My idea of success almost certainly won’t be the same as the person sitting next to me, and *neither of us are wrong* if striving toward our personal goals is making us happy.

All that said, I think there’s a lot to be said for a strong work ethic in whatever profession we choose to work. I work for myself these days, but I spent a lot of time in other careers. The last one before ‘novelist’ was nursing.

As a nurse, if I didn’t show up for work when I was supposed to, I didn’t get paid. In writing, if I don’t show up to write new words when I am supposed to, I don’t get paid.

In nursing, I could generally pick how many hours I wanted to work. Everyone was thrilled to let me work sixty hours a week. They were also OK with letting me eventually drop down as low as twenty-four hours a week as I slowly phased from that career to writing full-time. When I was working 24 hours a week, I earned about half what I did when I was working 50 hours a week; this ought to suprise no one.

The same is generally true of writing. Whatever amount I make from writing new words, if I double the hours I spend doing it I am, generally speaking, going to double (or more) my income.

But what if I was HAPPY at the income level I was making while working 24 hours a week as a nurse? What if I had set up my life so that was enough money to feel successful, and I was enjoying the rest of my free time?

Well, that’s success, too. Same goes for writing. Nobody says you HAVE to make six-figures a year as a writer to feel like a success. We get to define what we see as financial and career success. We get to pick whether we want it to be a main career or a side-career. We’re all going to see our own vision of success – and again, *none of us are wrong*.

But there’s another aspect to all of this.

If I was working as a nurse and started goofing off at work, not doing everything I was supposed to, showing up late or not bothering to show up at all – I’d get fired. Now, nobody gets to fire us as writer/publishers anymore. Instead our income drops, which has a similar impact on our checking accounts.

Just as important: when our actions do not accurately match our aspirations, unhappiness occurs.

Human beings tend to be happiest when our goals/ideals/aspirations match our actions as closely as possible. For example, if I say I want to be a full-time writer, but spend most of each day playing video games instead, I’m setting myself up to be unhappy. (Ask me how I know…) I’m not aligning my actions with my aspirations.

I wouldn’t expect to make a full-time salary as a nurse or any other profession working just four hours a week. Yet at the sedate writing pace of 1000 words per hour, four hours a week is 200,000 words a year, or 2-4 novels. (Yes, we have research, going over edits, marketing, etc., but those should never collectively be more than half our time. They’re like the emails, meetings, and other time-sinks at work that slow productivity rather than fueling it.)

Just imagine what would happen if I sat down to write ten hours a week (working 5-10 more on the “other stuff”). That’s 500,000 words a year, at the modest 1000 word/hr pace. What happens when I get better at this and slowly improve my words per hour? (I write new words at an average of about 2500 words/hour right now; when I started out as a novice, I was about 1200 words/hr. Like most things about writing, this is something which improves with practice.)

Wow.

OK, what happens if I really go full-time, and write 20 hours a week (spending another 20 on the “other stuff”)? Now I’m writing a million words a year at the slow, sedate pace of 1000 words/hour, or as much as 2.5 million if I can maintain 2500 words/hour. I know folks who average 4-5k words per hour via dictation.

That doesn’t mean I think I need to write 5 million words a year to be a success. 🙂

It DOES mean that it’s possible to do so.

Would I be happier if I did that? I don’t know. It would mean taking less trips and vacations. It would mean less time with my kids. Right now, I can afford the luxury of working at a fraction of that theoretical maximum and still make enough to greatly enjoy life. I’m good with this.

That doesn’t mean the person who strives for more than that is wrong. Nor am I. Nor is someone else whose personal goal for writing isn’t as big as mine. Provided we’re all happy, and we’re all putting in an appropriate amount of effort to achieve our goals, it’s all good.

Where things tend to fall apart is when we don’t allocate enough effort to ahieve whatever our goals are. This is where frustration, disappointment, and disillusionment come into play. And the answer is almost always to right-size things. If our actions and aspirations are out of alignment, one of them needs to change. Either we need to increase action or decrease expectations, if we want to improve happiness.

At the end of the day, happiness is tied to seeing our needs met, and one of those needs is self—actualization. Most human beings need to feel like we are doing or creating something worthwhile which requires us to use our mind and skills maximally if we want to be happy.

We get to decide what that looks like. But once we do, our happiness hinges on applying the appropriate amount of work to attain those goals, whatever they might be.

We’re About To See Another Indie Author Shakeout

We’re about to see another major shakeout in the indie writer world.

The first one happened around 2012 through 2013. Two factors contributed. The most obvious was KDP Select, which created a massive surge for writers who participated, at great cost to those who didn’t. Free books lost a ton of ground, which dried up a major tool.

But the other factor in 2012 was that for the first time there were so many good indie books that quality began to matter a lot more – not just in writing, but in presentation as well. In 2010 an author could throw up even a mediocre book with mediocre cover art and blurb and sell OK, possibly even sell really well. As more books hit the market and competition increased, this was no longer viable in most cases, and a ton of authors dropped out.

We saw the second major dropout in 2015, with KDP Select 2.0. Authors who had built their entire system of publishing around producing a ton of short works suddenly found themselves paid 25c a read instead of $1.80 a download. This swept the field of a ton of people.

Worse yet, it was around 2015/2016 that the continued increase in quality hit the point where a book needed to pretty much look like it belonged on the shelves of a B&N (in terms of quality, not specific design, since everyone knew about designing for thumbnail by then). Inferior covers and blurbs still sometimes worked (and continue to occasionally work today, although less well each year), but it got harder. Lots of writers left.

This was the field that Michael Anderle and the ongoing group that formed into 20Booksto50k joined up in. It was a field that was highly competitive, but if you were producing GOOD work FAST, with GOOD or better covers and blurbs, you were still able to sell. Advertising started coming into play in a serious way around 2016. Mark Dawson was teaching Facebook ads in 2015, and they were starting to catch on. AMS ads followed close behind.

Where we are at now…

2018 was the beginning of the end of ‘easy mode’. As of 2019, it will become very difficult to maintain a full-time income by JUST writing fast, publishing fast, good content, with good covers and blurbs.

All of that is the basic bar for even minimal success, now.

Authors are now competing with a pool of closing on 6 million ebooks. Yes, a lot of those are bad or mediocre books, and many have horrible covers, and lots are not marketed at all anymore. But there have never been this many GOOD, *well-written*, well-edited books with excellent cover art and blurbs available at the same time before.

Ever.

In all of human history.

I feel like the keyword for 2019 is ‘visibility’. And the main way to reach people today is via advertising. That might be pushing books through lists like Bookbub or BargainBooksy. It might mean joining a ton of joint promos with other authors. It could mean using giveaways and other marketing to boost an email list up into the high five-figure or low six-figure range, and then working overtime to make sure those fans are engaged.

But advertising is now key. Just like some folks succeeded with crappy covers and blurbs in 2016, some people will make it without ads today. But it’s no longer *reliable* to do so.

Indies who don’t understand marketing need to learn. Now. Today. This is *the* key skill of 2019, more than it has been in the little over a decade that indie publishing has blossomed in.

Most of the writers who can’t or won’t learn this stuff will be gone by the end of 2020, moved on to other things.

The competition is intense. But so is the cooperation. We have more writers *helping* each other than ever before, too. Because as much as our books are competing, it’s also clear that the more we help each other, the more we help ourselves as well.

Accord of Valor is out! Final Accord series book hits the store!

Whew! Not a lot to add about this one. Folks have been waiting on this for about a year now, and the book is finally available. This story finishes the tale of Nicholas Stein and his son Thomas as they fight for independence of Mars from the hegemony of the United Nations of Earth. But there are deeper secrets involved than either of them know, and once again the fate of humanity will rest in their hands.
Grab a copy today! : https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XZPSR6B

 

Pushing for Amazon Top 100 on Dark Legends!

cvjwamjwgaao-drHi! Big news: I’ve got a book in a big boxed set of urban fantasy and paranormal romance novels. With authors from the USA Today and NYT bestseller lists, this ebook “boxed set” is a the collected work of talented writers from around the world. It’s an honor to have been included.
The set is full of some incredible books. I can’t wait to read them all myself – and yes, I have already pre-ordered a copy so I can start reading the other books as soon as it’s out! read more…

21 Day Novel Challenge


Accord of HonorI know this guy.

His name is Chris Fox. Chris has written some good books – both fiction and nonfiction. His nonfiction is about…drumroll…fiction writing, and his stuff is really good. Chris published a couple of books on writing which have been somewhat controversial – one called 5000 Words Per Hour, and the more recent release Write to Market. He took some heat for the first one because it suggests ways that writers can be more productive, building up their speed and writing new work more swiftly. He’s being questioned on the second because it suggests learning what readers enjoy reading, and then writing something based on that knowledge – which calls into question the whole concept of writing as art versus writing as entertainment. I believe – and Chris does too – that it can be both.

He’s putting his ideas to the test in a 21-day challenge (click here to read all about it!). Starting on February 22nd, he will begin writing a book, which will be about 70,000 words when he is done. He’s going to write it in about two weeks, edit it, pay someone to proof it, and then publish it on or about March 13th.

This is, needless to say, incredibly cool. I love seeing people do things like this. So I asked him if he minded if I tagged along. He was thrilled at the idea of having other writers run alongside him on this challenge.

So as of tomorrow, I will ALSO be launching my own 21-Day Writing Challenge.

I’ll be producing the next book in the Accord series: Accord of Mars. The outline is finished. And if Chris and I are right, this is going to be a hell of a book. “The Old Man and the Sea” was written in about the same time-frame, and while I am NOT Hemingway, the evidence suggests that the faster we write, the more we are able to drop into flow state. The net result is that fast writing also tends to produce better quality writing, at least for most people.

I know a lot of people are looking forward to the sequel of Accord of Honor. I’m excited that I’ll be able to share it with you so very soon.

One last thing. There’s a key difference between Chris’s challenge and mine. Chris is proving HIS books. I’m proving his AND mine. See, I wrote a book about writing, too: The Coffee Break Novelist. It’s about writing in the time you have, while in the middle of a busy life.

Chris does this full time. I work full time in a day job, and write on the side. I’m also getting ready to move, and will probably be moving into a new apartment the same day as the book launches. I have kids who I spend time with too – my Mondays are mostly an all-day kid day. We all have lives – but it IS possible to write anyway.

I’ll be putting into practice every single technique I developed and wrote about in my book. I firmly believe that it IS possible to write rapidly while you’re still in the middle of a busy life. I work 16 hours a day every Thursday, for example – so while Chris is getting in 5000 words every Thursday, I will be lucky to finish any words at all on those days. I’ll be fitting in words on quick breaks at work, or in the morning before I leave the house at 6:30 AM. (I generally don’t get home until after midnight, so any words after I got home would count for the next day!)

It’s going to be tough to get the work out at the speed required for this challenge in the time I have. I’ll do it by making the most of every minute that isn’t already locked in for something vital. And I’ll be updating you as I go. You can sign up for email updates too – click the link below to join and follow along.

Sign Up Here!

Chris told me the other day to “get my game face on”. I laughed and told him “this IS my game face!” I write with the same attitude I have when I toss on forty pounds of medieval armor and go hit people with swords: laughing, smiling, enjoying every moment of the rush. This is going to be fun.

New Books! The “Raven’s Heart” series

It’s been a busy year so far. I’ve had three new titles published in the last two months. Each one is a novella, continuing a story set in the same universe as the Ryan Blackwell novels. These stories are about the adventures of Raven – a young woman living in Boston who runs into the darker side of the supernatural. Unlike Ryan, Raven doesn’t have any magic of her own to defend herself. She uses guts, determination, and more than a little luck to get through.
The first book is Stolen Light

Stolen-Light-Kindle

Darkness
Raven didn’t know that the pools of shadow in dark corners can hide terrible secrets…until the day the monsters came out of the dark and tore her life to shreds.

Stolen
Her husband is dead. Her daughter is stolen. Only now does Raven know what the most precious things in her life really are. Or what she’ll give to get them back.

Heart
Magic, demons, and more stand in her way. But no matter what it takes, Raven will take back the child that was stolen from her.

 

 

The second in the series is Webs in the Dark:

Webs-in-the-Dark-KindleShattered
Raven’s family is gone. Her home is full of memories and ghosts. Her personal demons follow her to work. Somewhere out there, her daughter is alive. It’s the only thought which keeps her going.

Entangled
Trying to pick up the broken pieces of her life and move on is harder than it sounds. She looks for solace, and instead finds more danger. Soon she’s ensnared in a web of dark magic that may prove deadlier than the tests she’s already faced.

Heart
Drew needs her. And she’s into him. Maybe more than she ought to be, or is ready for. But he matters to her – and his life is in her hands.

With her back to the wall, there’s only one thing Raven can do: Fight.

 

And the third and last of this sequence of the story is just out today: Shades of Moonlight

Shades-of-Moonlight-KindleRest is an illusion…

After surviving a dark wizard and a spider demon, Raven was ready for a rest. She had a new home, a new boyfriend, her cycle, and way too much time on her hands to think. That last bit wasn’t awesome, but at least nothing had tried to eat her lately.

Shades of the past…

But then something begins stealing away helpless children, and she has no choice but to get involved. It doesn’t matter that Drew asks her to stay out of this one. The grim warning that this case might be too much for her can’t stop her. Because if she backs out, there’s no one else who can save these kids. She’s their only hope./p>

Hunter or hunted?

Wolves are howling in the moonlight, and Raven has to be faster and stronger than she’s ever been before if she wants to be the predator tonight instead of the prey. And even if she survives the until sunrise, the night’s events will change her life forever.

 

The three books are also available in a combined volume (as an ebook):

Ravens-Heart-Books-1-3-Generic

 

Enjoy! 🙂

 

 

King of the Dead: Episode 1 is here!

kingofthedeadDrum-roll. Fanfare. And can I get an “about time”? 🙂
It’s been a long time coming. I want to do this project justice, so the work has taken a while to get right. The first season will be six episodes, each a short novella. When the whole season is done, it’ll be compiled into a full length (and quite long!) novel.

I’m excited about this book. It’s a serious step up for my writing, and it’s a fun, interesting new idea. I’m looking forward to playing around with King Arthur and his zombie foes for at least another two seasons.

Here’s the “back cover copy”:

read more…

Writing in Public, Too: NaNoWriMo Day 24

writinginpublicToday was a no-writing day. Instead, today was all about the kids.
Off in the morning, intent on seeing a movie – which wasn’t out yet. The kids were sort of bummed, but we decided we’d shoot for the movie next week instead. I was secretly not really sad – because the movie they wanted to see was the silly penguins of Madagascar thing. It will be funny. I hope.

Went off to Friendly’s for lunch. Also for planning. Needed to figure out something AWESOME to do. And we came up with some good ideas. We hit the Boston Aquarium IMAX for a 3D viewing of “Lemurs of Madagascar”. Had to get Madagascar in there somewhere, I suppose. 😉

The kids loved the film. After that, we jetted over to Lego Discovery World. Basically a big indoor playground with a Lego theme. Rides. Climbing area. Lego classes. Movies. Spent the rest of the afternoon there.

Like I said, a no-writing day. Was too tired after all that to really get any concentrated writing time in. But it was a GOOD day, anyway.

 

Fiction words for the day: 0      Fiction words for November: 32,000

Blog Words today: 203    Blog Words for November: 9612

Kevin McLaughlin

Kevin McLaughlin

Storyteller

When not practicing hobbies which include sailing, constructing medieval armor, and swinging swords at his friends, Kevin McLaughlin can usually be found in his home near Boston. Kevin’s award-winning short fiction is now available in digital form at all major ebook retailers. His urban fantasies “By Darkness Revealed” and “Ashes Ascendant” are available in ebook and print. His latest effort, the STARSHIP series, is ongoing.