What’s the Secret to Writing Good Horror?

I have recently toyed with the idea of writing some horror stories.  I love the genre and have several story ideas that may have some legs.  I’m just not sure if I can pull it off.  As with everything I do, I try to be the best.  Since we are talking about horror writing, that means I compare my work to Stephen King.  King is the undisputed master of horror, capable of keeping the reader glued to their seat turning pages while feeling true fear and excitement.  That’s a hard act to follow.  Regardless, the hill must be climbed.

The process of fleshing out some of my stories got me thinking about what is required to write good horror.  I didn’t think my work was “scary enough,” whatever that means.  The basic writer’s skill set is, of course, required, but what about more specialized knowledge?  There are no college programs that I know about which specialize in training people to write horror, so how do people learn what it feels like to be chased by a green-tailed swamp monster?  This thought made me wonder if one must first experience true terror before they can accurately write about it.  If this is true, how are there so many horror books available?  Of all the authors who ever penned a scary tale, how many have personally experienced true horror or terror?  Have they been chased by wolves?  Or monsters from space?  Or any other large-fanged villain intent on mayhem?  Unlikely.  So how do they do it so well?

My Google-fu is uncommonly strong, yet I am unable to find any specific, high-quality information on the query.   The summary advice given by the best minds on the subject is to “use your imagination.”  What a letdown.  I can imagine a lot of things vividly, but sheer terror is not one of them.  Even if I could conjure the feelings and emotions out of the ether, how would I know if they were appropriate to the situation?

That’s the rub.  Thoughts and feelings only make sense when considered in a specific context.  Without experiencing the context either directly or indirectly through training, recreating those thoughts and feelings remains a mystery at best, and is completely misunderstood at worst.  Any actions taken with respect to this mysterious context are therefore just wild-ass guesses.

Is it fair to assume that masters of horror like Stephen King and Anne Rice have accidentally stumbled upon the ability to scare the bejeezus out of their readers?  I would hate to believe this.  Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be many other possibilities.  What are your thoughts on the matter?

15 Tricks to Help You Become a Professional Writer

When I decided to write as a professional, I committed to a daily output of at least five hundred words. Notice my commitment is not qualified with conditions like “most days” or “provided I’m not busy with other projects.” It’s an everyday requirement. It has to be. To take a day off, or worse, to have the ability to skip a day’s work on a whim, invites procrastination and laziness into my life. Once they have a foothold they become insidious and cripple productivity.

Below I have listed the top fifteen tricks I use to stay true to my commitment as a professional.  Before I show them, I want to make certain you understand why they are important and why you should adopt them. Without a thorough understanding of their purpose, they’re just simple ideas. Once you have changed the way you think about your commitment to writing as a professional, they can change your life.

When I started, I thought I knew how to make myself write every day. I didn’t. I am insanely busy and had trouble making time to write every day. I thought I needed outside help.  I thought I could write when my schedule allowed.  I was wrong on both counts.

In hopes of boosting my resolve to write every day, I joined a Facebook group called my500words. Jeff Goins started the group to encourage budding writers to write every day. It’s was fun to have a little bit of external accountability via the group, but it’s not the source of personal motivation I hoped it would be.  I had to change the way I approached my work because the group was not helping.

Through my participation, I realized my goal to write is truly mine alone.  It’s a simple concept but was a revelation to me.  I think a lot of writers, including me, start by looking for external validation to help overcome the fear of putting their work out into the world, to provide the motivation to keep writing in the face of the fear and to get some positive feedback to encourage them to continue.   That doesn’t work.  I learned no one is going to care if I fail to do the work because no one noticed when I didn’t post my daily word count, and I didn’t care when they didn’t post their own. They are just hundreds of anonymous writers trying to make their way in the world. They have no stake in my success. Why should they?

I struggled to make my daily output goal until I internalized the realization that no one cared about my work. Once I fully accepted responsibility for my own productivity I changed my daily habits and scheduled the time to write.   I began writing for me.  The more rigidly I controlled my time, the easier I could do the work.  I also began to understand why so many people fail.

It always appeared to me that most members pounded out their daily words and posted their accomplishment to the group.  Then I did the math.  Given the number of people who belong to the group and then noticing that it was the same fifty or sixty people posting their word goal every day, I understood it was a very small percentage who were actually doing the work.  Kudos to them. The truth is that most people, if they posted at all,  posted the reasons why they failed to reach their five-hundred-word goal. It’s common to read comments such as “I’m behind because <reasons>, but I’ll catch up.” Or my personal favorite, “This has been a day. I had to put my writing on the back burner because <reasons>.”  They think we care why they missed their goal.  They don’t understand it’s their goal, not ours’.  We don’t even know them.  This misconception is exactly what kept me from doing the work every single day.  I wanted people to notice my work or lack thereof.  They didn’t and that rejection kept me from doing the work.  Then I changed.

Reading the “I’m not able to make my five hundred words because…” comments depresses me now.  People either do not realize how easy it is to make the time to get the work done or they are not serious about writing in the first place. Either way, they are missing the opportunity to achieve their writing goal because of their personal failure to make it happen.

Now I believe that unless you are in the hospital and are physically incapable of writing, or a loved one has died or is on death’s doorstep, whatever reason you claim for not doing the work is just a personal crutch.  This is now one of my professional guidelines and its validity was proven to me by the repetition of the excuses on the my500words group.  Ultimately, this was the change in thinking I needed to alter the way I approach my work.  If the work is not getting done, it’s your own fault.  Don’t make any excuses.

Too harsh? I don’t think so. I’m a busy person and I get my writing done. How busy am I, you ask? I am a husband to my beautiful wife and father to four awesome kids, each of whom requires my attention every day. I am the operations manager of a thirty-million dollar per year business, where I work a minimum of fifty hours each week. I’m a paramedic student, where studying and class attendance require fifteen to twenty hours per week. I’m a part-time 911 emergency medical technician in Las Vegas, a job which requires about twelve hours per week. I’m a professional competitive shooter, a job that requires a few hours of practice each week. I’m a hobbyist traditional woodworker, an activity I enjoy as I have free time. I’m now a professional writer, a job at which I spend at least one hour each day, often more. I believe “busy” is a cop-out, a label that means nothing but sounds important. It’s not objective reality. How you use your time determines what you can accomplish.

If you want to be a professional writer, don’t make excuses why you cannot do the work.  Take the responsibility to produce every single day and get it done.

Below is a list of methods I use to schedule my writing time and come up with new ideas every day. The first three are absolutely critical. Skip them at your peril. Somewhere in this list are the keys to unlocking your own ability to write every day.

  • Commit to writing at least five hundred words every day, without excuse;
  • Adopt the absolute belief that any excuse to not do the work is, by definition, bullshit. No exceptions;
  • Understand no one cares about your success except you;
  • Get up an hour early and write before work;
  • Stay up an hour later and write before bed;
  • Write on my lunch break instead of socializing;
  • Write or come up with ideas on breaks from work (quit smoking if you have that vice, you will live longer and you will have more time to write);
  • Write while sitting in the ambulance waiting for a call (or anywhere you have unproductive downtime);
  • Write while waiting for appointments to start (they’re always late anyway);
  • Think of new ideas and ways I want to write about a subject while exercising;
  • Write instead of watching television;
  • Write instead of going to the bar with friends;
  • Record writing ideas between meetings or other work tasks when I need a couple minutes for a break;
  • Think of new ideas while cooking meals for my family;
  • Think of new ideas while driving;

I did not write this article intending to bust anyone’s chops. I hope that is not how it is perceived. That said, you must accept responsibility for your writing success. Don’t make excuses for why you fail to write. Adopt some of these techniques, adapt them to your own life circumstances and quit making excuses. Quit looking for external validation to keep you motivated.  Just do the work.

Happy New Year! Now Go Set Some Goals

With 2018 upon us I feel compelled to offer a message of goodwill and encouragement for the new year.  It’s customary as well as true.  I sincerely hope everyone accomplishes their goals and lives the life they want to live.  The truth, however, is that most people will not accomplish their goals – or much of anything else – in 2018.  This is because they do not have any goals to accomplish nor a plan with which to accomplish them!
Continue reading “Happy New Year! Now Go Set Some Goals”

How Much to Invest in Your Own Writing Business?

I am faced with a curious dilemma this evening.  My son, as noted in a previous article, wants to start a business. This business requires a lot of video production. In today’s age of easy computing, it’s not a technically demanding requirement, provided you have the requisite technology on hand! I, however,  do not.

Continue reading “How Much to Invest in Your Own Writing Business?”