And Mr. Howey wants you to write a lot.
He is endlessly quotable on the subject of the author as start-up …
You are a start-up … The next great business is you.
He engages his readers on so many social media platforms that it is hard to imagine he has any time to write his bestselling novels, and yet he has sold nearly 1 million copies of his books and recently achieved a feat few traditional authors have …
Mr. Howey inked a print-only contract with major publishers and retained the electronic rights to his own books (meaning all of his Amazon ebook sales are still his own).
And, as a tireless proponent for the pure craft of writing, he has built an intensely loyal following.
Join me as we examine the file of Hugh Howey, writer …
The DIY work ethic
Mr. Howey’s most recent novel Dust (the third of his Silo Saga trilogy), hit The New York Times combined bestsellers list at #7, and Hollywood director Ridley Scott has optioned the film rights to the first novel in the series.
Hugh’s own story is fascinating. Working for near-minimum-wage in a bookstore, he banged out the first draft of (the now wildly popular) Wool — in a storage room between shifts — within a few short weeks.
And now, as he watches his back catalog adapted into movies and comic books, Mr. Howey continues to offer very grounded advice to writers of all skill levels and genres.
His DIY work ethic, and humble yet innovative take on the business of writing, make him somewhat of a phenomenon. His message is simple:
I found success because I wrote for the love of writing. I self-published simply because I wanted to own my work.
Not every self-published work will be a bestseller, but anyone who cares enough to put in the grueling work of publishing something remarkable can benefit from Mr. Howey’s workman-like advice.
About the writer …
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Hugh Howey and I make up stuff for a living.
What is your area of expertise as a writer or online publisher?
Fiction. Though, expertise might be pushing it. I’ve only been doing this for four years, and I still feel like I don’t belong here.
Where can we find your writing?
Anywhere that books are let in without checking their credentials. Some bookstores carry Wool; the rest of my stuff is available online. You can check my website to see what I’ve written: www.hughhowey.com
The writer’s productivity …
How much time, per day, do you spend reading or doing research?
I spend two or three hours a day reading. I read the paper in the morning and relax with a good book in the evening.
Before you begin to write, do you have any pre-game rituals or practices?
I eat a bowl of cereal, because I can’t write hungry. And I make sure the doggie door is open, because my pup always knows when I’m in a good flow, and that’s when she begs to be let out.
Do you prefer any particular music (or silence) while you write?
Silence. Sounds pull me out of my make-believe.
How many hours a day do you spend writing (excluding email, social media, etc.)?
I spend 4-5 hours a day writing. A lot of that is time spent staring at a blinking cursor, but I count those hours.
Do you write every day or adhere to any particular system?
Every day. I feel empty on days when I don’t get any writing done.
Do you believe in “writer’s block”? If so, how do you avoid it?
Other people say it happens, and I don’t feel that I have the right to disbelieve them. It doesn’t happen to me. What I get is the urge to procrastinate or do something other than writing. Or I feel disgusted with my current output and want to just stop.
The key is to write through that and know you’ll delete the bad bits later.
The writer’s creativity …
Seeing something that doesn’t exist and then making it so.
Who are your favorite authors, online or off?
Can you share a best-loved quote?
There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. ~ Ernest Hemingway
How would you like to grow creatively as a writer?
I would like to get better at storytelling. I want my plots to be both simple and intricate. Lots of mysteries, but easily understood. I have a long way to go.
Who or what is your Muse at the moment?
My muse is the ocean. I walk my dog on the beach every day, and this is where I dream up what I’ll write next. It’s also the thing that calls to me to go travel, to get back on a boat and sail from port to port.
What makes a writer great?
You have to write every single day and do it for years and years. If you’re not willing to commit to that, you’ll never be great.
You’ll just fill up with dreams and aspirations until they turn into regrets.
The writer’s workflow …
What hardware or typewriter model do you presently use?
I do all of my writing on a Macbook Air. The keyboard is outstanding; the battery lasts for ten to twelve hours, and it’s so light that I don’t think twice about taking it with me.
What software do you use most for writing and general workflow?
I use Pages for my writing, and then I export to .rtf before sending it to my formatter. When I work with my various editors, I use Word for its “Track Changes” features. I do layout work in InDesign and cover art in Photoshop. My workflow is a bit of a mess, to be honest.
Do you have any tricks for beating procrastination? Do you adhere to deadlines?
I set ambitious deadlines for myself and almost invariably beat them. The trick is to create small goals.
Two thousand words a day, a scene a day, two chapters of revising a day, and then watch them add up.
And if you’re going to procrastinate, do something useful. Write a blog post. Answer email. Do an interview. Spend your time away from writing supporting your writing.
How do you stay organized (methods, systems, or “mad science”)?
I don’t, really. What I’ve learned is to knock things out as soon as they come up. Don’t spend time worrying about how to remember to do something, just do it right then.
Get it off the task list before it even makes it to the task list.
How do you relax at the end of a hard day?
I go for a walk with my wife and my dog. Or I sit in the back yard with a book and watch the sun go down. It’s rare that I get to do this, though. I often work until late and collapse into bed. I keep telling myself things will slow down soon and I’ll be able to take it easy. Still waiting.
A few questions just for the fun of it …
Who (or what) has been your greatest teacher?
Dr. Dennis Goldsberry at the College of Charleston. He turned me from a major in physics to a major in English.
What do you see as your greatest success in life?
Making my parents proud of me. It happened long before I wrote my first book, but I remember both of them telling me they were happy with the way I turned out, and that meant the world to me. I think of all they sacrificed, and I just want to make it mean something.
What’s your biggest aggravation at the moment (writing related or otherwise)?
Not being able to keep up with email and all the various messages I get online. I used to be able to respond to everyone with an in-depth answer, and now I have to be quick or it doesn’t get done. I hate that.
Choose one author, living or dead, that you would like to have dinner with.
Shakespeare. No question.
If you could take a vacation tomorrow to anywhere in the world, where would you go (cost or responsibilities are no object)?
Isla de Providencia. I was marooned on this island for two months once, and I’m dying to get back there. It’s paradise.
Can you offer any advice to fellow writers that you might offer yourself, if you could go back in time and “do it all over?”
Worry about the writing and nothing else.
Don’t worry about sales, agents, publishers, any of that. Get a dozen works under your belt of whatever length you feel comfortable writing, polish them within an inch of perfection, and get them out there. The rest can be a slow burn.
What’s important right now is releasing that creativity and getting your work down on paper.
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
If I can do this, anyone can. It takes dedication and willpower. Those are things you can control. Go for it!
Please tell our readers where they can connect with you online.
I’m all over the place.
And finally, the writer’s desk …
Key by key, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph … we are building something indestructible with our small feats, no matter how or where we are capturing those words.
It is up to you to shape it into something that will move your audience.
I leave you with another of my favorite quotes from our guest:
You are writing for the reader, who is your ultimate gatekeeper. Get your work in front of them, even if it’s one at a time, one reader a month or a year.
Thank you for taking time out of you busy schedule Mr. Howey! You are not the first great writer to rely on your faithful hound under foot.
And thank you for sharing The Writer Files …
More Q&As are in the works from writers who inspire us, and if you care to sift through our archives, you can find more inspiration here.
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Now set some ambitious deadlines and get back to work! See you out there.