Guest Post from Halsted M. Bernard: Critiques, Counts, and Quests: Motivational Tools for Writers

ConversationsWhen I first became aware of BIC-HOK a few years ago, it enthralled me. I love a good acronym, and doubly so one that promises to whisper the secret to being a writer right into my eager ear.

Butt in chair, hands on keyboard became more than an acronym for me. It became a mantra. Show up, and the rest will take care of itself. My butt was in the chair, and my hands were on the keyboard. And I was writing, cranking out crappy first drafts, and feeling less like a writer with every one.

Motivation, as it happens, is beautifully and frustratingly subjective. Some of us are motivated by the simplicity of showing up every day. Some of us need a little external nudge from time to time. If you are in the latter group, I have some secrets to whisper to you.

Although writing is generally a solo endeavour, the power of a good writing group is not to be underestimated. Like-minded, similarly-driven individuals can help you hold yourself accountable for all those stories you say you’re going to write someday. And once you’ve written the stories, a good writing group can provide you with the constructive criticism that you will need to improve them. Groups that meet regularly and stick to a specific critique format are particularly useful because they provide structure for those of us who need that sort of external impetus to produce workable drafts. I found my first writing group on Craigslist, but if your time is limited or your locale is remote, you might prefer to join a virtual group like instead.

If you are intrigued by the power of group accountability, I have a magic spreadsheet to show you. No, really! It’s called the Magic Spreadsheet and it is an ingenious invention. Log your daily word count in the spreadsheet and it automatically gives you points for making your quota, going over your quota, and maintaining a writing streak. When your points add up, your level increases and so does your word count quota, so it never gets too easy. And if you relish a bit of competition, you can check out the leaderboard sheet to see how your counts stack up with the other writers who are participating. If you think this tool might help to motivate you, you can find more information in the Google+ community or the Facebook group.

Wrangling spreadsheets, even magic ones, might not sound all that thrilling to you. If you’d rather picture yourself slaying the dragons of procrastination with a magical morning-star, I’d encourage you to check out HabitRPG. HabitRPG is an open-source habit-building app that is structured like a role-playing game. It enforces good habits by awarding you XP and gold, and can be used to manage your to-do list as well. There are many groups, or guilds, in HabitRPG that are devoted to writing communities. These guilds create challenges for their members (like meeting a daily word quota) and also provide space to chat in real time with other writers. If you prefer to quest solo, you can use HabitRPG as your own, lone fantasy metaphor for all those real-life bits and bobs you have been procrastinating, including but not limited to your writing.

Remember, tools to spark writerly motivation can be helpful, but anything that detracts from actual BIC-HOK should be considered cat hoovering: any excuse to avoid writing, even vacuuming the cat.

BIO: Halsted M. Bernard obsessively archives the present, but cannot stop thinking about the world after this one. She lives in Edinburgh with her husband, two cats, a few gadgets, several fountain pens, and many books. Find her online at

Enjoy this writing advice and want more content like it? Check out the classes Cat gives via the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers, which offers both on-demand and live online writing classes for fantasy and science fiction writers from Cat and other authors, including Ann Leckie, Seanan McGuire, Fran Wilde and other talents! All classes include three free slots.

If you’re an author or other fantasy and science fiction creative, and want to do a guest blog post, please check out the guest blog post guidelines.

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About Cat

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov's, Clarkesworld Magazine, and the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her story, "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain," from her collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She is currently working on Exiles of Tabat, the third book of the Tabat Quartet. A new story collection, Neither Here Nor There, appears from Hydra House this fall.
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