Author Archives: Gregory D. Little

How Goals Can Destroy Your Writing Career

Goals: part of any plan of success, right? WRONG. Take it away, Dr. Cox!

Of course, it’s not really that simple. Goals really are important, in writing or in any other endeavor. But you need to be careful about how you set your goals. It’s important that you approach them with a Goldilocks mindset.

Everyone remembers the fairy tale, I’m sure. This porridge is too hot, but this porridge is too cold. The third bowl? Just right. Goals can have similar qualities. Set a goal too high, and you wind up with an unattainable peak to climb, setting yourself up for inevitable failure. With failure often comes discouragement, and discouragement can really wreck the creative spark and sap your will to sit down in front of the keyboard. Remember that time you went to the gym for the first time in months and tried to pick up where you left off? For some reason, it works fine while you’re doing it, your body every bit as clueless as you are that there is such a thing as muscle atrophy. Then you are in agony for a week, can barely get out of bed much less get down the stairs, and you don’t go back to the gym for another six months.

It’s the same in writing. So, you decide you’re going to pound out three books a year. At 1000 words a day every day, that’s 300,000 words per year, or three 100,000 word novels even if you take 65 days off. Great! And totally doable, which should — oh wait, you have a day job 12 hours a day? And a family? And basic human needs like food and sleep? You … may want to dial that back. Even if you have the time to get down 1000 words, most days, you may not have the energy.

Of equal but more subtle danger is setting your sights too low. Sure, you rewrote that scene three times already until it felt perfect. But I bet if you read it again today you’d find it needs rewriting. The rest of the book can wait, maybe forever, but this one scene will be a flawless work of art. Or, sure, you haven’t written at all in two weeks, but that video game isn’t playing itself, is it? You work hard. You deserve a break before you set out on your second job. Things will probably ease up after the holidays, even though, if you’re being honest, they never have before. As long as you jot down a few quick sentences sometime this month, that still counts as writing. And just like that, guess whose book is never getting written?

A goal should be something you strive for. If you meet it, it should be a challenge to do so. If you fail to meet it, you shouldn’t miss so wildly that you are left feeling hollowed-out and worthless. So what does “just right” mean in a writing context? Hint: it’s not necessarily “just write” as punny as that would be. As I’ve harped on so many times that you are probably sick of it by now, it depends on your particular situation. You have to figure out what works for you.

The catch? The only way to do that is through experience. I’d recommend trying to set some easy goals first, ones you are confident you can meet. Finish a draft of this chapter this week. BUT make this goal be in service to a larger, more challenging one, one that will, once achieved, feel like a real accomplishment. Finish a draft of the book by your birthday. There’s a funny thing about human beings. Once you sincerely believe you can do something, something that once seemed impossible now seems relatively straightforward. So use this early goal-setting to teach yourself that you can set realistic goals and meet them, all in service to a larger goal. Each small step will be achievable, advancing the larger goal. And even these larger goals can feed into still-larger ones.

Like, say, “become a successful author.”

 

About the Author: Gregory D. Littleheadshot

Rocket scientist by day, fantasy and science fiction author by night, Gregory D. Little began his writing career in high school when he and his friend wrote Star Wars fanfic before it was cool, passing a notebook around between (all right, during) classes. His novels Unwilling Souls and Ungrateful God are available now from ebook retailers and trade paperback through Amazon.com. His short fiction can be found in The Colored Lens, A Game of Horns: A Red Unicorn Anthology, Dragon Writers: An Anthology, and the upcoming Undercurrents: An Anthology of What Lies Beneath. He lives with his wife and their yellow lab.

You can reach him at his website (www.gregorydlittle.com), his Twitter handle (@litgreg) or at his Author Page on Facebook.

 

Lessons (Re)Learned

Before we get started, I’d like to urge everyone reading this to consider donating to Pat Rothfuss’s wonderful charity drive Worldbuilders. Fans of Pat’s work (aren’t we all?) will likely know about this already, as he runs it every year. But 100% of the proceeds go to Heifer International, the charity that helps lift families in developing countries out of poverty permanently by giving them what they need to provide for their own livelihoods indefinitely. PLUS, for every $10 you donate, you have the chance to win some truly fabulous and geeky swag. Books, comics, games, and some really unique stuff you can’t win anywhere else. I’m proud to say that for the third year in a row I donated books to serve as prizes. Enter and you can win one of eight sets of both Unwilling Souls and Ungrateful God, as well as literally thousands of other prizes.

There are only a couple of days left. Donate here.

So, down to business. In preparation to write this post, I looked back to take stock of 2017 and see what sorts of lessons I could draw from what went well (I published a book! I placed a story in another anthology! I landed a spot in a book bundle!) and, more importantly, what didn’t (writing speed!). Some of these are lessons I already knew after a fashion. Some I’ve probably even related on this blog before. But that’s okay. If there’s one thing I’ve learned (and learned, and learned) about people, it’s that we can all use refresher courses in life lessons from time to time.

First off, in an unexpected twist early in the year, I got a kind of promotion at my day job. This was good in that regard, it put me in a position I think works well for me and which I enjoy. But as with all things, there are tradeoffs. But it did heap a bunch more responsibility onto my shoulders. So:

Lesson 1: Energy is a zero-sum game. There are only 24 hours in a day, and there is only so much that can be done in those 24 hours. When you push harder in one aspect of your life, you have to ease up in another area or you’ll burn yourself out fast. Suffice it to say, my writing speed suffered this year, largely as a result of more of my energy and focus being burned at my day job.

I’d originally had a deadline for Book 3 set with my editor that was based on far more optimistic projections of my writing speed than wound up happening. In the past, deadlines have worked wonders for my editing speed, even if (see Lesson 1) I always paid for it later. Well …

Lesson 2: Deadlines affect different parts of the writing process in different ways. Turns out that what works well for my editing process has the exact opposite effect on my writing process. My creativity well just dries right up. After much waffling, I wound up pushing the deadline back, and it was amazing how quickly the font of creativity sprang back to life. Things are going much better now.

So right around the time I was getting set to publish my second novel (shameless link for holiday shopping), I had the chance to submit to another anthology in the series I’ve had such good fortune with. There was no way, with my edits to Ungrateful God, that I was going to have time to write a new story from scratch. I tried anyway, but no luck. Which leads me to …

Lesson 3: Turn down opportunities only after careful consideration. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. The anthology’s theme was sea monsters, and after some thought and speaking with the editor, I was able to modify an existing story of mine (a longtime favorite, tragically unplaced) to fit closely enough to submit. And it got in! So be on the lookout for Undercurrents: An Anthology of What Lies Beneath next year, featuring my story “A Marsh Called Solitude.”

All that being said, too much is too much. So the corollary to the above is …

Lesson 4: Know when to say no. The simple fact is (and this relates again back to Lesson 1) that if you take on too much at once, you’ll end up doing nothing well. This limit is different for everyone, and you’ll probably have to experiment, as I have, to find where it lies, but once you have learned, you’d do well to heed it.

Let’s talk some more about those opportunities. They come in all shapes and sizes, often when you least expect it. But they can only reach you if you’re listening.

Lesson 5: Keep the lines of communication open. We’re writers. We like to retreat into our own little worlds where we reign supreme. I get it. But I was able to place Unwilling Souls into a really fantastic book bundle this past summer, and it was all because I was keeping up well enough with my social media to notice when the request for submissions came along. Turned out it was a great fit, and it netted me an unprecedented number of sales. That in turn provided a nice bump in sales for Ungrateful God as well.

But not every opportunity will just fall into your lap, even if you’re paying attention. Most will, in fact, require chasing. Which brings me to the final lesson of the year.

Lesson 6: Don’t wait. Go after it. One thing my work needs badly is more reviews. The reviews I get are almost all great, I just don’t get enough of them. The internet is filled with blog reviewers that will turn around an honest review in return for a complimentary e-copy of a book. But unless you are already well-known enough that you probably don’t need the help, they probably won’t come looking for you. I received a lovely review for Unwilling Souls by Nerd Girl, as well as a great Ungrateful God review from The Novel Girl Reads, and I’m just getting warmed up soliciting reviews. My goal is to have a nice list of reviewers to contact by the time Book 3 is ready to go. But I’ve got to set aside the time (and the energy) to get that done.

I’m willing to bet a lot of you have learned these lessons before, just as I have. But as I said, some of the best lessons are the ones we need reminders of from time to time. Happy writing, happy holidays, and happy New Year. Catch you in 2018!

 

About the Author: Gregory D. Littleheadshot

Rocket scientist by day, fantasy and science fiction author by night, Gregory D. Little began his writing career in high school when he and his friend wrote Star Wars fanfic before it was cool, passing a notebook around between (all right, during) classes. His novels Unwilling Souls and Ungrateful God are available now from ebook retailers and trade paperback through Amazon.com. His short fiction can be found in The Colored Lens, A Game of Horns: A Red Unicorn Anthology, Dragon Writers: An Anthology, and the upcoming Undercurrents: An Anthology of What Lies Beneath. He lives with his wife and their yellow lab.

You can reach him at his website (www.gregorydlittle.com), his Twitter handle (@litgreg) or at his Author Page on Facebook.

 

The Case Against NaNoWriMo

I started off this month intending to talk about ways to help your writing by shutting out the world, a thing that seems increasingly difficult to do these days. Instead: heresy! You writers of delicate constitution, turn away now! For I am about to reveal to you the case against participating in National Novel Writing Month.

Sure, NaNo’s intentions are pure: provide a structured and semi-competitive environment to get writers writing. What could be wrong with that? Well, frequent readers of my posts at Fictorians will know that I set a lot of store by each writer figuring out what works for them and following that.

And the thing is, for some writers, cranking out 50,000 words in a month is either not doable, or, more likely, not recommended.

Once upon a time, shortly after my very first trip to Superstars Writing Seminar, I wrote the first draft of a 100,000 word novel in under three months. I left the seminar more inspired than I’d every felt about my writing, and was determined to prove that I could write a novel faster than my first, which took … well, it took a long time. For this second book, I averaged 10,000 words a week, more than a thousand a day. That’s not quite NaNo speed, but it’s close, and it continued well past one month.

I wound up with a completed first draft, a feat I was immensely proud of. The problem? It was utter trash, and even worse, I was so burned out I didn’t plop down in front of the keyboard again for several months. When I did, rather than cleaning up the draft, which I frankly couldn’t bear to look at again, I started work on my actual second novel, which I still plan to show the world someday. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to fix up that three-month draft. In the end, I’d done what I set out to do, but I’d cranked it out so fast and with so little consideration I ended up with something I had no motivation left to finish. I’d burned too bright, Blade Runner-style.

Flash forward a couple of years to the only time I’ve ever truly done NaNo as it was meant to be done, with a new book and all fresh writing. That time, I worked on the first draft of a book that would that would never see the light of day. Starting to notice a pattern? I certainly did. Apparently, when I force myself to write too fast, I end up with books I hate.

As with all good rules, there’s an exception. When I was working on Ungrateful God, I had an editing deadline I had to hit, and I burned myself out doing it. I was pleased with the result this time, but it required a lot of edits once I got it back, edits I wasn’t able to get going with for several months. The pattern again.

I’ve finally learned my lesson. So long as I have a day job (hint-hint, potential fans!), I can only write so fast without burning out. Push it too much past that for too long, and my creative river dries up whether I like it or not.

NaNo is a great motivator for a great many writers. I’ve even participated since that first time, but I relax the rules for myself. Edited words count. Working on a different project (or, say, a blog post for Fictorians) counts. Even if all I do in a given day is some mental planning out of scenes or chapters or arcs, that counts. Because the point of NaNo isn’t to rigidly adhere to an arbitrary set of rules. It’s to provide you a little motivation to get writing in the form of your friends who are doing the same thing. Whether that’s 50,000 works, 500,000 words, or 500 words, the point is the same. Remember: even one word is better than zero.

So take a seat behind the keyboard and, without worrying about how many, see if you can crank out some words this month. C’mon, everybody’s doing it!

 

 

About the Author: Gregory D. Littleheadshot

Rocket scientist by day, fantasy and science fiction author by night, Gregory D. Little began his writing career in high school when he and his friend wrote Star Wars fanfic before it was cool, passing a notebook around between (all right, during) classes. His novels Unwilling Souls and Ungrateful God are available now from ebook retailers and trade paperback through Amazon.com. His short fiction can be found in The Colored Lens, A Game of Horns: A Red Unicorn Anthology, Dragon Writers: An Anthology, and the upcoming Undercurrents: An Anthology of What Lies Beneath. He lives with his wife and their yellow lab.

You can reach him at his website (www.gregorydlittle.com), his Twitter handle (@litgreg) or at his Author Page on Facebook.

 

Prewriting from a Series Perspective

So you’re writing a series, say the third volume, just to pull something totally at random and in which in no way applies to me. How do you approach prewriting when you’re looking not just at the book alone, but also in its place in the series?

Well, in my dad’s favorite answer to almost any question: it depends.

First off, what kind of series are you writing? Is it the episodic sort in which can go on more or less forever and which a reader can more or less start at any point and easily pick it up? Or is it a closed, serialized story with a clear beginning, middle, and eventual endpoint? Each series type faces a critical issue of balance, but in different ways.

For an episodic series, each entry is a standalone story following (usually) the same protagonist. For obvious reasons, this style lends itself well to procedural-style stories (crimes that need solving or medical cases that … also need solving).

Any series of this sort, one with no planned ending, is operating on a ticking clock. There are only so many stories that are worth writing for a given series. The longer it runs, the more likely installments will begin feeling like retreads. This is doubly dangerous for a series of novels with one writer, who is going to have their own tendencies and blind spots and, unless their name is China Mieville, will eventually start to fall into the same story ruts given the same story ingredients.

That being said, one surefire way to shorten your clock is to break the key elements that make your series work in the first place. Whether it’s author boredom or fear of getting stuck in a rut, I’m talking about change for the sake of change.

To look at this from a television perspective, The X-Files really began to fall apart as a series when David Duchovney’s Mulder left the show (followed eventually by Gillian Anderon’s Scully). At that point, two entirely new characters, Agents Doggett and Reyes, became the show’s new leads. And honestly, they were fine in the roles. If the show had begun with them as the leads, it might have found its own kind of success. But readers had been tuning in for years to watch Mulder and Scully battle the paranormal and their own repressed feelings for one another. In this case, the actors wanted out, and the showrunners can’t be blamed for that. But writers would do well to take note. It’s important to have a good sense of your series’ sine qua non, that which it cannot exist without. Remove or change the central dynamic that makes your series appealing at your peril.

A serialized story with a planned beginning, middle, and end faces different balance challenges. Each volume needs not just to be an entry in a larger narrative, but also to tell a satisfying story in its own right. This requires more work on the author’s part than in our episodic series, where each story is more or less standalone with the same characters and/or settings.

But because our story is fulfilling double-duty, it also has to be a part of a larger narrative (both in terms of plot and character), and that means treating the entire series as one enormous story, with its own sense of rising action and stakes. And this leads us to the great danger of the serialized story: the all-consuming desire to top what has come before. It’s very easy to fall into this trap, to look at each installment as needing to be somehow bigger, with higher stakes, and wind up with a story that is more ridiculous than thrilling. It’s a good idea to approach this sort of series with an idea of what you wish your final conflict in your final volume to be. This allows you to calibrate the individual conflicts driving the individual series entries and make sure you aren’t peaking too early.

Fiction of all sorts is rife with examples of this, particularly with bad guys that are all but unkillable in the first installment and become mere cannon fodder by the final entry. The Wheel of Time makes Rand al’Thor’s first kill of a villainous trolloc an epic struggle in which he nearly dies. By the end of the series, trollocs are less effective than imperial stormtroopers at menacing our heroes. That’s okay in this instance, because Robert Jordan effectively shows the reader how Rand and his friends learn to become bigger and bigger bad-asses in a believable progression. It doesn’t wreck our suspension of disbelief because Jordan puts in the work.

By contrast, when Star Trek: The Next Generation introduces the borg, they are a terrifying and all-but-invincible foe. Two series later, in Star Trek: Voyager, the drive to increase series ratings brings the borg back on a regular basis. Where previously a single borg ship was able to obliterate entire fleets of starships, now the Voyager successfully contends with the borg week-in and week-out. The villains are robbed of their menace.

Writing a series adds several dimensions of difficulty to your job. It means having to keep multiple books in mind at once, both ones that have come before and ones you haven’t written yet. But no matter which kind you are writing, a little thought and planning ahead of time can save you a lot of pain (and painful rewrites) down the road.

 

About the Author: Gregory D. Littleheadshot

Rocket scientist by day, fantasy and science fiction author by night, Gregory D. Little began his writing career in high school when he and his friend wrote Star Wars fanfic before it was cool, passing a notebook around between (all right, during) classes. His novels Unwilling Souls and Ungrateful God are available now from ebook retailers and trade paperback through Amazon.com. His short fiction can be found in The Colored Lens, A Game of Horns: A Red Unicorn Anthology, Dragon Writers: An Anthology, and the upcoming Undercurrents: An Anthology of What Lies Beneath. He lives with his wife and their yellow lab.

You can reach him at his website (www.gregorydlittle.com), his Twitter handle (@litgreg) or at his Author Page on Facebook.