Category Archives: The Writing Life

When Disaster Strikes – Getting My Momentum Back

I’ve blogged on the Fictorians before about the infection that nearly killed me in 2014. What I may not have mentioned that outside of that scary situation and hospital stay, it really wrecked my writing momentum. This was February 2014. If we rewind back to mid-2013, I went into the most productive period of my writing at that point. From July 2013 to January 14, I wrote two novels. I wrote what became my debut novel SLEEPER PROTOCOL and another shorter novel that’s my tribute to Elmore Leonard called SUPER SYNC. In that six month period, I also wrote a few short stories and my overall total of words written was probably somewhere near 180,000. This was an incredible time and I really felt like I was getting into a higher gear when everything came crashing down.

After my illness, I barely wrote anything new for a year. Yes, I sold and went through subsequent edits on both SLEEPER PROTOCOL and an earlier novel RUNS IN THE FAMILY, so I was “writing” but I wasn’t writing anything new, which we all know are two entirely different things. But, in that period from April 2015 to January 2016 came the impetus for the sequel VENDETTA PROTOCOL and I decided to try my hand at a prequel to RUNS IN THE FAMILY. Writing was slow and arduous. There were several times when I wanted to simply give up. I was going to publish a novel, after all. I ultimately decided that I wasn’t going to be happy with one book on that shelf by my deathbed. It was time to write more, so in January 2016, I decided that it was time to get off my ass and write. I’d been incredibly productive before then, and I believed I could get back to, or surpass, my productivity. It just required self-discipline to get into the chair and write and a little faith that I would get better, both mentally and physically.

It was slow going at first, but I outlined an alternate history novel. From there, I went into the draft of VENDETTA PROTOCOL with the goal of writing it in three months. SLEEPER PROTOCOL took me 7 weeks and I figured I would need about double the time. Turns out, I wrote VENDETTA PROTOCOL in 9 weeks. Because I could feel myself getting faster and I trusted myself as a writer. Was it perfect? Hell, no. But I was getting it out of my head. I turned around from that draft and wrote a novella LANCER ONE. After that, I was asked to submit to a military science fiction anthology, so I wrote a 9,000 word story “Stand On It.” At the end of 2016, I started work on the alternate history novel I’d outlined in February-March. I worked on that draft into February of 2017.

Not long after I finished that project, my military science fiction anthology story turned into a novel titled PEACEMAKER. I wrote that novel in less than three months. During that time, I was asked on short notice to provide a story for the upcoming X-PRIZE: Avatars anthology. I had to turn it around in two weeks – I did it in a week. All of that “new writing” ended back in June of this year. I’ve been editing ever since. The results are crazy.

PEACEMAKER get worldwide release on August 25th. VENDETTA PROTOCOL gets an ebook release on September 13th and a print version following. The novella LANCER ONE is due out in October. The first anthology A FISTFUL OF CREDITS was released in June and is selling like hotcakes. The X-PRIZE anthology is due later this year.

Two weeks ago, I turned in the alternate history project to my editor/mentor. It’s the most difficult book I’ve written to date. I’ve now laid out a plan for the rest of 2017 and it’s ambitious as hell. I can get it done, though. My momentum is back. How did I do it?

Go back a few paragraphs. For me, it’s about putting my butt in the chair and writing. Yes, I plot and outline, but I’m also thinking about the books and projects all the time. I take a lot of notes. Some of them work, others don’t. The best ideas I don’t have to write down because they stay with me. Once I’m committed to writing the project, I let go of my inner critic – that little bastard that likes to click the backspace button more than he types. I write because I know that I can fix it later. I get the story out of my head. If it comes in short or over the desired word count, I go back and fix it. All of that is faith in myself. Will I make mistakes? Yes. Can I fix them? Yes. I’ve taken very strongly to the belief that I can fix anything in editing. The result is my productivity is higher than ever.

Let go. Have faith. Write.

Momentum in the Real World

This month is supposed to be all about how to build and keep momentum. But I must admit that right now I feel sort of like a phony talking about all my amazing momentum hints and tips. Because I’ve been pretty low on the momentum scale for the past year or so.

That’s because life.

Two years ago, I had crazy dreams of being a full-time writer. I had the luxury of living off a separation package that provided a good income for most of a year, and I used that time to hammer out my War Chronicles trilogy. Or most of it. It turns out that making a living as a writer isn’t something that I was able to just turn a key, and bang! I’m a successful writer!

Don’t get me wrong, I did very well with my trilogy. I got an audio publishing contract to go along with my self-published e-book, and between the two of them, I did quite well for a first-time author without a standard publishing contract. I’m proud of what I accomplished.

But in the end, I had to go back to work. Full time. With additional hours quite often. And that meant I had to learn the new job, and learn an entirely new sort of programming to go along with it. Which meant long evenings and weekends taking online programming classes and writing code to learn how it all actually worked. I am one of those who learns by doing, so I had to do it.

On top of that, we had just purchased a lot on a lake, and built a house. The house was finished about ten months ago. Well, “finished” is a relative term. The basement and landscaping weren’t finished. I had to do all that myself. Which meant lots of long nights and weekends focusing on house finishing tasks, which are still not completely done, and I am just now really getting into the landscaping side. So that’s also lots of long nights and weekends.

So, in the past ten months, I’ve managed to write only about 40,000 words on my current novel.

And you know what? That’s probably pretty good for the circumstances I’ve been in. Even if it does come out to roughly three hundred words a day. Because at the very least, I’ve kept at it. And what I have written, I think, shows a lot of growth from my previous writing. I learned a lot from my first experience as a writer.

But I can’t really call that “momentum” in the sense that most of these articles mean. But sometimes I think that “momentum” of the sort I’ve managed can be just as important as pounding out a thousand words a day, day after day, to the tune of three or four books a year.

Because I’ve never considered giving up on my dream. It’s just been prioritized against some other very important priorities, and I’ve made steady, if slow, progress.

I guess what I’m trying to say here, in the context of momentum, is that the most important aspect of momentum may not be how many words you write each day. It may be more important that you just maintain the dream, and even when it is incredibly difficult to find the time to write, you manage to carve out evenings or weekends when you pick up where you left off, dust off your keyboard, and pound out another scene. And another. My output may have been a trickle, instead of a flood, these last ten months, but that trickle has never dried up. I’ve never lost track of the story, and when I do find the time to write, it feels great to put another chapter behind me.

And that’s the thing that really matters. Writing, as important as it is to me, is not my entire life. Other things matter, and sometimes they matter more than writing. But as my time has become freer since completing some major projects, I’ve been improving my word count, and I feel like that will continue. I’ll get this story done. And another. And another. It just may not be as fast as I would like, that’s all.

Know Who You Are and How You Write

Ask a dozen writers for advice on how/how often to write productively and you’ll get a dozen answers. Everyone will eagerly tell you the system that works for them, urging you to replicate it precisely on your way to success. But as we all know from a million ads for personalized products, everyone is different. Given the same topic, no two writers will produce the same story. In the same way, no two writers will find the same process.

We’ve written about this before, of course, at length. But in a month about momentum, it’s one of the most important topics to reiterate: no, you don’t need to write every day or write a certain number of words per session. As I see it, “writing regularly” as a concept boils down to two core principles:

  1. Wanting to write
  2. Making time to write

But there’s a third principle as well, one that sits outside of writing regularly but is equally, if not more, important: don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t managing the kind of regular writing you want. I’m speaking to you as someone who is suffering from a momentum problem myself, right now. An unexpected promotion earlier this year at my day job has left me with a lot less energy in the evening, and I spend half the weekend recovering mentally. There are some nights where I force myself to sit at the keyboard and pound out words, and after a bit they do come. Then there are some days where any attempt to do that just leaves me frustrated and with nothing to show for it. Believe me when I say I’ve failed to follow my own advice a fair bit this year.

But you can’t let yourself go down that rabbit hole, because unless you are one of those writers that thrives on pressure and recrimination, you’re just going to make the problem worse. A lot of people publicly call out George R.R. Martin for his writing, and whichever side of that debate fans might take, does anybody really think that the knowledge that thousands of fans are furious at him all the time is making The Winds of Winter happen any faster? Well, the same is true if your biggest critic is yourself. You have to be in a good head space to write well, and you’re never going to be in a good head space if you’re constantly battering yourself for not writing faster. If you try to force it, you’ll either end up with nothing or writing that’s so bad you’ll feel worse than when you started.

If you do find yourself in this vicious cycle, first take a breath. Cut yourself some slack. Quit comparing yourself to the fastest, most prolific writer you know. We all know that person, and it’s not healthy, because you aren’t them (unless, of course, you are the fastest writer you know, in which case you’ve earned a break). You aren’t a failure as a writer because you need a break.

Once you’ve given yourself some time to clear your head, think back to the last time you were writing at a rate that made you happy. What were the circumstances then, and how are your current circumstances different? And, crucially, was that pace sustainable? I’ve twice written drafts of 100,000+ word novels in under three months, but I was so burned out after each instance, I was unable to even look at my laptop for another three months. So that pace works when I have a deadline looming, but otherwise is no good for me, because I can’t sustain it long-term. With a full-time day job, 3k-5k words per week seems to be my sweet spot for sustainability, but even then, life can (and does) get in the way. You have to be both flexible and forgiving.

In the end, only you are responsible for your own well-being as a writer. No one is better equipped than you to know when it isn’t working, and no one is going to step in and tell you that it’s time to try something different or to step away for awhile. Only you can know that about yourself. But you have to remember to listen.

 

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.

 

Ups and Downs and How to Use Them

Picture this: (Because I saw it on Facebook a few days ago, and now can’t find it.)

Two short, wooden tracks for marbles. One starts high and flattens out, the other looks like a roller coaster with up and down bumps spaced perfectly apart. A marble is released at the beginning of each track. The first performs as predicted, the marble rolls down and to the end, losing momentum as it goes. The second surprises me. The marble goes down, hits the bottom of the hill and goes back up. Once up, it thunders back down, only to go up again. While it loses some momentum going up, the down hills keep it going. And, it makes it to the end before marble #1.

I feel like this is the perfect analogy for the momentum of my own creativity.

I always start out excited, barreling down the hill with all of the purpose in the world with the wind whipping through my hair and sunshine on my face. This can go on for a day or a week or a month, but eventually, the “something” occurs. It can be plot problems, it can be life problems, it can be family problems, it can be day job problems…the list goes on and on.

At this point I have to dig in. My momentum has waned, and the only thing to do is pull out the good old hard work. Sometimes it takes wading through plot problems for a week before I can get going again. Sometimes it takes ignoring the book for a while. Sometimes it takes forcing myself to sit in my office chair and write for an hour, even if it is total crap. Sometimes it takes doing every chore in the house so I don’t have an excuse to mess around anymore. Sometimes it takes all four and then some.

During this I usually feel things getting easier again. I crest the top of the hill, panting because going uphill is hard, and stupid, and look around. Before me I see my path and I am once again excited. I step off and it all starts over.

Back to my analogy. Not only does the roller coaster marble end up with more momentum, it actually goes farther than the other one. And, it gets there faster.

So if you’re feeling a little bi-polar about your creative process, remember that not everyone is the same, and maybe you’re a roller coaster creator, like me. Or maybe the long, slow burn process is your game. Either way, figure out how your process works and then figure out how you can make it work for you.