Category Archives: Write Whenever You Can

Momentum Leads to Success

Momentum lead to success. Errr, no, wait. Success enhances momentum. No, ugh. Momentum feeds—hmmm… 

Yeah. That’s it. Momentum can lead to success and success builds momentum. Now that I’ve got that straight in my head, I can talk to you about it. Hi there. As we go through this together, know that I’m talking to myself about building momentum as much as I’m talking to you.  

Momentum is great when we have it. The words pour out and page after page zips by beneath our fingertips. We finish projects and move on to the next. Each completion feeds our passion, goads us on, pushes us farther. And when that sale happens, holy monkey, it’s like we hit the after-burners. Zoom!  

At some point, the glow from the sale begins to fade and though we are still moving forward, our pace slows. Words come harder. It takes longer to finish, if we finish at all. We hit that uphill slog in the manuscript and feel our momentum grinding to a halt like that old, wood-paneled Buick station wagon stalled in the intersection during rush hour.  

Have you been there? Drivers navigating around you and showing their appreciation for your delay with a single-finger salute while you desperately crank the key, hoping for a spark to catch. Sometimes it does and, by some automotive miracle, after the tenth crank as the battery is slowly whirring down – ignition! The words come, slowly at first, but they come and we’re on the move again without too much drag on our momentum.  

Other times, though, you turn that key, breath held, teeth clenched, and pray to the Buick pantheon for a miracle. Clickclickclick. <insert bad word here>. Dead. Deep breaths. Count to ten. Okay. Gotta get moving again. The ultimate destination of Atlanta sinks beneath the immediate need to get the car to the service station across the intersection. 

It’s that change in perspective that’s the key. While we need to keep our ultimate goal in mind, when our momentum slows or stops, we need to set our immediate sights on short-term wins to get moving again. In our unfortunate case here, we need to get out and push this beast out of the traffic flow. Now, a big-ass station wagon doesn’t just move with a body lean. It’s going to take some serious effort to get this thing moving. Feet set, right hand on the steering wheel, left braced against the doorframe, you push. The car leans forward then settles back. Rest for a second. Ready? Eyes on the service station, muscles straining, feet pumping like they did when attacking the sled in high school football practice, the car leans further. Harder. Pushpushpush. The wheel turns. Success! Don’t let up. Pushpushpush. Cross over one lane. Success! The car is rolling freely now. Pushpushpush. Another lane. Steer into the station’s driveway. One final push to get over the storm drain. Pushpushpush. And…success! Now on to the next challenge.  

Writing works the same way. We need to plant out butts in the chair and write. It’s going to be hard at first, but stick with it. As we move forward, we need to define our successes in terms that will lift us up and keep us moving forward. As the successes pile up and our progress mounts, we close in on our bigger goals. And when we hit those bigger goals, boom, after-burners. 

If your goal is to write a novel. Don’t focus on that one thing, break the effort down into achievable milestones (the first page, the first chapter, the first act, the second act, etc.) and acknowledge the completion of each one. Let that accomplishment propel you toward the next one.  

Even backed by a tsunami of momentum, we still have to put our butts in chairs and write. So do it and and use your words to propel your success.

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.

 

The Mighty Mo – How to Keep on Keeping On

I hear a lot of people talk about writer’s block. I also see a lot of commentary about loss of motivation and life interfering with writing.

While I can’t honestly say I’ve ever experienced anything that feels to me like “writer’s block” I will admit to periods of motivational doldrums, and life most certainly can get in the way of writing. But to be a writer is to write. So, when motivation is low, or even non-existent, how can you get it back?

My lowest point as a writer came over a year ago, when I was trying to complete the final book in my War Chronicles trilogy. At the same time I was trying to get my new home built, and had just started a new job, which meant spending a good bit of my “free” time learning new skills and techniques so that I could do my day job well enough to keep my day job.

In the middle of that stress and uncertainty, I was forced to admit that my ending was not working out as I wanted, and that I was going to miss several self-imposed deadlines for completing the series. I began to dread the prospect of even returning to the story and ripping apart what I had spent months working on, just to have to rebuild it again.

So, how did I get my momentum back?

If you are looking for some sort of magic bullet, or some “weird trick” that will turn your creative juices back on, I’m sorry to say that you won’t find it in this article. For me the solution was the oldest maxim in writing. “Apply butt to chair, and pen to paper.” Or more accurately in today’s world, “fingers to keyboard.”

Or to put it plainly, I sat at my desk and wrote. Even when I knew what I was writing was terrible, I wrote. I told myself that even if only five percent of my writing was worth keeping, that was still five percent more than I did by moping and trolling social media sites.

So, I wrote. And wrote. At a friend’s suggestion, I wrote a short story set in my fantasy world with entirely different characters, set hundreds of years in the past, and let that story flow. Doing so gave me some insights into the history of my world, and helped me work out the motivations and goals of the main antagonist, which got me interested in my unfinished trilogy again.

Then I sat down and reread the first two books, and all the third up to where it began to lose steam, and by the time I got to that point, a new and better ending had emerged, like Athena from Zeus’s forehead, fully formed and ready to be put onto paper.

And that finally restored my enthusiasm for the story, and I was able to get back into the groove of writing until I finished and published the final book.

It may be that the lull in motivation I encountered is what others call “writer’s block”. I never felt blocked, I just felt out of steam, stuck in neutral, all fueled up, but with no roadmap to follow. Once I finally got that roadmap into my head, writing was easy and fun again.

And that’s what it’s all supposed to be about, isn’t it? Writing should be fun. When it isn’t fun, it’s hard work, and when it’s hard work, it’s easy to find reasons to avoid it. So, when I have lost the fun, I try to find a way to get the fun back, because then writing is easy.