Category Archives: Giving Yourself a Break

You Won NaNoWriMo, Now What?

I’m a big believer in the power of finishing things. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is an annual writing adventure challenging writers of all skill levels to write 50,000 words in the space of thirty days – this is an average of 1,667 words per day. For most of us, this is a challenge. As a multiple year winner of NaNoWriMo, I can tell you that typing those last words on a manuscript is a great feeling but I can also tell you that “The End” is just the beginning. So, you’ve won – what next?

First Things First

Celebrate. Kick back on December 1st and relax a bit. You’re a NaNoWriMo winner! Be sure to upload your novel text and get your official word count verified. Be sure to look for the emails about the winner’s prizes (and there are usually some great deals). Post your success and get virtual high fives on social media. Take a little time to enjoy your success, but don’t be surprised if the urge to get back into your manuscript is there gnawing at you. What do you do?

Resist!

Do not open that NaNoWriMo manuscript for at least a month – six weeks is best. Your goal right now, Winner, is to forget that you wrote that book. Yes, there are things you need to fix. Yes, you have a passive voice problem or a comma splice problem. Yes, you have a character that explicably vanishes from the story in Chapter 3. I got it. Your mind is whirling with all of the “I should fix this immediately” things. If you’re really scared you’ll forget them, write them all down on a piece of paper but do not open that manuscript. At the end of that six weeks, sit down with a notebook and a pen/pencil alongside your manuscript. You’ll see immediately that you’re reading with fresh eyes. Again, though, resist the urge to make corrections. Read your manuscript as a reader would and see what pieces of the story develop as you go. You’ll see holes and find things that seem out of place – make a note and move on. When you’re done with the read-through, close your notes, and give it a few days to percolate. Now you’re probably thinking that this is a lot of time when you’re doing nothing on this manuscript – and you’re right. What should you be doing with your new disciplined approach to writing every day?

Write Something Else

If you want to write on December 1st or 2nd, open up a new file and start typing something else. Make it something different than your manuscript. Different characters, different settings – everything in this new piece should be different. If you wrote fantasy during NaNoWriMo, write science fiction. You get the idea. Write something that you’d never be caught dead writing. I’ve messed around with a romance novel idea, a zombie apocalypse story, and a few other things that may never see the light of day in this phase. Think of it as cleansing your writing palate. When the six weeks described is up, you’ll be ready to jump back into your NaNoWriMo winner and edit it from start to finish. But what if I want to keep writing that new project? Do it. Adjust your writing goals and expectations, though – you’re trying to get your NaNoWriMo winner in shape to send out into the world.

After Edits – The Next Step

I can’t stress hard enough that you really need to run through your manuscript at least once before you look for potential first readers. Gaining insights from others is a huge piece of this step. You cannot write in a vacuum and expect to put a rough manuscript into consideration for publication or start the mechanics for self-publication. Take the time to get it read, reviewed, and even professionally edited. Trust me, it’s worth your time to do this even before you submit it to a publisher or do it yourself.

NaNoWriMo is a race to 50,000 words. It’s a challenge that teaches you self-discipline and creates a habit of writing daily. Publishing a novel is a marathon, not a sprint. It will take time to get it right. There are times it will seem like glaciers move faster than your manuscript through the process. Keep writing other things and do not, under any circumstances, get caught up in any one novel project. Keep moving forward. That’s really what NaNoWriMo is all about. Starting a project, finishing it, and moving on to the next one. And the next one after that.

That’s how you win NaNoWriMo, folks. Keep moving forward.

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.

 

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.

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.