Category Archives: Being Gentle With Yourself

Year in Review

Oh boy. Do I really want to go over the entirety of my journey? Can’t I just brush it aside and forget it ever happened?

Well…no. There were some really good things this year. Things like the release of my first novel, getting into the Epic Fantasy Storybundle, my Monster Hunter Files story being well received. There have been a a lot of really great things this year for me as an author. But what I mostly remember about this year was my failure to accomplish my main goal — take better care of myself.

I won’t go into a tale of personal woe. The short of it is that this year did not go as planned and it was all around much harder to find the time and energy to get anything done that I wanted or needed to. I think the only thing that did go as planned was that I learned how to use Dragon and that with my acupuncturist’s help my arthritis pain is the lowest it’s been in years. Too bad the rest of my life isn’t falling into line. But there is still hope for next year. Onward and upward, right?

Now, Go Forth and Write!

Welcome to the final hours of our pre-NaNoWriMo time! There are many people who are out there right now, anxiety ridden and dreading the toll of midnight. But y’all, dear readers, should be ready. You should be pumped. Our bloggers and guests have shared a plethora of advice and their own experiences. Hopefully you found their insights useful. You’ve done your prep work, imagined the impossible, and planned your way through to success. You’re ready to climb the mountain.

But what if you are still nervous? I mean, NaNoWriMo is a huge commitment, right? The answer is that you write anyways. You put your butt in the chair, your fingers on the keyboard and you give it everything you have to give. Though there are people who sprint up mountains for fun (crazy, right?) I prefer a hike. A slow and steady plod will get you there just the same, no matter how loud those voices in your head yell that you can’t make it.

What if you aren’t done with your prewriting? You have at least another 965,439.27 hours of prewriting left to do. You have to work through the complete 17th volume of your world’s history, and you don’t know how your protagonist kept their hair in the third grade, and there are at least 60 constellations you have yet to name and invent complete mythologies for… What do you do then? You put your butt in the chair and fingers on the keyboard. At some point, prewriting time needs to be over. As one of my mentors, Kevin Anderson, said to a group of us at a seminar, “A book that doesn’t exist cannot be published.” The hard truth is that most books are never finished, they are abandoned. Start, work your hardest, and you’ll be surprised by what you can do.

But what if you miss a day? How could you possibly crest the 50,000 word peak if you lose your momentum… Step 1: You forgive yourself. Step 2: You put your but in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard. Seeing a theme? I once saw a nutritionist who told all her clients that meaningful change was a process. You only failed when you stopped trying, success being one choice away. You just had to keep choosing to fight. And you know what? It works just as well for writing as it does for losing 40 pounds.

So, all of us here at the Fictorians wish you the best in this year’s NaNoWriMo. Surprise yourself, discover that you are far better than you give yourself credit for, and work your way up that mountain. Know that you aren’t alone in this. Know that what you are about to do is really hard, but you have everything you need to do it. The view from the top will be worth the climb, I promise. First drafts need not be perfect, but they do need to be finished. Now, go forth and 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.