Tag Archives: lessons learned

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.


Starting Over Again … Again

Ungrateful God, the second volume of Unwilling Souls, is with my copy editor as we speak. While I’m not quite ready to announce a release date yet, it’s time to start thinking about the next volume. Beginning a new book is an exciting time full of a blank page’s endless possibilities. That being said, I’ve never done the third book in a series before, but before Ungrateful God, I’d never done a second volume in a series before, either. So it’s worth reflecting on some of the lessons I’ve learned when writing sequels. After all, a lot of those blank-page possibilities will lead to a pretty crappy book.

Do a better job outlining: Ungrateful God will be released many months after I’d originally hoped it would. The main driver for this was the substantial content edits my editor handed back. These were very necessary edits from the standpoint that the book was not living up to its potential (it is now, big time!), but they were also very unnecessary from the standpoint that I could have avoided them if I’d done a better job outlining. So that’s the plan for Book 3, a thorough outline followed by a call to my editor to go over the book’s structure and remove any large weak points before I ever put a word down. I’ve already begun this process, and given that Book 3 will be even more complicated than Ungrateful God (itself more complicated than Unwilling Souls), I’m hopeful I can avoid some pain and suffering later by doing this work up front.

Decide what kind of story I’m telling: I don’t mean to imply I’ve got no idea where the story is going. I have rough notions of major plot points for each of the remaining books in the series. But I also don’t want this series to feel too formulaic. Each book, while both standing alone and telling a portion of a larger story, should feel different than the other books in the series (at least, that’s my desire, but every author’s mileage may vary). So while Unwilling Souls was a chase book with a mystery at its core, in Ungrateful God the pure mystery element is much more front and center, leading to an explosive ending. Similar stylistic decisions must be made before the outline for Book 3 can really resonate. I have a good idea what the answer is, but telling would be, well, telling.

Decide how long between books: I don’t mean the time it takes to write the books, though that’s important too (see below). In this case, I mean the in-world time between books. Ungrateful God begins more than a month after Unwilling Souls ends, so quite a lot has changed between the volumes, and the author has to convey that information to the reader in a way that neither confuses nor bores them. Time jumps are a good way to skip straight over stuff that would otherwise bog down the story into parts that are more interesting and relevant to the story at hand. But they aren’t appropriate for every book, and as it turns out, Book 3 will begin right where Ungrateful God leaves off.

Decide how long between books, the other way: Simply put, I wrote the bulk of the first draft of Ungrateful God too damn fast. I’d set myself (and my editor, more importantly) a deadline I was determined to meet, and I burned myself out getting there, another reason the draft needed so much work. I’m still learning the answer to this “how fast can I write consistently?” and I’ve given myself more time for Book 3. It will help avoid unrealistic deadlines and ensure I can turn in a more quality draft to my editor when the time comes. I’d like to be able to put out more than one book a year, but the reality is I work a full-time day job and I’d also like to, you know, see my loved ones on occasion.

Determine if the formula needs shaking up: Above I said I try not to be formulaic. But the truth is that if books in a series bore no resemblance to one another, they would make for a pretty poor series. I decided early on that in order to make the story as epic as I wanted it, I’d have to play around with the viewpoint format from book to book. In Unwilling Souls, Ses Lucani is the lone viewpoint character. In Ungrateful God, Ses remains the primary viewpoint character with the vast majority of chapters, but I add a second, minor viewpoint character as well. In Book 3, I plan to continue that trend, with a second minor POV (for three total), and so on. At the moment, that works for me as a way of expanding the stories I can tell. Harry Potter fans know that JK Rowling occasionally broke with a strictly Harry POV in later books to give us an idea of what was going on in the wider world. One extra POV per book is a nicely pleasing number to me, but I reserve the right to change my pattern should the needs of the story demand it.

All this pre-work is a new experience for me, a dedicated pantser of a writer. But after several attempts at this and taking honest note of the delays the style has cost me, I’m confident the increased productivity (and decreased wait time of my fans that will result) will be worth all that unpleasant change.

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 first novel, Unwilling Souls, is 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, and Dragon Writers: An Anthology. He lives in Virginia 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.


Getting Ahead of Deadlines

I have always been a dyed-in-the-wool procrastinator, telling myself that I work best under pressure and that turning around projects at the last minute provides me with valuable motivation. This might all be true. Or it might just be something I tell myself to justify continuing to be lazy. There’s really no way to know. (Or is there? Read on.)

I’ve had to change my ways. It turns out that when you become inundated with a certain gross tonnage of deadlines all at once, you can’t actually wait until the last minute anymore. Especially when a dozen (or two dozen, or three dozen) important deadlines all congregate on the same day. When that happens, some advance planning is not just a balm to one’s state of mind; it is non-negotiable. At least it is to me—nowadays.

For the most part, I have a job that allows deadlines to be a little bit flexible. Freelance editing allows for the occasional grace period. And writing novels on spec? Well, all those deadlines exist in my own head and pretty much nowhere else. It’s possible, as a result, that I have developed some bad habits.

But in August 2015, that all changed. Abruptly. In addition to editing and writing at my previous pace, I added a third job—newspaper editor. It will surprise no one to reveal that in the newspaper business, deadlines are extremely inflexible. There aren’t any grace periods. The print deadline is the print deadline. Everything needs to be written, revised, fact-checked, and proofread on time or the whole enterprise falls apart.

This was probably one of the best things that could have happened to me, because frankly I could stand to have greater structure imposed on my work life.

The result is that I’ve been forced to get out ahead of deadlines. If twenty articles are all due on Thursday, some of them have to be finalized on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday. There’s just no way around it.

Likewise, I’ve been forced to apply this new approach to deadlines to my other jobs. The result is that I now find myself finishing projects several days before I absolutely have to—and for a lifetime procrastinator, that is a strange feeling.

Having learned this lesson, I can confidently revisit the question posed in the first paragraph of this post and inflict a bit of newfound logic on the situation. While it may be true that working at the last minute results in strong motivation to get things done, it also ensures that only the bare minimum ever gets done. By completing projects ahead of schedule, by necessity, my productivity has significantly improved in all areas of my life.

Evan BraunEvan Braun is an author and editor who has been writing books for more than ten years. He is the author of The Watchers Chronicle, whose third volume, The Law of Radiance, was released earlier this year. In addition to specializing in both hard and soft science fiction, he is the managing editor of The Niverville Citizen. He lives in Niverville, Manitoba.