Evangeline Holland

Sweeping Drama ⚜ Larger than Life History ⚜ Exquisite Romance ⚜ Diverse Perspectives
January 24th, 2013

On Productivity

As I looked at all I wanted to write this year, I began to muse on productivity. As an unpublished author, it’s easy to slack off on writing, or write on a haphazard writing schedule because there are no real deadlines to meet (or advance disbursements dependent upon meeting those deadlines!), no readers clamoring for the next book, and no one but yourself telling you what, when, and how to write. Yet, we all dream of being published and will be thrown headfirst into Deadline Central when that happens.

I’ve waffled off and on about setting a writing schedule over the past year, going through lean stretches of little to no productivity to furious spurts where I churn out thousands upon thousands of words between waking in the morning and going to bed at night. I halfway convinced myself that I work best this way, that being under the gun to turn something in to my agent is a great motivator, but the reality is that the seesaw of pre-writing, brainstorming, and research/fun reading to eating, sleeping, drinking, and breathing writing ultimately causes me to associate the act of writing with pushing myself to exhaustion as opposed to being a fun, educational, balanced, and exciting journey to The End.

As I mulled this over, I clicked over to the websites of a few Harlequin/Mills & Boon authors and was staggered by their output. Though this segment of publishing is derided as formulaic, lackluster, paint-by-the-numbers hack writing, category romance authors are–by market necessity–some of the hardest working and talented writers in the business (seriously–Helen Kay Dimon’s first category romance was released in early 2010 and her sixth was released in November 2012!). I’ve stated in a few Twitter conversations with other romance readers and writers that the genre is the last “pulp” genre, and this is not an insult. During the days of pulp and dime novels (dominated by Westerns, mysteries, crime/spy thrillers, and science fiction), writers wrote, otherwise they would not get paid. In essence, writing was treated like a 9-5 day job, not an “artistic” calling reliant upon inspiration or muses.

To many writers it sounds callous to actually admit that writing is and/or can be just a job–it’s almost akin to yanking aside the Wizard’s curtain. But if you’re writing genre fiction, you’re more than likely expected to release a new book within a 9-12 month time span (shorter if your publisher has decided to launch you in back-to-back releases or three-month intervals). The only writers with luxury of years and years of writing are lit fic authors, or mainstream/commercial authors with an audience large enough and loyal enough to wait years between releases (though most big name authors started out with close releases, and their massive popularity enabled them to take more time between books). And the cold, hard, ugly truth of the matter is that in genre fiction, there are always many others waiting to take your “place” if you cannot deliver in sales and/or product.

I admit, even as I am writing this I shy a bit at the concept of “Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard,” only because I’ve had such sloppy, justified-in-my-mind writing habits, but making the conscious effort to renew my thinking about my writing schedule, readjust my approach to writing, and having the discipline and courage to set a schedule, will make life much easier for me–not just with my career as an author, but in my personal life as well (*cough* penciling in regular, daily exercise *cough* [and taking time for other hobbies]). To kick start my goal of creating a doable and strong writing schedule and to develop positive writing habits, I sat down and opened up all of the documents pertaining to my WWI anthology, All That We Had, We Gave.

I plot and brainstorm on my computer because otherwise I would have one big mess of a notebook (the present state of the plotting notebook for Bledington Park *GGG*), but that doesn’t mean I don’t have ideas, character sketches and snippets of scenes written in these RTF files. My agenda was to organize all four stories into their proper structure (Act I, turning point 1, etcetera) and what I thought would be a simple task took me three hours to harness. I had vague ideas of what I wanted to happen in each story, but committing them to the page meant I had to pluck those vague ideas from the air and pin them into a concrete plot, which then built towards a proper conclusion. I ended up with strong plots for 3 out of 4 stories, which is a good thing, since if I hadn’t realized the weaknesses of story #4 right now, I would have thrown myself into a panic once it was time to write that novella. Now I have to really delve into the structure of Bledington Park!

What do you say about productivity as a writer? Have you recognized any stumbling blocks or bad habits that hold you back from your full potential? Any advice or tips you’ve picked up along the way that have helped you?

September 25th, 2012

Writing Like You’re Under Contract

As month seven in working on my WIP rolls around, I’ve admittedly grown more than a little impatient with not only the process of writing this novel, but with my progress in the publishing industry. My impatience is exacerbated on a semi-occasional basis over fears of missing the Edwardian era/Downton Abbey craze when I was ahead of the curve long before the series premiered in 2010 (and on that note, being ahead of a trend is nerve-wracking in and of itself–you’re out there on a limb by your lonesome!). Yet, I was standing firm in this time period before the industry decided to take a second look at non-Regency/Tudor/Victorian settings, and I will still stand here long after Downton Abbey’s popularity settles into normalcy. So to get back to the title of this blog post, I am changing how I think about my status and my MS and writing as though I am under contract.

I’ve read countless interviews from new authors in magazines and on blogs, and the thing most have in common is their anxiety over the “sophomore slump” or “second book syndrome“. In a nutshell, you’ve had years and years to work on your first book, or the book that finally sold to a publisher, and now you must buckle down and write book two in your contract in 6-9 months. During the process of writing Book 1, you’ve had ample time to set the MS aside to work on something else, or play video games when you were stuck, or even stop writing altogether simply because your time was your own. With Book 2 your time is not your own–your time is literally money, and the longer it takes to get into a decent writing groove to turn in your MS on its deadlines, the longer it takes to kickstart your career (particularly in genre fiction, where many publishers have ramped up publication schedules not only from the date of signing, but between each release!).

In my own case, my WIP has been percolating in my mind since 2008, was restarted in 2010, and reached its pitch (to the agent who signed me) incarnation in December 2011. As of September 2012, it has gone through four different versions as I’ve struggled to incorporate points of feedback from my agent (a major source of my frustration has been my word count–no matter how many times I’ve started over with the book, it still tops way over 100k), and as of today, version No. 4 has about 100 pages to go until completion. It’s been tempting to set the MS aside to work on another book, or to even scrap this book and pitch something else, but not only would I be disappointed with myself, but this story won’t let go, and so I’m putting my nose to the grindstone and ignoring my fears and doubts as well as the doubts of outside sources, to get this done as though this book is contracted to my dream publisher. There are no guarantees about the publication of this book (pleasepleaseplease!), but indulging in a habit of not finishing a book when the going gets tough, or the end doesn’t appear to be in sight, is detrimental to my writing career and my self-discipline. So here’s to completing A Disciplined Heart, and hopefully, my writing like I’m under contract is more than wish-fulfillment!