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 As an unpublished author, it’s easy to slack off on writing, or write on a haphazard writing schedule because there are no real deadlines to meet (or advance disbursements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?

October 23rd, 2012

Pushing Boundaries, Shedding Preconceptions

As a writer, we’re taught to think in labels: “I write Regency romances,” “I write alpha heroes,” “I write dark and angsty,” etc. It makes it easy to market our books–and ourselves–to readers so that those in search of alpha heroes or angsty romances know to whom they can turn for that type of book. The labels I’ve always proudly worn were those proclaiming “I write heroine-centric romances” and “I write Edwardian/WWI historicals”, and I’ve done my best not to deviate from them. This past year has wrung me through the wringer, writing-wise, and I feel as though each and every preconception and boundary I set myself has been squeezed from the fabric of my being.

It’s been painful and bewildering because labels are useful things, they let you know where you stand, they push you into a “tribe” so to speak, they don’t offer any surprises that will catch you off guard. As a writer seeking traditional publication, labels act as a tourniquet against your publisher experiencing unexpected hemorrhages of money. Yet, clinging tightly to my preconceptions end up choking the life from my writing before it’s even had a chance to poke its first buds from the soil. And the 800+ pages I’ve written on the same book is proof of my not wanting to relinquish my labels.

As I began to outline my NaNo novel, the instinctive reaction to whip out my labels and attach them to this MS was strong even though the story kept shifting away from them. I spent a few hours trying to whip the outline in the shape I wanted it to make, and then it was like a light bulb went off in my head: the characters create the story, not my own preconceptions, and the primary protagonist is the character who a) has the most at stake and b) will experience the most growth. So here I am trying to make this story about my heroine, when it is really about my hero! For a brief moment I felt bereft–was I all wrong about myself? Did I just assume I was a heroine-centric writer? But then the other book I have planned popped in my head–that’s heroine-centric.

Duh!

So the moral of the story kids, is that my sole purpose is to tell a damn good story and not to try to force them to fit me.