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 As an unpublished author, it’s easy to slack off on writing, or write on a haphazard writing schedule because there are no real deadlines to meet (or advance disbursements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