Evangeline Holland

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

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 As an unpublished author, it’s easy to slack off on writing, or write on a haphazard writing schedule because there are no real deadlines to meet (or advance disbursements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


6 Responses to “On Productivity”
  1. Hmm…I read your Lady Myddleton story. How are you unpublished? But yeah, I understand what you are going through. Procrastination is always a temptation!

    • Published by someone other than myself, I mean! 🙂

      Procrastination is why I wouldn’t fully commit self-publishing until I had a bunch of novels to put out there.

  2. I’d much rather have a book a year from an author than slapped together books every 6mths or so. I have yet to find an author that can keep up the depth of character, story, place/time in any series over 6 books. Most don’t make it past 3. I’m a JD Robb/JAK addict and buy both in hard cover but if you read their earlier books compared to their current books… there is a huge difference in writing quality. S J Rozan is another. Her before hiatus books are amazing, the after ones… readable and I get them via the library. Although, I admit sometimes I wonder if authors or publishers are deliberately shortening word counts, dumbing down language and using words that someone with a Gr 4/5 education can read without a dictionary.

    My friend writes publications for the gov’t and nothing can be written over the ability of someone at that age level so I know it happens.

    I’d rather you procrastinate and write something you enjoyed writing. It translates, into quality when the reader gets it.

    • I know that some authors can write fast and well (or at least consistent), whereas others burn out fast, so I’m kind of musing about which author I may turn out to be.

      I think the issue with quality and consistency over time is that for a on-going series, there’s a chance the author may end up resorting to “short-hand” writing that satisfies longtime fans, which is similar to how readers approach fan-fiction: we already know what Buffy Summers looks like, how she sounds, and how she moves, and on a basic level, the fan-fiction author doesn’t really have to do much but throw existing and known characters into a plot. This, IMO, is also why Regency romances are so popular: you (general you) don’t have to “think” while reading them because you’ve read Regencies so long and have watched Jane Austen movies so often, you know the “rules” of the setting. If you dip into a new/unfamiliar setting, you don’t have any easy visuals to bring to mind, and since the author must use description that builds the world, and you find it superfluous and too wordy, and it slows your reading consumption. :/

      And lol! Thanks for giving me permission to procrastinate. 😉

  3. Joshua Ian says

    Unfortunately I don’t have any tips to recommend but thanks so much for this post. I myself am working away at trying to be a published author and have encountered the exact same struggles. It is hard to keep the momentum and, let’s face it, for myself at least, the self-confidence to keep going at it when you don’t know for sure if it has any end value. I have myself have recently been embracing a lot of “workaday” writers I, truthfully, kind of snubbed in the past for the reasons you said. But, indeed, they are/were working writers and this is what I want to be. Reading this has given me a little lift in determination. Til the next session where I throw my hands up in dismay and wonder what I am doing. 🙂

    • Thanks for stopping by Joshua! And that cycle of self-doubt–>excitement–>work–>self-doubt is a kicker, isn’t it? Re: “workaday”–yes! When you hang around writers long enough, chatting about writing, the process begins to seem like alchemy, but the reality for all published authors is that writing is work, not chatting about writing. It’s so easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm of being a writer, or of discussing the publishing industry, that the cold, hard facts of writing are lost in the shuffle–which then leads to the formation of bad writing habits!

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