On Productivity

While at When Words Collide, I took in Kevin J. Anderson’s workshop on how to be a productive writer. I’ve been feeling a tad unproductive of late. Evidently, that wasn’t a unique feeling amongst my peers, as that room was packed.

There was the usual advice: Butt in seat, hands on keyboard; dare to be bad (in first drafts); set goals and stick to them kind of stuff. A few things really stood out for me however. First was Anderson’s breakdown of the time it takes to write a novel. If a writer works on one book a year, writing around a day job, a few hours each day, he came up with the figure of 520 hours to complete drafting and revising the novel. Anderson writes full time, 8 hours a day, 7 days a week. That means he reaches his 520 hours in 9 weeks. On his schedule that allows him to produce 5-6 books a year.

Not everyone is in a position to lose the day job, or commit those 8 hours a day on top of their job, but it did get me thinking. One of the things Anderson does is work on multiple projects at the same time. This is good because there are many stages to completing a book: research, outlining, drafting, revision, and then once the book has been sold, there is the substantive edit, copy edit, page proofs, and finally touring and promotion.

Not all of these are as much fun as the others, and every writer is different. Some hate drafting and can’t wait to have something to revise. Others, myself included, love discovering a book, and find edits to be like having teeth pulled.

So why have I been feeling so unproductive? I feel like I’ve been editing for the last two years solid. I had gone through a flurry of drafting, had several projects on the go, but then came the time to polish them up and send them out. Thunder Road was as good as I was going to make it at the time, and out on submission. I had revised the first manuscript I’d ever finished (an epic fantasy) and sent it out to the Angry Robot open novel call. Meanwhile I had the sequel to Thunder Road, another urban fantasy and a sword and sorcery novel in various stages of completion. I figured I should get one of them ready (the sword and sorcery was much closer than either of the UFs at this point) and then I sold Thunder Road

Since Thunder Road was a part of a two book deal, my decision on which project to work on was made for me. The sequel, Tombstone Blues, was due to be published Fall 2013, which means I have to turn it in this fall. Unfortunately for me, I drafted Tombstone Blues immediately after Thunder Road. You’d think it would be a fortunately, and it is, but with caveat: while it’s great to have that finished draft to work with, and if I didn’t have it, there’s no way that I’d have the two books coming out so closely together, it also means that I’m working with writing that is now almost three years old–and I like to think my prose is better now than it was then.

So that means more revisions.

As I said, not my favourite part of the process. Looking back, I see the only new words I’ve written since selling Thunder Road have been added sentences or scenes here and there to existing manuscripts and a few new short stories–mostly written for specific anthologies (and I found myself scrambling to make those deadlines). I have felt a profound inertia in starting anything new, because there are so many words already written that await my attention.

There have been a number of other distractions to my writing life too. I’ve had to undergo physiotherapy for a pinched nerve in my neck and tennis elbow. I’ve had to watch how I work, and pay attention to the signals my body is giving me. I needed to have a website. I needed to get on social media (something I’d avoided like the plague up until recently). All little big things that will enhance my writing career but do nothing to enhance my writing (and yes, I’m quite aware of the irony in complaining about these distractions while I write a blog post for my website that will then be tweeted and facebooked, thank you).

But these are necessary things and I’m glad that I’ve learned them. What is even more necessary is for me to now learn to reconcile them with my writing time. And to find a way to put new words down no matter what. It used to feel so easy. And it was. I had a routine that worked, and worked well. Until I broke that routine. But I’m going to get it back.

One piece of advice that Kevin J. Anderson gave came from one of my writing heroes: Roger Zelazny, and that advice was “write two sentences.” If you do, it’s two sentences more than you had before. If you write two sentences, chances are you won’t stop there.

So if you’ll excuse me, I have two sentences to write…

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2 thoughts on “On Productivity

  1. I know the dominant style taught by everyone who teaches anything about writing is always; rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Happily I have never been taught how to write, never went to a workshop, never attended a class and everyone of my books was sent to the publisher upon completion of the first draft. I end up working with an editor before publication, but that usually is quite easy. I don’t demand that “not a hair on my baby’s head be touched.” Editors can see things that I miss. Thought I’d offer this to you. If it helps use it, if it doesn’t ignore it.
    Harold Johnson

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