Thursday, November 3, 2011

Productivity: Magic or Timing?

So a gchat with one of my best buds and a twitter conversation with some of my favorite tweety birds has me thinking....

I know, I know, that's never a good thing.  You can all stop groaning now.

But real talk, peeps.  So we were talking about productivity and writing speeds, and how I can be a little cray cray at times.  And my good gal-pal Linsey who has known me nigh for a decade now, allllll the way back when we were wee Roswell fanfic writers (gasp, I know, I wrote FANFIC!) was testimony to the fact that like, yo.....I used to be completely incapable of finishing a single project.  True story.  Oh, I've always written fast, I can pound out a few thousand words in a sitting, but we all know that's only half of writing.  It doesn't matter how quickly you can type, because if the words ain't coming, they ain't coming.  And that was my problem.  I'd launch into these big, sweeping epics, get 15K or so into them in just a couple days....and then I'd flounder and flounce off to a new shiny.  I'd come back to the initial project after awhile (or after I'd floundered midway through others) and add more....another massive update or two of 15-20K in a matter of days....but it might be weeks or even months between those updates.

My writing was a study in evolutionary leaps.  Stories would crawl through the mud aimlessly, and every few thousand years a sudden LEAP to give them legs....and then it'd be another few thousand years before I came back to teach that little story fire, and like, give it a plot or something.

Yeah, not the best analogy, I know.  This is my brain on NaNo, remember kids?  I warned you it wasn't going to be pretty.

But basically, I had a lot of fish in the sea, but all of them were deformed little mutant tadpoles who were never gonna grow up to be Adult Bullfrog Stories or whatever.  (Man I am just BEATING this metaphor to death.)

And to this day, most of them remain floundering around in the back of my brain, malnourished and unloved.  This is why I don't have pets.

But overtime, once I moved on to being a 'real writer' - which means you have to legitimately write THE END on a project without using the 'rocks fall, people die' shortcut - I got better at the whole finishing thing.  But it took time.

My first novel, ROANOKE, took nine months to finish.  And I wrote for it every day.  But I wrote a couple hundred words a day at times, completely uninspired.  It was like pulling teeth, but I did it.  But what I wound up with wasn't very good.

My second novel, SHADES OF ADRIAN GRAY, took two years to finish, technically speaking.  But in reality the break down went:  Wrote the first chapter in a sat for seven months....wrote the next six chapters in six days, one a day....then it sat for a year and a half....then wrote the last fourteen chapters in three days.

Later books were somewhere in between.  ESCAPE ART took around five months, with long periods of not writing at all, GEMINI took three and I managed to be fairly consistent, but with low daily word counts.

But then, with more recent books, my stats jumped again.  DUST TO DUST was finished in three weeks.  MOST LIKELY TO SURVIVE took a month.  And I'm 25K into my NaNo novel, SUNSET SONATA, with another 50K projected until the end.  And my first drafts weren't...aren't terrible.  They're not just words on a page.  Oh, they're first drafts, with desperate need of revision, but they're still workable first drafts.

So Linsey and I were talking, and I attributed my speed with SUNSET SONATA to the book just coming to me easily, the story well within reach.  I picked the right story to write, I said.  And she laughed, and was like, oh yeah, because this was one of your contenders all along.  As of October 31st...four days ago, I was still debating which of three story ideas I was going to write this month.  SUNSET SONATA was not on the list.  The basic grain of the story idea was one I had over a year ago, for a short story I was going to write, an adult sci-fi short, but I hadn't even thought of it in months.  It was nowhere in the reckoning at all.  Then several hours before NaNo started, I got up from my computer, started pacing, annoyed with all three of my story ideas and my inability to choose between them....and I randomly thought of that short story idea again.  It grew and grew, I hopped on gchat and threw it out there as a possible story idea to Genn, weighed pro's and con's, the story growing all the while, and after an hour of chatting I decided, this was going to be my NaNo.  It was around 10 pm on October 31st, and I was still brainstorming titles, trying to make a cover to inspire me....

And then midnight hit, it was the start of NaNoWriMo, I tossed the words SUNSET SONATA on the top of my first page and started to write.  Three days later, I'm a third of the way done with the book at 25K.

So no, this story wasn't one of my contenders long before NaNo started.  It wasn't even a speck in my brain.  But I was still right, in what I told Linsey.  I'd picked the right story, that's why it's coming so quickly and easily.  It doesn't matter when I came up with it, or how much thought I'd put into it beforehand....I had other story possibilities, all of them viable, most that I'll still likely write at some just happened to be the right time for THIS story.

And that, I think, is my personal secret to my productivity.  I've always written quickly.  But in terms of writing full novels just boils down to this....somewhere along the line, I got better at picking what story to write at what time.  That's it.  Call it luck, call it instinct, but I firmly believe that FOR ME at least, and my personal writing process, knowing full well it's different for everyone....I can write any story at any time.  But the difference between it being a long and arduous process and a lightning fast sprint is finding that magical sweet spot where I'm writing the RIGHT story at the RIGHT time.  If I had gone with ALL HIS LITTLE MONSTERS instead of this one, would I be 25K into it?  Probably not.  Hell in fact, I can guarantee it.  Oh, I'd probably have 8K or so, still completely respectable, but it would be a struggle.  I wouldn't still be as inspired when I got up from writing as I was when I sat down.  I'd be exhausted at the end of an eight hour block of solid writing rather than exhilarated.

But when its the right story, when its the right time....10K a sitting doesn't wear me down.  Doesn't burn me  out.  Not til all's said and done, anyways, and I put THE END after that final period.   

I guess what I'm saying is....writing's kinda my crack, yo, and I'm a hopeless addict.

Somebody pass me a lighter, willya?

And just so its not all about me.....(though really, its my blog and I'll be egocentric if I want to, dagnabbit, ME ME ME, there, I feel better)....

So what about you guys?  What's your average pace like, if you have one, and does it vary from project to project?  If so, what, if anything, do you think was special about the projects that came to you quicker or easier?


  1. My average pace is about 6-8 weeks to first-draft a novel, and 2-4 weeks to proofread, revise, edit before I submit. It can vary; I once wrote a first draft in 5 days because a friend dared me to, and I have one book that the first draft took me about 9 months because I was going through a divorce at the time. So I think the only "special" thing about the projects that take me less time is that my life circumstances are more accommodating than with the ones that take me more time.

  2. I love your brain on crack, I mean NaNo. Poor little mutant tadpoles.

    I've only written two MSS so I have less data to work with, but the first took around nine months -- though I took off five months a chapter before the end then finished the thing in a day or two -- while my second took two and a half. It helped having some idea where the plot of the second MS was going; pantsing fail.

    I generally aim for 1000k a day for however long it takes, though on bad days I'll 'allow' 750-ish. I definitely had more bad days with the first MS, although at the start I was fast because I had all that backstory to infodump about!

  3. Loved this post, Kalen. Curious about SUNSET SONATA. Been curious about MOST LIKELY TO SURVIVE since WOC. :)

    My first novel came so easily I couldn't wait to work on it, and I spat it out real fast. But timing was real bad for that one. My second started that way, but then it became like actual WORK to work on it. (It's still at 25,000 words)

    My latest came even faster than the first one, and I LOVE it more, too! For me, if it doesn't come, and I don't enjoy writing it...well, I find a new idea. :)

  4. I definitely hammer out entire books in weekends, as you know -- but it is ALL about the timing for me. I utterly agree.

    And SUNSET SONATA sounds awesome <3

  5. @ Jo - Dang, sounds like you can really hammer them out when life allows you too though!

    @Sophia - Still very respectable! And yes, the dreaded initial backstory infodump rush! I know it well.

    @Melinda - LOL well hopefully stuff will happen with some of them soon. And yeah, when the love is there, it just flows, though its far too easy and tempting for me to hop to a new project the second one gets difficult so I tend to try and power through if I get to 25K or so.

    @Katey - LOL yup I know it well. And thanks, I can see SUNSET hitting a lot of your fave literary kinks haha.