Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Write different

I have been writing fiction for more than 40 years and writing it professionally for at least 35. Over time I have developed several writing habits--some good and some not--that impact everything from what I write to how I write to when I write.

For a variety of reasons, not all of them related to the actual process, my productivity dropped a few years ago and, for each of the past few years, I've missed my target of producing at least 52 short stories per year.

Earlier this year I made some changes to what, how, and when I write. I wrote about some of the changes in a January 18 blog post, but I have made several additional changes since then.

The most interesting change wasn't one I made on purpose, but it has become a significant reason for a dramatic uptick in productivity. I've started triple-tracking.

During a typical weekday, I have three periods of time I can devote to writing fiction: First thing in the morning, late afternoon/early evening after I finish with work for clients, and mid-/late evening.

Though I did not initially set out to do this, I found myself using each track differently and realized that it had brought new vigor to my writing.

Track One

Each morning I have 30-60 minutes between waking and leaving the house that I can devote to writing. I use this time to write confessions, a genre I have been writing in for much of my career and in which I sell approximately two stories each month.

I have been writing confessions for so long that I know the three basic story types, the chatting-with-friends conversational style, and the must-do/must-not-do elements without any deep thought. Though I still must envision a suitable narrative hook and appropriate plot, once I do, these stories roll off my fingertips.

For me, the ideal length of a confession is 3,500 words and if I write 300+ words each weekday morning, I can finish a new confession approximately every two weeks.

This I've been doing.

Track Two

When I return home each afternoon, I have time before--and sometimes after--dinner when I can again write. Because I had been invited to contribute to some erotica anthologies, I initially spent this time, and have continued to spend this time, writing erotica.

Erotica is another genre in which I've been writing for much of my career and, though the style can vary significantly depending on editorial requirements, the essence of an erotic story remains the same: get the protagonist in a sexual situation.

Erotica is also open to cross-genre stories, so I write erotica, erotic romance, erotic horror, erotic crime fiction, and so on. Incorporating cross-genre elements sometimes means these stories don't always flow from my fingertips as easily as confessions, but I can still produce 300+ words each weekday, and can complete a new erotic story approximately every two weeks.

Track Three

Mid-/late evening, usually after a dinner break or after watching one of the few television programs I still follow, I switch gears and work on what I've been calling my challenge stories. These are stories that require something different from me.

For example, I might work on a story that has no known market, a story that requires extensive research, a story in a genre in which I've not previously or only rarely written, or a story in which the actual process is unlike my usual approach.

For example, I'm not usually a detailed plotter, but I wrote one story that I had completely plotted using the "Save the Cat!" beat sheet before I wrote a single word of the story. I wrote one that required me to research Puerto Vallarta (which I had visited years before to speak at a writing conference). I wrote a fairy tale, which involved extensive research into what made a story a fairy tale and not just fantasy, and then had to plot extensively to ensure that I incorporated all the elements into the story. I'm currently working on a story that has involved extensive research into the daily lives of Vikings, and I've been tinkering with a ghost story I started several years ago that has no known market.

I'm not setting myself productivity goals with my challenge stories because my goal isn't to produce a certain number of them. My goal is to find new ways to write that--if successful--I may be able to incorporate into my writing routine.


Weekends are not as structured as weekdays, so they have become productivity free-for-alls. If I have a story from any track that's almost finished, I may concentrate my efforts on that story. If I have a complete draft of a story written earlier in the week, I may use time during the weekend to edit and/or proofread the story prior to submission. If I'm working on a story that requires extensive research, I may spend time during the weekend doing that research.


My productivity is on the rise. I have produced more than one story each week since the beginning of the year, and I have several stories lined up to write in all three tracks to avoid lag time in any track.

How long I will continue triple-tracking, I don't know. For now, though, it's really helped increase my fiction productivity.


Elaine L. Orr said...

Interesting method. I'm able to work on fiction and nonfiction (and marketing) in one day, and often do. I've never worked on two pieces of fiction concurrently. I'll try your tracking technique. Maybe one piece of work one day, one the next. Thanks.

Michael Bracken said...

Alternating days might work, too, Elaine. Good luck!

Sara Hoskinson Frommer said...

I like your specficity. Haven't ever thought it through quite like that, but I too know that different chunks of time work better for me if I don't bounce around in them. I'll think more now about what to do when, and how to make best use of which kinds of times.

Michael Bracken said...

Thanks, Sara. My three writing tracks weren't something I developed with intent and deep forethought, but now that I've stumbled into them, they seem to work pretty well.