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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Productivity...what's that

   
Author Topic: Productivity...what's that
MG
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On average, it takes me one and a half months to even *start* writing a new short story. Iím wondering, am I a freak of nature or something? Am I doing something wrong here?

And this time procrastination isnít to blame. I do put butt-to-chair and do my research, I do write character sketches but try as I might, in the end, it always takes me nearly 50 days to plan a story.

I canít write if I donít know enough about a character, the setting, the plot, conflict and theme (this one comes on its own as I figure out the rest, but it doesnít come quickly).

And I havenít reached the editing part:rewriting has taken me as little as 4 weeks and as much as 12.

I always think that while I was twiddling my thumbs and planning a story that will eventually prove to be rubbish, other writers have churned out five drafts and are working on their sixth.

I guess my question is: what am I doing wrong?

And Iíd also like to know: how many times does our nice, little planet have to rotate on its axis for you to finish that first draft?

Thanks in advance,

MG



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tchernabyelo
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Different methods work for different people, but my feeling is that you're over-planning; indeed, that you may be using your planning as an excuse not to start writing.

You say

quote:
canít write if I donít know enough about a character, the setting, the plot, conflict and theme (this one comes on its own as I figure out the rest, but it doesnít come quickly).

To what extent have you tried? I think it may be worth your while just sitting down and writing. Don't start at the beginning of a story. Just start writing and see where it takes you. See what characters and settings and plots you create as you write, not as a separate cerebral exercise. An ideal way to do this is something like the Flash challenges. Write a story in 90 minutes. You might be surprised what you can create when you free yourself from your current style, which may work for some people but sounds to me like it just removes any of the intuitive, write-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach that can make for some surprisingly good, interesting writing. You sound as if you're in danger of removing any passion from your work because you're planning it so meticulously that writing the actual story almost becomes a chore, not a pleasure.

Sign up for Liberty Hall and give it a try. You really might surprise yourself. I've certainly been much more productive since I've been hanging around there; even discounting most of the actual Flash submissions, I think I've completed more short stories in the past three months than in the previous thirty.


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Christine
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I wouldn't assume you're doing anything at all wrong. When I get the first idea for a short story I tend to pump it out, but then I think my short stories end up being flat and shallow. I like writing novels better anyway, and those I do spend time on. I guess for me if I'm going to have to spend two months working things up, I want to get a lot out of it.

But back to you...I've heard people who are good at writing short stories suggest that it can take year to form an idea properly to wrie it. They suggest that the ideas need to ferment over time. If I had any suggestion, it would be to keep an idea file. Instead of working on one story at a time, work on several. Maybe forcing the ideas is what's taking you so long. If you sat back and just kind of let it evolve into the shape it's going to be...so it takes you a year instead of two months, but in that time maybe you're working on twelve ideas. Then as they become mature you can start writing and forming the ideas at the same time, incrasing productivity.

Other than that, I don't have much to say about it. In fact, if you like the fruits of your labor I'd say you're doing just fine.


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AndrewR
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Every writer is different and works at a different pace. If it takes you two months to plan a story, that's fine. The only problem you may have is if you plan on writing for a living.

My last completed story took a good two months to write/rewrite/revise/etc. 4000 words. At that pace, I'd starve before the end of the first month.

But that's the pace I work at. If you need to make money, then work on different techniques like what Christine suggested. But otherwise, accept who you are. As long as you are writing and completing stories, you're doing fine.

(If you want to increase your pace, try writing a story in two weeks as required by the Phobos Challenge. The story may not be very good, but it's good to know you can do it. Makes it a little easier to imagine writing your next work.)


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Minister
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I second the suggestion about the Liberty Hall challenges. Before starting to do those, I was probably averaging a story every month or two -- and they weren't even all that good. When I was actively doing the Liberty Hall challenges, I was producing a story every week -- and the quality was probably higher, on average, than the ones that I stewed for months over. Might not work for you -- but it's worth considering.

Just a suggestion if you do try it: since you seem to be a person who typically spends a lot of time aiming for perfection on a story, even on an early draft, go into your first flash or two planning to write derivative, cliched stuff. Otherwise, you'll have a much harder time completing a story in the time limit, and maybe even a harder time hitting the submit button. But if you just resign yourself to writing something that is probably below your normal standards, so long as it is a complete story, you might be surprised what you can crank out in 90 minutes. And I've seen some very original, well-crafted stories come out of people over there, even with the time restriction.


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sojoyful
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My WIP isn't a short story, but I can still say that I have take a very long time in planning as well: nearly a year, and that's only how long I've been planning by writing things down - I was thinking it out for several years prior. But I haven't allowed myself to NOT write:

On my computer in the folder for this work, I keep a sub-folder for each period of time in the story. When I get a scene in my head, even if it's just snipppets of dialog or narrative or a blocked-out sequence of action, I type it into notepad, save the file with a name that will quickly recall what's in it, and store it in the folder for the appropriate place in the book. Then I don't think about it again until I get there.

So yes, I'm still planning, but the result is that I actually have about 50% written, but in pieces. In fact, I have almost all of volume 3 written, while volume 1 chapter 1 is eluding me. I'll probably rework much of what I've written when I get to those pieces, but at least they're there.

My point (lost it somewhere in there) is, even if you're planning, write what you can. You might not use it, you might rework it, you might paste it in verbatim. At least you're producing, which will help prevent avoidance.

Good luck!

[This message has been edited by sojoyful (edited November 14, 2005).]


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MG
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You know, this is the first time Iíve asked a question about writing and received answers from real writes. Boy, does this feel good. Thank god I joined this group.

Well, tchernabyelo, reading your reply I had to admit: there is a wee bit of using planning as an excuse for not writing. Iím going to try writing flash as you said, I have a couple of flash-length ideas in a file somewhere.

However, I know Iím not doing the kind of over-planning that kills the story. How do I know this? Because I over-planned to death a story I loved (my second story, actually). Iím very, very careful now and I always plan the things that affect the characters but never what theyíre going to say, how are they going to respond, the scenes Iím going to write. So, once I finally start writing, Iím still exited. I still surprise myself.

ďIf I had any suggestion, it would be to keep an idea file.Ē Have it. I read an article about story templates a while ago and starting doing those. I have four ideas for future stories (and I mean, bare bones, I need to combine them with other ideas I have scrawled on my fifth appendix, my notebook).

AndrewR: Yeah, Iíd love to make a living out of writing. . .in the future. Thatís why this issue with my productivity (or lack of thereof) was worrying me.

Minister: ď. . .since you seem to be a person who typically spends a lot of time aiming for perfection on a story, even on an early draft. . .Ē Who me? <looks sideways> NoÖno. NeverÖwell *sometimes*. Ok, always.

ď. . .when I get a scene in my head, even if it's just snipppets of dialog or narrative or a blocked-out sequence of action, I type it into notepad. . .Ē Sojoyful, thatís exactly what I do. I have 2972 words of fragments of dialogue, character analysis and world-building in a file with the title of the story. I been fattening up that baby for over two months.

I checked out Liberty Hall and I think I will join after I finish the first draft Iím working on right now. One thing though, how do I get invited?

Thank you all for your help!



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Minister
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You get invited to Liberty Hall by a person here sponsoring you, or by emailing Mike Munsil (he's a member here, though he's out of the country this week), the owner of the site. But if he doesn't recognize you from here, he'll probably come back here asking about you anyhow.

Looking at your profile, it says you've been here about a month, but have only posted 8 times. I'd recommend getting active over in the Fragments and Feedback side for a couple of days at least -- give some critiques, at least on some of the openings over there. Although you could probably get a recommendation without doing that (since the primary purpose of this hoop-jumping is to keep spammers out of Liberty Hall), people are more likely to give an unreserved recommendation to someone they've seen in action (however meaningless you may feel your critiques to be at this point, the fact that you take the time to give them suggests that you are at least a little serious about the craft, and are willing to give help as well as receive it.)


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