#SecondThoughts: What counts as Productivity for a Writer?

I was thinking about this today as I taking my daily walk. It’s something I’ve fallen out of the habit of doing in the last couple of weeks-ish and was reminded (for the nth time) just how important walking is to me. It’s not the exercise aspect, nor the access to fresh air, what matters is that I’m alone – no music, no podcast, no conversation – just me and my thoughts. Well, to be fair, there are times (more than I’d like to admit to be sure) when I talk to myself, but that hardly counts as a conversation.

The reason I decided to start my discussion on the subject of what constitutes productivity for a writer by speaking about my daily walk, is to demonstrate quite how important seemingly unrelated activities can be to the writing process. As someone who’s been suffering from a bit of a block of late, it’s taken a while to get to the bottom of it. Well, in fact what it took was for the weather to improve and for my knee to start hurting – all of which reminded me of the need to get physically moving again. Because ever since my return from said walk, the garden gate of writing has started to swing open, if not the floodgates quite yet.

While a great believer that writing must be treated as a job of work where you turn up and get on with it, there are aspects you may need to consider, including ensuring the mind and body are in good shape and ready for writing.

Now clearly writing productivity includes the actual writing, re-writing and editing, and I don’t believe anyone would argue that planning or plotting forms a key part of the writing process (at least for those who’re not pantsers) and who could argue about research being an intrinsic part likewise? But what counts as research? Is it specific, targeted investigation to establish facts around which you will write, is it background reading to get a feel of an era or a place, is it visiting museums to see how people lived, is it seeking out art or clothing or furnishings from a particular time or location, is it visiting period properties or certain geographical locations, does it involve learning a skill your character may have, or taking a journey they will take, can it be reading the work of other writers – whether or not they write in your particular genre, perhaps it’s simply living and being open to inspiration? I would suggest that it could be each and every one of these, and much more besides, as a writer never knows where or when inspiration will strike.

One more thing to be aware of – when I’m in the middle of writing something, I find it difficult to read fiction without the voice of what I’m reading leaching into what I’m writing. I know I’m not alone in this and, with luck, as I develop greater experience in the process of writing, that could change. But as doing without reading at all is simply too painful for me, in order to maintain my productivity, I also have to ensure there’s a good selection of non-fiction available on my TBR list for reading breaks when I’m writing.

I can’t write about the subject of writing productivity without talking about practice. In an ideal world, you sit down and you write. You pour out words into your current work-in-progress, and you don’t allow yourself to be diverted. But what about when you’re between WIPs, or when you hit a dead-end? Do you focus entirely on non-writing tasks? Shouldn’t you be flexing your writing muscles on a regular basis? I don’t believe everyone needs to write every day, but I do believe in the power of practising the craft regularly, even when it’s not on the project. A short story, a piece of flash fiction, an essay or opinion piece, something to keep your writing chops well oiled.

And there’s also the business aspect of writing – querying, pitching, marketing, cover design, networking, paying bills and doing taxes – and while none of these aspects will contribute to your daily word count, they’re all necessary. Now, you might be in a position where you can delegate some or all of those tasks, and you might not, but there’s no point writing a wonderful book if no-one ever gets to read it.

If you’d asked me this question even a year ago, I’d have probably given a very different answer. Then, I thought the only truly productive thing for a writer to do was to sit down and finish your manuscript. I believed anything else was entirely extraneous to writing… I know better now.

© Debra Carey, 2021


Writers resources: Managing Submissions

Last year, Debs and I had a bit of a shakeup here at Fiction Can Be Fun.  Fewer stories, more #SecondThoughts, and we’ve introduced a new series on resources for writers and another with guest posts investigating the intersections between writers and their daily lives.  In part, this has all been in keeping with the blog’s reason for being: from the beginning we’ve always wanted the blog to help writers, as much as it’s been about our own writing.  The other reason why we’ve been cutting back on the new stories, is that we’re trying to place more stories with magazines, most of which require that the story not have been published elsewhere, including on personal blogs.

As of today, I’m still only one story to the good, magazine wise, but I’m also aware of the number of people who have racked up a significant number of rejections before getting a story published – short story writers and novelists both.  So, I’ve got a little portfolio of stories that have each been rejected multiple times.  I still think they’re good, and friends have told me that they like them.  I just need to find the right home for them.  The thing is, there are lot of potential homes, and a lot of potential rejection letters.  How do you keep track of them all? 

I started off with an excel sheet, which sort of worked. Sort of. I made a couple of tweaks, but it was starting to get a bit messy and wasn’t really working the way I wanted it to. And quite bluntly, I didn’t have the time or energy to overhaul it. Then I started hearing about Submission Grinder, and later on Literarium and Duotrope; I’ve added links to all three on the Resources page. In some ways they are all much the same: an online tool for keeping track of your stories and rejections. Actually, all three are much more than that, although the focus and the mechanisms are a function of the founders’ ethos.

Submission Grinder is a spin-out from Diabolical Plots: they track 10,000+ markets (magazines, anthologies, etc), and more than 7000 users have wracked up over 330,000 submissions – some of these have even been accepted for publication. (One of the nice features is that every successful application is acknowledged and the author given a shout out). The presentation feels a bit old fashioned somehow, and that can be a bit off-putting, Having dabbled with The Grinder, I didn’t find it particularly intuitive, although I probably didn’t give it a fair try.

Literarium is similar to The Grinder, but I found it more useful in that it does what I expect in the way that I expect it to – I find it easier to understand. I’ve not delved far enough into the Submission Grinder to know if this is possible there, but Literarium will help generate an editable cover letter, based on key information about the specific story and anything that you’ve uploaded about yourself. It will also keep track of specific feedback, if you choose to add this. There are two health warnings, one useful right now, and one more of a long term thing. The other day I logged a piece which I had written for a specific market, and to begin with it wouldn’t let me register a submission. The problem, I think, was that the record for the market didn’t include the specific type of submission that I was talking about – this was actually a factual piece, an essay on a particular topic, that I’d written for a magazine that accepts both fiction and fact based submissions. I managed to get around the issue in the end, but worth noting. Longer term, the site explicitly states that whilst it is free to use at the moment, the developers are looking to make it a paid for service at some point. It’s not clear how far ahead that will be, nor what the tariff might be at that point.

Duotrope is already a paid for service, so I can’t tell you very much about it how it operates under the hood, so to speak, but it does also support artists and photographers as well as writers. It also seems to be a bit more connected across the industry, and offers a submission management process for publishers, similar to Moksha, Submittable, and the like. At £4.25/month or £42.50/year, the cost of the service seems reasonable, but when payments for stories can run from free copies of books/magazines to perhaps 10 cents/word, the cost could seem impossible to effectively ‘one story’. If you were selling a story a day, then it might be reasonable, but I suspect if I were selling stories at that rate then I might not be using this kind of service. Looking at the testimonials, I think that perhaps the tracker is a bonus, and what you are really paying for is some of the other features; that, and being a paid for service, the information is kept a little more up-to-date, and the statistics delved into a little more.

So there you go: three ways that you can keep track of your submissions, look for new markets, and hopefully get your stories published more easily than trying to keep track of a bunch of emails, scraps of paper, or an excel database.

But what’s your experience? Have you tried these sites before? Do you have a sure-fire method for keeping track of all those words?

© David Jesson, 2021

#FF Prompt: Valentine – The Stories

If you needed any proof that we do write our stories in real time – this month provides it. For life got in the way of both David & myself, meaning no story appeared yesterday. Even though it’s late, I decided to get on & write my story, so here it is with many thanks for your understanding 🙂

The Cyclist

I’ve never understood the draw of cycling, especially not on city streets – downright dangerous sharing the highways & byways with motorised vehicles when you’re so exposed being my view. So I was unimpressed by the Cyclist when he first made overtures in my direction. Sharing of hobbies isn’t an absolute necessity when building a relationship, but I find cyclists tend to be somewhat evangelical about the benefits. Not that I question those – it’s simply that the danger to life & limb has always been of greater import to me.

Still… somehow he managed to inveigle himself into my life and, wisely, did not attempt to persuade me to change my view on two-wheeled transport. Amusingly, he was a nervous driver, and a decidedly nervous passenger when driven by anyone who was a confident city driver (no, not just me). Once I realised, I took care to scale back my devil may care attitude – after all, it was only fair considering his understanding stance on my not cycling.

We didn’t spend all our time together – we had a friendship circle in common but maintained our separate friendships outside of that. We both worked, and had passions which took up our time and energy. As the years went by, I thought we were both happy that way. He certainly said as much, and not just to me, but to anyone who’d listen. Turned out he may have been lying to everyone – himself included.

When we decided to live together, he’d suggesting moving in with me, as the area I live in was safer. Despite that, an early task he’d undertaken was to add a railing outside the back door, somewhere he could chain & lock his bike to for extra security. I thought it wasn’t necessary, but it wasn’t my bike to lose, so I kept my thoughts to myself. But when he’d gone, that damn railing and the lock – they mocked me.

For yes, he’s gone. Done a flit while I was on a girls weekend away. I’d even had one of two texts while away, including the “night night, love you” one which he was apt to send when we were apart. He was more inclined to romantic gestures than I – a disparity I worked hard to balance out. Indeed, the previous Valentine’s Day I’d bought him a new lock for his bike, getting up early to put it in place so he’d find it when he left for work. I’d even had a heart engraved onto it with our initials. He’d seemed really touched by the gesture, going so far as to suggest I might postpone my girl’s weekend away. But there was a special birthday to celebrate, so I’d promised instead to come home early on Sunday morning.

I got back just as the sun was rising – only to discover the only trace left of him was that damn railing and the specially engraved bike lock. He’d even taken the key with him.

Most people who hear the tale believe it’s the cowardice of his disappearing act that fuels my anger. But the fact that I’ll have to pay someone to cut off that darn lock… that’s what does it. Yes, it’s a petty reaction to a petty lack of thought on his part, but it’s a lot better than wallowing in misery in my book.

The railing’s going to have to go too, for there’ll be no more cyclists in my life, you can be sure of that.

© Debra Carey, 2021

#FlashFiction Photo Prompt: Valentine

For Valentine’s Day, let’s have a love story …

As always, we don’t mind how you spin it – whether it be romantic, tragic, cheesy, quirky or quaint. Just keep it clean, nothing NSFW please.

Word count: 500-750
Deadline: when else – 8am GMT on Sunday, 14th February 2021

As always, if you miss or can’t make this deadline, you can always use our #TortoiseFlashFiction page.

A reminder to new readers/writers, please post on your own site and add a link in the comments section below.  If you don’t have your own blog or similar outlet, do send us your story via the contact form on the About page and we’ll post for you, with an appropriate by-line – you retain the copyright.

One caveat, if you want to go down this route: this is a family show, so we reserve the right not to post anything that strays into NSFW or offends against ‘common decency’.

© Photo – Debra Carey, 2021