On writing and being more productive

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Is this the answer to being more productive when attempting to write a novel? Perhaps I’d better start at the beginning, which as we all know is a very good place to start. In fact, as the author of some fourteen books to date~nine self published~I’d suggest the beginning is pretty much the only place to start.

Until very recently, I was a two-finger typer. I would aim to write 2500 words per day, and on occasions would actually achieve this target! In an attempt to up my productivity rate I taught myself to type properly, and can happily now type at maybe 25-30 words per minute consistently. The only trouble is, I now only seem to be able to produce 1500 words in a session, albeit in a shorter time. I cannot fathom why this should be, but matters came to a head during the writing of my latest work in progress. In a nutshell, the project has rather stalled, and there are a couple of reasons for this.

The first reason is the book is an uncomfortable place for me to be. It started life as an alternative history of WW2, one in which Heinrich Himmler for various reasons, assassinated Hitler, and offered to make peace with the Western Allies if they would allow Nazi Germany to continue the war against the Soviet Union. I had done all the research on weapons systems, come up with an alternative time line and written some 12000 words. It was all going so well, until I heard about an editor who offered what he called ‘an early analysis’. He would take a look at a couple of chapters, and highlight any potential problem areas, as well as making general comments on style and the idea itself. He was quite complimentary about my writing, and in fact asked permission to use a passage in his own upcoming book about editing. As an example of how a scene should be written, I hasten to add. Unfortunately, he commented that I appeared uncertain as to what sort of story I wanted to tell. The plot idea wasn’t a bad one, but I started off by giving the reader a mass of historical detail, which he felt was superfluous to the story. I had put the details in as background, because although my generation grew up listening to stories of derring-do in WW2, subsequent generations are a bit hazy on the history, believe it or not. He suggested I might like to write a historical novel, and so the idea of ‘Himmler-the making of a monster’, was born. I had to do a lot more in-depth research, and in doing so got to know both the main character, the Nazi party and Germany in the 1920/1930s quite well. Better than I would have liked, as it happens. Himmler was responsible for the death of 6 million of my co-religionists, and most likely the death of about 20 members of my extended family, if family stories are to be believed. Writing has become a fascinating, yet horrific, experience. Most of the research has been done, the reference books read and maps consulted etc etc, but I’m only managing to write about 1000 words a session, and the sessions are becoming more spaced out. What to do?

A friend (Larry Jeram-Croft who writes excellent modern naval fiction, available on Amazon), started using a dictation program. I took a look at it, and thought ‘no, I already type about as fast as I can think’, and anyway it was a sizeable sum of money to fork out for what I thought at the time was a bit of a gimmick. I continued to struggle with the book. In the interim, I started using a program called Scrivener. I had heard about this program, reasonably priced, as being of great benefit to authors. Designed by an author for authors, it promised to make life much easier, and to boost productivity. I struggled a bit with the program. Great, now I was struggling with the book and now struggling with a program designed to make writing the book less of a struggle. After resisting buying a course on how to use Scrivener, I finally succumbed to various marketing emails and pop-up adverts (thank you Google, the CIA, NSA, MI6 et al could learn a lot from you) and now find it incredibly useful. The key is to know how to use the program, you see. By buying a course–which was more expensive than the program–I now know how to use it to boost my productivity. Well, sort of.

I then heard ‘my editor’, on a podcast run by a very successful self-published author, extolling the virtues of dictation programs. Typing can get in the way of story telling, he said, and as every fiction author knows, we are all story tellers. You can pace up and down, telling your story. You can sit at your desk, waving your hands in the air, and really express yourself, he said. A good dictation program really can make all the difference to the rate at which words appear on the page (screen, in most cases). The successful self-published author, Joanna Penn, commented that she used such a program. Well, what more prompting did a chap need? I Googled the name of the program that my chum used, and hit a snag.

There was a new version. Twice as good as the old version, amongst other things it was designed to work with my now favourite writing aid, Scrivener. The only tiny, tiny problem, was that it was now twice the price. I ask you, what was to be done?

The DHL package I’m holding in the photo holds the new, improved program. I’ll let you know how I get on.

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