Writing a Retro Mystery Series: How I Took a Habit/Hobby and Turned It Into Productivity

We all like a trip to the past. That's what started me on the path to my retro series. My character reminisced about his first case and I decided to explore it. Now I have my main series chugging along and the retro series as well. As a retro computer and game enthusiast, this comes naturally to me, the framing the past as a definer of the present. How we see our younger selves dictates our present state of mind. And, as I am sure you know, our opinion of ourselves at, say, twenty, changes as we get older. For the longest time, I pegged the years of 19-22 as the best years of one's life. Not anymore. Now it's more like 32-38.

When I first decided to write a retro mystery series, set against the backdrop of a pre-digital New York City, I had no idea how it would consume my life in the best possible way. It enabled me to also crank up my productivity because the present books have a past as a foundation, so writing the retro books feeds the present ones and vice versa. I've been able to finish four books in six months. That's like six times my normal output.

Writing four books every six months is no small feat, but having a system, a passion for storytelling, and a bit of organized chaos have made it not only possible but deeply fulfilling.

Embracing the Retro Vibe

My mystery series revolves around Detective John Keegan, an introspective and sarcastic detective navigating the complexities of crime and personal drama in a technologically advanced world. Setting my stories in a time before widespread digital forensics and social media presented unique challenges but also provided a rich tapestry of old-school detective work, personal interactions, and psychological depth.

The retro setting allows me to explore themes of corruption, power dynamics, and human relationships without the convenience of modern technology. It's a world where clues are found in physical evidence and conversations rather than in a database or on a smartphone. This approach brings a certain authenticity and nostalgia, appealing to readers who appreciate the art of classic detective storytelling.

The Keegan Retro Series has three books up for sale or preorder, with three more plotted. They are The First Cut, Second Time Around, Third and Long, Fourth Gear, Bottom of the Fifth, and Six Degrees. I plan to have the series finished by early 2026. It might take a bit longer than that.

The Multi-Book Writing Strategy

One of the keys to my productivity is having multiple books in various stages of development at all times. This method not only keeps the creative juices flowing but also ensures that I'm never stuck on one project for too long. Here's how I manage this:

  1. Outlining Multiple Stories: At the beginning of each six-month cycle, I outline the plots for at least four books. Each outline includes major plot points, character arcs, and key scenes. This roadmap allows me to switch between books without losing the thread of the story.

  2. Alternating Focus: I rotate my focus between different books. For example, I start working on the most completed one but I may get stuck. Rather than force it, I move to another and write a few paragraphs. Then to another until I find a groove. If I don't, I hit my word count goal across three or four books. This keeps my perspective fresh and helps avoid burnout.

  3. Setting Daily Goals: I set specific daily word count of 1500. By breaking down the writing process into manageable chunks, I maintain steady progress across multiple projects. Often I go far past the 1500, with my highest total so far at 8600. That was quite a day of writing.

  4. Incorporating Reader Feedback: By publishing books at regular intervals, I receive continuous feedback from readers. This input is invaluable and often shapes the direction of subsequent books, ensuring that the series evolves with my audience's preferences.

Balancing Personal Life and Writing

Writing at such a pace requires a delicate balance with personal life. My protagonist, Detective John Keegan, often grapples with similar challenges, balancing his intense work life with personal relationships. Drawing from my own experiences, I weave this struggle into my narratives, making Keegan's character more relatable and grounded.

The Power of Routine

Maintaining a rigorous writing schedule is crucial. I make sure to write 1500 words a day minimum. This strict rule has helped me keep pace.

I also do my best to sneak words in whenever possible. Sometimes I tap out a few paragraphs on my phone or tablet. Other times, I take a 'break' from my regular work to visit my fictional world for a while.

Leveraging Technology

While my series is set in a retro era, I utilize modern technology to streamline my writing process. Software tools for outlining, drafting, and editing help me manage multiple projects efficiently. Additionally, digital collaboration tools allow me to work closely with my editors and beta readers, ensuring that each book is polished and ready for publication.

I can't say enough about mobile phones and tablets as they help me get some extra words in. I've written an entire novella on a phone, and that was back when they had physical keyboards.

Reflecting on the Journey

Each book in the John Keegan series adds a layer of complexity to the overarching narrative. From solving intricate murder cases to unraveling personal dramas, Keegan's journey mirrors my own growth as a writer. The satisfaction of seeing a completed book, knowing the effort and dedication it required, is a reward in itself.

Writing a retro mystery series at such a pace is a labor of love, demanding discipline, creativity, and a passion for storytelling. By managing multiple books simultaneously, maintaining a structured routine, and balancing personal life with professional aspirations, I've found a way to bring the world of Detective John Keegan to life, one compelling mystery at a time.

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