Tag: Deadlines


My Well Runneth Dry

 More than 300,000. That’s how many new titles were published in the U.S. in 2013, according to UNESCO figures reported in Wikipedia. Add in all titles published in a year and the number doubles or triples. That’s a lot of books competing for readers’ attention. Authors have to create ways to gain notice. In this modern, social media-connected world blogs, newsletters, and Facebook pages have become standard ways to build a platform to attract readers. Posts and newsletters, brief pieces offering readers writerly advice, funny or poignant stories about the writing life, and insights into how one’s work speaks to the human condition, come out more frequently than novels or short stories. They require frequent trips to the creative well. Once in a while, the well runs dry. An idea for a blog post hits you then you remember you used the idea six months ago. You stare at the blank newsletter template and realize you have no news. You’ve already described your writing process, your inspirations, your journey to publication, your tips for completing a first draft. You’ve got nothing but a deadline. What do you do? The blog has to be posted, the newsletter mailed. A goats in sweaters video or cute cat photos won’t cut it. You pick up your pen or pull your laptop closer and borrow a page from Seinfeld; you write about nothing. Or you find an idea you’ve used in the past and rewrite it until you’ve said something new. You keep going, writing about nothing or reworking old news, until you’ve got a few hundred (possibly rambling) words that you didn’t have before. If you’re lucky, you’ll figure out how to tie what you’ve written to a picture of a goat in a sweater. How do you overcome a shortage of new ideas when confronted with a looming deadline?

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What I Learned About Deadlines

It’s been an amazing five days. Suspense writers are some of the most supportive and kind people I know. I’m grateful to be part of this community. Rick Pullen, Cate Holahan, and S.B. Woodson inspired me with their dedication to the craft, perseverance in the face of adversity and generosity of spirit.  To cap off this back-to-school week, today is the master class with my wonderful fellow Miss Demeanors. My question for them was: Do you feel anxious when a deadline is looming? If so, do you have any tricks for maintaining sanity? They had great advice, and gave me a fresh perspective. Thank you! Here’s the cheatsheet with full answers below: (1) Welcome deadlines as a sign you’re living the life of a writer.(2) Celebrate small victories along the way.(3) Get some sleep.(4) Meditate.(5) Take a walk, bike ride or a run.(6) Eat what makes you happy.(7) Prioritize writing over everything else. Paula: I started off as a reporter, so I’m used to deadlines. But the time frame for those stories is much shorter, as the stories (and their shelf life) are much shorter. When you’re writing a book, it’s one long sustained deadline punctuated by interim deadlines that can last years. The pressure ebbs and flows somewhat as you meet each of these interim deadlines, but it never goes away until the book is published. The shelf life of a book is far longer than that of a news story, so you have to live with your mistakes for far longer–at least until the first reprint. That’s why it’s important to celebrate every deadline you meet along the way. Rewards–from a glass of wine to a trip to Italy–are how I deal with the stress.
And then it’s on to the next book. Tracee: Hmmm. Sadly I work well under pressure. I say sadly because that prevents me from getting way ahead of the ball and never feeling a deadline again. I think that this harkens back to architecture school where no matter how far along your project is, there is always more to do. One more drawing, more detail on the model. It’s the same for me and writing. When the deadline approaches I feel my mind jump into high gear and want to make vast improvements, which only makes the deadline shorter. Tricks for sanity? Remember it’s normal, it’s the end of a big project and keep Benadryl on hand. My biggest problem is shutting down for a good night’s sleep, which is mandatory and Benadryl is my not-so-secret weapon. Alexia: Yes, always. The panic of a too rapidly approaching deadline is a big motivator for me. I binge on food that would make a frat boy’s diet look healthy, I cancel/ignore most social engagements, I cut back on FB posts (I’d cut them out but FB scolds me when I do), I don’t check the news (if the Apocalypse happens I won’t hear about it until my deadline passes) and I don’t check email. If I didn’t have to go to work, I wouldn’t leave the house. Susan: I like deadlines because I think they kick your brain into high gear, but they do make me anxious. I try to make them manageable by breaking them into small pieces. Finish first 50 pages by this date, next 50 by that date. And so on. But that doesn’t always work. I also do what I can to reduce the other pressures in my life. I subsist on take out. But I keep taking walks. That’s the one thing that keeps me sane. You have to walk away from your desk. Also, take a minute or two to enjoy the deadline–if you have one, it means you’re doing something right! Robin: Deadlines don’t make me anxious. It’s the life I signed up for so I welcome them. That said, a few minutes of meditation can help calm the mind and body to regain energy. If that fails, a walk or a bike ride somewhere away from people can be restorative. I’ll echo what Paula said, too. Rewards for little milestones then a big fat reward for completion are always in order. Then it’s time to get back to work – on the next book, a promotion plan, or both. Michele: I thrive on deadlines. I should wear a tee shirt that says, “Works Well Under Pressure.” All of the professions I have worked in required me to be able to deal with crises, so I may be one of those people who is adrenalin-addicted. Having said that, maybe not so much anymore as I “mature”, although I did wait until the last minute to answer the question of the week. Cate: I like deadlines. I think they help keep us on track. I make up deadlines for myself in addition to the ones that my publisher provides.  If you’re still looking for a little inspiration, check out Martha Beck’s blog on writing (even with a crayon) at http://marthabeck.com/2017/03/stop-doubting-start-writing/   

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The Developmental Edit

Today is my birthday. It was also the initial due date for my developmental edit. As a birthday/Christmas present to myself and my family, I finished the second draft a week early. And, it was one of the most difficult things I’ve done in my life.  Novel writing is the long distance running of careers. You have to maintain a pace and get to the finish line, which is typically months, if not years, away.  People take a year or more to pen a first novel. It then takes months–if not a year–to secure an agent and several months to secure a publisher. (Obviously, some books never do. But I learned from the experience of NOT getting an agent for a few novels in drawers that it takes about a year to give up on them too and start something else). If you have a publisher and a contract for a next book, you still have six to eight months or so from the publication of the last novel to the delivery of the next one.  However, writing becomes a sprint during the editing process.  I got back my latest novel from my editors on December 3rd. I had until today to add fifteen to twenty thousand words to it (some parts were cut during the initial edit), make my protagonist have more agency, add a few more red herrings (can’t add all those words without new twists and turns), change some personality characteristics about another character, and rejigger a pretty significant plot point.  I finished the rewrite on Monday December 19th. Sixteen days from when I first received the novel back. It took me a day to just digest the editorial letter and my kids were out of school for three days during that time period (I am a stay at home mom, sans babysitting).   But I knew I had to finish it then because my daughter’s birthday is on the 22nd and I was hosting Christmas and a party for her. And, I needed a day to shop for Christmas and birthday presents, wrap them, and make the house look festive because it’s the holidays, darn it! I finished the developmental edit by working the six hours when my kids were in school and then, after putting them to bed, working another six hours until 3:30 in the morning for two weeks. But, I did it. And I got to spend the whole holiday week planning in-class Christmas parties, baking with my kids, taking care of one kid who got a stomach bug, writing Christmas cards and making my daughter’s 5th birthday pretty cool.  So, I am feeling pretty awesome on my birthday today. Turns out that I can run fast when I need to.      

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