Tag: #editing


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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Editing, or the pretense that it will ever be perfect.

 Every writer has different editing moments. There are the early edits, adding plot points or taking out backstory to keep things moving. Later in the process we continue to check the plot points but start to fine tune the dialogue, the action, the beginning and end of chapters, the punctuation. Then, finally, and for a moment it feels like a reward, the editing of the complete manuscript to turn in to the publisher. This is where what felt like victory turns to ‘I need a drink’. At least for me. Because it feels final (actually, it is final) I begin to re-question everything. Usually my Beta readers haul me back from the edge and I get back to the real work at hand. The final edits. Overwhelming in some ways. Check everything. That’s all. I think every writer has a list of what to do as part of the hedge against insanity. Plus, checking things off a list is universally satisfying. My list is along these lines: character arc (names consistent and are their emotions developing in a consistent path)chapter breaks/lengthfine tune the dialoguecheck description (accuracy, consistency, and things like time of day/length of day)eliminate my personal writing ticks (most writers have specific words they overuse and word search is helpful here)read the entire manuscript aloud in as close to one go as possible. The number of typos, trip-ups in dialogue and other problems uncovered by reading aloud is astounding.  Right now I’m getting close to this point. Actually I am already working through parts of this list, and it is exciting. I’m curious about other final edit check lists. What gets you across the finish line?  

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The Readers in My Head

I write for me. But editing that way would be too selfish.  At night, when I pour over whatever I penned earlier in the day, I try to wrest myself from my characters’ heads and my own mind and place myself in the heads of three people: my dad, my closest friend from elementary school, and my agent. Each person is very different. And, if I can please these imagined readers, I feel good about continuing my story.  My father is the critic. A sixty-six-year-old, soon-to-be retired accountant, my father scrutinizes stories like a balance sheet, searching for mistakes and plot failings. He wants to point out that something didn’t make sense or that a character’s actions were “unbelievable.” He refuses to allow well-crafted sentences to seduce him into an easy suspension of disbelief. Reading with my father in mind forces me to constantly ask myself whether or not I’ve done enough work to make my characters’ actions natural. If my fiction doesn’t feel truthful, my dad’s voice will accuse me of lying with all the venom of a parent thinking of a punishment for breaking curfew. I’ll need to go back to the drawing board.  My closest friend from elementary school is probably the person in this world most similar to me. She reads often. She likes stories. She enjoys being entertained. However, she’s a super busy working mother with a ton of responsibility. She doesn’t have time for tales that don’t keep the pages turning. If my story is not exciting and the characters are not compelling, she’s going to put it down–even though it was written by her best friend. There are just too many other pressing things demanding her attention. When I’m editing, I imagine her reading my book after putting the children to sleep. Does she place it on the nightstand because she’s tired or can she not help herself even though she knows her kids will wake up early the next morning and she’ll have to get them all ready for camp before heading to the office? If I can still have her imagined attention, then I’m telling an exciting story.  My agent is the seasoned professional. She’s read so many thrillers that few plots seem original and few stories aren’t predictable. She is my barometer for genre aficionados. If I can surprise her with a twist–or at least delay the inevitable guessing until the third act–then I may have something that will please serious mystery readers.  If, in my head, I’ve kept these three people interested in my story, then I’ve done a good job writing something that I can take pride in. If not, I need to write something better the next day when I’m back to being me.   

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