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Saturday, February 28, 2009

DEADLINES


DEADLINES: Even the word sounds ominous. The finality of the concept is frightening: something is due. There are no excuses. No exceptions. No extensions. Finish on time or pay dearly.

We've all had deadlines. But for the author or aspiring author, deadlines become an everpresent reminder of what is left to do. If handled poorly, deadlines can lead to all kinds of pressure and stress. Deadlines are a part of the business, but ours is a creative field. We create when the muse strikes. How do you rush creativity? Doesn't rushing a creative endeavor mess it up? Hmmm, seemingly valid points. So what's a writer to do?

"I love deadlines.
I love
the whooshing sound
they make as they fly by.
"
Douglas Adams

Love that quote. It captures the kind of manic frustration involved with working under a deadline. It almost feels helpless in a way...as if there's nothing we can do about deadlines whooshing right on past. I disagree.

I believe authors can to a lot to make deadlines manageable. As a matter of fact, I believe deadlines can provide much needed energy and motivation. Oh, and I believe yes, you can rush creativity. I'd even go so far as to say that there are times when the crunch we're in forces out creative ideas that would not have appeared otherwise. So here are my suggestions for getting the most out of deadlines.

Deadline Tip #1: Set reasonable deadlines.
If this is in your control, don't bite off more than you can chew. If you don't know how much your can reasonably write in a day, find out. Then consider the length of the thing you are writing, and do the math. If you write X amount of words every day, then, you can write a book in Y amount of time. When Thomas Nelson offered me a contract for The Door Within Trilogy, I jumped at it. I read the deadlines and went, "Duuuuhhhh, sure, I can do those." Not smart. I'm a full time teacher, and oh, by the way, I have a lovely wife and great kids I like to see once in a while. Now, I'm much more realistic. Keep in mind, publishers have schedules to keep if profits are to be made. Most publishers are going to ask you for a book in 3-6 months. If it's three, I have to say No, I can't do that.

If the deadlines are not in your control, then you will need other strategies.

Deadline Tip #2: Set your own deadlines
So you've got six months to crank out your 80,000 word novel. Divide the words by the number of days, and see what you've got. What you're looking at is about 500 words a day. That is entirely doable.

Deadline Tip #3: Frontload as much as possible
The worst thing you can ever do is look at that deadline six months from now and think, wow, I've got six months. If you did Tip #2, you know that every day you skip is 500 words on your shoulders. So go after it hard early. Knock out 1,000 words one day, 2,000 the next. Challenge yourself.

Two of my favorite techniques are: Race a Friend and Race the Clock

I'm coauthoring a fantasy series with Christopher Hopper. We are both Kings of Procrastination and Distraction. Seriously...it's scary. I wonder whose Twittering? Hmmm...did the Redskins get that free agent they were after? I wonder if Biff ever emailed me back? YIPE. Next thing you know, 2 hours are gone and I'm still staring at an evil, blinking cursor. So what Christopher and I do is we challenge each other to a "Sprint Race." We give a time limit, say 1 hour. We say GO. And off we write. It's amazing how much we can write in those sprints. Usually, I can pound out 500 words in an hour by myself. When I sprint against Christopher, I've never been less than 700 and many times top 1000 words. Yes, it's rough stuff. But, duh, it's a rough draft. lol

Race the Clock is just you and the minutes. You say, "It's Monday. I need 500 words in one hour. GO!!" Then you just pound until the time is up. Raise the number on Tuesday. Keep going.

Deadline Tip #4: Be satisfied with little deadlines met.
If you wrote the 500 words you needed for the day, be happy with it. If you want to do extra and the ideas are coming, go for it. But if not, get up, and be content. You did your job for the day.

Deadline Tip #5: Nibble away at the numbers.
I got this one from Author Sharon Hinck. Let's say you've got to finish 1000 words in a day. Sitting down to knock that out in one stretch isn't always easy. So nibble away at it. If you get up early and pound out 250 words, then later on, all you've got left is 750.

Deadline Tip #6: Outline.
I know there are some "Seat of the Pants Writers" out there who would want to string me up for such blasphemy (ahem, Bryan Davis), but I have found that outlining helps me meet my deadlines. I often take a month to outline a book. That's a long time, but it literally saves me three months of writing and REWRITING time. If you know where you're going in the next scene, then you can write on.

Deadline Tip #7: Stop in the middle of a cool part.
Speaking of author Bryan Davis, he's responsible for this gem. Never finish a writing session at the end of a scene. Always stop in the middle of a cool scene so that the next time you write, you can just leap back into the momentum.

Deadline Tip #8: Eliminate distractions.
That's right: get rid of them. If the internet distracts you, disconnect your writing computer. If it's a video game or a show, make it wait. Use it as a carrot dangling at the end for when you finish. But don't get out of that chair until you are finished what you need to do.

So, there they are, 8 ways to let Deadlines rest in peace.

What about you? Do deadlines daunt you? Do you have any other ideas for how to defeat deadlines?


21 comments:

JA Konrath said...

Diet pills and earplugs.

As long as I have enough caffeine, and no one in the house is bleeding profusely, I sit at my computer until the book is done.

L.B. Graham said...

Wayne's tips are good. I would echo the idea of breaking big deadlines down into lots of little ones. Especially for the new writer, the idea of writing 'a whole book' can be daunting. However, today, right now, at this moment, writing the whole book isn't your job. Writing the next few pages is. Do it.

As an alternative to the "stop in the middle of an exciting part" suggestion, here's another way to look at it. When I'm in the middle of a scene or sequence that is exciting, I'm usually moving at a good pace, so personally, I don't like to stop while I'm humming along.

OK, so how do I "pick up the thread" the next time I sit down to write? Well, like Wayne I outline and prepare, so I know what comes next and I usually think about the next scene now and again during the "off time" before actually writing it, and that helps prime the pump.

Also, when I sit down to write the next time, I don't start where I left off. I always go back to the place where I started the previous time and reread what I wrote the time before, making basic corrections & improvements (which helps me later with proofing and rewriting) and that process always gets the story flowing in me again so I can pick up where I left off.

Like Wayne I'm a full time teacher, and I managed to bang out all five books in the "The Binding of the Blade" in five successive school years, mostly following these tips and others like them, remembering that long journeys are always taken one step at a time.

WayneThomasBatson said...

Oh, mannn, Caffeine just kills me. I remember once in college I drank "Jolt Cola." It tasted like a combination of Dr. Pepper and Battery Acid and it gave me the worst jitters I've ever had.

I've actually been DeCaf for seven years now. I do however keep my desk stocked with three different kinds of Altoids. Power mints wake me up. lol

Earplugs and or headphones are great, esp. for us distractomaniacs. Something about having the sounds piped in makes me content to sit still. Sort of.

WayneThomasBatson said...

LB, I never asked you, but did you ever field test your books with your students?

PatShand said...

I gotta say, I love deadlines. I do my best writing when I've got a deadline doing the ol' pendulum swing over my head.

L.B. Graham said...

Not on a mass scale, as in, I never read scenes to my classes or brought large groups of students in on things, but various students were involved in some critical ways. Three former students (I teach high school, so these kids were between 16 and 18 when we started) helped me with the world-building and story-building process for my series - in fact my third novel, "Shadow in the Deep" includes their names in the dedication.

Also, some students here and there along the way helped me with proofing and gave me feedback on whatever I was working on at the time.

Kii said...

I always have trouble with stopping in the middle of a scene, it's hard coming back to the pace and enthusiasm I have once I get going.

I love doing what L.B. Graham mentioned. Usually, before I go to sleep, I'll think about the next scene and come up with all the little details. And before writing I tend to read at least five pages of before writing, so I can excited about it again.

But I have a question. I'm writing out of the mere pleasure of writing, and I have a goal of 75,000 words, do I need a deadline? I'm not planning to publish anytime soon, but should I start training myself to get used to deadlines?

pixydust said...

How did you know, Wayne!? Just what I needed to finish this darn ms. I don't work well if I don't have a deadline, so I give myself one. Sometimes I actually meet it...lol

This'll most definitely help spir me on throuhg those next 50,000wds!

Bryan Davis said...

In one way, we SOTP writers have a great advantage. We're excited to get back to the story, because we really want to know what's going to happen. We truly don't know.

But the disadvantage is that we also don't know when it's going to end, so dividing the word count total by the number of days doesn't work very well.

I like to post my current book's word count in public places like my blog and message board, so I know people are watching the number climb higher each day. For some reason, that visibility helps me. I know a lot of people are watching my progress.

Robert Treskillard said...

Wayne,

You've given a lot of great advice here. Two tips I've learned:

* Keep a writing log. That really helped me double my pace. When paired with a deadline, I kept track of how many words I wrote each day, and through spreadsheet calculations I was able to see the "predicted finish date" based on my speed. That motivated me to catch up if I got behind because I could really see that date slipping.

* Use kumquats to keep yourself awake. It's a really healthy citrus snack, but you have to know how to eat them. The inside is sour, and that jolts you awake, but how do you peel those little buggers? The trick is that you don't. The skin is the sweet part, just pop em in and eat 'em. Also works FANTASTIC when you're on a long road trip and need to stay awake.

On the "leave off in the middle of a scene" idea ... I think part of the advantage is it drives you crazy that you didn't finish it, so you get back to writing much quicker. If you leave off at a "nice part" you're kind of relaxed and not as motivated to get back to writing.

A few questions for you, Wayne:

Is a 6 month deadline about as lengthy as Thomas Nelson gives? What about other publishers?

Is that deadline for the rough draft only? How refined do they expect the manuscript to be?

Thanks!

Eric Reinhold said...

What? I thought I was the only author with ADD! Here I am on a deadline to turn in my final revisions to my publisher tomorrow and I'm answering your question on "Deadlines."

Since I'm a planner with a math background, I work backwards with a goal of 100,000 words, divide the time until my deadline and figure out how many chapters I need to write a week. I also take into account vacations and other family or work matters so that I can be as realistic as possible.

Would I be more creative, given more time? That's a good question. We might all agree that we could continue to rewrite and revise ad nauseum, but I don't know how much better the story would be. Sometimes your first instinct is the best.

All your points are great Wayne. My goal is to get better as a writer to that I get it better the first time on paper and reduce the amount of revisions. Book 2 has been a great experience with Donita reviewing it two chapters at a time and my staying ahead of her to correct additional issue we discussed in the chapters she had already revised then sending her two more. A much more polished product. We did this before sending it to the publisher and their editor.

Okay... back to my deadline!
Eric
www.ryannwatters.com

WayneThomasBatson said...

Hi, Kii

If you're just writing for the sheer pleasure of it, no, you don't need a deadline. In fact, the moment I had to write under deadline, I had to fight the feeling that this was no longer fun but actually a job. That's no good.

I guess it really depends on what you hope to accomplish. If you want the novel finished and find that you're going for long stretches without writing, then maybe give yourself some deadlines.

WayneThomasBatson said...

Go, Pixy! Get that book done! The world is waiting. You've got a way cool concept, so get after it. ;-)

WayneThomasBatson said...

RT, I'm not sure how long TN gives its authors in general. I know they employ some folks who are full time authors and they get books turned around much faster.

I do know that the whole deadline thing varies from one publisher to another. Some publishers say get it done when the Lord leads. Others are strict and say, "We need this book for Quarter 2, so you've got five months."

And I am talking about my "best" draft BEFORE the editors at TN get a hold of it. Then, there's a month reading time for them, 1-2 months of edits and revision, then 2-3 months for publication.

WayneThomasBatson said...

Oh, and as far as how refined, they've never really communicated to me a standard. BUT, I don't want to send them anything that is not my absolute best. So I really try hard to make it clean and clear.

WayneThomasBatson said...

And good points, Eric. Hopefully with each new book, we get better at the whole process.

And sorry I distracted you from your revisions! lol God speed, bro!

Shyeloh said...

I'm such a procrastinator =) I'll put off my weekend homework till the day before its due, even though I know I'll be working all day to finish it.

It's hard to forse yourself to be creative, or just do work, when you are motivated or inspired. I've found that breaking the load up into managable chunks workd best with me. Though I do work pretty well under pressure...

Shyeloh said...

LOL, I meant NOT motivated or inspired....

Anonymous said...

WOW. Everybody had a LOT to say on this subject...is there something I should know about?? I haven't really given any thought to deadlines. Maybe I should, since I DO go for long stretches without writing. I guess I kind of get scared I'll mess up my story if I try to work on it. Then I'll get frustrated with it and have to throw it out and start over, which I don't want to do, cause I like my story right now! Excellent tips, Sir Batson.

~ queenofnarnia

Galactic Overlord-In-Chief said...

Sometimes I just skip ahead and write the second half of a scene if I can't get started on it. It works a lot. By doing that, it helps me think of information I may need to convey at the beginning of a scene, and then I go to the beginning and start writing that.

I would only use this with great care because it can leave your story with a bunch of holes you have to fill!

- Jason

baddogmooney said...

Hey Wayne, I loved the post and wrote a blurb for it on my blog. Maybe it will send a few more readers your way.

- mooney