Archive for 'Deadlines'

Dancing with the dead(line)
by Jessa Slade on February 21st, 2011

Currently working on: Revisions of Book 4
Mood: Dooooomed

I am bad at math. I am like one of those Neolithic people who allegedly could only count to three: you, me, somebody else, and “many.”

Which is why I need deadlines. Preferably dropdeadlines. Especially dropdeadsoondeadlines.

The joy of short deadlines

Deadlines that are too far away just don’t get my blood pumping. I fritter away the early days of a long deadline because, from a distance, it’s hard to see how sharp its teeth are. I do better with small numbers. One month fits on a calendar page. Two weeks is the length of a great vacation. Three days — a long weekend — makes intuitive sense to me.

Short deadlines are inspiring. They are also impressive. Telling my loved ones that I only have one month/two weeks/three days to finish a project gets me out of pretty much every chore. There’s very little around the house that can’t wait a month, with the possible exception of grocery shopping to restock perishable snacks.


The horror of short deadlines

Of course, only having a month/week/day to reach an important goal can be terrifying. Hyperventilating about looming deadlines is almost as much fun as not vacuuming. (Probably because they are both about sucking.)

I have one week left to finish revisions on Book 4 of the Marked Souls. I had much longer, but this is what I have left. Even though I’ve been working on it for awhile, now is when the adrenalin rush of facing the deadline kicks in.

Managing the deadline

1. Know your ideal productivity chunks.

When I hot draft, I work best in daily increments: X words per day for a finished draft by X time. I find scheduling revisions is harder. A blank page is a constant, but dirty pages (pages that have, ya know, writing on them) require different amounts of work to get cleaned up. Some are only dusty but some need a haz-mat team. So for me, X chapters revised per week works better than a daily goal.

2. Remove distractions.

Damn you, constantly flowing Twitter stream. (Follow me and say hi; I’ll follow back.) On dropdeadline, sometimes going dark is the only option. (Uh, so if you follow me on Twitter, I’ll follow you on March 1.) I also make sure I have a fresh bucket of cookie dough to fuel the mayhem so I don’t waste time with deciding what to have for a midnight snack.

3. Ride the killer wave.

It’s kind of sick, but I sorta like the frantic exhaustion of dropdeadline time. Many of my worst writing habits — impossible perfectionism, overthinking, indecisiveness — will get cut as insupportable self-indulgence in this last week. What’s on the page becomes more important than what’s in my head. The story takes precedence over the writer. I allow myself to have caffeine!

The best part of the dropdeadsoondeadline is that it is right here. Which means just on the other side is the light at the end of the tunnel, the gold ring, the winner’s circle, The End.

But I can tell ya now, my post next Monday will be late.

How do you deal with looming deadlines in your work? Are you the diamond who shines under heat and pressure? Or are you the ticking time bomb that makes everybody run away?

Different, but Good
by Annette McCleave on May 12th, 2009

Like Jessa, I’m still pretty new to the agent/editor working relationship. This time last year, I had neither. I was still in the thick of the query process, having recently finaled in the RWA’s Golden Heart contest.

I think the most significant discoveries I’ve made since signing with my agent and then subsequently with NAL have been 1) the cheerleader effect, 2) real deadlines, and 3) new expectations.

1. The Cheerleader Effect
For years and years, I wrote just for myself. Yes, I had critique partners and chapter-mates who encouraged me and educated me, but like most writers 99% of my writing time was spent alone and that meant the only person cheering me on was myself. I don’t say that to generate pity; I actually believe this is a critical skill for a writer—developing the unshakable need to succeed. Without it, I’m not sure you can finish a book, let alone make it out of the trenches and into the publishing world.

But when I got a very enthusiastic response from my soon-to-be-agent last spring, my world flipped upside down. Suddenly, someone else besides me thought I had talent. Not those few nice paragraphs that I had received from agents before, but a WOOHOO, I WANT TO SIGN YOU excitement. A few months later, I got another enthusiastic response from my new editor. Wow. The world sure looks different from this point of view. Very pretty, very sparkly.

The high didn’t last, of course. My usual raft of self-doubt has returned, but at least now it’s tempered by little whispers of ‘yeah, but your agent really likes it’ and ‘yeah, but your editor thought your book was worth buying’.

2. Real Deadlines
After I signed my contracts, I had new deadlines to meet—some short, some long, none of them moveable. I actually didn’t have any problem with this part until I hit number 3.

3. New Expectations
My agent is very interested in my work. So interested, in fact, that she wants to know how things are going and wants to read the chapters of my new book when they’re polished. Of course she does. She’s wonderful. Problem is, she now represents an expectation I didn’t have to meet before. I used to be able to write whatever the heck I wanted—in fact, before starting a new manuscript, I frequently gave myself permission to write crap, so that I didn’t have my internal editor sitting on my shoulder saying: not good enough, do it again. But now I had my agent, sitting quietly in the background, waiting for my manuscript.

I also had my editor, who loved my first book, waiting with eagerness to read the second. Plus, the second book now had to satisfy any readers (no matter how few they might be) of my first book. Worst of all, I wanted to write a better book than the one I wrote the first time. I wanted to develop as a writer.

Dear me. Expectations. Lots and lots of expectations—where before there were none.

It took me a long time to leap the hurdle of those expectations and settle into my writing routine. I began my second book at least fifty times, never satisfied that it was right. But eventually, I was able to stop obsessing and move on. All I had to do was let my characters speak through my keyboard and let their lives take over mine; all I had to do was fall in love with my new hero (sigh) and cheer on my new heroine. All I had to do was remember why I write.

My overall conclusion? Being a writer with an agent and an editor is different, but good.

That’s about as philosophical as I get. :smile:

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has let someone else’s expectations tie them in knots. Am I? Reassure me. Tell me your story.

Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick…BOOM!
by Our Guest on November 13th, 2008

Deadlines. The proverbial ticking bomb. The time-warp capable of devouring an entire six months in the blink of an eye.

Be careful what you wish for. During the years I spent wishing and hoping and working hard to join the golden ranks of the published, I never once stopped to consider the full ramifications of writing under contract. It isn’t all smiling faces and shiny covers. Oh, no no. So let’s consider some of the other badges of honor.

How about those dark saddle bags hanging under your eyes, the ones that frighten small children away and require all that extra makeup. Or the piles of dirty laundry moldering beside the hamper (because it’s full) that just aren’t going to get washed any time soon, but if you really need underwear, honey, you know as well as I do where the washing machine is. Then there are the guilt-generating looks from my hungry family as they wonder if I’ll ever cook another meal. Oh, and let’s not forget the rumors flying around the neighborhood that maybe I died or ran off somewhere… Yes, all of these things require some clever damage control, but first that book’s gotta get finished.

As I mentioned the other day, my greatest motivator when it comes to making my deadline is FEAR. Fear of breaking my contract. Fear of disappointing my editor. Fear of disappointing myself. None of which happens to be an option, not in my world. And no, asking for an extension is the very last thing I’d ever want to do — seems way too diva-ish to me.

So how do I get it done?

MOST IMPORTANT: Just say no! No going out to lunch, no volunteering, no gabbing on the phone — put your foot down and protect your writing time during those all important peak productive hours. Which leads to…

Identify your peak productive hours. Some people are morning people (yeah, well, not me) while others do their best thinking in the afternoon. Whatever time works for you, make sure that’s when your butt is in that chair and your hands firmly on the keyboard.

Portable writing tools. I love my laptop, but I love my Alpha Smart more. In fact, for the first time I’m writing nearly my entire first draft on it. With a readout too small to allow any kind of real editing, I can produce pages in a fraction of the time it takes me on the computer. The results need tons of editing later, but I’ve got something to work with rather than a blank monitor (and a looming deadline) staring me in the face.

Tune out the world. I have special headphones designed for this purpose. I don’t even have to have music playing — these puppies have a noise reduction function that muffles everything. Ah, silence! Actually, though, I do sometimes write to music, channeling the emotions I’m hearing into my characters.  

Develop some good stress reducing strategies. Exercise works great for me, not only as a release but to get my brain moving — hey, it’s a muscle too. I also use quiet music and an aromatherapy eye mask I keep in the freezer for little “mini-vacations” during the day.

Reward yourself for every goal you meet. There is ALWAYS some form of chocolate in my house. Or for a special treat I’ll run out for a latte.

Let it go. Know when your manuscript is finished. In the quest for perfection there is always that temptation to keep tweaking. That’s a pitfall a lot of us fall into. If you find yourself changing contractions into full words and then back again, it’s time to let it go and hit that send button.

Start immediately on your next deadline, or you’ll find yourself sweating bullets all over again a few months hence.

Any other good tips out there for defusing that ticking bomb?

Deadlines are my friend…mostly
by Annette McCleave on November 11th, 2008
Currently working on: Outline for Book II
Mood: Optimistic

To start, a big THANK YOU to all the soldiers who’ve risked their lives for ours, both past and present.

On a good day, I love deadlines. After all, what’s not to love? When I look at my deadlines, I get an immediate sense of where I am and how much further I need to travel. A deadline keeps me on target and often fills me with warm feelings of accomplishment.

The problem is not every day is a good one. Indeed, the frequency of not-so-good days is directly proportional to the proximity of my deadline. The closer the deadline gets, the more I panic. I resort to counting out the diminishing number of hours and minutes, my heart beating like the drum of doom. And then my muse goes AWOL. She plops down in front of the TV with a big bag of Cheetos and a diet Coke and wails ‘What’s the point? We’ll never do it!’

Luckily, I’ve been there before–I know exactly how badly she behaves. So I plan ahead. I have a lovely little spreadsheet that I update hourly. It’s nothing fancy, just a simple daily calendar with two sections: Plan and Actual. Regularly checking my planned progress against my actual allows me to turn up the burner before things get out of hand. I work an extra hour or an extra-long weekend to wrestle my muse back under control.

What do I do if LIFE interferes with my schedule and panic-mode hits anyway? Get up from the computer, take a walk. Make myself another cup of java. Eat some chocolate. Or go have a nice hot shower. Some rah-rah self-talk sometimes helps, too. Basically, anything that calms me down is fair game. Panic is my personal evil villain, and I need to conquer him to finish my book on time.

How about you? Got any tools or tricks that help you reach those deadlines with your blood pressure still on the charts? Wanna share?