Monday, June 28, 2010

Deadlines Can Kill You--Read This First!

Several of us at Novel Matters are closing in on d-e-a-d-l-i-n-e-s, deadlines! It's do or die time. My heiny aches. Self-doubt squeezes my throat. I forget to brush my teeth. Sleep? Whenever. The phone is unplugged. My dreams have turned Kafkaesque. I'm a bug scurrying over plot lines and word choices. This is NOT glamorous. But this is part of the writing life.

So how do we cope?

No matter what time I go to bed, I set the alarm for 5:30 AM. The sun is only just brightening the horizon above the Book Cliff mountains. Meadowlarks sing. The air raises goosebumps on my arms. The corn is another inch taller. I sing with my iPod or chat with Jesus. It's new. Fresh. Good. I can't write or hold a thought for the beauty in the middle of a cornfield. As my muscles get a workout, my brain is at rest.

And so, ladies of Novel Matters and fabulous readers, how
do you deal with the deadlines of your life?

Patti's selected topic for our roundtable means it's confession time for me. My secret is out: I've never had to deal with deadline crunch before. My first novel published by NavPress, Every Good & Perfect Gift, was already completed when I signed the contract, so there was no deadline issue there. The edits, thankfully, were minor, so that wasn't an issue either. My second book with Nav, Lying on Sunday, was finished a bit ahead of deadline, but again, that book was the second book in a two-book contract, and was half written when I signed the contract. So it was easy to finish it on time. The only deadline issues I've ever had came with the final edits for Lying on Sunday. They were due shortly after the death of our son Brian. Nav graciously extended that deadline, which I was able to meet. Call me crazy, but I'd like to experience that deadline crunch one of these days. After all, it's a right of passage for an author, right?

And speaking of Call Me Crazy, have any of you heard the new song by that title on Mercy Me's new CD
The Generous Mr. Lovewell? I love it. It's a great CD.

Latayne here. I've had writing deadlines -- books, articles, Webzine research for a large site and dissertation-- for 35 years now. Done several all-nighters in a row at special request when someone else has dropped the ball for an assignment, which is why I have an earned reputation for never, ever missing a deadline commitment. Got a system. Here are the essentials:


Dry roasted almonds and other non-sticky foods in a container with a hand-sized opening and no individual wrapping.

Takeout food. Those which can be eaten with one hand while scrolling down (fried chicken, taquitos, for instance) or even better, consumed through a straw.


No gum because I will forget I have it in my mouth and chew it till my jaws clench, or gasp and choke on it, or put it in between note cards for my WIP because the dog is between me and the trash can. Or he has turned over the trash can.

All liquids on the desk have a lid. Because I dance with the upper part of my body when it's really, really good.

To-do lists for my husband that keep him away from the house and involve no tools whatsoever for any reason. He requires that all lists be printed because he can’t read my handwriting otherwise. Also, sticky notes and duct tape on light switches: handwritten bloody oaths against anyone who turns on a ceiling fan in a room where I have note cards spread out. (Or who puts any foreign object on my desk or the piles of paper surrounding it.) And their little dog too.

Coffee with cream.

A folding screen between me and the door to my office. So people don't say hi. No matter who they are.

Some notes to self: Feed dog. Cut fingernails. (You can tell how close I am to a deadline by the length of my nails.) Look in the mirror at least once every other day.

Latayne, I can picture you there, screened in, sipping hot coffee through a straw, muttering bloody oaths while you hunch over a keyboard. There is something so YOU about that kind of genius. And the end result is magic.

Well, I'm glad Sharon kicked off the true confessions, because I have one too. I'm crazy. No, no. I mean it. Stop smiling knowingly over your coffee mug. I'm honestly nutso. When it comes to deadlines.

I love them.

Who but a deadline loving crazy person would enter university with a one year old and a three year old at home, while holding down a part time job, and while the hubby is working three (count 'em) three jobs while we refused to use daycare. I wrote paper after paper while raising kids, turning in newspaper articles (my part time job), and sleeping on my feet. I changed diapers while jotting notes for a paper on the role of the CIA in the Iran hostage crisis of 1979 (took a history class for fun). I dozed off a few times while writing a paper entitled The Role of Automatic Thoughts in Aaron Beck's Cognitive Therapy. Pushed my little girl on the swing and in between pushes I composed a paper on Keats using his voice and style (and in the same count as Autumn). Never missed a deadline.

When I started writing for publication and began working with an editor, I applied the same motto to that work as I did to university: Pull up your big girl britches and get it done. It's amazing what you can accomplish when you simply give yourself no other option. Also, when I was finished I resembled a little piece of poop, dangling from the end of a stick.

Like I said, crazy.

I'm with you on the gum, Latayne. I gave up gum several years ago when my TMJ (turbo-muscular...jaw pain) got the better of me due to deadlines & stress in general. I miss it - gum that is. Bazooka and Juicy Fruit, in particular.

The closer I get to a deadline, the earlier I get up and go to bed. It's hard to go to bed before sundown, but I've done it. I've found that early morning is my most productive time to write. Since I have a full-time job, I use vacations and holidays and mornings and lunchtimes and occasionally I write a bit at night between dinner and falling asleep on the couch. Once I dozed off with a glass of water in my hand and it slid out of my grip and dumped into my lap. Luckily, it missed my laptop.

Mornings, it's coffee. For the rest of the day, it's iced tea. If I'm desperate, Doublestuff Oreos and milk, dunked to perfection, but not soggy to the point of decomposing. Sugar is key.

My husband keeps a photo above his desk that he won't let me burn. (And no, I won't show it to you!)

It's me, just before I turned in To Dance in the Desert. I hadn't slept properly in weeks, or exercised, or had a haircut or even bothered to blow dry after washing. I'd been subsisting for months on Hot Pockets (because I could hold them in one hand).

The wonderful thing about my husband is that he thinks I'm beautiful in that picture. I'm not. I'm exhausted and sick and inclined to scratch the face of anyone who interrupts me. It's a scene out of The Exorcist. And all for nobody's deadline but my own. I'd told the editor who had expressed interest in Dance to expect it on a certain date, just to force myself to get it done.

I'd lost two weeks of writing time because of a medical crisis.

But I did get it done.

When I wrote
The Feast of Saint Bertie, I determined to find a better way. I cooked big pans of chicken breasts on Sundays and made meals of them for the rest of the week. I took walks around my local lake every morning no matter what. Haircuts were still optional. Sleep? Well it was less optional than it was when I wrote Dance. There was no sense gaining time that I would lose later because I made myself sick.

Sharon, you'll get your crazy wish. Just you wait, my pretty.


Ariel Allison Lawhon said...

They are called "deadlines" for a reason you know. From the Random House website:

"The word deadline first appeared as an American coinage that referred to the line around a military prison beyond which soldiers were authorized to shoot escaping prisoners. According to Lossing's History of the Civil War (1868): "Seventeen feet from the inner stockade was the 'dead-line', over which no man could pass and live." This use is also found in Congressional records as early as 1864: "The 'dead line', beyond which the prisoners are not allowed to pass." The citations for this use dry up at the end of the 19th century."

My own experience with deadlines is funny - now that it's over. I was given the edits on my first novel a few days before I gave birth to our fourth son. I spent the next three weeks locked in our bedroom (my mother handled the other three kids) nursing a baby and typing with one hand. It's the only time I've ever missed a deadline - by six hours. My editor forgave me considering the circumstances.

Patti Hill said...

Ariel, thanks for the history lesson. Yes, that pretty well sums up what it feels like to inch toward the 17' mark.

What a lovely way to miss a deadline, surely a win-win proposition.

Steve G said...

Pattie - the sky lightens before 4 a.m. here (and you can still see it in the sky past 11 p.m.).

Sharon - I have been advocating for Bonnie to do one book at a time - write it, then try to sell it.

Latayne - I don't drink coffee, so I have to do Pepsi. I think the notes for your husband is a good idea. It gives him a defense if there wasn't a note...

Lovely - You may love deadlines, but they don't love you. I still think one book finished, then sell is the way to go, unless the contract says 2011ish.

Debbie - I am with you on the sugar and changing bedtimes/awake times. It's hard to make the adjust with wee ones in the house, though.

Katy - I like your second route over the first. Kudos to the forethought of that. Your man has his head screwed on straight, too.

When push comes to shove, I get laughing and the old brain shuts down. Bonnie thinks it's funny, but it certainly isn't pretty.

I always try to remember that deadlines are just events - there is a bigger picture to which they are part of. So you put up with having to do the hard stuff because you only pass this way once; so why not put 110% of effort into it.

Word verification - stingk: What you get when you cross a porcupine with a skunk

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Wow. Beginning to see the truth of the saying, "Be careful what you wish for."

I'm a little scared and very much in awe. What's all this about full-time jobs and small children? (and a newborn, for goodness sake Ariel!) You mean you all have other things to do apart from write all day?! (LOL)

Not sure whether to feel depressed or inspired. I think I'm going to go with inspired...

Cindy R. Wilson said...

I must be crazy--I love deadlines. In fact, I'm looking forward to my first writing deadline (whenever that turns out to be) even though I know nothing is ever as you expect it to be. I love how you all deal with deadlines differently but effectively. I love that God makes us all unique enough to encourage everyone out there who does things just a little different. Thanks for the post, ladies!

I, Flavia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lori Benton said...

Steve, I really like your idea of write a novel, then try to sell it. I'm curious if you (all of you, any of you?) know how often publishers will accept this way of going about things? For instance, say a publisher contracts you for a book, but wants to make that a 2 or 3 book contract. How often will they accept an author's counter offer of "You can publish this book and I'll show you another when it's done?" Or something like that. How would you handle this situation? Should you handle this situation? Is this a situation that only exists in my (and maybe Steve's) dreams?:)

Bonnie Grove said...

Lori: It's a great question, one that has variable answers.
The notion of only selling a novel after it is written is a great idea, but the publishing industry - and I'm thinking of CBA in particular - is an assembly line of products that need to reach the market place at a certain time. Variations in that assembly line are possible, and indeed happen, but at a cost to publishers. For the most part, the expectation is a novel a year. And unless you are a bestseller (and there are very, very few of those in CBA), you will, most likely, be expected to maintain a novel a year. That's if you can get a contract for another novel after your first one comes out.
And, if that contract comes to fruition.
In the past year, due to the shifts in market, economy, and other factors, tons of CBA authors writing under contract have found themselves let go - dropped.
It's not pleasant to talk about, but its fact and it's better for a writer to be able to face the facts about the publishing industry from the beginning. It helps us know if writing for publication is honestly something we need to be doing, or if there is a different calling we should fulfill.

There is a tendency to gloss over hard truths in the CBA simply because the industry has the word Christian attached to it.
As writers, we need to know the truth about how difficult this business is in order to not just survive it, but to thrive.

Bonnie Grove said...

Lori: Another thought about your question - One of the many benefits to having an agent is that the writer can present this question to someone who is intimate with the writers specific answers.
The best advice found on a blog (even an great blog like this one.. heh heh) is general.
Talking to your agent (and I know you have a good one!) will get the writer to the bottom of her specific answers - the ones that pertain to her particular publishing journey.
All six of us on Novel Matters have had diverse experiences. No two even close to the same.
An agent who loves your writing and stays close to you and your work is the best source to run to with these questions.
(It was an excellent question!)

Lori Benton said...

Bonnie, I felt a little bad after asking that question, as I know there's no definitive answer for everyone, and every situation has its own unique aspects (and every writer must work out her own publication with fear and trembling [kidding... kidding]). I don't have any burning questions on the subject, it's just one that catches my interest when I see it raised. Guess I'm always alert to possible changes, development, etc.