Tag Archives: writing deadlines

Book Announcements

A bit of news to share …

After a considerable delay, THE SALUKAN GAMBIT, the sixth title in my SPACEHAWKS science-fiction adventure series previously published in paperback by Ace Books several years ago, is finally uploaded to Amazon and should be live in Kindle format in a day or so. It ties in closely to #2 in the series, CODE NAME PEREGRINE. I am considering using THE SALUKAN GAMBIT as a potential launching point for resuming the series with new adventures, but that project is still in the planning stages at this time.

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Also, my current new work in progress now has a completed rough draft. Woo hoo! I am editing it now, and will provide more specific information about it as it nears publication point. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, my summer’s writing plans went somewhat awry, so I’m especially pleased to be making progress on this project. It is entirely new material, and after spending such a long span of time bringing up my backlist to digital e-book format, something new is a welcome change that’s given my imagination a boost.

I hope each of you is likewise having success in whatever you’re working on, whether a long story or a short one, a screenplay or a novel.

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Writing Days

Summer is winding to a close. The hot days that press down on the prairie like a sizzling iron have eased to moderate temperatures, thanks to the hurricanes pounding the coasts. My brain is starting to wake up and revive from the stupor that three-digit temperatures always induce in me. (My roses feel the same way, perking up and putting on their fall flush of blooms.) Autumn in the prairie cauldron is a short-lived season, one to be seized with joy and gratitude because finally we feel revived and able to get a few things done.

Like write.

Yeah, I know that the sun is mellowing into the golden radiance that late September and October bring, the kind of light that lures me outdoors despite my best nose-to-the-grindstone intentions.

I know that it’s time to clean up the yard, clear off the patio, put away the lawn chairs, wash the windows, treat the grass, buy pumpkins and pansies, plant tulip bulbs, tarp the AC compressor and cast iron patio table, decorate for Halloween, contemplate how many Christmas trees I might put up in November, find my flannel shirts and–more importantly–my socks, and generally get ready for winter, but I need to write.

So many distractions swirling like the north wind that will soon have brown, red, and golden leaves skipping across the lawn–and yet, I need to write.

I am this close to writing the climax of my current work in progress. It was supposed to be one of two books completed this summer. Alas, that objective was not reached. My sights have lowered to the all-important task of getting this one manuscript finished. I can do it. I just have to ignore the beckoning autumn weather, park myself in my writing chair, and type those final scenes.

Back in the days when every summer was a race against the ticking clock of looming publisher deadlines, involving the writing of long, large-cast, complicated novels before my return to the university campus, I typed like a madwoman. The final days of rough drafting were crazy, nearly round-the-clock sessions of writing, eating, writing, crashing to sleep, and rising to write more. I refuse to count the number of years I spent on that particular work treadmill, and how I pushed myself to meet the challenge again and again.

This manuscript is not that complicated. There is no deadline, except the one I’ve set. I have savored the luxury of taking my time. It doesn’t mean I’m writing better. It doesn’t mean this light adventure has any depth. But I’m writing, and for this year–this summer–that is enough.

Here’s a quote from Louis L’Amour that I like: “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”

We can let ourselves freeze up from doubt, anxiety, and uncertainty. We might be facing the kind of story we’ve never done before. We might feel we don’t know what we’re doing. We might feel we’re too rusty, too untrained, or insufficiently talented to write what is filling our heart and imagination. As creative people, we can invent a dozen reasons why we shouldn’t try.

But as L’Amour says, turn on the faucet. Sit at your keyboard and type. Make your protagonist talk to someone, even if it’s the nosy little girl next door that has nothing to do with your plot outline. Type anyway, until your story sense takes over and the real scene starts to flow. You can always cut out the little girl later. Or, you might decide to keep her.

Roll with it.

Write.

Enjoy the fall weather after your writing session for the day. Whatever your daily page quota happens to be, meet it, even if some pages are too weak or inane to keep. And during the days when buying pansies beckons, reduce your page quota–if your deadline will allow–so you don’t feel guilty and you don’t miss the fun.

And, for as long as you need to write, do it.

 

 

 

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Still in the Trenches

For every writer who claims that writing nonfiction is easier than fiction, I have to say — not for me!

I am still slaving away on the countless small details of revision, proofreading, wrestling with spiny, difficult creations otherwise known as Excel, and fending off the typical bouts of self-doubt, second thoughts, and the occasional desire to run screaming into the night. But such things are typical of any book project in the closing moments before DEADLINE lands — boom — on the doorstep.

I’m hesitant to make any claims or proclamations at this stage, lest I jinx something, but I think I have only to proofread one final document file, and the entire thing will be done … as done as I can make it at this point.

My brain is fried. My eyes hurt. My shoulders burn. My dog is faithfully “helping” me by staying curled up against the computer tower beneath my desk, and I never have the heart to make him move. Therefore, my knees are aching with the need to stretch out my legs, but I don’t because the Spook believes — with all of his dear doggy heart — that he’s contributing to this project.

And so he is.

The how-to book on fantasy writing is almost done. I cannot wait to send it off and get it out of my head for the time being. I am anxious to return to fiction.

Meanwhile, regular blogs will resume soon. Just not quite yet!

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Deadline Walking

It goes without saying that holidays and writing deadlines mix as well as oil and water. Although most of the time I make some Herculean effort to avoid having any deadline hovering over the end of the year, occasionally it happens. Then, instead of shopping, decorating, or enjoying family fun, I’m hunched over my keyboard and muttering resentfully.

For much of my life, the highlight of Christmastime was the l-o-n-g drive to grandma’s house. It was only about 1,900 miles away, so after my parents worked all day we would load the car and head out about 9 p.m., driving through the night and all the next day until we got there. Then it was an explosion of good times and laughter, stoking a blazing fireplace to ward off the crisp cold of desert nights, eating T-bone steaks and delicious slabs of homemade pie or soup-bone soup with steaming hot cornbread.

Probably the worst such Christmas was when I had a tight January book deadline hanging over me. I arrived with my computer, and although I explained to my grandmother that I had to work during at least part of my visit , she was disappointed and upset every time I shut myself away to put in a few hours of writing. The only quiet place in which to work was my unheated bedroom. So I shivered, ostracized and lonely, slaving away over the next chapter while the rest of my family chatted and played games.

So–as the violins play–the point of this journey into nostalgia is that deadlines happen. We hate them. We moan about them. We sometimes resent them.

We also need them.

Why?

Because deadlines get the job done.

Writers without firm deadlines tend to procrastinate. They dream. They mull over their intended prose. They imagine a scene one way and then another. They putter. They mean to sit down and work a little, but somehow the week goes by without fingers ever tapping across that keyboard.

A long time ago, I learned that whether I have a legal, signed book contract or not, I must set deadlines if I’m to accomplish the writing tasks I’ve set for myself.

I organize backwards from the point of the contract deadline. For example, if I have a September 2014 delivery date, then I calculate the word count of my project and tabulate how many words per day or how many pages per week I have to produce.

The September deadline is what I call the hard deadline.

It’s the one I will meet. Failure is not an option for professionals. I have signed a legal contract, and my reputation is on the line.

You might be thinking that’s three-quarters of a year away. Plenty of time! Right?

Well, maybe not.

I next estimate how much time I’ll need for revision and polishing. Generally I allow four to six weeks. So a September delivery means I need to have an entire draft completed no later than the end of July. If I intend for the manuscript to be read by a trusted friend for feedback before I submit it to my editor, then I need to reduce my available writing time by two more weeks.

Now, I have a soft deadline of mid-July. I consider it soft because I’ve got some play there. I might complete a satisfactory draft earlier or I might need an extra week. But I have plenty of padding to allow for the latter situation.

Once again, I calculate how much I’ll have to produce per day.

Depending on the type of project, I may or may not have to factor in plot development time.

For example, these days I usually sell on a proposal, which means I submit a plot outline and sample chapters in order to land a contract. That way, as soon as a deal is struck and my signature is scrawled on the contract, I can start working. The entire story has already been worked out.

However, sometimes I contract for a series. In that situation, I will pitch a series concept, but the individual plots of each book may be sketchy. It depends on the editor and how familiar that individual is with my work. I’ve had book deals that specified only “a fantasy novel of 100,000 words.”

Such a deal is flattering to the ego, but it means I have to again reduce my available writing time by allowing a month for idea development and plotting. I have friends who can plot quicker than that, but I’m slow at working a story out.

Again, with more compression of actual writing time, I can devise a reasonable, realistic working quota.

Do I have a year to write a 100,000-word manuscript based on characters and a setting I’ve written about before? That gives me about 10 months of actual writing time. That’s 300 days, unless I take the weekends off. So, let’s say 280 days. The math says that I only have to write 357 words per day IF I write every single one of those 280 days. Less than two pages a day.

If I flitter off to chase rainbows or browse the local Barnes & Noble instead of writing, then the next day I’ll have to write four pages to catch up.

But if I tell myself that I have lots of time and I set no quotas, no page production demands, on myself, the days will slip by faster than I realize. Like some lotus-eater, I will lose track of time until I suddenly wake up to the hard deadline looming huge. Do I want to find myself desperately sweating to finish? No, I do not.

We each devise our own methods, our own little rituals. One writer I knew printed out his pages each day and took satisfaction in watching the manuscript grow physically in size, week by week.

Another writer friend of mine used to determine his daily page quota, then stack that number of pennies next to his computer screen. As he completed a page, he would shift a penny to the opposite side of the screen. It was a method of increasing his stamina and developing the professional discipline necessary to get jobs done.

As writers and creative types, we tend to hate knobby, unfriendly words such as discipline, production, deadline, and quota. Their connotations seem to contradict those lovely concepts of freedom, imagination, and joy.

But experience has taught me that professionalism and discipline are the harness I must put on in order to finish the stories teeming in my brain.

Even when I lack a contract, I set my own hard and soft deadlines for my writing projects.

Case in point: Currently I’m working on something that I want to show my agent. My soft deadline was to get it to him before Christmas. But the holidays arrived, and my Christmas company arrived a few days earlier than expected. I am perhaps one day’s work shy of finishing the project. It hangs, suspended and frozen, in my mind, in my computer, on my desk.

I could have shooed my guests out of the house for several hours or lined them up in front of the television like children glued to the Teletubbies program on PBS, but it was Christmas; it was a soft deadline; and New York tends to shut down this time of year.

However, all such excuses have melted like the ice that coated my world last week. If my agent has departed New York for warmer climes, so be it. The email umbilical cord remains uncut.

Another project looms now. And the more I dawdle with Project One, the less time I have to spend with Projects Two and Three.

Which means, I’m setting a new deadline for myself: Project One has to be wrapped up by Monday. That’s it. No matter how many post-Christmas sales are beckoning. No matter how much I yearn to take down the tree and put the poinsettias away. The most magical time of the year is over, and there are stories to be written.

After all, September is getting closer every minute.

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In Memoriam

Happy Memorial Day! As this weekend kicks off the summer season, and we honor our veterans and the loved ones we’ve lost, I find myself  looking back in a slightly different way.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been reading, editing, and reformatting a novel I wrote in 1992. It’s part of my campaign to put my backlist into e-books. This is the first foray of the project–my learning curve as I venture into the world of electronic publishing.

I enjoyed parts of the book and marveled at how quick my action scenes were, how tight my prose was, how strongly I created sense of place.

I also came to two or three sections of the story that made me cringe. “Lame plotting here!” I wanted to shout. Or, “What was I thinking?”

As I recall, in the early nineties I was juggling three part-time jobs in addition to writing. This particular book was #8 in a 12-book marathon of back-to-back, four-month deadlines.

Considering the circumstances in which it was written, I’m surprised to find it as tight, clean, and coherent as it is. I had to work fast and efficiently to meet those tough deadlines. There was no time to second-guess myself or indulge in extensive revision.

No, the plot’s not perfect. Yes, I would love to rewrite it and fix those spongy segments.

But I’m not going to do it. The book is what it is. I have a long backlist to address and a short summer in which to get things done. In keeping with the spirit in which the book was written, I intend to stay with my present task of smoothing out the OCR glitches and leaving the book alone, intact, as it was originally executed. A professional knows when to step back and let the book live or die in the hands of readers.

It’s also important to pause from time to time and reassess our body of work–not to agonize over little glitches and errors, not to embarrass ourselves–but instead to find reassurance in what we’ve accomplished and use that reassurance as a bridge to whatever we intend to tackle next. It helps us keep our perspective … or regain it.

***

God bless America, and all those who’ve fought to keep her free.

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Sweet Victory

Lonely writer … lucky enough to be under a deadline … but stressed because the book has stalled. It should be a simple scene to write. No dialogue subtext to agonize through. No complicated dance of too many characters in the scene. Yet there sits the writer … stuck, stuck, frustrated, and stymied.

WHY?

Deadline pressure can be an insidious force. You can tell yourself that you’re lucky enough to have a contract. You can chant the mantra of “Be glad you’re working” over and over, but when the story stalls, panic can set in. If you aren’t careful, you may find yourself struggling against the plot problem, or against the lead-footed characters who won’t move or take action, darn it! or against the antagonist who won’t say what you intended for him to say.

The more you struggle, the more stuck you seem to become, like car wheels spinning deeper into the sand. And the deadline clock tick, tick, tocks in the back of your mind, making you sweat.

Solution? Back off a little. Stop gnawing at your daily page quota for a few hours and take the pressure off your imagination. Ask yourself, what’s wrong here? Why have things stalled? What have I overlooked? What have I missed? What have I left out? What else should my characters do? Why am I bored here? If I were reading this, what would I want to happen?

Don’t force the answers. Let them come to you.

The majority of the time, we get stuck simply because we’ve made a mistake of technique or our plot has reached a soft spot in our synopsis. Our story sense has put on the brakes to help us. We should listen to it, regardless of our looming deadline.

So listen. Think. Put the writing on “pause.” Figure out the problem. The solution always is there. We just have to find it.

Often, I need to cook up a plot twist or something unpredictable to throw in, something that will fit my plot and where I want the scene to go but is unexpected and fun. It brings life back to the story. It revives my enthusiasm.

The solution arrives. You may have to rewrite a scene or two, or maybe only a couple of pages. But now you’re energized and ready to flex the writing muscle. The pages fly. The story gains speed. Your characters are on the move.

It feels sweet indeed.

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The New Book’s Coming!

For the past two weeks I’ve been working like a fury on book revisions, doing those last tweaks and polishes in an effort to get the story and characters exactly right.  And the dialogue … pesky qualifiers begone!  My latest deadline is the end of this month — eek! — and next week I resume teaching at the university — double eek! — so I’m juggling a lot at the moment.

Unpacking after the Great Move continues to wait, although I have to say I’m growing just a tad weary of Braum’s cheeseburgers and have gone as far as locating the box labeled “forks.”  That box, however, isn’t yet opened because the book comes first. 

But to get back to book information:  the title is now official.  It’s CRYSTAL BONES.  I’ve seen an early scan of the book cover, and it’s going to be eye-catching.  My twin protagonists, Diello and Cynthe, are featured in profile on a burgundy background.  The title is done in ornate letters that shine like crystal — lovely!  I can’t wait until I’m able to show it to you.

Yesterday I let the computer run word searches through the manuscript while I combed my mind for better synonyms.  It’s easy to grow careless as a writer, to fall into bad habits of weak sentence structure or overused vocabulary.  Just as I can indulge in too many cheeseburgers and chocolate milkshakes to the detriment of my waistline, so can I let my prose become flabby.  And all my whining and moaning and complaining this year about revisions means nothing now, because I’m proud of where the manuscript stands at this point.  Proud and grateful to my editor who has prodded me into creating a story that’s toned and sleek.

If only I could say the same thing about my figure!

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