The Deadline Learning Experience™

My personal deadline for finishing Pigeon has passed. 

 I do not have a completely typed draft.

I didn’t make it.  I’m not done.  I didn’t get to spend my birthday watching Doctor Eleven or the third season of Leverage.

But as usual, I did learn some stuff along the way:

One—  I edit as I go.  Perhaps it’s the OCD in me, but I spent a considerable amount of writing time this past month re-writing what I’d just written, squaring it away before I could bring myself to go on. And even though I didn’t get the whole draft completely done, I think I’m comfortable with that.  It’s just how I roll.

Two—  This isn’t a huge surprise, nor unique, but I spend waaaay too much time checking e-mail, my feed readers, YouTube, etc., when I should be working.  I’ve just downloaded the Freedom program that Victoria Strauss recommends, and I’m going to use it until I’ve typed everything up. 

Three—  Setting a personal deadline is just begging the universe to send me exciting little story ideas to distract me from my goal.  Sometimes I can ignore them.  Sometimes I have to pin them down on paper to make them shut up.  But I can stay focused.

Four—   Having said all this, breaks are essential for me.  I know, or know of, a few writers who claim that they can lock themselves in a room over a long weekend and come out Sunday night with a novel.  But the limit of my productive, consecutive writing time seems to be around four hours.  At that point, I need to stop and stretch, or my imagination cramps up and I end up wasting even more time.

Yesterday, after going at it from 7am to noon, I lost traction and started writing my own version of Dick and Jane Develop Aphasia.  Despite my stubborn protests that I had seven chapters to finish before midnight, my husband convinced me to take a break.  We split a pizza and ate it on the floor while watching the latest Star Trek movie, which I hadn’t seen, yet.*  I felt guilty about it, but only until Leonard McCoy showed up.

And afterwards, I completed one chapter and got a good start on another before the kids came home.  After another break—for Chinese food, birthday pumpkin pie,** and presents—I completed that night.  I didn’t manage seven—but what I did finish wasn’t total crap, or so my First Reader assures me.

Five—  Two hours after midnight, maximum, and I’m useless.  My fingers go numb, my brain misfires, and I doze off, only to find a page filled with ‘g’s and ‘h’s, all touch-typed by my nose, which has an admirable work ethic, but never learned to spell.    Likewise, there is a point where trading diet Pepsi for sleep produces a negative and somewhat surreal return.  Shocking, but true.

Six—  I wrote three times as much under this deadline as I had in the previous month.  So deadlines are a good thing . . .  with some tweaking.

And Seven—  Support, not to mention a certain amount ofconstructive nagging,   is essential.   Thanks to everyone who cheered me on and told me to stop replying to their comments and e-mails of support, already, and get it done.  Without you, I wouldn’t have made it as far as I did. 


So, I don’t have a complete draft of Pigeon.

But I’m not ashamed.

Because what I do have are twenty-two typed chapters and the raw wordage to finish the rest, scattered over three notebooks, a couple of envelopes and several e-mail drafts.  It’s all there—I scribbled the final piece at Janie’s softball game this morning and assembled my notes this afternoon.

And a learning experience™ that’s going to help me the next time.

This may not count as a win—but it still counts.


*Resisted seeing, actually.  And okay, I’ll admit, it’s good. It’s a little more slap-sticky than I’d like, and it still seems wrong that no one on Earth tried to attack that drill, no matter how powerful the bad guys’ futuristic equipment was—because desperate and futile heroics are the true essence of humanity, as was clearly shown in Independence Day—but I thought it was going to be Star Trek 90120, and it wasn’t.  Plus, you know, Karl Urban.

**I love pumpkin pie.  I love pumpkin everything.

17 thoughts on “The Deadline Learning Experience™

  1. I think part of this whole thing is figuring out how we do roll in the writing game and it sounds like you have done that really well – in spades – you may need to change your gravatar to the Queen of Spades.( Then again, we call that the Big Baddie over here (Crazy 8s) so maybe not.)

    I disagree with “I didn’t make it.” You ARE making it.

    Good work Sarah!

    (ps I have a fab recipe for pumpkin bread/muffins from my sis which I will email you at some point.)

  2. Those are fantastic lessons. I blew my own personal deadline back in September and I took nowhere near the lesson-learnin from it that you did. Thanks for articulating it all here. You know. In an articulate kinda way.

    I’m gonna take what you’ve said here to heart and set personal deadline 2.0

    Happy birthday! Hell yeah OCD! and “Numbtongue? Whattaya mean Numbtongue?” to you.

    PS. I thought the new star trek bad guy was the worst. bad guy. ever. I wouldn’t kick Eric Bana out of bed for eating crackers, mind, but the character, he make no sense.

    • Articulate? Me? Wow, it was a learning experience!

      Loved numbtongue, but the hands were a tad cartoony for me. “Pshhht!” “Stop it!” “Pshhht!” “Thtop it!” “Pshhht!” “Argh,argh!” 😀

      Eric Bana does leashed crazy very well, but he was doing anacronistic leashed crazy (pun intended) and it just didn’t gel: “Hi, Christopher.” Um, what?

  3. Sarah,

    Happy Birthday!! What a present to give yourself. You got a little closer to knowing how you work, what’s effective, what’s not, and how to do it while still watching the Star Trek movie, which I loved.

    Oh, and for you, a quick and easy version of pumpkin-chocolate chip muffins:

    1 (18.25) spice cake mix
    1 (15 oz.) canned pumpkin
    2 eggs
    bag of chocolate chips

    Preheat oven to 350. Place paper liners in muffin tin. In a large bowl mix spice cake mix, canned pumpkin and eggs. Add chocolate chips. Fill cups 2/3 full. Bake 20-25 minutes.

    So easy, and by calling them muffins, it makes these a perfectly acceptable breakfast food. Happy Birthday to you!!

  4. first, happy birthday. even though i’ve never seen you in person, i feel pretty confident that i can say you look terrific!

    second, thank you lyra for the recipe. i too love pumpkin stuff.

    three (third doesn’t sit right with me) art does not play well with deadlines. keep creating. we’ll keep reading.

    • Thank you, amy! I plead the fifth on my general appearance — today I don’t look a day over ninety-seven . . .

      I made the muffins this morning! They are amazing! And the kitchen smelled wonderful.

      You may have something there: goals are encouraging, deadlines are panic-driven. Which works better for me? Hmmm.

  5. Knowing when you need to take a break and then taking it is one of the great skills of all time. One of which I need to remind myself occasionally. When I’m up after midnight, I often think that sleep is overrated. Then when it’s time to get up and drag myself off to work, I think there’s no finer pastime in the world. Keep plugging away. I can’t wait to read the finished product!

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