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.

Feeling like a dodo . . .

Do I have the time?

I’m scribbling everywhere I go and typing into the night, slapping  promise patches over plotholes:  Plant this in chapter three.  Did you use this already?  Check airline regs.  Go back and break her mirror.

I’ve written more in the last two weeks than I have in the previous two months.

It seems to be working—the words are there, thrumming in the background when I drive or work or blog.*

But I have four days to get to the end.**   And that’s not ninety-six hours of solid writing time—it’s  more like twenty-two.

This whole experiment could be another dreaded learning experience:  self-imposed deadlines are not to be shared.

But even if I have to come back Saturday and say, hey, not quite, I’ll be a lot closer to finished than I was.



But I don’t want to.

Butt in chair.  Rear in gear.



*Blogging doesn’t seem to slow me down—it takes time, but I have to come up for air once in a while.  It’s a nice breather and sometimes working on something completely different knocks something loose in my WIP.  ‘Sides, I’d miss you guys.

**Though I wrote most of the end during the baseball game Sunday.  Got a fantastic sunburn, too —  I sunscreened everyone else, and then Sunny fell down and I forgot that I work inside all day and will sizzle in the sun, brunette or no.  Janie needed my hat, so the top of my head is tender and my nose resembles a strawberry.  Thank heavens for aloe in a pump bottle.


Wondermark is a product of the genius that is David Malki !

Pirate Nuns on the Moon 2011

I met a requested deadline today—and a week early, too!

This almost makes up for missing the personal one I’d set for last Friday morning, which meant I spent the afternoon catching up instead of rewarding myself with a matinee of RED.  A strong sense of responsibility is a curse and a burden.*  

But hitting the send button on that finished piece during my lunch break today leaves me with only two forefront projects leapfrogging over each other. 

It’s like my own personal tag-team Nanowrimo.

I love National Novel Writing Month.   It’s all about discovering that you can find the time to write an amazing amount and finish a long piece of fiction.  Not to mention realizing how truly odd your subconscious mind can be as you dredge up all sorts of things from the bottom of your imagination and throw them onto the page. 

 It was during my first Nano, <cough, cough> years ago,  that I realized I could do this thing—I could write long fiction.  

Not necessarily good long fiction, Lord knows.  But that fifty-thousand seventy-four-word pile of legal pads, printouts, envelopes, and old library pocket cards had a beginning, a middle, and an end. And I hadn’t quit

I even plowed through chapter ten, when all the doubts sidle up to whisper in my ear and I become convinced that everything I’ve written up to that point is utter garbage and a worthless waste of time.

Because it doesn’t matter. Nanowrimo isn’t about getting it down right, it’s about getting it down right now.   

That’s an incredibly freeing philosophy, being allowed a truly crappy first draft that’s allowed to be an only draft.  Marketability can go hang.

You can write anything.

Pirate Nuns!  On the Moon!  Growing celery!  To fight the Evil Mutant Monks from the Asteroid Belt!  Who need celery to establish trade relations with the Gaseous Beings from Venus!

Hey . . .

Unfortunately, if I actually try to add Nano to my schedule this year, my head will implode.  But I will honor the spirit by hitting my deadlines spot on or even early, come fire, famine, floods, or Mutant Monks.

Anyone else want to take the pledge?


* But the next installment is coming along nicely, so I’m going to see RED (so to speak) this Friday night with my friend Grace.

Dredging the Shipwrecks

photo by Cecelia

I’ve got a main WIP and a Fun Side Project™ on the front burners right now, as well as the Re-Editing of First Novel.  The WIP requires research, time, and a self-imposed section deadline.  FSP™ requires time and a chapter to two chapters a week for the duration.   The Re-Editing requires a serious application of determination, time, and chocolate.    And then there’s this blog, which I’d like to update with real content at least three times a week . . .

And then there’s the kids, the library, the cat, and the husband, all of whom for inexplicable reasons would like to see me once in a while.

So, naturally, I pulled out one of my shipwrecks for review.

According to Mark Twain,*A shipwreck is a story that sets sail with full pomp, excitement, and hope, only to sink before it clears the harbor.  Some shipwrecks just need a new hull, maybe a sail or two, or a new crew** before they can continue their journey.  Some put to sea before (or after) their time.  Some got lost and need a new compass.  And some will never be seaworthy. 

Mark Twain often visited his stalled stories to see if any of them were salvageable.  One of these took several visits and, apparently, a lot of work, but it finally made it to publication. 

You might have heard of it: Tom Sawyer.

Who am I to argue with that example?***

So I dug out my favorite shipwreck, which is a sort of hard luck Danny Ocean^ in King Arthur’s Court—if King Arthur had been of Berber descent and ruled a Moorish Spain that ran on magic.  It’s also, incidentally, the MS that I was reading from when a member of my former writing group told me I was “trying too hard.”

It didn’t sink because she was right, though she was—first drafts are all about trying too hard—but because the rudder fell off around chapter five and I didn’t know how to fix  it.  To be absolutely honest, I got bored.  And when the writer is bored, the readers won’t bother.  And neither will the writer, if she’s not under contract.^^

But I do love the premise of this story and I love the first thirty pages —or did after I cut the first five.  So I go back every once in a while and read and think and edit.  Maybe write some new material or flesh out a bit of the outline.  And then let it sink back, a little higher in the water than it was .  .  .

I’m hoping that if I tinker enough, it will float someday.  But even if it doesn’t, I’m learning how to build and repair a good, solid boat .

And I got a blog post out of it, so there you go . . .


*I have the article somewhere and will cite it as soon as I can lay hands on it.

**Or a new captain, but Mark Twain didn’t mention that—because he’s freakin’ Mark Twain—and I prefer not to dwell . . .  

***”Someone under deadline who isn’t Mark freakin’ Twain.”  Point taken. 

^The original, thanks.  I enjoy the remake of Ocean’s Eleven, but the MC is more Rat Packish than Clooneyish.   If you don’t have any idea what I’m talking about, hie thee to Netflicks—you’ve got a double treat in store.

^^ When I’m reading my own stuff and I realize I’ve skipped over a paragraph, I’ve learned to circle that paragraph.  ‘Cause it obviously isn’t working.