Gazelle Intensity

I almost can’t believe it, but I met four deadlines last month! I don’t think I’ve ever done that in my writing life. Maybe the only time I’ve accomplished so much in such a short space of time is for school/college. But the point is – I did it.

What I learned from that experience is that I can do more than I think I can. Past experience may tell me that I can’t – until I make an experience that tells me I can. What I have to be careful of is thinking I can always get this much work done. It would be foolish of me to think I can work 10-16 hours a day, six days a week, for an infinite amount of time. For one thing, there is no time for friends or family, little time for exercise or healthy habits, and almost no time for fun.

However, last month I reminded myself that I can work very intensely and accomplish a lot in short bursts. Life is a marathon, and the writing life is a marathon, but sprints are useful and appropriate. (In my half marathon training, I use short sprints in training.)

John and I are participating in Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, a money management course designed to get you out of debt and keep you out forever. In one of the lessons, Dave shows a video of a leopard chasing a gazelle. Even though the leopard can run faster than the gazelle, the gazelle got away! Why? Because the gazelle could make quick leaps out of the leopard’s path faster than he could move to intercept. The gazelle only has to keep this up for a short intense period until the leopard gives up and looks for easier prey.

Dave suggests we use this method to get out of debt. A short, intense burst of effort to pay off everything from credit cards to student loans to the balance on your mortgage. I listen to his radio podcast and people call in saying they’ve just paid off their last debt. Dave asks them how much they paid off and how long it took, then they give their debt free scream. It’s very inspiring! People are getting out of debt to the tune of $20,000 to $158,000 (that I’ve heard) in 12-48 months. John and I will be right in that range, and it’s exciting to know it can be done.

That’s what I learned last month with my writing deadlines. I focused like I have rarely focused before on one project, then another, then another, then another. And I got them all done, on time. I had hoped that on November 2, I would be able to sleep in, read a little, take a deep breath, and go back to a more relaxed lifestyle. But I still have four more time-sensitive projects to finish. At first, that made me feel super tired just thinking about it. Then I remembered the gazelle intensity speech.

I can’t keep up this pace forever, but I can do it for four more weeks. As one friend reminded me on November 2 when I was trying to figure out if I could do all this, I can’t “catch up” on everything that didn’t get done over the last year. But I can pick the most important things to finish now, and re-schedule my other goals for 2013.

National Novel Writing Month is about gazelle intensity. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world are finding it can work for their writing life. But it works in every area of life. What do you really need to get done? Not just urgent things, but important things. Piles of paperwork? Haphazard, overcrowded home? Behind in something you could finish if you just really applied yourself for a few weeks?

Think about it and decide what you’re going to do about it. In the end, you’ll not only have accomplished something wonderful, and maybe done something about those monkeys on your back, but you’ll find pleasure in your own personal growth as self-discipline blooms in your life.

I’m nervous about failure, about exhaustion, about missing out on fun things other people are doing, but last month I proved that it can be done! So I’m going to keep it up for another month. See you at the finish line!

[Note: If you want more encouragement and direction in planning your goals for 2013, join me for my online class Going the Distance: Goal Setting and Time Management for the Writer. Here’s to a fabulous and productive new year!]

Anatomy of a Deadline

This year, my blog here is going to be all about self-publishing but in the context of being a writer first. As a writer, I’m interested in any opportunity where I get to write stories that make me happy and where readers are going to find and enjoy them. With that in mind, I’ve just submitted a short story to an anthology. Yay!

The good news is that I made the deadline with a half hour to go. LOL!

The rough part was the 48 hours before that deadline.

Oh. My. Gosh. What was I thinking? I quickly got to that point where I was sure I not only sucked as a writer, but was completely delusional as a human being. Why, oh why, had I ever quit accounting?

I’d had the idea to take the discarded beginning of my superhero novel and create a short story about how the couple met. I thought it would be fun and I could put it on my web site for free to introduce readers to the characters. That way, when the novel came out, there would already be readers waiting.

But it had been longer than I thought since I last looked at that beginning. When I was ready to start working on it, in fact, I found two totally different beginnings. Hmm, right. I remember now. Some books have a dozen beginnings before you figure out what the heck you’re trying to do.

No worries. I’ll take the best sections from these two and craft a short story out of them.

Um…except I’ve never really written a short story. I’m a novel girl.

Yeah, I started this whole thing grass-backwards.

So. It’s 48 hours before the deadline. I think I’ve got a pretty good version ready to polish. I sit my butt in the chair at the beginning of the day and find an email from a writer friend with an awesome checklist for polishing. I write her back and tell her I love her. I open my file and start working.

I see something that doesn’t work. It needs to be changed and I have an idea on how to improve it. Ooo, I like it. But I have to go change this other thing to work with the improvement. Hmm, which means this other thing doesn’t work.

I knock my head against the wall and my husband tells me he believes in me. I try again. This sucks. It still doesn’t work. This really sucks. Maybe I should just let this deadline pass me by. The anthology is a fundraiser for my chapter so I won’t make any money (which means I’m not losing any by backing out), and no one is counting on my name to sell books so it won’t hurt the chapter if I’m not there.

I open my email again (because that’s what you do when your writing freaks you out) and find a couple emails from other chapter mates who are also racing toward the deadline. I decide not to give up yet.

I make some other changes. There are still problems. I wander out to the kitchen to find something healthy to snack on. I eat almonds instead of chocolate. John tells me again that I rock and I can do it. I promise him gratitude sex when this is all over. He tells me I really rock.

I keep trying. The next day I find several things that really have to be done before I start writing again. Really. Very important. Trust me.

After a few hours, I ask John if we can switch computers so I can change positions. My butt hurts. I take the laptop to the couch near the fireplace. Apparently the change has shaken something free in my brain. I realize the broken sections need to be deleted not fixed.

A few years ago I found a way to delete stuff that didn’t cause me heart palpitations – a new document called “Deleted Stuff.” Yeah, baby. Over the next few hours I deleted one third of the story. Wow. Then I read it again. I’m a genius.

It’s 8pm and the deadline is at midnight. I’m freakin’ exhausted. But it’s not done, and now I’m committed.

It’s 10:30pm and I’m no longer terrified of what my friends will think when they read this. But it’s not perfect. Keep working.

It’s 11:15pm and John asks me if I’m awake. My eyes are open, but he thinks I’ve learned a new skill. I finish the final read without moving anything but my mouse finger and my eyelids. I move to the other computer and re-read the submission guidelines and attach the document to the email.

I hit Send.

And I tell myself that when I get some sleep, I’m going to feel pretty darn good about myself.

The Method of Finishing

Before I get started with my blog this week I just have to talk about WriteOnCon! Were you one of the 11,000 attendees of this grassroots conference?!?

WriteOnCon was the first annual online kidlit conference held Aug 10-12, hosted by a group of authors who met online. Even if you don’t write kidlit or YA you will find some great advice in the archives. Warning! You may spend HOURS at the site. There is so much—articles, vlogs, live chat transcripts, and even critique forums.

Check it out—this may be a game changer in the conference circuit. Search for Nightly Recap for easy links to each session. There are too many good ones, for example:

Give Yourself Permission by editor Molly O’Neill

Writing Realistic, Captivating Dialog by author Tom Leveen

The First Five Pages by Kathleen Ortiz (3 part series, part 2, part 3)

How to Make a Character Collage by author Tera Lynn Childs

Sigh. Okay, gotta clear my head—suffering from information overload. But so good.

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Our topic this month is revision and finishing. Last week, I talked about the Mindset of Finishing. How the mental drive to finish your work comes from these four areas: concentration, confidence, control, and commitment. Very similar to the mindset of an athlete.

Now that we’ve got our brains straight, it’s on to the physicality of writing. The Method of Finishing. Maybe more than anything else, the routine of finishing is the most important writer’s routine. ‘cause if you don’t finish….

How many ways can you finish a novel? I thought up two categories: deadline and plan.

1. Deadline: Determine your end date. Once you are on contract, your publisher will do this for you. So, for us aspiring folks, we’ve got to set our own deadlines. If necessary, use a critique or accountability partner to hold your hands to the keyboard. And, of course, expect to do more work in the final days leading up to the deadline. You’ll procrastinate—you know you will.

  • Seasonal—This summer I set a goal of editing a shorter middle-grade novel I had written a few years ago. My deadline was the start of school—met it! I’m kind of liking this school schedule (just makes it easier to be on same schedule as my kids), so my next project is set to end before Christmas break.
  • Set a date—Practice for when you do get that contract. Throw down your own gauntlet and challenge yourself to a due date. Work backwards from that date to mark when you want to hit certain milestones.
  • Aim for a conference/contest—Determine to have your book ready for a critique or contest entry. This method gives you a little extra purpose because you can then “turn it in.”

2. Plan. I should call this the plug-along plan. Step by step? Day by day?

  • Chapter a day. No pressure way: Keep track on your calendar when you complete a chapter. More pressure way: Write the chapters on the calendar first.
  • Number of pages per day. (See above, but with pages instead of chapters)
  • Checklist (plot line, character arc, descriptions, tension…). Sometimes when you are editing you just need to focus on one skill at a time. Break out the topics you want to hit and systematically work your way through. Write the list on paper so you can cross it off!

What did I miss? Any other good tips on finishing?

http://twitter.com/ShonnaSlayton

Author Crush Month – Janet Scott Batchler

My author crush on Janet Scott Batchler began in 1999 when she and her husband Lee taught one of the classes in my screenwriting program. That was hands-down the best writing class I have ever taken! (And I’ve taken some good ones!) Since then, I’ve come to know Jan as a fellow writer and a friend. One of the things that sticks with me after every conversation is what consummate professionals Jan and Lee are – no matter what is happening in their lives, they work. They meet their deadlines. Between the great things I’ve learned from them, the wonderful examples they are (as writers and as human beings), and the quality of writing they produce, it’s no wonder I have an author crush!

Batman Forever

ON PROCRASTINATION AND DEADLINES
by Janet Scott Batchler

I hate to write.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love having written.  It’s the actual sitting down to write that I hate.

This is a blog about “routines for writers,” after all.  And as I think it through, I realize one of the most crucial parts of my routine is the procrastination that leads up to forcing myself to sit down on my chaise lounge with my computer on my lap and open up Final Draft (I’m a screenwriter, so…), and make myself write.

(The chaise lounge is, by the way, another part of my routine.  I work at my desk.  I write sitting on my chaise lounge.  Something about sitting with my legs stretched out, computer on lap, makes the imaginative part of my brain wake up and say, “Oh, is it time to write?”  Maybe it remembers sitting on my bed writing bad poetry as a teenager…)

Procrastination is, I have come to believe, an important part of the writing process.  It’s the equivalent of simmering a pot of chili.  You can make “speed chili,” sure — brown the meat, toss in the spices and tomatoes and hurry it up and get it in the bowls.  But it’s not as good as chili that’s been simmered for a few hours.

While I am procrastinating, I am ever aware that I should be writing.  My writing for the day is on my to-do list, haunting me every time I cross off something else instead.  And “haunting” is exactly the right word.  Because as I run errands or make phone calls or balance my checkbook or pay my bills or do my laundry, I am always, always cognizant of the fact that, while I may be doing something worthy of my time, I am definitely not writing.

That doesn’t mean my mind isn’t at work on the script, though.  You may have heard of the “Bed, Bath, Bus” theory of creativity.  In essence, it says that our best ideas often come while we’re doing something else, something routine (like waking up… like taking a shower… like driving to pick up the kids from school), something that doesn’t fully use our minds.  Archimedes, Einstein, and other people with far more creative minds than I are often cited as those who made great “Bed, Bath, Bus” discoveries.

And I find it works for me, as well.  While I’m folding laundry, and driving around town, somehow part of my mind starts working on that plot problem I can’t solve, that passage of dialogue that hasn’t felt real yet.  It gets to be like an itch.  I have very dry skin, so I deal with itchiness a lot.  And if I’m sitting, say, in church, I probably don’t want to reach around and start scratching my back in public.  Yet at a certain point, I can’t stand not to.  That’s the way it is with procrastination.  I don’t want to write.  Yet the time comes when I can’t stand not to.

Now, we all know people who procrastinate forever, who never get the thing done.  I once had a friend who came to Los Angeles to write screenplays, and left, grouchy, after six years, feeling that he had been horribly mistreated by Hollywood… yet in in those six years, he hadn’t finished one script.  Oops.

That’s why we need deadlines!  I could play computer games or bounce around Facebook all day, if I let myself.  But if I know that a script is due to the studio in three weeks (better yet, three days), and if I know that I’m not going to get paid unless I deliver, all that goofing off is simply not gonna happen.  I will push myself past the procrastination, pull out everything that’s been simmering on the back burner of my mind, and force myself to write write write.

But as writers, we don’t always (or even often) have the wonderful pressure of an externally-imposed deadline hovering over us.  And let’s face it, those internally-imposed deadlines get so mushy (“I’m going to write for three hours/10 pages/2000 words a day… Really!”).

That’s why part of my writing routine — a necessary, non-optional part — is my writers group.  Every two weeks, nine or ten of us sit down to read each other’s work, to praise it (when appropriate), to slam it (when necessary), to brainstorm and critique and encourage.  I take delivery of pages to my writers group as seriously as delivery to the folks who pay me, because I know how important it is.  I need the outside eyes to show me where I’ve screwed up, where I was confusing, where I did something great and didn’t even realize it.  I need their ideas and support in figuring out how to fix the problems.  I need the little happy faces and check marks they draw on my script when a line really works.

And I need the deadline.  I need to know that on Thursday night, I must deliver my pages to those ten people.  Knowing that I must deliver means that by Monday or Tuesday, procrastination, as important as it may have been to my creative mind, simply won’t do.  And I start to write.

And at the end of it all, I have that truly wonderful feeling:  The feeling of having written.

Let your mind wander.  Find someone to give you a deadline.  And get into a writers group.

Happy writing!

Janet Scott Batchler is the writer (with her partner Lee Batchler) of SMOKE AND MIRRORS, BATMAN FOREVER (the number one box office feature  for 1995), and MY NAME IS MODESTY, among many other projects. She is also a writing professor at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, and a director. Currently, the Batchlers are writing ALPHA for Paramount Pictures, a fast-paced adventure about a team of military working dogs and their trainers. In addition, the Batchlers have just delivered to Davis Entertainment at Fox their most recent script, POMPEII, an epic drama telling the famous story of the volcanic destruction of the city. Jan is also the author of a book of prognostications, What Will Harry Do? The Unofficial Guide to Payoffs and Possibilities in Book 7, published before Deathly Hallows was released. Read her musings on writing, movies, faith, art, parenthood and more on her blog.

YIKES! I HAVE A DEADLINE! NOW WHAT? A Guest Blog by Charlene Sands

It’s your first sale or maybe your tenth sale … it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you have a part-time job outside of writing, a husband, one child who plays baseball, one in ballet and friends who’d like to see you once in awhile. They all need attention and it’s up to you to fit it all in.

If the above scenario sounds familiar, it’s because most romance writers don’t have the luxury of only writing. They have lives! I’ve been there, done that and have pulled my hair out a few times, trying to stretch my time. After writing 25 books and being on deadlines, I’ve learned a few things along the way. I will gladly TREAT you to my TRICKS. (Pun intended)

Know Your Limitations: Many of us think we can do it all. It’s a noble notion, but not realistic. If you do have the above scenario with children, husband, family issues and outside work, you have to acknowledge what you are honestly capable of achieving.  Are you a fast writer or one who takes it a little slower? If it takes you six months or a year to finish a story with all the other “life factors” then that’s where you stand.  Period.

I once took on two deadlines at the same time with Christmas approaching. Needless to say, I’ll never do that again. The stress needle went way up and I wound up not having a good holiday due to unrealistic goals.  I know I’m comfortable writing one chapter a week. I usually write 3 to 5 pages a day. Taking on that double deadline, meant having to greatly increase my writing capacity and each night I’d feel deflated if I didn’t achieve that expectation and drained if I did.

Pace yourself and know that life is full of unexpected occurrences that will hinder your writing time. Just expect some wrenches thrown into your well-laid plans.

Be Disciplined: The truth is, all of us can become more disciplined by following certain rules.  First, set realistic goals for yourself.  If you know you have a jam-packed day and you won’t get any writing done, then so be it. But on those days that you have pockets of time, use that time well. Make short-term daily goals and long-range goals.

Make sure your writing takes precedence over everything but family.

Being disciplined means avoiding distractions like playing on the Internet.  Quickly scan or delete emails you know are time-sappers. Really, you’re looking for emails from your editor, agent, or work-related topics like promotion opportunities.  If you want to schmooze with friends and forward fun messages, wait until later at night or when you’ve caught up with your work and have achieved your daily goals.

Being disciplined means saying “no” to friends. Because we work from home, our friends seem to think we are available. One very savvy author had a message on her telephone voicemail that politely reminded that she’s working and to call back after 1 PM.   That way, at least she got her writing in for the day, before she was deluged with calls and invitations.

On those days when you really need to have a “girls” day with your friends, find a time to make up for it.  I PAY for my summer beach days, by getting up extra early to write my pages or staying up later at night.  It’s a must. If you fall behind on your deadline, well, it’s not pretty and no one likes to play catch-up.

My children are grown now, but I did write while they were at home.  I found time for chores, like housekeeping, shopping, paying bills, when they were off with friends or doing homework.  When they were actually in school, those hours were precious to me. I remember the day flying by, and when I looked at the clock it was time to pick them up! There were days when I’d have the luxury of six hours of writing time in a quiet house devoid of distractions.

Sneaky Ways To Get More Writing In: I never waste a minute yet I’m not a slave to my story. Most of the time I can’t wait to get back to it. Here’s a few sneaky things that I do that might work for you.

Keep your manuscript easily accessible on your computer screen so at a moment’s notice you can pull up your work.

If you wake up earlier than usual, head to the computer even if it’s just to edit the pages from the day before.

While your dinner is cooking even if you only have twenty minutes, head to the computer.  Be sure to set the timer though!

Carry a small notebook when on driving trips or waiting for your children after school. Outline your next chapter or make notes on character development or conjure up your next proposal for your editor.

Instead of watching a repeat of your favorite TV show, use that hour to get some pages written.

Use small blocks of time to edit or write a paragraph or two. If you find yourself waiting for your children or for your friend to pick you up, those extra ten minutes at the computer are valuable and instead of pacing impatiently, the time will speed by.  You’d be surprised how much these snippets of time add up.  You might get another page or two written in one day!

Save Up For A Rainy Day: It’s true that “life happens” and it usually occurs at the most inopportune time.  Keeping yourself one step ahead of your deadline will insure no hair-pulling days.  If you get sick, or you’re offered tickets to an awesome concert you’re dying to see, or if you have car trouble, all those interruptions whether good or bad, can be managed if you know you can afford the time.  You won’t panic and you won’t be riddled with guilt. You’ve saved up for that rainy day. You’re twenty pages ahead of schedule. You can afford to take a day off to deal with anything that comes up, preferably something fun!

Charlene Sands is an award-winning author of contemporary and western romances. Her November Desire, Do Not Disturb Until Christmas is a RT Magazine Top Pick and is available now. Visit her website at www.charlenesands.com and enter her Suite Secrets Contest.

Give me a Deadline, Please

No matter the routine, no matter the schedule, I need deadlines to get things done. Similar to what Kitty said in an earlier blog, it must be all the years of trying to meet school deadlines. When I’m under a deadline (real, or self-imposed) I suddenly find more time to write and I’m more focused in my writing. Time management becomes less of an issue.

In University I had an oversized semester calandar tacked to my wall. It showed four months at a time and I could easily plot all my assignments–especially those term papers. I still use a basic calendar to plot all my family and writing activities. I need to see all my due dates at a glance. Setting deadlines for myself keeps my projects moving forward.

What if you don’t have a “real” deadline? How can you keep yourself motivated with a self-imposed deadline? Well, for me, I put my critique group to work. These other writers have been great about giving me a deadline. What I do is figure out the next step in my novel writing process, then I ask one of my friends when she has time to look at my sample chapters or query. There’s my deadline.

This week I sent out a sample query letter and first chapter to Heather, one of my critique partners. I was supposed to have my synopsis, too, but I didn’t like how it turned out. She wrote me back that I had until midnight. LOL, it was the little push I needed. So I worked a little more on the synopsis to make it at least presentable and I turned it in to her.

I’m so glad I’ve got a group of writers to help me stay on track and keep moving forward.