Tag: editing

Putting the “Dead” in Deadlines

Courtesy monkeyc.net
Courtesy monkeyc.net

I am very, very good at procrastination.

Even as I write this I’m debating putting it off. I need to go to the post office and the library, the little voice says, the blog can wait. Who reads this stuff, anyway? Oh, and it’s about time for a fresh cup of tea. Wasn’t scratching behind the kitten’s ears fun? Yeah, let’s do that some more, then sort some Magic cards. Screw the job search and the writing, that stuff’s just depressing.

Allow me to give that sentiment – and maybe yours – a mental steel-toed kick to its metaphorical balls.

I wasn’t a fantastic student in university. Of the many papers I wrote, only a few were heavily researched and edited before turning them in. Most of them were dashed off based on scribbled, Ramen-stained notes the night before. Still managed to pass, though.

Having milestones, deadlines and checkpoints always helps. They can be major or minor, but like achievements in video games, they’re something to work towards. Sometimes I’ll make it, other times I won’t. But how does one hone a work ethic when there’s no set work to be done?

You set the deadlines yourself.

And you stick to them.

A couple weeks ago I hemmed and hawed about my to-do list. Since then I realized I do, in fact, want to write a sixth story for my anthology. But Red Hood took a lot longer than it should have to put together and a little reading of Revenge of the Penmonkey (available on Amazon and Nook, review later this week, short version: YOU GO BUY NOW) helped me realize why. I’d given myself no deadline. I spent mornings on Monster and Jobfox and whatnot, letting the best and most active period of time for my brain dribble away in a drab, seemingly hopeless and endless search for a new dayjob while Unemployment jerks me around.

Resolved to fix this after last night’s unfortunate turn of events with Building New Worlds (reschedule pending), I jotted down some titles and dates on a Post-it and stuck it onto my desk, opposite my StarCraft 2 reminders and the big one saying I need to write 1000 words that aren’t in the blog every day. I consider that a bare minimum.

Now I’ll be doing it in the mornings because dammit, I have deadlines to meet.

Specifically I’ve given myself until the 11th to finish this last short story. I’ve set Halloween as the date to send the veteran his edited manuscript, and while that’s going on I have until Thanksgiving (almost two months) to tackle the rewrite of Citizen in the Wilds. And after that, Valentine’s Day 2012 is the drop-dead date to complete the first round of edits and second draft of Cold Iron.

See, the thing is, if you don’t establish deadlines, especially if you’re doing something where they’re not established for you, the ‘dead’ part of the word rises from the rest and may very well choke the life out of your endeavor. We get distracted. Important things get our attention. Kitchen appliances explode. Earthquakes, typhoons, hurricanes, smog. Cats rubbing on our shins. Spouses, too.

I’m not saying chain yourself to your desk, glue your wrists to the bottom portion of the keyboard and type until your fingers bleed. Unless you have to. What I’m saying is impose some sort of structure on what you’re doing. Make promises to yourself about the amount of work you’re going to do, and for the love of whichever muse you think visits you in the night to whisper sweet writerly nothings in your ear, do not break them.

When you do, it’s not the deadlines who have the upper hand. It’s you. And when the deadline arrives and your work is done, you’re the one pointing and laughing at the deadline’s postmortem twitches and spasms, rather than being the victim of your own procrastination.

With me? Good. Once again, let us pray.

Courtesy terribleminds
Courtesy terribleminds

Celebrate Your Milestones

Courtesy Milestone Surgery, Fairborough

When you seriously undertake an endeavor, finding success is never immediate. It’s a long hard climb to the top, and sometimes you can lose sight of the ultimate goal. That’s why you set milestones for yourself.

It could be finishing a chapter. Knocking out a round of edits. Sending out a given number of queries. Every milestone you reach is bringing you one step closer to the realization of that dream. That’s cause for celebration, in my opinion, because how many people never actually take that first step, let alone one that got you to that milestone?

Now, by ‘celebrating’ I don’t mean throwing a massive party for each little milestone reached. But you should still reward yourself. Go out and have a drink. See a movie you haven’t seen yet in the cinema. Break the tedium in some way that lets off some steam, gets you experiencing something new, drives home the fact that you’ve completed something significant, even if it’s just for you.

I’d love to take my own advice, here. I recently finished taking the pen to the manuscript of Citizen and trimming some of the fat. When I sit down to plow through the changes electronically, I suspect even more will be trimmed. And then I have one more round beyond that, a series examination by critical friends. Not to mention finally letting my wife read it and having her give me notes on everything I should change, or why I should change everything.

I don’t have any big plans to celebrate, though. Unless you count going up north for Musikfest again. I never did get to try out the pulled pork they have up there this year. Or the crab cake sliders. (Great, now I’m getting hungry again)

My point is, take a break. Relax. Celebrate.

Then get right back to it.

Remember, that masterpiece isn’t going to write itself.

One’s Own Hype

Red Pen

I’m glad that the writing competition I mentioned yesterday has a deadline in August instead of its original, which would have been tomorrow. I think I have more work to do than I thought.

Creative people in general, and writers in particular, need to take care when it comes to their own hype. It’s one thing to be confident in one’s abilities, but it’s entirely possible to be over-confident and believe you have a project in the bag right up until the point you show it to somebody else. On the flip side, criticism – even at its most constructive – can trip up the flow of one’s planned work schedule to the point of making you want to scrap the whole project and start over.

We (or at least I) do these things because they’re easy.

It’s easy to think that you’re awesome. And it’s just as easy to get down on yourself, toss out the decent baby with the dirty bathwater and begin again. The part in the middle, having the confidence to salvage the best parts of your story and the humility to admit something you might like in said story doesn’t work and needs to make way for more things that do work, is more difficult. Hell, just typing out those few words was hard.

We have to kill our darlings. We have to turn our work over and make sure everything stays put. We have to throw it at the wall and see if it sticks. Or breaks the wall entirely.

Here’s an example. I like my characters deep. I like knowing where a character comes from, what shaped them, what makes them interesting enough to keep a story going. The problem is, when they first come forth from my head onto the page this depth takes the form of exposition, backstory, setup. The thing is, when people come to see a play, the set’s already up and painted. Nobody comes to watch the false walls get nailed in place or the stage crew bicker at each other while the painting’s going on. Writing’s the same way – it’s fine to write out this backstage stuff, but do it someplace the reader doesn’t have to read it if they don’t want to.

Especially in short fiction. Get in, tell the story, get out.

And be very, very careful of how much you buy your own hype.

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