I find it hysterical that—given how I was constantly behind on my deadlines over the past two years—this topic of catching up on goals or deadlines fell to me. Either Kayla, who created the blog post schedule, thought I’d have good strategies after so much practice or she is gently telling me to figure out something better. Honestly, the first thing that popped into my head when I looked at this topic was PANIC. THEN LOCK YOURSELF IN THE BATHROOM AND REFUSE TO COME OUT. EVER.
Doesn’t work that way though, which is unfortunate because I’m good at panicking and shutting down.
Okay…being serious now.
Catching up when you fall behind on a goal or deadline starts with actually having a goal or deadline. Everything flows from there. Some goals come with deadlines built in. For example, The Write Nook is sponsoring our first ever short story contest. (Click here for full details.) Submissions need to be in by March 1, 2018. That’s your deadline. Stories can’t be more than 5,000 words, so work backwards. How long do you need to let a story sit before you can look at again with fresh eyes? Do you have a crit group? If so, how long do you need to give them to look at your story? Factor those “end of the process” dates into your timeline. Now you have a second deadline that’s self-determined based on your writing process. Work backwards again. From this new date, how many days/weeks do you have to write the story? How many words can you write in a day/week?
If you don’t know how long your writing process takes, now is the time to find out. You can’t reasonably expect to figure out how to catch up on a deadline if you have no idea what your limits are. I generally write 1250 words a day in four hours. I do social media and other author and/or housekeeping jobs in the morning then write after lunch. If I need to catch up on writing, I let my other jobs slide and can write another 1250 words in the morning. Two years ago, I had six days to write 20,000 words for a novella. It was my fourth story due in four consecutive months. I was able to write 3500-4000 words per day starting at 8am and going until 11pm every day. If I hadn’t been so exhausted from the other three deadlines, I might have been able to crank out 5,000 words in a day. That’s my limit. Kim, on the other hand, can crank out 5K words in a day without breaking a sweat. If she’s pressed, she can do 10K in a day. (I’m sweating just typing that number!) James Scott Bell, a fine author who also writes a number of books on how to write, stopped counting on a daily basis. He writes a certain number of words per week so he can be short one day and go longer the next. How you come to your number isn’t what matters. Coming to a firm number is the thing.
But there’s more to it than just the number or words you can write in a day/week. Kim’s writing process involves a long synopsis…and I do mean LONG. Before she sits down to type her first draft, she’s written out what happens in each chapter so she doesn’t have to think about what comes next. I write a short synopsis which is a general idea of the entire story. I at least know my end from my beginning. Kayla likes to outline her beginning, middle, and end (Three-Act Structure) in relation to her characters. She’s more interested in character development than plot in her first draft. Darcie is a true “seat of the pants” writer. She’d rather have teeth pulled without anesthesia than write a synopsis. A well-written synopsis takes time up front but saves on actual writing time. “Pantsers” can crank out words immediately but might have to go back and restart. When you are crunched for time, it feels like you need to get straight to writing. However, nothing is more frustrating than writing 3K words in a day and discovering the next day that you have to delete all but 500 of them. Even if you aren’t a synopsis fan, forcing yourself to write one when it feels like you don’t have time—especially then, in fact—is a good plan.
Another factor is your ability to turn off your internal editor. I’m not sure about Kim, Kayla, and Darcie, but I spent too many years as an English teacher to turn off my internal editor as I write. The end result is that my first draft is someone else’s second or even third. Others write without agonizing over syntax and fresh descriptions. They just write to get the story out then go back to edit out the boring stuff and add the fresh descriptions. Again, it’s your process. If you can crank out a quick first draft, how long do you need to self-edit?
To review, start by mapping out where you are now and what it will take to reach your goal/deadline. If dropping other responsibilities and holing up in your writing cave aren’t options or still won’t get you where you need to be, take a step back. Go to a new location. Take a shower. Do something for fifteen-thirty minutes to break out of your funk. Then write or rewrite a synopsis with more detail so you don’t waste time rewriting or deleting scenes. You might need to call someone to help with this. Finally, do your best to turn off your internal editor and just write. If you are submitting for publication with an editorial process built in, maybe you’ll have to turn in your first draft and worry about polishing it up later.
In the end, your ability to catch up to your goals and deadlines is determined by you. Take the time when you don’t have deadlines to learn your process, to sharpen your skill, and to test yourself. There are three kinds of writing: for fun, for publication, and under deadline. The better you learn how to write when it’s just for fun or in the process of trying to get published, the better you’ll be able to cope with deadlines.
With pen to paper,