I’m late, I’m late…

Elaine Everest explains why she is always trying to catch up with herself. stop-watch.jpg (300×313)

I always thought that the life of a writer would be a life of glamour and ease. I’d live in a cottage overlooking a beautiful Cornish cove. Upon my antique desk would be my latest work in progress all written by hand with an expensive fountain pen presented to me by a grateful publisher. I may even have a bevy of bespectacled secretaries taking down my every word while I recline on a chaise longue being fed grapes… However, in reality, I’m pounding the keys of my laptop trying to keep up with a list of writing jobs that have to be done as soon as possible whilst sitting at my kitchen table, keeping an eye on the dog, while my upstairs office is housing my husband’s photography equipment and a seven foot high chocolate fountain – don’t ask!

Until the beginning of this year my day was spent pitching ideas and being commissioned to write articles for any publication that would take my work. The life of a freelance journalist is fast paced. There could be times when my ideas sold so well they had to be written and the copy filed within days. A more leisurely job was writing short fiction and deadlines only being dictated to by the seasons. In women’s magazine land we are always at least three months ahead of any seasonal story.

Apart from my freelance writing work I run The Write Place creative writing school and nfountain9.jpg (738×585)eed to plan and meet deadlines for lesson planning and event organisation. I was being pulled from left to right keeping up with deadlines even though some were self-imposed.

My dream has always been to be a full time novelist but as the years passed I found myself no nearer living the dream. Something had to give. Those deadlines had to go! I decided to start drawing on my private pension and this gave me the financial freedom to be able to ease off writing articles and work instead towards being a ‘proper writer’. I still write the occassional piece but now, to all intent and purpose, I’m a novelist. What gave me the push to fight for me dream was being taken on by a literary agent in January. Suddenly I had a new deadline – write a 120,000 word historical novel so my agent could send it to publishers. Great, I hear you say. Just sit at home all day and tap away until the book is finished. Wrong! Suddenly, other deadlines got in the way.

Along with Natalie Kleinman I work on the Romantic Novelist Association’s blog. We have to source content for two blog posts each week. That can mean interviewing authors, publishers and agents, editing work and loading it onto the blog. Next there is the technical stuff associated with such an important blog. We need to check that we are not being spammed, promote the blog on Twitter and Facebook and remind contributors to do their own promotion. It all takes time. I won’t even mention how many times Natalie and I have been tearing our hair out when a contributor changes their mind or forgets they are scheduled to send up a blog post. The show must go on –  twice weekly, come hell or high water.

Any problems can have a knock on effect to my self emposed deadline to write those thousands of words each week for my novel. In fact that’s why I’m writing this blog post at two in the morning – I’m still trying to catch up!

Alice___White_Rabbit_by_michaelkutsche

I have ‘to do’ lists buzzing in my head all the time – they just won’t go away. Each one is screaming, ‘it’s my turn next’  whilst my novel is simply yawning and saying, ‘write me when you have time…’

Do you remember the White Rabbit’s song from Alice in Wonderland? “I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date…”

That song could have been written for me.

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In the midst of life…

Francesca Burgess considers eternal tweaking and how life interferes with deadlines.

Seven years ago I started submitting short stories to magazines. Deadlines didn’t feature unless I was writing a seasonal story and needed to get it subbed within a certain time frame. Not having a deadline can be a problem where I’m concerned as I tend to tweak and hold on to a story far longer than I should. With competition entries the deadline is a definite cut off point which can be advantage if you’re like me.

When I started writing novels in 2009 I had no deadlines for them, no publishers, editors or agents to get them off to byNaNoWriMo 2009 a certain date. For someone who edits and tweaks ad infinitum, this can be an even bigger disadvantage than it is with a short story. My first good idea was to join in with NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) which takes place every November. I’ve done this successfully every year since. However, it doesn’t mean that I don’t go on to tweak and edit endlessly later.

My second good idea was to join the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme in 2011. This was extremely effective at giving me a kick up the proverbial. Apart from having to get a manuscript in each year, there is the opportunity to meet publishers, editors and agents. If one of them shows an interest in a novel and asks to see the whole thing, this gives a deadline and a reason to stop ‘fine tuning’.

The cut off date for the NWS is 31st August. Every year it’s been my aim to get the manuscript off by the time I go to the Caerleon/Fishguard Writers’ Week, at the end of July. For the first three years I succeeded.

For the first time this year, my fourth year in the NWS, I took it to the wire. And I mean the wire. It was one of those times when, deadline or no deadline, life itself got in the way, quite literally in the birth of my granddaughter, Seren. But death also played a part as my much-too-young brother-in-law passed away with cancer. Hence visits and funerals to Wales and to the north of the country. In between all this we were preparing for my eldest daughter’s wedding in the West Country, brought forward in the hope her uncle would make it.

So writing and editing this summer – the new novel plus the last one which I’ve been editing twice over for different interested publishers – has been fitted in between the hatch, match and dispatch of human existence. Sometimes life is like that. In the midst of it we have to face all sorts of complications, both wonderful and terrible. Maybe, at some point in the future, all of what I’ve experienced this summer will itself go into a book.

The EndIn the meantime, my NWS entry at least did get finished and sent and both book edits have gone to the publishers concerned.

Now I have NaNoWriMo looming once again in nine days time. Life continues to be complicated but I am hoping to get my 1,667 words written each day.

Wish me luck!

 

Links

National Novel Writing Month  http://nanowrimo.org/

Romantic Novelists’ Association: http://www.rna-uk.org

RNA New Writers’ Scheme:   http://www.romanticnovelistsassociation.org/join/new_writers_scheme

 

 

 

 

It’s Just A Matter Of Time…

Elaine Roberts talks about her demons, deadlines and Chapter 5.

From birth, our lives are governed by time. Our earliest memories probably involve having to be somewhere by a certain time, whether that’s attending family occasions, meeting friends and getting home again for dinner, or going to school and handing in the homework on time. clock5We’re brought up on the importance of time and more importantly, the importance of not being late.

With most jobs, there are deadlines attached and writing is no different. As writers, we often work to them, whether they are self-inflicted or real ones set by someone else. Participating every year in NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month) shows what you can do and it’s fun, in a strange pressurised way. There’s nothing like a target of 50,000 words in a month and, hopefully, a rising graph to give you encouragement to continue trying to reach the target by the 30th November.

In the past, I’ve wondered if there’s something masochistic in me that makes me set my own targets and deadlines, after all I don’t enjoy the pressure it adds, or maybe I do. I definitely work better under pressure and actually having a deadline certainly focuses my mind to the job in hand, it adds motivation, especially if someone is waiting for the work to be finished.

Having said all of the above, deadlines can make you sloppy as well; I’ve definitely made mistakes that have all been down to “more haste less speed”.

In the last couple of months, there’s been a period of around five weeks where I haven’t written a word, and that has made me wonder what my motivation is to write in the first place. The demon, self doubt, has taken over, asking questions like “can I write a successful novel” or “why are you bothering, you’re useless at it.” I don’t think for one minute I’m alone with my demons, but it does stop me from moving forward. You maybe asking what brought it all to a standstill in the first place and I’m not sure what the answer is. I believe it’s partly because I like to discuss aspects of my writing with my son and husband, but circumstances meant I stopped doing that. I also tried to change the way I write. Several successful writers I know start at the beginning of their novels and work their way, in chronological order, through to the end. I, on the other hand, jump about all over the place. I write the scene that takes my fancy when I open my laptop and then ensure it joins together in a logical manner in the editing process. What have I learnt through this process? Do what comes naturally to you, I got stuck at chapter five and consequently never wrote another word for five weeks. Chapter five became an impossible barrier that I couldn’t get round or over.

Having had that break, I’m now writing again. Why? Mainly because it’s a compulsion, I can’t live without writing anymore. Mentally, I was stuck at chapter five, so I have reverted to my way of working and I’ve left chapter five to simmer in my sub conscious, while I write a different chapter.

I have two completed manuscripts with two different publishers, waiting to hear the outcome is nerve wracking and, while I believe the ultimate success is being published, it takes commitment to complete a novel, and I should also recognise that as a mark of success.

Deadlines… or just dead lines?

Viv Hampshire talks about the effects on her writing of being put under pressure

There are times when we all have to write to order. If we want our work to be accepted for publication, it’s vital that we remain open not only to suggestions from editors and publishers, but to directions too! And one of the most important of these is the dreaded deadline. Whether it’s a magazine article, a seasonal short story that could miss its slot, or the submission of a completed novel manuscript, there will always be a date by which it HAS to be done… or we are in big trouble, quite likely missing our chance to see our work in print, and probably getting a bad reputation as a non-professional time waster along the way.

But having to finish writing by a certain date means added pressure. When it comes to a novel, it’s bad enough juggling plot, sub-plots, research, setting, characters and everything else that goes towards a great story. Now we have to finish it on time too! For me, this year, that meant getting my unfinished novel ready to send off for its critique under the RNA’s New Writers Scheme before the end of August deadline. Yes, they will take a partial, but having paid for a reader to look at a whole book, it’s a terrible waste to only send a few chapters. The last couple of months as the deadline approached saw me scribbling away at such a furious pace that I went way over the word count I had intended and actually wrote the last half of the book in about triple the time it had taken to write the first! 

It's not a hobby any more

It’s not a hobby any more

But what can happen when writing becomes a race against the clock instead of the pleasurable and leisurely pastime it used to be when it was just a hobby and not a way of life? The most obvious problem for me is a potential drop in quality. When I don’t have the time to carefully consider every word, rewrite every clanky paragraph, and rip up my synopsis umpteen times and start again, there is a real danger that what I write won’t be as good as it could have been, or as good as I would like it to be.

What if the dreaded deadlines do nothing more than push me into producing just that – dead lines, that don’t spring to life on the page and that nobody will want to read? But, how will I know if I don’t plough on and get to the end? When weighed up against not finishing at all, perhaps that’s a risk we should all be willing to take. Novels that are not quite perfect have the chance to be seen and edited and ultimately accepted. Novels languishing in drawers because they are never quite ready have no chance at all.  

Trying to achieve perfection comes at a price, and for me that price is definitely time. Therefore, I have made the decision to just do my best, get the words written, and stop worrying about every little comma or trying to become the next literary sensation. There are many less than perfect books out there – all accepted and published – so why shouldn’t mine be one of them? I can no longer afford to take three or four years playing around with a novel to tweak it into submission. Submission… there’s a pun there somewhere! So, until I acquire an agent who will no doubt be only too keen to push me on at a pace, it’s going to be self-imposed deadlines for me. A novel a year from now on, and I’m already three chapters into the next one!

 

 

Is that the time already?

Natalie Kleinman kicks off this month’s ‘deadlines’ theme by looking at the way she works and comparing herself with her daughters.

Interesting things, deadlines. You either love ‘em or you hate ’em. Or so I thought. I have two daughters. Both are bright intelligent young women who each handle their challenging and difficult careers well. But I remember when they were at school and university. One was meticulous in her preparation, not happy unless she’d covered all the ground she could. The other left things – at least it seemed so to me at the time – to the very last minute. However, it transpired that she did some of her best work under pressure. I’ve believed for many years that I favoured the approach of the former. However, it seems I may have been wrong. books

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????I’m quite good at setting my own deadlines, and sticking to them. I don’t know if I’m my own worst enemy or best friend but if I say I’ll do something I usually stick to it. That said I am just as good at displacement therapy as the next person. It’s so easy to switch to Scrabble on line or some form of solitaire – just for a few minutes to relieve the pressure you understand. I’ve wasted hours this way and from what I hear I’m not alone. Coffee. That’s another one. I Love coffee

I am a member of a closed Facebook group of jobbing writers and it has become the practice to set a word target for the month. This is not arbitrary. Each sets their own – whether realistic or not so – aims for the given time period. I’ve found this to be a wonderful catalyst, feeling I am letting the group down if I don’t achieve my goal. Of course the only person who would be let down is me. That said, I am convinced I produce a far higher word count, having picked up the gauntlet, than if I’d just ambled on in my own sweet time.
gauntlet
In the happy position of having had two books published this summer, I am in the process of writing my next novel. I am delighted that as of a few weeks ago I have a literary agent who will be representing me and pushing my work. However, I have not been given a deadline for completion of the next novel (just over 60k as I write this mid-September) and in a way I find this disconcerting. My first published novel was my entry for the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writer’s Scheme. As such, I did have a deadline. Euphoria and an innate enthusiasm drove me to finish the second one. But now? I’m beginning to realise that I have more of one daughter than the other, and not the one I thought, at least as far as my writing is concerned. I truly believe that I produce better work under pressure than when given free rein to do as I like. Therefore I have set my own deadline, as necessary for me to honour as if it had been set by someone else. So forgive me please if I cut this piece short – I have a novel to finish.