Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Why I love deadlines...

I'm way behind on deadline. My own, self-imposed deadline. Even though I used to work on daily deadlines, back in my day-job days, and my publisher imposed one is months away, I need to give myself a dose of panic. So I set my own deadlines and frantically work toward them. An outline in a week. A first draft in two months. And just to ensure I get the adrenaline pumping, I remind myself I will be 'in big trouble' if I fall behind.

Maybe I'm crazy, or masochistic, but I find the deadlines comforting. They break a big project into manageable chunks. Into steps, like the rungs on a ladder. Just take one, then another, and then--presto--I'm holding a whole book in my hands. Created by just taking a deep breath and meeting the next goal on my list.

The truth is, I'm still quite a newbie at this. I've written four contracted books now, but that's a drop in the bucket compared to many authors. I'm still learning my writing process. Each book I have tackled differently. Each one has been an experiment in the creative process. The first I wrote without a synopsis and I let my characters guide me. For the next, I combined mystery/romantic suspense with regency-set erotica. I needed a completely different method. That one involved lots of spreadsheets. Spreadsheets about character motives. Clues. Even one to list the pictures my artistic heroine sketched throughout the story.

For my latest book, I'm expanding my method. I have spreadsheets that explain the goals, motiviations, and conflicts of each character. I have a character chart, where I explain what each character needs to make them happy. And I wrote the most detailed outline I have ever done for a book. I have tried to be a 'pantser' and write without a outline, and I 'flew into the mist' (the wonderful, evocative term author Jo Beverley uses), but I need the security blanket of an outline. Then I'm free to focus on the detail work that follows--the actual writing.

But I'm still learning. And I know I will always be learning, no matter how many books I write. So, I'm trying to keep a record of what I've tried, what worked for me, what didn't.
Do you have a method? Do you find your approach to writing is constantly evolving?

13 comments:

Colleen Thompson said...

Interesting post, Sharon. I'm another one who breaks down the enormous, unthinkable task of completing a novel into bite-sized mini-goals. I know other writers who thrive on writing in a white heat down to the wire, but the idea paralyzes me, and I know I wouldn't do my best work under such conditions.

I do work from a synopsis, which I generally complete after writing about three chapters to explore the characters and premise. Occasionally, I write the synopsis first instead, and more often than not, the story develops in ways that surprise me.

There's an entire universe of different methods for completing a novel. I think the trick is to find the one that works best for you and be open to change. Sometimes, the method that works great for one book won't for another. The only thing to be really wary of is some teacher/author claiming that his/her method is the only right one.

JoAnn Ross said...

Oh, what Colleen said!!! Especially that part about anyone claiming to have the correct and only way. (This also goes for actual craft stuff, as well.)

My methods are continually changing over the years, and sometimes during the books. The last couple have been what Colleen described so well as white heat books, but that's been because of outside occurences, and I'm hoping it doesn't stay my method because it's mentally, physically, and creatively exhausting.

One thing that hasn't changed since that amazing day I switched from my pretty blue IBM selectric to a PC is that I'll spend months rewriting the first 75-100 pages countless times. By the time I have those pages exactly how I want them, all the pieces of the story have gelled in my mind and the writing gets a lot easier from there.

Another thing that hasn't changed is that along with the beginning, a pivotal scene in the middle, and the ending, which can and often does change, I seem to know what's going to happen about 10 scenes ahead of where I'm writing.

Oh, and if writing ever depended on me creating a spreadsheet, I'd have never gotten published. :)

Nancy Morse said...

I don't think in terms of writing a book. That's too daunting. I think in terms of scenes. Scenes turn into chapters and chapters turn into a book. I always work from a synopsis which I write first and then break down into chapters. Of course, things can and often do change along the way, but at least a synopsis helps keep me mostly on course. I also work from index cards on which I jot down anything and everything remotely pertinent that I might want to use. I think this subject of changing writing methods has come up before, but I used to write random scenes and then put them in chronological order. Now I write from beginning to end. As for deadlines, I always give myself 3 and 1/2 months to complete a ms. That averages a chapter per week with a little time to go over everything. If I complete it in less time, I can go back and look for ways to improve it. I've never missed a deadline or had to ask for additional time, so my method works for me...for now. Deadlines are are those nasty little things that remind us that this is, after all, a job.

JoAnn Ross said...

Deadlines are what also make those of us who'd still be polishing our first story send our books out into the world. :)

Sharon Page said...

Colleen, this is what I'm discovering--that different books might need different methods. I notice that I've pieced together a little from all the workshops I've been to, to try and find methods that suit me. Also, I too would be way too afraid to write down to the wire.

Sharon Page said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sharon Page said...

Nancy, your comment about scenes struck a chord. I also like to work single spaced, so then I just have to write 160 pages to have the book done. Playing mind-games with myself works.

And thanks Colleen, JoAnn, Nancy for your comments.

Sharon Page said...

JoAnn, I've be so amazed and impressed by the deadlines you meet. It's strange about the spreadsheet--I actually really enjoyed putting it together. It was fun to define my 'obvious' and 'hidden' motives for my suspects and gave a neat place for putting in reference notes. Normally I rebel against things like that (I file by making piles on the stairs in my house :-)), but it worked for me.

JoAnn Ross said...

Sharon -- LOL about your stair filing method. Mine's pretty much my kitchen counter. If we didn't have company every so often, I'd flat run out of cooking space.

My problem with spreadsheets is I get to know my characters as I write, so I'd just do what I did my first year when people told me I needed to do character sheets, I'd fill in blank spaces with anything that came to mind so I could get on with my writing. Usually my heroes are incredibly closed-mouth about their secrets and I have to poke and prod them the entire book to discover what they are. Which occasionally can result in an entire conflict change late in the book.

As for meeting deadlines, when you earn a living writing 5-8 or more books a year in category you develop deadline skills early on if you want to stay reasonably sane. :)

Allison Brennan said...

I read someplace "Deadlines are the best inspiration."

I tend to agree. At least now, today. And the rest of the year . . .

Allie Mackay said...

Ah, well ....

Since Sue-Ellen is currently up to her eyeballs in the topic of this lovely thread, I am chiming in for her again.

Were she not slaving away to meet these buggers - yes, I said buggers - she'd be tipping her hat to each and every one of you.

You all seem to have mastered the fine art of what Sue-Ellen and I fondly think of as dreadlines. And, no, that was not a typo.

We both hate them with a passion and have yet to figure out how to live with them and not be wholly consumed.

Maybe someday we'll both grow up and be able to join the sainted ranks of those-who-deadline-well. But for the now, I can only say two words: oh, vey.

Slainte!
Allie Mackay

Sharon Page said...

JoAnn, the thought of 5-8 books a year makes me hyperventilate! I am definitely in awe. And I must admit that my kitchen counter is actually my office. I'm sure one day I will set the house on fire by accidentally putting my work in progress too close to the burner.

Sharon Page said...

Allison - that's a great quote. And very true. One problem I developed from the day job was becoming an adrenaline junkie - no panic, no performance.