Deadlines…or die

I don’t know about you, but I’m a typical writer in the sense that when it comes to writing, I procrastinate. Those of you that say you don’t ever procrastinate have selective memory. At least that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. And so, the only way that I can be sure of writing what I’m supposed to, when I’m supposed to, is to have a deadline. There’s a snag with this. When you’re writing for yourself, there’s no-one to impose deadlines on you. There are deadlines for paying the bills, deadlines for taking a shower, deadlines for getting to the next appointment at the nail salon. But deadlines for being creative? After all, why should I need deadlines when I love writing? But, somehow, I do.

Winner_180_180_whiteWhich is why, in November 2011, I volunteered for NaNoWriMo. I had two novels languishing in a drawer somewhere, and decided that if I were ever going to write one, I’d need a deadline. So I signed up to write the 50,000-word horrible first draft of a novel in 30 days. A deadline at last.

The thing about signing up is that it makes the damn thing public. So I had to do it, or lose face. In June, I had committed to doing 30 creative things in 30 days. (Why do these people always pick short months?) Each day, I had to think of something new, because I was posting the results on Facebook. And by new, I mean old, in many cases. For instance, I made what we used to call a Japanese garden; something my mother taught us how to do when I was small. You fill a container with moss and then ‘plant’ flowers and twigs to make a miniature garden. Then you add pieces of mirror (or in this case, silver foil) to represent water, and voila! I don’t think my mother had any idea that Japanese gardens were made of sand and rocks, but never mind.

249559_218176941549009_6871888_nOr there was the day I made the papier maché bowl. On another dreadful day, when I didn’t have much time, I decided to make something any child could make in an hour –  a lanyard. I don’t think I’d ever made one before, but it looked so easy…here’s a picture of the result. And it took me hours!
All this turned out to be preparation for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The idea here is that you write 50,000 words in 30 days. Realistically, I didn’t think I was going to manage it, because I was traveling for the first 9 days of November, and had other activities I had to fit in when I get back, like the Writers’ Cafe I was helping to run, and a presentation and reading of the three winning stories in our writing contest, and the book club (why is it at my house?). And let’s not forget Thanksgiving…

All in all, I suspected it was going to be tough. But I know that my whole career has been founded on deadlines, and so, even though they used to be imposed by other people, I’m finding that the best way for me to write is to promise someone else that I’m going to do it. And better yet, make the promises public on the internet, so anyone can see them and hold me to it.

Well, I did it. And then  I had to revise it. Nothing happened until I joined a small writing group where they expected me to produce something every two weeks to be critiqued. Lo and behold! I began to write again. There was one problem. I was writing a very bad novel. So I switched to some memoir writing…and then the group disbanded. Now I need to find another, because I NEED DEADLINES!

P.S. I started writing this two years ago…

Repost from the Fairfield Writers Blog: 4 Old school sources online

My friend Alex McNab writes a blog for writers in Fairfield County as I do, but we don’t seem to cover the same turf, which is why I subscribe to his blog.. I particularly liked this recent post, which suggests several different sources for particular writing tips – sources you may not have thought of. Alex helps run (free) writing groups at the Fairfield Public Library, and is working on revisions of his own novel. He turned to fiction after a career in journalism, including being the Editor of Tennis magazine, and writing for The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Golf Digest and Westport Magazine. His nonfiction books include The Tennis Doctor and, as co-author, Arthur Ashe on Tennis. So when he writes, I listen.

Here’s what he had to say about looking for writing help on the web:

Type “writing advice” into Google’s search box, hit the Return key and in a few seconds you’ll be looking at the first page of a list that goes on for “about 284,000,000 results.” That’s a lot of how-to about the writer’s craft.

As an old-school print magazine veteran, I’d like to suggest you monitor the digital offerings of four legacy publications for a while.

First, check out The Wall Street Journal’s weekly Word Craft piece. Every Saturday, a different well-known writer contributes an essay on a different aspect of storytelling. Some recent examples: Jeffery Deaver on writing thrillers, Hilary Mantel on historical dialogue and Carol Edgarian on desire as the driving force of fictional characters.

Second, stop in at Draft, a blog at The New York Times’ “Opinionator” area. Written by different grammarians, journalists, historians, novelists and others, it covers everything from punctuation to the value of diagramming sentences…

You can read the rest of the article here: