Wicked Dealing with Deadlines: Long Term

A past retreat.
A past retreat.

As the Wickeds head out to a weekend retreat together, we thought we’d share how we deal with deadlines that might loom on the distant horizon. We all have multi-book contracts, and they usually come with built-in due dates. Wickeds, do you set daily word count goals? Take a week off the day job to pound out the story? Ignore the deadline and  then work furiously for the last month? Or?

Edith: Back in my high school days, I preferred to procrastinate as long as possible and then do an intensive production of a report or paper. It worked pretty well for me – I got good grades, even though I was effectively turning a long-term goal into a short-term one. But I can’t do that with three contracts. I simply have to work ahead as fast as I can.

The book I’m writing now? Isn’t due until January. But I also have books due in March and May, 2016, which is a first for me. Gulp. No more procrastination for this girl! It’s working for me so far. But when I get the “Yikes, I have no idea where this book is going,” kind of feeling, I confess to some panic. A long solo walk nearly always lets the plot emerge, though. So far, so good.

IMG_3397Jessie: Over time I’ve learned to trust my process. I let an idea rattle and percolate by asking myself questions in a notebook and then answering them until I get an unrelenting itch to start the actual writing. I make quick sketches of as many scenes in the book as I can manage ahead of time and then I dive in and write an average of 1200-1500 words a day, usually five days a week until I have created a first draft. Some days it’s harder to get to the word count and some days it is easier but I find if I just keep picking away, a word at a time, I end up with something worth revising. Once I get that first draft done I feel an enormous light-heartedness wash over me  and I no longer need to set goals the same way. Revising is my reward for getting through the thicket that is first draft and once I’ve entered that phase I mostly have fun until the deadline rolls around.

Sherry: My contract was to submit a book every nine months. So ideally I should sent one book in and start immediately on the next. But I find my brain needs a break so I usually wait a month before plunging in again. I’ve found during that month ideas are swirling around and come out when I start writing. In a perfect world I write 1000 words a day for the first draft. And since I’m a procrastinator the last month is usually filled with long days of polishing and rewriting.

Liz: Sherry, I have the same experience with that break getting my creative juices flowing! Love that. I do try to trust the process, but with a day job and two series I have to be a bit more militant about what I’m doing and when. I try to do 1000 words every day on weekdays, then crank more out on the weekends.

Barb: After six books, I guess my best advice to finishing any long term project is to set short term goals. I use a daily word count goal through the first draft, then I go by number of pages or scenes per day for the revisions. There are numerous other tasks, mostly problem-solving and figuring stuff out–like who knows what, when and scene order–and I’ve learned to allow time for those. I am trusting my process more these days. The first draft of my novels will always be too short, but I know now not to panic. The words will come.

Readers: How do you deal with deadlines that loom out a few weeks or months, or even a year? Strategies to share?

23 Thoughts

  1. I love reading these! I had it easy with the first book because I already had the first three chapters written when the proposal sold. I actually turned it in a month early. My deadline is August 1st for book 2 and I’m nowhere near finished. I will get it done, though!

  2. In theory I’ve got four months between books. Unless I throw in something unexpected, as I did this spring (maybe not the best idea, but the book was demanding to be written and wouldn’t shut up). My process really hasn’t changed much since I started: I write a couple of pages (by hand) of what I think the book will be about (it seldom works out that way). I set up an outline page, with word counts and maybe a sentence on what happens in each chapter, and I fill it in as I go. When I look at that, I know how far along I am and can say, “oh, something needs to happen–there’s been too much talk,” or “where’d the romance go?” I always allow time before the deadline to let a draft sit for a while so I can come back and look at it with fresh eyes when I edit.

    I trust whatever inner voice is guiding this whole thing–haven’t missed a deadline yet.

    1. Sheila, I like the idea of a sentence for each chapter. I’m going to have to try that on the next book. I have a loose synopsis that I kind of follow, but I think that leaves a lot out and it’s easy (at least for me) to get sidetracked.

  3. I wrote my first book, which is out for consideration. But now I’m in a panic wondering if it sells whether I can do it again! After working on it off and on for six years, the thought of delivering another book, say in nine months, makes me shake.

  4. Book 2 due in November. I’m not worried about finishing. I worry as it drifts from the required detailed synopsis I submitted in March!
    Oh, wise and wicked authors, will my editor freak? Is it OK as long as it works and has the same basic premise? How DO you write a detailed synopsis before a book is written?

    1. My editor (shared with several other Wickeds) doesn’t care if the story drifts, as long as I get him an updated synopsis as soon as I know what it is. And mine always drift.

    2. I’ve never had an editor complain that the story wasn’t what she (or now he) thought it would be, as long as it’s a well-written story. I hate synopses (and none of my editors has asked for one in advance).

  5. First, let me say I am so envious of the photo of the group of you having a retreat. I live in an area of the country where there is literally no group of supportive writers…a small town in downstate Illinois. Chicago is north several hours but a bit daunting. You are so fortunate.

    I write my mysteries and have them edited by a freelance editor in about nine months. I set my own deadlines because I have a small publisher who buys each book separately. This works for me because as a teacher I taught my high school students to set their own deadlines for writing college research papers. It helps to do what Sheila does–start with what I think the book will be about in two handwritten pages. Then I write backstories, timelines, and start writing chapters. Research happens along the way. Checking off lists helps me see what I’m accomplishing, but I also like to write so many chapters a week to stay on course. Everyone does things differently, but a lot of my strategy comes from my former teaching life.

  6. I’m having to be aware of upcoming deadlines with the books I accept for review. I don’t tend to read those books until closer to their release date so I can keep having content for my blog. But I try to allow a week and a half or more before a review is due to allow time in case real life gets in the way. I just had that happen, too. I’m averaging a book every three and a half days right now, but I had my hot water heater go out right before a planned trip home. It took me a week to finish a particular book even though I was living it. But I finished it and the review about 4 days before I had agreed to post it.

  7. I’m jealous, too, of you living in a place where mystery writers can bunch up! I’d have lots of colleagues here in Knoxville if I were a poet.

    I just do it by the numbers. I like to finish a first draft a month before it’s due so I can get some readers to go through it. So I divide my desired word count by the days of writing I can do. I don’t take weekends off, but do occasionally take a day off for something family-related. Then I try to hit that count every day. Sometimes I miss, sometimes I exceed it, but it’s less stressful for me to know exactly what I need to do. When I’m running ahead, that makes me feel really good! I hardly ever write 1000/day, usually 400-800.

    I’m usually writing one book and editing another, or two others, and promoting the latest one. It’s a zoo!

    Love to see everyone’s methods!

  8. Old timer that am (and getting older by the minute), I generally have a full year between deadlines on any given series . . . but I’m writing more than one series. I do two things to keep in track. I set very very early deadlines for myself (ie. rough draft done before I leave home for Malice for a book due September 1st) and I work on the next book in one series while the next book in the other series is resting. The incentive for this is simple. Years ago I agreed to write a 100,000 word novel in three months. I did it, but I had a stress headache for that entire time. It just isn’t worth wrecking my health to meet a deadline. As it is, I usually write 2-3 hours a day, 6-7 days a week, and spend another 2-3 on research, writing blogs, and other writing-related stuff. I don’t go by word count. My goal is a scene a day when I work on the rough draft. I do 3-5 complete read thru/revisions of any given book. They take as long as they take but work best with at least a month between them.

    And I, too, envy the Wickeds their retreat.

    Kathy/Kaitlyn, isolated in the western Maine mountains

    1. Spoken like the master you are! (And we definitely have to do something bigger in Maine sometime soon. That would be so much fun!)

  9. I have not written a book but I have been studying for professional licenses and certifications and I am amazed at how similar the process is! I set goals for how many pages I will read and how many questions I will answer. Then, I set up a review schedule for the weeks leading up to the exam. Then, of course, there’s the big day- exam day! For the CPA exam, you would have to wait weeks and weeks to get your score with my most recent cert, I got the score at the testing center- that was awesome!

    I really love reading this blog because I learn something new with every post!

  10. I used to wait until the last minute, but that strategy doesn’t work anymore. With no imposed schedule, I have to make my own. Not as easy as I imagined.

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