Lessons Learned

Now that I'm on the other side of a massive, last ditch revise and re-plotting on a drop dead deadline for Good-bye To All That (Touchstone, July '10) I've had time to think. And think. And think. Mostly what I think about is how the hell I got it done and how I can possibly ever even consider writing another novel again.

Even though I'm still pretty exhausted from my five weeks of non-stop under stress writing, I am looking forward to what comes next. And even though I was fairly miserably between October 27 and November 30, I did learn a lot about my writing process. Because I like lists (lists!), I'll present my insights as such.

1. Time wasted is time lost.
If I worked a real job (say at an office or factory), I'd so get fired. In fact, I waste so much time, it's surprising I get anything done. I am a fast and prolific writer, but working under the gun made me realize I could be that much faster and prolificer (it's a word now, Webster!). Sincerely, cut out all the hemming, hawing and procrastinating and things get done.

That being said, I am enjoying working at a less frenetic pace. My next deadline (self imposed) is to have a revised and polished draft of the More Than This screenplay to send to my agent by the end of the year.

2. Setting goals helps.
Because I was working under a time constraint I knew I couldn't diddle around and see where the story would take me. I needed to deliver a complete manuscript by a due date. Since I only had five weeks and there was only so much I could write, my aim was 80,000 words. That's, um, a lot. To make it manageable, divided the book into chapters (16) and then divided those chapters into 3 sections each. (Usually, I like to write short chapterletts. Underneath It All has 99 chapters, one is just a paragraph or two long.) I aimed for a daily word count goal of 5,000 for each chapter and each chapter section to be about 1,600 words long.

Why 1,600? Pure magazine journalism training. That was the average word count for an assignment and since my writing is still firmly rooted in what I learned in j-school, it made sense to me. For whatever reason, writing 1,600 words was a lot more doable than trying to tackle 5,000 even though, at the end of the day, that was I need to get close to.

3. Outlining saved my sanity.
I know plenty of writers who think writing off an outline is very restrictive. Not for me. An outline helps me see the story from the beginning, middle and to the end without having to actually write the whole damn thing out first. For Good-bye To All That, I relied on my outline not only to tell me where to go but to give me hope that with each chapter done, I'd get to the end soon enough.

Even though I lived and died by my outline, I still did change it up when I saw things needed to be tweaked. Things change in life and fiction, but an outline helps.

4. Step away from the computer.
Even though every hour was accounted for and revolved around getting to my word count goal, I still made time to workout. (Once or twice I even managed to take quick nap.) Even though I knew I didn't have time do much more than write, I knew I needed to do something besides type. I could have started drinking before noon or crying in front of Law & Order reruns, but I choose Spin class instead and my ass thanks me for it.

Going forward (or, if you prefer, onward and upward), I'm going to hold myself to a deadline, set a daily word/page count goal and remind myself how nice it feels to be done with a manuscript.

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