Guest Blogger: Erin MacPherson
I had always been under the impression that once I got a book deal, I’d have months to write, polish and pizzazz my book before my editor got his or her hands on it. It seemed reasonable for a non-fiction writer – after all, the book was contracted on the basis of a proposal and three sample chapters.
I was wrong.
I got my book deal on February 10th, 2010—and my publisher wanted to see a complete manuscript by May 1st, 2010. I’m sure you can do the math, but just to make it easy on you, that’s two-and-a-half months. Eleven weeks. 79 days. Certainly not the read-and-re-read, carefully-analyze-every-word situation I was expecting. But it meant my book could be released sooner, only 13 months after I got the offer. That’s a good thing, right?
So I said yes. No problem. I’d already written a few chapters, so I could easily get my entire sixteen-chapter, 85,000 word book finished by then.
And, of course, I was lying. Writing a whole book in 79 days is a nearly impossible feat. I had a part-time job. And two kids. And a life. And I was a first-time author. But I knew that getting a book deal was the opportunity of a lifetime—and I couldn’t let it pass just because I was on a tight deadline.
I confess: it was probably the most stressful, most exhausting and most frustrating 79 days of my life. But on May 1, 2010, I turned in a complete manuscript to my editor. And, since tight deadlines seem to be popping up all over of the publishing industry these days, I thought I’d share a few things I learned along the way.
My Tips for Writing Under a Deadline:
1. Get out of the house. I cannot write at home. Between my two preschoolers (who seem to innately understand when I’m under a deadline and choose those times to go through one of those tantrum-every-five-minute-phases) and the lure of laundry (did I mention I have young kids?) there is absolutely no way I can manage to get a single thought on paper. Desperate times call for desperate measures—so when I was writing my book, I literally checked myself into the good ‘ole Holiday Inn every Friday night. I brought my instant cappuccino, my chips and salsa and my favorite sweats and wrote all weekend long.
2. Force yourself to write. Even if your dog chewed up your favorite boots and your kid is failing kindergarten math and your husband is stressed at work– you need to put everything out of your mind for a certain amount of time each day and just write. For me, my goal was to write ten pages every day. Those pages didn’t have to be edited or perfect or funny or anything…just written. I made a rule that I couldn’t go to bed until I had ten pages on paper. I admit there were days that I was up until 1 in the morning getting those ten pages on paper. And, there were mornings I woke up and tossed all ten pages in the trash because they were worthless. But, I wrote ten pages every day.
3. Give yourself a sugar high. Aside from the occasional Dove chocolate and an all-too-powerful addiction to caffeine, I generally eat pretty healthily. But, when I was writing my book, I allowed myself a few (okay, quite a few) treats. Why? Because I’m so much wittier on paper when I have a sugar high. Any drink that involves a combination of coffee and sugar (say, a double venti caramel Frappucino with whip) is a guaranteed tonic for writer’s block or (worse!) boring writing.
4. Do whatever it takes to get some help. When I started writing my book, I knew that I was barely going to get the thing written, much less edited and cleaned up. So, I convinced (read: bribed with homemade chocolate-chip cookies) my best friend and my two sisters to form a de-facto editing team. Whenever I finished a chapter, I passed it on to my sister Alisa who is hilarious and smart and always knows the right thing to say. She made suggestions and passed it back to me. I made changes. Then I passed it along to Hildi and Stevi who top edited it, polished it and made last minute changes. By the time I got my chapters back for a final read, they’d been polished and cleaned up so brilliantly that I hardly had to make any changes.
5. Exercise. Let me get one thing straight right away: I am not a sporty girl. I rarely (if ever) exercise—but for some reason, when I was writing my book, my best ideas usually came when I was out walking. (Hmmm… maybe God was trying to tell me something?) Anyway, whenever I found myself staring at the screen without a clue what to write next, I’d grab my barely-used running shoes, my trusty Golden Retriever Jack and a tape recorder and head outside. Usually before I was out of breath (which didn’t take long), some idea or thought would pop into my mind and the ideas would start to flow.
Q4U: What are your best tips for writing under a deadline?
[ Next Post → ] [ ← Previous Post ]
Erin MacPherson is the mother of two toddlers and the author of The Christian Mama’s Guide to Having a Baby, coming in March, 2011, from Guideposts Books. Visit Erin at http://www.christianmamasguide.com/.