Writing to a deadline

Phew! Have had a busy couple of months trying to stick to a daily word count and write to a deadline. Since I’m currently unpublished but call myself a full-time writer, it’s never really been an issue for me before. I sit at my computer and write whenever I want to: end of story. I’m lucky in that my kids are at school and aside from accounts for my husband and the occasional spot of editing work I do for a friend’s online website, my time is my own. I’m also lucky that my wonderful hubby recognizes my need to write and is happy for me to explore it full-time and support me while I do so… or maybe it has more to do with he knows how miserable and grumpy I am when I don’t have time to write. (Think the Terminator having a really bad day!) And since I’m one of those people who simply ‘have’ to write, motivation is generally not an issue.

So why the daily wordcount target?

I belong to the Romance Writers of New Zealand email loop and some of the members were running a BIFD – in this case, a Book In Fifty Days. Their aim was to have their mss ready to enter in the Clendon Award; a full-length manuscript competition.  Eek! Full manuscript, huh? No polishing the first three chapters and whizzing off a synopsis for these ladies. An entire manuscript… big ask. (Ewwww! Shudder, can’t believe I just used that verb as a noun! I hate that phrase, despite it’s ever-increasing popularity. Abject apologies, you grammar-nuts out there.) Anyway, I’ve entered this competition before, but I’ve always had a completed, relatively polished manuscript ready to go before I considered entering. And yeah, I did have a completed ms ready to go, but it was the second book in a series and the wip was the third book in the same series. I wanted to try something new. I wanted to write an entire ms to a deadline – just to see whether I could do it. But, being a ‘pantser’ and generally only having the vaguest of ideas – usually a concept, a beginning and an end – to go by when I start to write, could I really do it or was I shooting at the moon? Over Christmas school holidays and all?

What the hey, I thought. Nothing like seeing whether you can write to a deadline to get the creative juices flowing… or not!

So I started writing and whizzed off the first three chapters. Then stuff happened: pet problems, hubby going in for an op, weekends… I figured I’d better start writing a bit smarter. I calculated the final wordcount I wanted and figured out how many words I needed to write per day to finish by my deadline. I also wanted to give myself a weekend to proof and edit and my aim was to post the entry off a week before deadline. I set myself a target of 1500 words per day… and by that I meant fully proofed and edited words. I tend to go back to the previous chapter, re-read it and tweak it before I begin to write. Sometimes this means I end up reworking what I’ve written and not actually writing anything new before family demands intrude. Couldn’t do that, this time. If I chose to spend a couple of hours or more tweaking, then I still had to find the time to write my allocated wordcount. And even while on holiday, I took my laptop and allocated time to write. Sometimes it meant being out all day with my family and having to sneak time in between dinner and bed. Sometimes it meant staying home and missing out on an excursion. And every day, I’d plug the wordcount into my spreadsheet and check off whether I was on schedule and how many days I had left.

It was a rather freeing experience for me, actually. And about two-thirds through the ms, I calculated how many chapters left to write and actually plotted them out – just a paragraph for each, so I knew where I was going and didn’t get off track. The result? I finished an entire week before my self-imposed deadline. The rewrite, proofing and editing took one day and there was nothing major to tweak.

So success! It’s a very different sort of writing to anything I’ve done before, and whether or not the ms turns out to be any good or not, remains to be seen. I don’t really have any expectations – I just entered it in this competition for the feedback. And however my ms fares, I’ve learned another valuable writing technique and have confidence that if I ever was in the situation where I needed to write to a publisher’s deadline, I could do it. Hopefully, one day that situation might even be for real!



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