Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Home Stretch: Finishing Your Manuscript Under a Deadline

Over the last four weeks, I’ve been completing an erotic romance story for an upcoming call for submission. The deadline is July 1 and I’m nearly finished. The journey has been exhausting and rewarding.

For one thing, most of my free time has been spent writing this story. Enjoyable, yes, but for someone like me, who isn’t accustomed to writing for a specific purpose, the knowledge that I needed to get to the computer and write every day was a burden. No longer could I swagger into the study with an idea and all of the time in the world to follow it through, taking frequent breaks throughout, and hitting the delete key as many times as I wanted.

I was writing for a reason. A purpose. I was starting to feel like a “real writer”.

Writing under a deadline produces a sense of accomplishment. Even though I knew that the deadline was the publisher’s, it was also mine. I didn’t have to submit a story for this call for submissions. I could have spent my time aiming for a later call or just decide that I wanted to submit the story as a stand alone. I could have cut myself a lot of slack. But, mentally, I kept the pressure on.

Of course, I’m one of those people who works well under stress. A looming deadline gives me that shot of adrenaline to get the job done. I don’t miss deadlines. That’s just the kind of person I am. Besides, in my day job, a missed deadline can cost someone dearly.

As I get ready to finish up polishing my manuscript and sending that all important email to the publisher, I wanted to share some of my tips for completing a writing project under a strict deadline.

Keep the pressure on: Set up a reminder on your computer or phone every day to tell you how many days are left until the deadline. Schedule ahead of time what hours of each day you can dedicate to writing.

Let your friends and family know that you’re trying meet a deadline and will be unavailable for some period of time everyday. Trust me, they will remind you, even if you’re dragging your feet about writing.

Take the pressure off: I know, this sounds contradictory, but there is reason to my madness. What I mean is this: give yourself a break occasionally. Planning to write every day for the next thirty days may be unrealistic. Aim for five or six days a week. Use one or two days a week to rest and not think about your writing or the looming deadline. Your brain and your creativity will benefit from the break. I know that whenever I take a day off of my writing, I come up with great new ideas or bits of dialogue for my story. You will too.

Find the time: The last few days before the deadline are crucial. Block off these days and don’t schedule in any other activities. Before the deadline approaches, set up some processes to make those final days run more smoothly. Alert your family as to which of your tasks they will have to take over (of course, you will promise to make up for it after the deadline is over). Have meals ready to go and simply reheat. Keep your pantry stocked with coffee and energy drinks. Set yourself up for success.

If, as the deadline approaches, you suspect that you won’t make it, take an extreme step. Take a day or two off of work. Write, write, write. Don’t use that chunk of your precious vacation time to laze in front of the television and procrastinate. You won’t get it back.

If all else fails, work through the night and get that story done. Just remember to spend the morning revising with a fresh eye. Ideally, you should have some tapped and ready to go to review the draft once you’ve completed it. Use their advice and make your final edits and revisions.

Hopefully, these will help you to consider submitting a piece of writing to a publisher or writing contest. What have you got to lose?

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