Tuesday, July 11, 2006

It's not just a job - it's an adventure!

Or maybe I should title this post - The Exciting Life of a Writer, Part Deux (reference my earlier post about my typical day).

I've just had the pleasure of experiencing serious crunch time - that period authors go through when the deadline is rapidly approaching and it's time to put up or shut up. For my particular situation, too many factors I either didn't or wasn't able to control put me in the position where, after a month of 18-hour work days, 7 days a week (writing and day job), I found myself in the nightmare situation of heading into the weekend before my Monday deadline being a good 100 pages short of finishing my manuscript. This had the potential of being 150 pages short if the last fifty (written months ago and out of sequence) turned out not to be any good.

I got up at 4:00 a.m. Saturday morning, determined to get into the zone and write the story that seemed so clear in my head. And if, as the day wore on, my head got fuzzy, I had a plot outline to refer to.

By noon, I was finding that instead of adding page count, I was actually reducing it. For every new page I wrote, I was having to delete two of the previously written ones. It was like that nightmare where you're running down the hallway and the harder and faster you run, the longer the hallway becomes.

Eighteen hours later, I'd taken one break for dinner (having taken the other two meals and mutliple stress snacks and coffee at my computer) and I'd written a whopping 40 pages. I still had 110 to go!

It doesn't take a business degree to do the math. If I worked at my same rate on Sunday that I did on Saturday, I wasn't going to finish. And here's the really good news. I was hating not just my life at that moment, I was hating my story and the act of writing. And the mental self-flagellations were coming hard and furious - how had I let things get so out of control? What made me think I could do so many books while working full-time and doing all the things parents of teenagers have to do? I'd hit the proverbial wall. I was the fly on the window AFTER the fly swatter hit it.

Sunday, I woke up at 4:00 a.m. again, brewed my coffee and sat down at the computer. I spent the morning writing, watching the page count rise and drop as I went. By noon, I'd revised 50 or 60 pages and had a net gain of 2! I looked at my outline. Up next was a one sentence description of the next chapter that had to be turned into 20 pages of story - and I couldn't do it. The creative well was thoroughly and completely tapped.

I got up from the computer, considered banging my head, literally, against a wall. I felt my eyes tear up, but knew I couldn't waste time on parties - especially pity-parties. I'm a competitive person - I hate to lose and I refuse to quit.

I grabbed a sticky note and stuck it on my computer screen, blocking out the page count data. That was my worst mental enemy, watching that damn thing tell me how well I WASN'T doing. Then I deleted the remaining previously written 20 pages. They weren't going to be any better than the thirty before them and I was wasting time trying to decide what to keep.

I looked at the four chapters I had to write, considered what needed to happen in the story and told myself that I wouldn't look at page count again until the story was written. For better or worse, the story would be done and either I hit my targeted page count or I didn't. I'd deal with it when the story was over.

For the rest of the day, I wrote, finally finishing the last chapter at 7:30 PM. I still had the epilogue to write and if I'd thought the creative well was tapped before, it was bone dry and dusty now. I didn't think "They all lived happily ever after." was going to cut it, but I'd deal with that after I got the good or bad news. I pulled off the sticky note and you know what???

Please, I write fiction; I don't live it. No - I didn't make my targeted page count, nor did I go over. I fell short. I blew a deadline. My story was finished but not complete. My career - I hoped it wasn't over. I'd never blown a deadline before - I didn't know what to expect.

I emailed my agent - she told me not to worry. I tried not to. I wrote an epilogue. It was okay.

I went to bed, analyzing the weekend and I have to tell you that my take away from it - though it was a brutal, horrible, agonizingly long weekend - wasn't that bad. These are the little life experiences that define our character. They teach us the most about ourselves. Some of what we learn isn't pretty, but it's reality. In the end, you either like the way you handled yourself or you don't.

I wasn't dealing with the loss of a loved one, a sick family member, losing a job or house, my family wasn't starving - it's important to keep these things in perspective, but in terms of my writing, when push came to shove, I learned something about myself that I hadn't previously known. I think that's a good thing. Now, I just hope I'm smart eough to use it to avoid being in that position again.

Oh - and how many pages did I write? By the end of the weekend, I'd written 120 pages. For me, that was a new record. And my agent was right - my carreer didn't end and I now have time to finish the story.

When life gives us lemons, I say blend 'em with tequila and lime juice and drink it over the rocks with salt!

My best to you all,



Elizabeth Hoyt said...

Oh, my God. 120 pages over a single weekend? You are like, Super Writer Woman, Robin! I couldn't write that much in that little time if someone held a gun to my head.

Nevertheless, this is A Very Scary story and I may have to sleep with my teddy bear tonight.

Megan Crane said...

I fainted.

120 pages in a weekend.

You're my new hero!

Robin T. Popp said...


Don't be too impressed. I was a crazed and desperate woman.

Reminds me of the time I was writing in the car at 11:00 pm, wired on 20 oz of coffee and sugar - and no, I wasn't driving. We'd been traveling since noon that day and I was working on my pocket pc.

I woke up and had a page full of "oooooooooo's". So, the lesson here is it's easy to write a lot - but in the end, quality is everything.