I have a love/hate relationship with deadlines. I hate the stress, but nothing gets me delivering like a deadline. Years in live news broadcasting may have been the origin of my devotion to the art of doing-as- little-as-possible-until-absolutely-necessary. Either way, it works for me.
But this was a tall order. The draft was 52,000 words, which was fine. It was meant to be a novella as the book will be the giveaway with which to build a list; the problem was that it was a LONG way from finished.
I can give you an idea just how unfinished it was. The story is set over seven days. I had Friday afternoon, Saturday, Sunday and Monday written. In a bid to find a way forward I wrote the ending, set on the following Friday. But that was it. Where was Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and most of the last Friday?
I had no idea.
Actually I had some idea. About two years ago the draft was 92,000 words long. It was rambling, with far too many characters. It was my attempt at writing clever interweaving sub-plots, but I became lost in my own complications and the only way out was to redraft using only the bare bones of the central story. I thought that this also fitted the advice I was picking up about ‘every scene needs to have a purpose’.
So, somehow, I was starting to focus. I could feel that old deadline magic starting to cast its spell. I could feel the surge building. I started to plan for it. I needed isolation. Working from home has become more difficult recently and we’ve already decided to start looking for a new house that can accommodate a separate work area for me. In the meantime, I was off on a writers’ retreat, by which I mean I’d booked a hotel.
The booking ran from Sunday for two nights. I would wake up in the hotel on deadline day.
On Thursday I started to write Tuesday, if that makes sense… At the same time Shawn Coyne’s The Story Grid was having its effect on me. Despite not having finished that book (I’m still reading it) I knew I needed some key moments in my story. I knew my hero needed both an external desire and a sub-conscious desire. I knew my baddie needed to hold all the power at some point.
The external desire was defined, but it wasn’t clear-cut, probably because of the complications I had introduced previously. The internal struggle and desire was nowhere near defined enough. I quickly came to the conclusion that I couldn’t really write the events of Tuesday until Friday, Saturday and Sunday had been re-written.
I began the task of rewriting the book. It felt suicidal with only four days ahead of me. I ploughed on, hoping that some sort of miracle would occur and time would stretch for me. I wrote for twelve hours on Friday. I took my boy to football on Saturday at 8.30am, went for a run and watched him concede an own goal, before hitting the MacBook again and writing from 11.30am. That was when Catherine, an SPF helpdesk agent, came around for dinner at 7.45pm. Unlike most writing sessions, these were not broken up, they were solid. I was writing and writing and writing.
I’d hadn’t really mentioned my situation to my wife, but she obviously worked out what was going on and brought me food every few hours….
We had another friend for lunch on Sunday. It was lovely to see her and I wanted to hear all her news, but I spent the time nervously glancing at my closed MacBook on the side. She left in the middle of the afternoon and I immediately drove 35 minutes to the hotel.
My unpacking consisted of me getting my MacBook out and opening it. I wrote until 8.30pm, about four and a half hours.
I got stuck, but I had no time for being stuck, being stuck was a luxury for people who didn’t have a deadline on Tuesday. I went for a swim and turned the situation over and over in my mind. I came up with the answer, immediately I got out of the pool, dressed and went back to my room. I wrote until 1am.
The next day John Dyer joined me in the hotel to get some vital SPF work done. He also needed to be free of family distractions. I saw him at meal times, and, meanwhile, I continued to write.
I got stuck again and called him to meet for lunch. When I got back I started to panic because I was still stuck. No breakthrough this time.
I wanted to have a bath, to lie back and mull it over until the answer came to me, a very British solution, but I didn’t have time. Instead I wrote that my character had a bath. She mulled over the situation. And you know what? It bloody worked. It actually bloody worked. My character ran over the situation as she saw it, and it became obvious to her what their next step was. That was a fun moment.
I was off again. I wrote until 10.40pm but I was now exhausted. I went to bed, but didn’t sleep. I tried to read The Story Grid, but it felt like the wrong time, a bit like E J Smith reading a book on how to navigate an ice flow on April 14th 1912.
Either he knew it at that stage or he didn’t.
(Okay – bad analogy.)
I put the Kindle down and got up. It was 1am. I opened the MacBook and tried to write. My eyes wouldn’t focus and it was taking me ages to get a single sentence down. I went back to bed and had some sort of restless sleep.
I was up to Wednesday in the book as I woke on Deadline Day. Just Thursday to go and then to work a bit more on Friday, the last day, which I had already written.
I’d woken at 8am…I’d overslept. I met John for breakfast but left him after a bowl of fruit to make use of the precious three hours I had before the hotel check-out time. I can’t remember where I was in the story as I drove from the hotel, but the book was not finished.
I went straight to my office at home and opened the laptop. At 4pm I had to break to interview Derek Doepker for the SPF podcast, followed by the Brads from Vellum.
I went back to it. I was onto Friday, the last day, re-writing parts of the denouement that I had written three weeks previously in a bid to give the middle of my book some focus. It was actually okay (I thought) and didn’t need much work.
At about 9.30pm on Tuesday night, I reached the end of my book.
The Scrivener word count read 66,000. I had added 15k over the weekend, but that’s not the half of it. In the process of re-writing I had deleted pages and pages. I had rewritten most of the book.
I spoke to Mark just afterwards as we had to record the wrap-around for the podcast (SPF0034 – have a listen and note the jubilance in my voice). Immediately afterwards I had to edit the podcast and get it uploaded for our US based producer.
If anyone ever tells you working for yourself is easy, kill them for me.
I began the process of preparing the draft for Jenny, the editor. I failed to get Scrivener to spell check it, but I did eventually work out how to export it to Word. I went through the spelling, which took ages. In the process I spotted some immediate problems that needed addressing and lots of grammar errors, which was an inevitable result of furious typing. I had no time to correct them. Sorry Jenny.
The email was sent with a Word attachment at 00:44 this morning, Wednesday 12th Oct.
I’d missed the deadline by 44 minutes, but I didn’t care.
My book may be awful, or great, I genuinely do not know, but I’m proud of the accomplishment of getting it to this point.
Of course the reality of the next stage is just starting to dawn on me.
If I think about the email coming back from Jenny I feel a bit sick. I’m nervous and I feel vulnerable and exposed.
So I will go through an exercise and try to predict what she will say. I’ve also decided to make the manuscripts available for you so that you can see how the editing process works. It feels rather foolhardy as the draft I sent will no doubt have major issues, but hey, what’s that expression?
“Publish and be damned…”