Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Fear and Loathing in San Francisco

I've actually been dreading this post for a few days now. Not because I don't enjoy blogging, or the debates and discussions it fosters: those I love. But I'm rapidly approaching my least favorite part of the writing process: the deadline. And I am way, way behind.

I start each day optimistically. I've completed a rough draft. A very rough one, if I'm being honest, riddled with typos and writing of the lowest caliber imaginable. But hey, the bones of the story are there, right? And some of my research has been completed. Of course, not the parts that might actually change the bones of said story--those I'm still working on. So I have minor panic attacks periodically, terrified that one of my experts is going to answer a question with, "Oh no, that won't work at all. You'll have to change all that."

I mentioned this to a friend the other night, a "literary" writer, who scoffed and replied, "Deadlines?! Haven't met one yet. My last book was a year late." Lovely, if that's the sort of thing your publisher tolerates. Mine does not. And so here I am, with two weeks remaining until I have to hand something to my editor that she'll read without raising any alarms.

And therein lies the fear.

I realize this can seem like a shallow complaint. I'm lucky to even have a contract, and remain thrilled that my publisher accepted my proposal and wants to publish the book. It's hardly fair to look back on those days when I was writing The Tunnels, spending weeks on a single chapter, as halcyon days. Because now, at least, I labor under the certainty that I will actually see those chapters in print. But still--nostalgia has a way of seeping in, usually when I'm at this stage of the writing process. What a luxury that was. I really wish I'd appreciated it more at the time. It took me a little over two years to write that book. For this one, I had four months.

I'm trying to edit 30 pages a day. Doesn't sound like much, but I spent seven straight hours working on the manuscript today, and when I checked: 19 pages. Argh. Even if I work every night and through the weekend (a near impossibility with family commitments), I probably won't make it. And somewhere in there I'm supposed to tour preschools, shop for the holidays, and decorate a Christmas tree. Everything else has fallen by the wayside, which includes answering emails, exercising, preparing healthy meals (or any meals). Lately every night is pizza night in our house. Even my husband is starting to complain about it, disproving my theory that he would happily eat pizza daily for the rest of his natural life (note: harkening back to our recent gender discussions, this has not motivated him to actually cook a meal).

And if I don't meet the deadline? It won't be end of the world, but it means less time on the next, even more critical draft. Our turnaround window is already fairly tight, and losing another week or two would probably mean pulling a few all-nighters in February. I shudder at the thought.

So forgive me for the abbreviated post. I'm off to cry quietly in the corner.


  1. Hey Michelle, I feel your pain. My first book, THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY, took 3 long, leisurely years to write with no contract or deadline looming. It was wonderful to just write when I felt like it. The next 3 were delivered under contract in 12 months each--Lynn and I finished #2, THE LAST SECRET, literally the day before we had to send it in. And we lucked out and got an extra day because the deadline fell on a national holiday.

    We're halfway through our fifth book now but back to writing with no deadline since we turned down two offers from our publisher and decided to write the book on spec before searching for a new pub.

    I would suggest that if you haven't already, be up front and honest with your editor that you're behind schedule and ask for an extension if for no other reasons than you'll get to take a breath, eat something besides pizza, and they'll get a better book in the end. Good luck.

  2. My holiday miracle wish for you, then, is that you finish on time (or that they grant you an extension), that your husband gets off the couch and freakin makes a sandwich, and that your crying fit is short so you can get back to the business of writing!

  3. You can do it:)! Hang on in there and believe in yourself. An extension wouldn't be the end of the world either - they have lots of 'padding' in the timetable (I believe) just in case you need one. Sending you a huge hug!

  4. Hang in there, Michelle. There's no sense stressing over that which will occur all over again on the next book. :-)

  5. Michelle, all writers take longer to write, sometimes. Most writers miss deadlines and get extensions from time to time. If you feel you have to turn it in and if it's not at the level you want it to be, say you had some challenges and you're aware of what needs to be fixed and you'll fix them in the second draft. That's not a sin; that's called being a working writer. Hang in there!

  6. Thanks, everyone! I must have been nuts to agree to a deadline that coincided with a holiday...

  7. Here's the biggest point to remember, Michelle: the part of the draft that I read was terrific!

    Your language is very punchy, no extra "start to begin" type phrases -- amazing for a draft.

    Clearing up one or two inconsistencies in the plot line should be quick. It's in great shape.

    Remember that, and you'll be able to focus better.

    Thanks for giving me a preview of what will be a great book.

  8. Aw, thanks Camille! You're the best!