Tag Archives: deadlines

In the Nick of Time

Years ago, I used to pride myself on working ahead of time. I used to see some kind of deadline off in the distance and plan out how I would try to get it done a little early–a paper, maybe, or grading some essays, or a reading assignment for a class.

Okay, it was a short phase.

Maybe a year at most.

But I loved it. I loved the feeling of walking to my teaching post, or driving in to a night class, feeling somewhat rested and thinking, yup, that was done a little early. Finished. Finalitisimo. Nada more to do!

And this small bit of excitement gave me a real hunger for more of it (as well as for flour-based bakery items such as: blueberry muffins, banana bread, banana muffins, and blueberry bread).

Even though the phase was short lived, that feeling was pretty amazing.

Fast forward many years, and the reality is very much the opposite. (However, the flour-based bakery items still come along for the ride.) Now, I find myself rushing to complete any task: grading the essays, working on that revision, starting the first draft, getting to the copy edits, putting the kids to bed, putting myself to bed, putting an idea to bed, laying off the flour-based bakery items, and doing the paper for the night class.

All of it happens, pretty much, in the last minute.

Or the last second of the last minute.

For a while, I mourned the loss of the getting-things-done-early kind of life (eating copious amounts of flour-based bakery items was crucially helpful in this stage.)

Then, for another while, I worked vigilantly to get that done-early mentality back (in which case flour-based bakery items were fuel for the drive, pricing energy and courage and chutzpah!).

Finally, I came to a deep acceptance, sat for long periods of time realizing that such a life was not to be had (at least for long time) and proceeded to eat copious amounts of flour-based bakery items to console my heart and stomach regarding this fact.


So, I am happy (resigned?) to now report that I am coming to a place of peace (giving up?) on getting things done ahead of time and then proceeding with calm confidence towards the due date.

I am coming to an acceptance that, in certain stages of life (maybe thirty or forty years?), getting things done in the nick of time is okay. It is fine. It is fun! The adventure of rushing! The joy of jovial justice that such things still actually DO get done is cool enough! Right on! Right…on? Right?

Or maybe something bigger is at play. Maybe the reality is that all of the goals we make, and all of the hopes and dreams that we seek to accomplish as writers, cannot be completed in a single burst. So we work diligently, we consume our flour-based bakery items, and we pray that we’ll make it on time.

And when we do–instead of feeling guilty for the nick in which we finished, maybe we should eat another banana blueberry muffin bread item and whisper a pray of thanks that we even had the chance to pursue it in the first place. Or, to use much better, more refined words that do not mention anything at all about flour-based bakery items, hear it from Meister Eckhart: “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”

Yes, that sounds much better and saves an awful lot of space.


Filed under Anxiety, Editing and Revising, Happiness, Writing, Writing and Life

Not-So-Deadly Deadlines

I love deadlines. Usually.

“Ummm… that’s due TOMORROW??”

I have a confession. I’m a terrible procrastinator. (Well, actually I’m a fabulous procrastinator. Ask my husband. “Have you made those reservations yet?” he will ask me. *Gulp…)

In fact, as I write this, I have deadlines for three projects. All due tomorrow.

*Deep breath* I can do this.

A few years ago I decided the time had come to finally get my master’s degree. After considering many options, I decided to do a crazy thing. I would take a leap of faith and apply for Vermont College’s master’s program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Not only would I be adding a suggested 25 hours of reading and writing per week on top of teaching full time and being a wife and mom, I would need to complete 20 packets of work during the two-year program, including new manuscripts every month.

Where was I going to get ideas for 20 packets worth of new stories?? Oh, if I were working on a novel, maybe. I could add a few new chapters a month. But I write picture books. That’s two to six new story ideas every month.

The first month was covered. I had a few manuscripts saved up that I could pull out and submit. (It was a good thing, too, as we ended up moving that first month to a new house after living 17 years on our farm.)

Then came the second month. Again, I had a few stories I could dust off, plus a brand new idea or two. The third month rolled around, and once more I had new ideas. Every time I would come down to a due date, the ideas were there. Every time I hit “Send” I was sure that the idea well was now dry. Yet the next month would come, and with it came more ideas.

How was this working? Did panic get the creative juices flowing? Did I have a cooperative muse? Was it the power of prayer?

Panic and prayer notwithstanding, I think the secret lies in having a deadline. Deadlines help me organize my priorities. I am the WORST in the summer when I don’t have to show up for work. Somehow, the morning slips by without anything getting done. But if I have a deadline, it bumps laundry, weeding, and checking my email to a lower place on my “To Do” list, and I actually end up with something to show for my time.

Deadlines make me accountable to someone besides myself who will be expecting results. Not just any results, but my best work. When I am accountable to a critique partner, my agent or an editor, I don’t want to disappoint them. They are expecting something good to land in their inbox, and I don’t want them to see shoddy work, or worse yet, an empty inbox.

Finally, regular deadlines make me develop the habit of writing. And while practice may never make me a perfect writer, it certainly helps me improve my craft. I know that unless I actually show up to do the work, any creative juices, chance muses or divine interventions will pass me by.

So if you’re facing a revision, in need of some inspiration, or working on a new story, having a deadline just might be a lifeline.

Congratulations to Melanie Fishbane, winner of a copy of Adi Rule’s STRANGE SWEET SONG!


Filed under Advice, Anxiety, craft~writing, Deadlines, Deadlines, Education, Faith, Panic, Time Management, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing and Life

The Numbers, or, How Writing a Book Is Like Giving Birth

Numbers 7/52

Before embarking on a second career as a writer, I was a software engineer. I majored in applied mathematics in college. Obviously, I enjoy using the analytical parts of my brain as much as the artistic ones. So now that both BE A CHANGEMAKER (my young-adult nonfiction) and MY DOG IS THE BEST (my fiction picture book) are in copyedits, I thought I’d reflect a little on some of the behind-the-scenes numbers involved in these 2 very different creative endeavors.

I knew when BE A CHANGEMAKER was acquired that it was going to be a lot of work in a short period of time: I’d sold it on proposal as a 20,000-word book that would take me 1 year to write, but they wanted at least 45,000 words in 5 months. I was open with the publisher that I wasn’t sure if I could do it (I’m a SLOW writer), but that I would give it my best shot. I dove in and started researching like crazy.

Almost immediately, life threw me a curveball, and I lost pretty much the first 2 months to an unexpected surgery, recovery, and ensuing complications. Things began to look pretty hopeless. Because of the time constraints, I was already drafting on the fly, sending it to the acquisitions editor, and incorporating her feedback as I went along. I became a much faster writer than I ever thought possible, but I still couldn’t quite get there in time. The editor and I strategized on what the highest priority pieces were and what could be left for later. TKWhen I submitted the “final” draft on the original deadline, the manuscript was a not-entirely-off-the-mark 42,200 words, but with 10 known holes left as TK, “to come” later. I continued working to fill in the TK pieces while the manuscript moved on to a full developmental edit round.

Since it had already been through 1 round of editing and the feedback I’d been getting was that it was in pretty good shape, I wasn’t expecting the developmental edit to be overly difficult, even though I had less than 2 weeks to do it. Wowzers, was I wrong! The marked up document I got back from the developmental editor (a different person) had 570 insertions, 414 deletions, and 339 comments, most of which were something along the lines of, “Can you please add x here?—where x was a quote, an exercise, an example, etc. They were excellent suggestions, and I knew I’d have a much better book to show for it if I could do them all! No TKBut try though I did, I still couldn’t get it all done in time: I just needed a few extra days. Luckily, the publisher was willing (bless her!). So, less than 3 weeks from receiving the revision letter, I returned a clean manuscript that was nearly 60,000 words, with 100% of the TKs removed and developmental edits accounted for. Phew!

During those weeks (and, to a lesser extent, the months that preceded them), I definitely questioned both my sanity and my career choice on more than one occasion. I told myself if I survived this experience, I would never, ever write another book like that one. Afterward, I walked around the house like a zombie for a few days, barely able to function, let alone dig out from under the piles of dirty laundry and unpaid bills that had accumulated. All of this couldn’t possibly be worth it, right?
Couch potating

Then a marvelous thing happened. Just like the pain of childbirth fades instantly when you hold your newborn child, I soon forgot the 10- to 12-hour days, the missed meals, the cramped EVERYTHING. The manuscript was accepted: I had done it! Unicorns and rainbows, kittens and puppies, walking on sunshine—that was me. I’d brought to life something that never would have existed without me, and I was on top of the world.

Then I moved on to completing the author questionnaire about who might like the book, review the book, use the book, etc., and THE BOOK started to become a real thing in my mind, a real thing that real people would really read! Recently, the publisher sent me the cover proofs… with my name on them! And now I’m thinking about blurbs and preliminary marketing ideas. I’ve got that floating-on-air feeling again, that hopeful exuberance that comes after an offer. Maybe, just maybe, someone out there will read my book someday and it will matter to them. What was I ever thinking? Of course it was worth it, every single minute! As Adora Svitak, one of the amazing teens I interviewed for the book, said, “It’s good to push yourself. When you really go all out for something… it’s the best feeling in the world.” She is absolutely right about that. I can hardly wait for my next opportunity to do it all over again!

On the opposite end of the spectrum, MY DOG IS THE BEST clocked in at 96 words, and I just found out it went straight to copyediting with zero revisions necessary. As you can probably guess, that feels pretty darn good, too!
smiley face stress ball

Laurie Ann ThompsonLaurie Ann Thompson’s debut young-adult nonfiction, BE A CHANGEMAKER: HOW TO START SOMETHING THAT MATTERS, will be published by Beyond Words/Simon Pulse in September, 2014. She also has two upcoming picture books: an as-yet-untitled biography with Schwartz & Wade/Penguin Random House and MY DOG IS THE BEST with Farrar, Straus, & Giroux/Macmillan. Please visit her website, follow her on Twitter, and like her Facebook page.


Filed under Editing and Revising, Editor, Happiness, Writing and Life

Squashing deadlines, one day at a time

Was last week’s launch party a blast or what? I love everything about SOPHIE’S SQUASH, and the Emu’s Debuts book birthday blog bash was no exception. The party’s over, but I still have the honor of announcing of the giveaway winner! So, without further ado, the winner of the signed copy of SOPHIE’S SQUASH and the swag to go with it is…

Erik at thiskidreviewsbooks!

Congratulations, Erik!

Before we broke for the party, we’d had a few posts about dealing with things like deadlines, interruptions and distractions, the guilt about writing instead of spending time with family, and the guilt about spending time with family instead of writing. (We just can’t win, can we?) This summer, I’ve had it all… at the same time. And as my August 1st deadline for delivering the first draft of CHANGEMAKER loomed ever nearer, I started to panic. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to make it, and even if I somehow did, I’d have to turn in a REAL first draft (and you know what means, right? P.U.!).

Hemingway quote

One of my favorite coffee mugs.

I didn’t feel good about either option, so I broke down and emailed my editor to see if there was any wiggle room there. In the kindest, gentlest way possible (seriously, no sarcasm there—editors are some of the nicest people on the planet!), she explained that there wasn’t, but she also outlined exactly what needed to be in that draft… and what didn’t. It turned out the things I was most stressed about—sidebars, back matter, etc.—weren’t important in this round. Thank goodness I’d asked! I got back to work with a slightly different focus and a much healthier attitude. And I did it!

So, I’m now in this weird place of having met my deadline and turned in my manuscript, but still having a bunch of work to do. Imagine the conversations with friends… Them: “You turned in your book! How does it feel?” Me: “It feels great!” Them: “What are you working on now?” Me: “Oh, the same thing. I still need to finish it.” Them: *blink, blink*

Besides recovering from the last sprint and making my friends wonder about my mental state, I’m still feeling anxious about finishing all of those missing pieces at the same time I’m worrying about how hard the revision rounds might be. I have no idea if that first hurdle was the biggest one in this particular race or if there are even tougher challenges ahead. But I do know that I have loved researching and writing this manuscript. If they cancelled the book today, I’d be forever thankful just to have had the experience (please don’t cancel it! please don’t cancel it!), but (assuming all goes as planned) my own Emu’s Debuts book birthday blog bash is still more than a year away. Until then, I’ll just keep trying to do whatever needs to be done to make this the best possible book it can be.


Filed under Anxiety, Editor, Panic, Publishers and Editors

They call them deadlines because they can kill you, right?

calendar2As I’ve mentioned before, my most recent book sold on proposal, so I’m now staring at a great big fat hairy

Former Emu Peter Salomon is in a similar situation with his second book, GHOSTLY. (You can read the announcement here.) Peter and I have struck up a daily accountability email to report our progress and cheer each other on. I’ll admit I’m a tad jealous, but I love hearing how Peter is making amazing progress and writing up a storm. (By the way, his book sounds seriously, creeptastically awesome, and I can’t wait to read it!)

Quicksand!Unfortunately, the harder I try to work and more I try to focus, the more it feels like I’m moving in slow motion, fighting a desperate (losing) battle against the quicksand that is pulling me down. Life has been unavoidably crazy-making busy lately. My family is being pulled in multiple different directions, while still trying to make time to come back together again whenever possible. I’m definitely not willing to give that up. My health has also been a bit of a challenge lately, which I can’t do anything about at the moment besides wait, hope, try to get enough sleep, and drink a LOT of coffee. And, I’m already thinking about the NEXT book and getting nervous about not having anything new to send out right now. (Note: This seems to be a common Emu affliction…

So, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to get this deadline beast under control. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  1. Balance: When I found out about this deadline, I decided I didn’t have time to read until the draft is finished. But the longer I went without reading, the crankier I got, and the less able I was to write. Reading fuels me (duh, right?). So, I’m going back to giving myself time to read every day. I had also decided, at first, that I had to keep writing during lunch and to eat whatever was at hand. Seriously? I’ll be better off in the long run if I eat something healthy–and take time to enjoy it–preferably with a good book! On the other hand, those sudden urges to clean the refrigerator, wash the windows, or organize the garage? It’s probably best to ignore them for the next few months. Having a book contract is a fine excuse for having a messy (or in my case, disastrous) house, right? RIGHT?
  2. Small goals: I keep thinking about how much more research I need to do, how many more interviews I need to set up, and how many more chapters are left to write. It’s a bit daunting. Overwhelming, really. Okay, it’s completely freaking paralyzing at times. I really need to quit thinking about the whole book and only focus on the next small bite. Writing the next little piece sounds so much easier than writing the whole darn thing! Of course I can do that next teeny tiny part. Piece of cake! (Which brings me to…)
  3. Bursts/Rewards: I think often about Melanie’s post on the Run-Rest cycle, which really struck me. Rather than feeling like I should be writing all the time—and then not wanting to write at all (which is what was starting to happen, even though I LOVE this book!), I’m going to try to be more mindful of working times and resting times. After all, I can still be doing something “productive” when I’m resting (like reading emails, catching up on Twitter, or eating chocolate)… hey, look, rewards! Not that I’m easily motivated by cheesy rewards or anything. (Okay, I confess, I’m totally motivated by cheesy rewards.) And when I’m enjoying those rewards, I must remember to…
  4. Focus on the now: I’m going to practice mindfulness and make sure to fully enjoy my family, my health, my little successes, and my rewards as they come. I’m also going to try to stop worrying about what’s next. Those other manuscripts that I’ve been working on will still be there waiting for me when this one is finished. My agent will probably thank me if she doesn’t hear from me for a few months. And if I don’t have something new go out on submission for the next 4 months, it isn’t going to tank my whole career. So, one thing at a time (or at least, I can make working on those other manuscripts one of the rewards for a successful burst, or something to play with when I’m resting.)

That’s my plan so far, but what about you? What tips and tricks have you found for staying motivated and sticking to a deadline without letting it overwhelm you? Please share–I’m going to need all the help I can get!


Filed under Anxiety, Panic, Writing and Life