I triumphantly wrote THE END on a manuscript last summer, and here I am again on deadline. I came across a post I wrote (but never published) while I was on that squeaky tight deadline last summer. I’d been noting the things that enabled me to finally finish that first draft—along with the things that had not been quite so helpful, and thought I’d share a few of them with you.
After more than twenty years with deadlines, and almost that long with fellow writer friends who sometimes seem to be the only ones who “get it,” I fully understand that to the general non-writing public (including family and friends) writers are strange ducks. Unless you are also a writer, it’s almost impossible to make you understand the intensity of what is required to finish a novel.
Writers must “live” in the story for weeks and even months on end. We must “become” our characters—an extremely emotional challenge—if we are to write them in a way that will resonate with readers. And we must have long, extended periods of time in which to get it all on paper before the thoughts flee and the ideas dry up.
For the past six and a half years, my husband and I have both worked from home. And while we love the arrangement and wouldn’t trade it for the world, it took me forever to make Ken understand why him popping his head in my office with “this will only take a minute, babe…” could cost me hours of lost writing time. I finally came up with a word picture that helped him understand: “Honey,” I said, “if you were working on an oil painting and you’d just gotten your colors mixed and had a good start on the canvas, and then I popped into your studio and said, ‘Could you come and help me move the bookcase to another wall? I promise it will only take five minutes…’ how would you respond?
“Well,” he said, “I’d probably tell you it’ll just have to wait for a couple of hours, because if I stopped right then to help you, my brushes and even my paints might dry up, and then I wouldn’t be able to match the colors when I came back…or else I’d have to take the time to cover the paints and soak the brushes and—”
“Exactly!” I crowed! “That’s what it’s like when you interrupt me for “just a minute.” My ideas dry up, and I have to put my words to soak, and when I come back to my laptop, even a few minutes later, I can’t quite get my metaphors mixed to match what I was crafting when I was (so rudely) interrupted.”
“Ohhhh,” he said. I could almost see the little lightbulb glowing over his head.
We came up with a solution that works pretty well. When I’m on deadline, and needing to get “in the zone” for several hours, I put a little lantern at the top of the stairs. That way, he knows, before he even has a chance to call out my name, that I’m working on a masterpiece and now is not the time.
So, if you have a writer in your life that you’d like to encourage and truly help through to the bitter “the end,” here are some things to do—and not to do—that you may find helpful and informative. Or at least entertaining?
• Give your writer some space. Understand that the fact she can’t have coffee with you once a week, or once a month like usual doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you any more. She’s missing you as much as you are missing her, and can’t wait to get caught up with what’s happening in your world! (Because there’s sure nothing exciting happening in hers…well, not her real world, anyway.)
• Unless it’s an emergency, please text or e-mail her instead of calling on the phone. That way, she can wait until she’s taking a break to read your message, and respond when it’s most convenient.
• Let her know you’re praying for her and that you understand how stressful it is to be on deadline. (And even if you’re not a writer, you’ve had a deadline that caused you stress, so you do know what that’s like.)
• Give her something to look forward to. A lunch date on her calendar or tickets for the two of you to an event after her deadline will be like carrots that keep her going to the finish line.
• Take a page out of my wonderful husband’s playbook, and consider taking care of supper for a full week. Believe me, your writer won’t care if it’s pizza delivery or carry-out burgers as long as she doesn’t have to cook it.
• When she finally writes “THE END” do a happy dance with her and praise her for a job well done.
• If you run into your writer-friend-on-deadline in the grocery store or post office, or if you see her post something on Facebook, please don’t greet her with: “I thought you were supposed to be on deadline!” Whether you meant it in a snarky tone or not, that’s how she’ll read it. Besides, deadline or not, there are some things that still must get done (like grocery shopping!) And for extroverted writers like me, Facebook is the only thing that keeps us sane! I simply don’t have time or mental energy to take an hour or two for coffee with a friend, but I can spend ten minutes three times a day on Facebook doing the promotion my editors expect of me (whether I’m on deadline or not), and at the same time, I can catch up with my friends’ news, find a couple of silly memes to make me smile, and make sure nobody I know has died.
• Speaking of which, please don’t die while your writer friend is on deadline. I’m kidding of course. Sort of… My editors are people too, and they understand that life—and death—will happen, and sometimes extensions must be given and exceptions made. We did, in fact, have a death in my extended family on my crucial next-to-last week of writing. Of course I wanted to be with family and friends, and I wouldn’t have missed being at the funeral to remember our loved one and grieve together with family and friends. But it was certainly a huge stressor in the midst of an already very stressful time and it put me that much further behind on my deadline.
• If you happen to live with your writer friend <ahem> don’t make her feel guilty if you catch her curled up on the sofa for a twenty-minute nap. You may not realize that she stayed up until one a.m. making up the word count she lost because somebody died or had a crisis the day before.
• And speaking of crises, if you’re having a crisis that doesn’t involve life or death—or your own deadline—and if you can possibly put off the part of your crisis that involves your writer friend until after she’s written “the end,” I promise she will be more fully there for you once she’s fulfilled her obligation to her editor. She will be able to concentrate on your issues and help you think through a problem with so much more clarity if she’s not worried about making her deadline (and slightly mad at you for daring to have a crisis while she’s on deadline!)
Of course, some of those items are clearly tongue-in-cheek, but hopefully they make a point, and help you understand the world of any writer you may know and love. And if you are a writer, please feel free to add to either list with things you’ve experienced or found helpful—or not.
What would you add to the TO DO and NOT TO DO lists above?