How I Met My Deadline and Kept My Sanity Too (or Before and After)

Okay, I know I blabbered incoherently in my last post. But really, I recovered from this revision much quicker and faster than all of the ones I did last year.

(Just so you know, I did some math for this post. Between last year’s three projects, I went through 16 drafts. Other people only saw nine of these.

So, like I told myself before I started this most recent revision, I have some revising experience.)

By recovering, I mean that I could get back to work right away, more or less normally. That’s where I’ve been for the past couple weeks: writing away on the second manuscript.

(Last summer, after I turned in a revision, I devolved into a couch-dwelling blob who couldn’t do more than sit in front of the TV and catch up on So You Think You Can Dance. I think it’s safe to say I overworked myself.)

I’ve been pondering why my recovery time is so much faster for the past few days, and I think I’ve got it: It’s all a matter of pacing – whether you’re plotting a novel, or writing one, or revising one. The difference is that sometimes, you’re pacing your characters/plot and other times, you’re pacing yourself.

(I personally suck at pacing myself. I’m breakneck kind of gal. Hence, last year’s insanity.)

Today, I share with you my techniques for keeping my sanity during revision time. I call it

Revision 105*

a) Take breaks:

Schedule them in. If it’s premeditated, it’s not procrastination. Other people may not need a reminder on this, but I had to decide to take them ahead of time. Sometimes, it was just an hour; sometimes, it was a half day. Sometimes, the break was the bribe (see below).

(Last July, I started logging my hours just for curiosity’s sake and realized: I was working 10-14 hours a day. Even worse, I only took two days off that month. The hard work paid off, which is why it was so dangerous. I met every single deadline.

But the human body is not designed to work that….which is where the days of SYTYCD watching came in….)

b) Limit hours:

I tried not to work past 8-9PM. If I did, I was too wound up to fall asleep like a normal person. Over the five week revision period, I think I only broke this rule four times. Yaaay for a good night’s sleep!

Confession, though: The night before the deadline, I stayed up till 2AM…when I emailed the new draft in. But then I also took most of Tuesday off.

(Last summer, I almost always worked past midnight. Past 1AM, actually. V. bad.)

c) Give bribes:

This time, my body recognized how hard this revising work was, and it demanded TLC. TLC sometimes took the form of special food (Pizza Lunchables! delicious! so unhealthy!) or candy (Sour Patch Kids! But not too many in one day or your tongue will complain) or a trip to the movies (Jane Eyre! Sooo pretty. Nice music as well. Very far removed from eleven-year-old adventurers).

One day, I struggled to write a new scene, distracted by a craving for Oreos. After thirty minutes, I got up, left the library cubicle, walked across the street to the grocery store, bought some Oreos, and returned. And then I told myself that I could eat one Oreo for every page I wrote.

Best idea ever.

I finished in maybe forty-five minutes. I tried to crunch quietly though…so I wouldn’t disturb the silence of the library/get dirty looks from the people in the other cubicles.

(In Montana last summer, I had so much manic focus that I didn’t really need bribes. Or at least, I didn’t give myself that option. My body has indeed become wise – and full of cravings.)

d) Read in the evening:

I committed myself to reading a couple hours before bedtime, after the day’s work was behind me. I thought of it as revision fuel, but it also kept me from getting so entrenched into my own manuscript that I lost sight of it. You know, not being able to see the forest for the trees and all that. By taking in other authors’ techniques and plot arcs, I also kept mine in perspective.

(Also, a few hours a day can really add up. In five weeks, I read 19 books.)

(Last summer, I read an average of six books a month. I usually read them on the elliptical, or to unwind a half hour before light’s out. NOT enough.)

e) Take walks with good music:

This time, when I got stuck on a scene or a chapter, I made myself stop, pack up my stuff, and move. I walked until the plot snarl unraveled in my head and typed out notes to myself on my phone.

I so wish that I had this option last year. It cut way back on the frustration on wrestling with a scene that isn’t loving you back, and also, I gained less stress weight. Added bonus for my vanity. 😀

(Last year, in the stress weight category, I gained a nice spare time around my middle, which took me months to walk off. Remember where I was last year? Remember the bears? There wasn’t much walking to be done, and the elliptical at the lodge’s gym isn’t the best substitute. Not much to see, besides watching snow melt on the mountain in front of you. No room for thinking, which is why the reading came in handy.)

f) Write a good, detailed outline or plan:

I literally had a thirteen page outline with a point-by-point to do lists, where I combined my revision notes with my editor’s. I swear by outlines in most cases, though. I haven’t written a novel without some outlining since middle school. Think of it was your revision map. Or your revision GPS system, except less talkative.

(Last year, I did try one revision without such an outline, and I got hopelessly lost. I couldn’t remember what scenes I had added or what scenes I had cut. The emotional conflict was all over the place, because my MC had struggle after struggle with no resolution.

Then, I took a few days to write a detailed outline, and suddenly I saw light at the end of the revision tunnel.)

g) Pad your deadline:

Always leave yourself extra time for a line-edit or a second round.

I actually had to ask for more time – another week. It was probably the best thing I could have ever done for my sanity. It helped that I picked my deadline, and as soon as I understood that I had given myself an impossible task, I emailed my editor and told her so. It definitely helped that my editor was totally nice about it.

But it was necessary. I did most of my revising by hand and waited until the very end to enter the edits into a digital copy. So, that meant that five days before my new deadline, I realized that I had only cut 1.5K of a 104K ms. Wha?

I meant to lop off 10K, so I had to scramble to come up with a new plan and race through a second round. I ended up cutting 9K total, so I feel reasonably good about it. But if I didn’t have that time to tackle the line edit with gusto, poor Courtney would’ve been stuck reading a draft that was only five pages shorter than the previous one…when we had both agreed that cutting was essential. (Who writes a 104K middle grade? Who? (Don’t answer that.))

(Last year, I either didn’t work toward a deadline at all, or I worked my butt off to meet impossible ones. Neither are advisable.)

*I would’ve called it Revision 101, but I kind of already covered that in this post. This is still the formula that I follow for my revisions. Well, mostly…

I try to read competitive titles (ie. number 5) beforehand, and I only read them during the revision if I’m looking for specific help in a certain area: character arc, pacing, emergence of backstory, etc. And I gotta admit number 6 is the first to go in a time crunch. 😛