My wonderful readers, you have been incredibly patient and wonderful and supportive; and I’m so happy to have you on this journey with me! I think it’s about time for me to share with you a little about what I’m writing and about why writing on deadline is so important for me. I also have a very special announcement to share with you!
How does FOCUS figure in writing on deadline?
Focus has always been a challenge for me—in life and in writing. Don’t believe me? You should see my computer folders!
I’ve got short stories, picture books, middle grade chapter books, historical fiction, fantasy, more poetry than I care to admit to, a play and a non-fiction book. At the MS Book Festival, I froze and gave the answer of death to a publisher who asked me what I wrote: “Well, I’m a bit all over the place. I’m working on it.”
Never had I desired to crawl into a book and disappear into another realm more than I did in that moment! *sigh*
Like I’ve shared before, I do not see myself choosing one genre and camping out there, which I understand may not be financially wise in this writing world. However, I know as I start out I have to choose a focus and stick with it to completion in order to get my foot in the publishing door. So, the next time a publisher asks me a question—how cool was that, by the way?—I will have an intelligent answer.
“Thanks for asking! I’m currently working on a narrative non-fiction book. Fifteen-year-old Ashlee sang as she drove her dream convertible one May evening. In an instant a drunk driver took her choices and left her with a TBI…and her SMILE.”
That sounds much better and less like a junior high student trying to answer a question about a book she didn’t read, right?
Where’s this book coming from, Joy?
So, I’ll share a little back story with you on this book. In 2010 we moved to Louisiana. I determined that writing was all I’d ever wanted to do and I decided to work toward becoming an author. I revised and submitted a short story (never heard anything from that…can I count that as my first rejection??) and wrote my first full picture book. I put that thing through no less than 16 revisions, read it to a young and giggly focus group and even received a gracious review from an amazing author friend. But, through all the revisions, I somehow lost the heart of the story.
Around the same time, I began writing for a local magazine. One of my assignments focused on a local teenage girl, Ashlee, who started an organization to give free rides home for people who’ve had too much to drink. She carried courage in her wheelchair and shone light from her smile. She had recently walked across the stage with her peers to receive her high school diploma, supported by an ocean of applause and observed by not a single dry eye.
After the article appeared, I couldn’t stop thinking about that family. So, with dry mouth and shaky resolve, I approached them with the idea of a book.
They excitedly agreed, and I dove in headfirst. I interviewed them several more times. Interviews continued with other family, friends and law enforcement. I checked out every book relating to traumatic brain injuries that I could find. The pretty pink binder I chose to match Ashlee’s sparkly personality soon filled to overflowing with notes from the interviews and research. I read her diary and her parents’ journals from the hospital stays. Every note of encouragement and well-wishing from her website soon added to my bundle of notes.
I jotted down a detailed time-line of her life on notecards and filled a box to its capacity with them. Next came an outline and the start of a plan.
And then, life happened.
What I considered to be two pivotal interviews kept falling through. I took on huge volunteer responsibilities; plus, as my kids grew, my teaching responsibilities also increased. And, I opened my heart to Fear—Terror, really.
What’s the big deal with Fear?
Who was I to think I could write a book? The thought of actually being a published author terrified me in ways I never anticipated and still struggle to explain; and so I let Life—actually Fear—win. All the research, all the plans—I pushed them to the side to gather dust because I was afraid of letting the family down, of failing and—I realize how crazy this sounds—of succeeding.
Then late last summer, I conquered Fear. Not that he doesn’t rear his ugly hear from time to time—trust me, he does. But, I have him chained in a dark dungeon of my mind.
What’s a writing life look like without Fear?
I excitedly pursued some of the creative ideas I’d ignored for years. I began to journal and discover exactly what my dreams are. Then an opportunity arose—this website could happen. As soon as I realized that, a vision came to me about what this site would be and what the focus of this blog should be. Clarity continued as, piece by piece, each part of this puzzle came together to form an even more beautiful picture than I could have planned. The hard work of launching and maintaining it, learning the ropes and sticking to the plan, coupled with branching out and finding followers on social media as well as adding clients to pay for this opportunity overtook the creativity for a bit, as I knew it would.
And now—now I’m breaking through. I’m in stage 3, maybe 4. Many stages lie ahead, but I’m learning to keep my focus on the present. When I try to squint and peek on stage 10, I stumble. No more stumbling! I am here; I am re-acquainting myself with Ashlee’s story and, in a few days, I will begin to write. More interviews and research lie ahead; but, for now, these are the next two steps in the process. It was my inspirational writer friend Mea Smith who helped me map out a plan for completion of this project. Her insights and advice helped me focus on the steps and the order they required.
What’s the plan?
I have a journalist’s soul and a storyteller’s heart. This just means I’m prone to procrastinating and chasing bunny tales; so I work best with a deadline.
So, here’s my plan. I’m sharing it with you to keep myself accountable and because you’re my Fellowship!
This week I am re-immersing myself in Ashlee’s story. I’m re-reading all my interview and research notes as well as their journals. This time I’m reading with added purpose—taking notes of where and how each aspect of her story fits into the whole narrative, jotting down lines if they come to me.
Beginning September 3, I will have dedicated daily writing time of 1 to 3 hours, depending on the day. My first draft deadline, dear friends, is November 5—Ashlee’s 25th birthday.
So, here we go! Fear’s raging against his chains. Excuses and distractions are sure to start popping up. But, I’ve got you guys to keep me on track, right? I’ll keep you updated. If you don’t already, follow me on Facebook where I’m starting “Writing Recap Wednesday.” I’ll give you updates there, possibly share some lines and maybe ask for advice. If you’re on Twitter, be sure to follow me there as well. I’m sure I’ll have 140 characters to share, especially when I’m giving in to procrastination!
What does writing on deadline look like?
One of my favorite Facebook groups is The Motivated Writer, started by the amazingly encouraging Jamie Raintree. She launched a Back to Routines Challenge event this past Monday. I’m using the accountability of that event to get me started on my writing routine. My plan is to write every morning from 6:00 to 7:30. On top of that set time, I plan to add another hour or two 3-5 days a week. I can’t really set those days/times because my family has a unique schedule. My husband’s job is not a set 8 to 5/weekdays-only kind of deal; so my work and writing time depends greatly on his schedule.
I have done the math to determine how many words per day or week I need to complete in order to produce a full first draft manuscript by November 5; however, I did that just to give myself a gauge. Honestly, I have always loathed word counts and inwardly cringed whenever an editor demanded a certain word count. (Yes, I realize how funny that sounds for a former news reporter and current freelance magazine writer to say.) You see, I’m a big believer in writing a story until it’s told. A tale has a natural length, and a wise writer knows when she’s reached the end…or when she hasn’t told the full story yet. I really am a Rebel Writer, y’all! (Consider this my official copyright on that title…I’m so gonna’ use that one day!)
So, as of this Sunday, I will officially be writing on deadline. I look forward to sharing the journey—mountaintops and bogs alike—with you.
Will you help me stay on track? I’m going to hit walls and derailments and issues; it’s inevitable. Any suggestions to pick myself up when those happen? Fellow writers, do you have any suggestions of how to stay on track with an intense deadline?