Featured From the Archives: The 5 Stages of Writing on a Deadline

As I was dredging the archives for something to post this week (after realizing that I somehow managed to lose almost two whole weeks during my latest venture into the editing cave and that I missed posting anything at all last Friday), I stumbled on what feels like the perfect summation of my current state of mind. It’s a guest post from author Drew Hayes on the 5 stages authors go through when facing a deadline, but I will point out that the same is also true for editing on a deadline. Except, as an editor, you spend your time in a strange sort of stage-meld. Currently, I’m simultaneously on Stage 5 with one project, Stage 1 in another, and verging on Stage 3 with a third. You’ll understand what those mean in a moment. 😉

So, without further ado, I present the encore performance of . . .

The 5 Stages of Writing on a Deadline

by Drew Hayes

Originally Posted on 12/6/13

 

Writing, much like grief, moves in phases. The ideal process for artistic creation is the slow, gentle growth of an idea, watching it bloom from mere idle thoughts into a cohesive, beautiful flower. Then, of course, there’s writing on a deadline. This process is more akin to trying to steer a lawnmower while your drunken uncle fights you for the wheel and a swarm of honeybees swoops about, rightfully angry about the beer bottle your aforementioned uncle threw into their hive. (If this analogy made no sense to you, congratulations on not living in the country.) Point being, writing on a deadline is a crazy, often senseless process that feels as though you’re being swarmed by painful distractions. Though, to be fair, in a perfect analogy you’d be the drunk uncle. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Stage 1: Stupidity, a.k.a., I Can Totally Handle This

This is a beautiful stage, a wonderful place that you’ll find yourself at time and again. You’ve found a project that you’re suited for and been accepted into the position. You have zero fear you can handle this, because the magic of repression has given you the power to block out what your last project was like. You do everything right in this phase; you make an outline, schedule time specifically dedicated to work on this project, and even make a step-by-step checklist. You are fearless. You’ve got this shit down cold.

In fact, you’ve got it down so cold, you’re not even stressing about it. Until that window you set up to work on the project gets chomped away by angrier, more demanding tasks that are further along in the process and soon, all too soon, you’ve hit crunch time. Now you really need to write. So you finally enforce that window and sit down to truly punch out stuff on the keyboard.

Stage 2: Holy Shit, a.k.a., What Was I Thinking?

Nothing. Not one idea. Come on, you can do this. You had a billion ideas when you took on the project. There has to be one left in your brain. Just one. You’ll do anything. Come on. Focus. Foooocus. Don’t look at the spot on the wall. It’s not mold. Because you live in a dry climate and mold doesn’t look like finger smudges, that’s how I know. And now you’re cleaning the “mold” even though that’s totally not what it was. Feel better? Oh, hey, idea! No, not about the project, butrelated to the project. Remember that outline you did? Maybe there are some ideas in that.

Huh . . . this is wordy, detailed, and totally useless. Look at Point #4: draw out deeper meaning of previous subject. They’re all like that. Everything hinges on something else, and there’s no start point. Okay, deep breaths. At least you’ve got a plan if you do ever think of a starting point. Look, there’s an old truth to writing that if you’re stuck, just write anyway. Just put words down and sooner or later something cohesive will form. Type gibberish if you must, just type something.

Stage 3: Desperation, a.k.a., Shit’s ‘Bout To Get Real

Well, it’s the last day before the project is due, and you’ve written 30,000 words of gibberish. I’ll be honest, I’m impressed with the dedication, though I had hoped eventually real words might come out. Still, let’s not give up hope yet. Maybe you can still pull something off. I mean, you’ve done this before. Go look at notes from old projects. Perhaps the secret to breaking through your block lies in there.

Wow . . . these are . . . wow. I’m around ninety percent sure having this combination of words written down is a felony, along with a serious cry for help. Also, a good half of that isn’t English. Scratch that, it isn’t even language, at least nothing a healthy mind could identify as such. No, don’t throw it out, there are children in the world who could stumble across this. Burn it. Cleanse it with fire and hope there can be forgiveness in your next life. Only when that’s done can we continue to scour for the key to unlocking inspiration.

Okay, those pages are gone, though it took them a curiously long time to burn, and the whole house smells like smoke and regret. After a bit more digging, you’ve found different sets of notes from your last project. Let’s take a gander and see what you’ve got.

Cursing.

Cursing.

Teardrop stains.

Enthusiastic cursing.

A cocktail recipe.

Eh, what the hell, seems like as good a time as any to progress to the next step.

Step 4: Booze, a.k.a., Hang On Just A Minute . . . I Know What I’m Talking . . . Here Shush . . . Just Let Me Say One More Thing And I Will — Zzzzzzz

If it was good enough for Hemingway, it’s good enough for you. Furiously hurling vodka down your throat like there’s a gasoline fire in your belly and you have no concept of how putting out a fire works, you take an alcoholic wrecking ball to your sober consciousness. Soon the ideas begin to flow. Unfortunately, they aren’t ideas directly related to the project you’re working on. No, texting your ex is a bad idea; they don’t want to hear from you. I don’t care how unhappy you think they looked in their wedding photo on Facebook, they don’t want to hear from — aaaand you’re texting anyway.

Several drinks later, you’ve worked through nearly all the alcohol stocked in your meager bar, save for the break-in-case-of-emergency last resort: Tequila. You know you shouldn’t do it, but by Faulkner you’ve come this far, and, at this point, you’d rather go down in flames than burn away gently. You guzzle straight from the bottle, downing the well-grade liquor in less time than it took for the under-paid clerk to slap it on the sale shelf. This is going to be bad.

The next few hours pass in a blur. Only snippets and highlights will remain once the alcohol has run its course:

You remember trying to order a pizza on the phone, only for the clerk to consistently reiterate that you have dialed a dry-cleaner. You are not fooled by his lies.

You know you uploaded a clip to YouTube. Unfortunately, you have no memory of what was on it, the name it was under, or even the account you used to post it. You will spend the next six months trying to find it and/or hoping you cannot be identified by the footage. That hope will eventually be dashed.

You fill more pages with the cursed writing, the arcane script that made those previous pages so difficult to burn. This time you hide them so that your sober-self cannot unmake your hard work. There can be no more interruptions, not with the rising so near.

You sit down at your computer, staring at the monitor that mocks your literary impotence with an unsullied white screen. You stick your tongue out at it. This is the last memory of the night.

Stage 5: Completion, a.k.a., Who The What Now?

As you rise slowly from the keyboard, you immediately become aware of three things. Firstly, you have a headache that would send lesser drinkers to their graves. Secondly, you slept with your face on the keyboard and will wear this waffle iron-esque mark of shame for several hours. Lastly, and most importantly, your project is complete. The crisp, neatly edited words stare back at you from the monitor, all mockery quieted. You read through them just to be sure, but everything is germane to the topic, well-worded, and grammatically correct.

You send it off to the client without asking too many questions. Better not to know, you assure yourself. Better not to ask what exactly those pages you wrote signify. Better not to wonder just what it is you might have traded away in a fit of drunken desperation.

Nope, instead you’re off to get a shower and a well-deserved bagel. Maybe you’ll even go see if there are any new projects you might be a good fit for. After all, with this beast done, you’ve got a lot of free time, and you really should try and stay productive.

***

See? Pretty perfect, wasn’t it? For more of Drew’s deadpan hilarity, be sure to check out his website and many novels. Whether you like superheroes, paranormal creatures and vampire accountants, or fantasy characters from table-top role-playing games, Drew’s signature wit and storytelling mastery is guaranteed to shine through. His work is a personal favorite of mine, so I highly recommend giving it a chance if you’re looking for quirky, sarcastic, and different from the norm. 🙂

Book Feature: Much of Madness by S.E. Summa

Whew! What a week! I don’t know about you, but it definitely felt like February had it out for me, and so far, March hasn’t been much better. But despite the whirlwind of insanity I currently find myself in, I wanted to take a moment to introduce you to a fantastic new indie title by a debut author you’re going to want to keep an eye on.

Much of Madness by S.E. Summa

Seraphina Pearce doesn’t know what’s more frustrating: her magic’s affinity for death, her best friend’s transformation into an albino Sin Eater, or that simply touching a guy she loves means someone’s headed to the morgue.

After a sin-eating job goes awry, she casts a risky spell and butts heads with a handsome stranger in order to win an infamous grimoire.

Marceau L’Argent is the last person she should confide in because the occult cat burglar has a mysterious past, and he’s made it no secret he also wants the grimoire. He recognizes her dark magic and offers his unique help as a rare curse breaker. If all that weren’t enough, Marceau causes butterflies in her stomach—a feeling she’d long thought dead.

Seraphina was only trying to break her curse—not piss off Death himself.

MUCH OF MADNESS is a Southern Gothic Horror story about loyalty, sacrifice, and maintaining hope no matter the odds.

There’s a lot to love about this book, and I’ll go into all the details in my review once I’ve finished reading it, but for now, here’s a tiny glimpse at the awesomeness:

 

MOM Teaser - Cafe'

That’s all I’ve got for now, but I’ll be back with my full recommendation soon. For now, I suggest adding it to your TBR or checking it out for yourself. The book links are conveniently located below.

Happy reading! 😉

About the Author:

Shantele-Silly-hat-300x300S. E. Summa lives in Tennessee with her husband and a menagerie of spoiled pets. After her daughter left the nest, she rediscovered her love for writing. Growing up in Nashville, she always felt the city’s unique culture and landmarks would be the perfect setting for monsters to play. A PRO member of the Romance Writers of America (RWA), Shantele serves as the Volunteer and Membership Coordinator for her local chapter, the Music City Romance Writers (MCRW). She graduated magna cum laude with a BBA from Belmont University. S. E. started The Debut Collective, a supportive online tribe of authors (both published and aspiring), editors, formatters, and cover designers working together to foster a new generation of stories and authors. The Debut Collective is publishing a series of five anthologies in June 2016.

You can find her online at sesumma.com or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Book Links: Amazon | Goodreads | Barnes and Noble

Featured From the Archives: Writing Mode vs. Editing Mode

Before we get to this week’s installment, I’d like to thank everyone who read, commented, and shared my post from last Friday. Your support was unexpected and very appreciated. Things have been largely fixed and improve daily, but I’m still struggling to fully rekindle that creative spark. So you’ll have to forgive me for dredging up an older article this week. I think (well, hope) that this will still be relevant to many out there, though it would more aptly fit my scenario to talk about what happens when neither mode works. Maybe that’ll be a task for another day. In the meantime, enjoy!

Writing Mode vs. Editing Mode

by Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 10/5/12

There’s a lot of writing advice out there that says you have to write every day to be successful. And while I’m all for self-discipline (though I suck at it), this strategy just doesn’t work for me. Partly because sometimes (often, actually), my muse takes a sick day (or fourteen), preferring to sip margaritas on a beach somewhere rather than coming to work, and sometimes my characters stamp their feet like petulant little children and refuse to cooperate, resulting in a stalemate of blank pages. But mostly, it’s because I never know which half of me is going to roll out of bed in the morning, the writer or the editor.

I think most authors would agree that writing consists of two modes: Writing Mode and Editing Mode. Two sides to the same coin, neither exists without the other, and yet they require vastly different parts of the brain. Writing Mode is reliant on imagination, slave to inspiration and the whims of muses, and is an organic, joyous process (most of the time). Editing Mode is much more analytical in nature, coming from a place of logic and fact rather than emotion. Sounds like the age-old argument about English and Math, no? But the truly fascinating part is that, while each mode compliments the other, it is nearly impossible to utilize both at the same time. At least for me.

I am one of those perfectionist people that perennially edits as I write. I can’t just glom my thoughts onto the page in a horrific ramble of word vomit and call it good. Which, I realize, is in direct contradiction to one of the Cardinal Rules of Writing. If you remember, I already wrote about this inability to barrel headlong through a rough draft without looking back in my rant about Perfectionism. What does this have to do with the two modes of writing? Well, it means that quite frequently, I suffer from the bipolar nature of the process and flip-flop between the two. Which is how I know that you can’t do both at the same time. At least, not fully. You can tweak little things during the creation part, but a complete overhaul-style edit will derail any hopes you had of being creative that day.

Why does it happen this way? I have no idea. My theory is that when you start to edit, the part of your brain responsible for problem solving takes over, chasing away those little fairies of creative thought much like waking up chases away dreams. Editing is like working on a puzzle, each piece carefully weighed and inspected to make sure it fits with the others. It’s not fun (well, for most people), and it’s not glamorous. More than any other part, it feels like work. It’s one of the only times in writing when you have to conform to rules, and for a lot of people, it starts to feel like an administrative chore. You never hear anyone say they enjoy paying bills or filing taxes, right? Well, I would hazard that there are a lot of writers out there who put editing into that same category of painful-but-necessary tasks. (In fact, I know there are.)

Writing Mode, on the other hand, is fun, and can sometimes be glamorous (if you’re not me and aren’t instantly and completely mortified by the drivel you just put down, amazed that anything that crappy could have come from the beautiful vision in your head). There’s something magical in the process of creation, a freedom in the cathartic expression of emotion. And, like dreams, there really are no rules. This is the part where you’re free to wander down whatever strange, nonsensical paths your muse sees fit. There’s no worry because you know you can just fix it later. (Unless you’re me, and you get stuck like a broken record until you get a scene right.)

I think it’s this disconnect between the two that prevents them from being called upon simultaneously. Creativity can feel like a direct link to the subconscious, channeling beauty from places even the artist might not be able to define. Editing is too grounded in reality, too centered around order and precision to allow for that much unknown. Which leaves every author with two personalities, the writer and the editor. And like Jekyll and Hyde, you can’t always predict which one will show up when.

The good thing about having these two halves of the process is that when one doesn’t work, the other often does. When inspiration fades (and let’s face it, uninspired days happen), you can still be productive. Even if editing is as painful as a root canal for you. It’s easier to do it in small chunks, after all, than deal with one massive fifteen-hour surgery at the end, where you have thousands of words to mutilate and butcher. (Unless you plan to hire someone like me to hack your baby into pieces for you.)

Of course, not every writer is gifted with equal amounts of talent in each mode. Some are brilliant creatively, but horrible editors. Some are masters of grammar and actually enjoy editing (me! me!), but find creating to be like pulling teeth. And some are lucky enough to toe the line between the two. Which are you?

Sometimes the Demon Wins: Mental Illness and Creativity

Some of you out there probably noticed that I didn’t post anything last Friday. (And if you didn’t, then drat! I should have kept my mouth shut!) I could say that it was due to my relentless work schedule. I could say that I was sick, or had an emergency, or even that I ran out of things to say and articles to dredge up out of the archives. But the truth is, it was none of those things. I simply couldn’t muster the oomph. I stared at a blinking cursor all day; I had ideas full of charm and wit and GIF-tastic fun, and I couldn’t bring forth the desire to make words form cohesive statements. So I didn’t.

I don’t generally like to talk about this side of myself online, the ever-present darkness that has lurked in the back of my mind since I was a kid. It’s weakness, a flaw, a broken part of my soul that I don’t want people to see. So instead, I obfuscate, deflecting it with sarcasm and illusion so no one sees what’s really happening behind the curtain. But as I’ve gotten older, I realize that pretending it doesn’t exist, denying the effects and havoc it can wreak, is far more dangerous than talking about it.

That’s not to say that I don’t own this part of my identity. I do. I’ll readily admit that I have clinical depression and a pretty severe anxiety disorder, all wrapped up in a nice little ball of personal hell that I contend with on a regular basis. I talk about it openly if asked, or in person. But only the superficial stuff — the medicines I take, the techniques I’ve learned for coping with it. I present myself as a functioning depressive, a victor, a survivor.

Until I’m not.

See, the thing about depression is that it’s often insidious, eroding at the edges of a victim’s reality without them even really noticing. You can be depressed and not feel sad. You can be stuck deep in the quagmire and not shed a single tear. You can be swallowed by the darkness and not feel suicidal. In fact, you can fall all the way to the bottom of the pit before you even realize something’s wrong, because outwardly, you kept functioning, kept trudging through life, kept covering the symptoms with caffeine and other pick-me-ups, kept chalking the fatigue and lethargy up to the toll of being a workaholic. You kept on.

But believe me when I say that you can appear to be “normal” and be exactly the opposite. This is what happened to me last week. I knew I’d been sliding into the pit for a while. I abruptly lost my meds about a month and a half ago due to an insurance kerfuffle and had to go without while I waited to get it fixed. (Don’t do this if you can help it. It’s dangerous and stupid, and you pay for it in ways that aren’t financial.) So I knew that it was likely I would experience the effects of not tempering my demon with the pills that kept it sated. I was on guard, alert; I knew the signs to watch out for.

And I still missed them.

People often ask me what it feels like to be depressed. It’s different for everyone, and there are a million analogies for it out there. We’ve all seen the ads portraying listless people who forgot how to brush their hair or blue-tinged cartoon worlds with wind-up toys. And yeah, I suppose those are accurate — when you’re deep in the Pit of the Unmedicated. But here’s what it looked like for me:

Low-level insomnia, which turned into white-noise insomnia (the kind where your body sleeps but your brain literally won’t turn off), which was followed by exhaustion (because duh! Not sleeping well = tired), which became full-on fatigue, which made getting through the day feel like running a marathon in waist-deep mud, which turned into not wanting to do anything (because yeah, STILL TIRED), which turned into over-sensitivity to everything (sorry, friends and family, I know you don’t hate me and I didn’t mean to be a witch), which turned into festering on misinterpreted actions, which turned into feeling worthless, which then turned into guilt over not being good enough at, well, everything, which turned into stress (oh hey there, anxiety, nice of you to join the party!), which turned into even worse doomsday visions and insecurities and OH MY GOD I’M GOING TO FAIL AT EVERYTHING, which turned into a complete and total brain shutdown and a horrific case of the Blahs, which finally turned into the realization that I had fallen into the Morass of Despair again and GOD DAMN IT, WHERE ARE MY PILLS?

Whew! Get tired reading that? Imagine living it. And through all of that nightmare, I went to work, I kept my house clean, I dog-sat for my sister, I went out with friends, I finished client work on deadline, and I kept going. But even though I managed to maintain my day-to-day routine, and even managed to be at least somewhat social, everything felt like it took a million times more effort than it should. So yeah, I may have checked the boxes on the to-do list, but I was left with nothing at the end of it.

Now, that might not seem so bad to a lot of you. I mean, I’m fortunate in that my personal breed of depression is not debilitating, that the river of anxiety which runs through it often motivates me to leave the safety of my bed and gives me enough energy to at least somewhat function — though it can often take me half the day to even feel awake, let alone present. But here’s the kicker — I’m a creative person. I write, and edit, and draw, and generally view the world through the lens of creativity. But when you feel like a shell of a human, it’s not exactly easy to call up that sparkly inner creativity fairy. Creativity, after all, relies on motivation, inspiration, dreams, and intellect, and when a Mental Illness Monster has your muse trapped in its jaws, there’s not much you can do. You’re empty. No matter how much you might want to, it’s just not there.

So the point to all this, as I’m sure you’re starting to wonder, is that sometimes the demon wins. Sometimes you just can’t muster it. And that’s okay. Depression and anxiety are common among a lot of creative people, so I wanted to take this moment to acknowledge that, to tell myself and all the others who secretly battle against this and feel guilty when they have to take a mental health day, when they just can’t call forth the will to create, that it’s 100% okay. Take that day off. Claw your way out of the pit however you need to. Do it without regret and without guilt. And remember, it’s not weakness to surrender temporarily, to seek help, to do what you need to for yourself. You can let the demon win sometimes; so long as it doesn’t win the war.

From the Editor’s Desk: From Under the Mountain by Cait Spivey

 

Welcome to my first book review of the year! There will be lots more in the months to come, but I’m super excited that this one happens to be first. Yes, I may have some particular vested interest in it, seeing as its one I had the privilege of working on and its written by a talented author I’m lucky enough to call friend, but more than that, I just plain adored this one. Toward the end of last year, I found a string of amazing fantasy novels, including Uprooted by Naomi Novik and The Untold Tale by J.M. Frey, and Spivey’s offering fit right in.

So let’s get to all the reasons you should run out and read this book immediately, shall we?

From Under the Mountain

by Cait Spivey

From Under the Mountain by Cait Spivey

As the second child of the Aridan imperial family, nineteen-year-old Guerline knows exactly what is expected of her: be unobtrusive, be compliant, and do not fall in love with her low-born companion, Eva. She has succeeded at only two of those.

But before her feelings for Eva can become a point of contention for the royal house, Guerline’s calm and narrow life is ripped away from her—in the course of a single night—and she is abruptly cast in the role of empress.

Faced with a council that aggressively fears the four witch clans charged with protecting Arido and believes they are, in fact, waging war against the humans, Guerline struggles to maintain order. As her control over the land crumbles, she learns that the war is rooted in a conflict much older than she realized—one centuries in the making, which is now crawling from under the mountain and into the light. With the fate of Arido hanging in the balance, Guerline must decide who to trust when even her closest councilors seem to have an agenda.

Darkly cinematic, From Under the Mountain pairs the sweeping landscape of epic fantasy with the personal journey of finding one’s voice in the world, posing the question: how do you define evil, when everything society tells you is a lie?

There is so much to love about this novel that I almost don’t know where to start. But first, let me say that although Amazon and other retailers seem to be primarily classing this as f/f romance, it is not. There is romance, yes, and it does feature a beautifully rendered f/f love story, but this book is, in fact, a brilliant example of dark fantasy done well.

Spivey establishes her prowess in the genre right from the first page, where we’re introduced to protagonist Guerline standing over the decaying, yet alive, bodies of her parents. This horrifying, slightly gruesome scene is merely a harbinger for what’s to come though, as Spivey proceeds to kill off the entire Imperial family — with the exception of Guerline, of course — by the end of the first chapter.

Suddenly thrust into a role she never expected to fill, the young empress has to navigate not only the intricacies of unraveling her own identity from what others expect her to be but the nuances of running a country poised on the brink of war. Humanity is turning against the witch-lords who have guarded the empire’s borders for centuries, and Guerline finds herself dealing with radical opinions on both sides. But the rift between human and witch, magic and politics is only the beginning of Guerline’s problems, as a creature that has been sealed away from the world for a millennium is finally about to get its revenge.

Spivey’s writing sings off the page with a cinematic flair that evoked the feel of a Studio Ghibli film, but the rotating, more traditional approach to the POV and fact that no one is as safe as they seem brought up visions of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series. And I have to say that the blending of those two is nothing less than stunning.

But the thing that has always resonated most for me in Spivey’s work is her ability to create a fully realized cast of diverse characters and a world so richly textured it makes you want to live there indefinitely. Arido’s plight may encompass the standard sprawling map of high fantasy, but every detail is painstakingly accounted for, and the repercussions of what seem like small acts are felt throughout in an impressive example of the butterfly effect.

All in all, this is a gorgeous debut by an author who has clearly only begun her to literary stardom, and I cannot recommend it enough. If you’re a fan of high fantasy rife with political intrigue and the classic good vs evil scenario, if you enjoy dark fantasy with a fantastically creepy edge, or if you simply wish to escape into a world that treats everyone — regardless of gender or race or sexual orientation — with respect, then this is the book for you.  Seriously, go read it. It’s amazing.

Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads