The Reality of Reality Television

A conversation with my husband:

Me: …and so I was just blown away when she said that $400 was a decent price point for a shirt. I mean, who says that.

Him: You’re a junkie. You’re a reality TV junkie.

Me: I know. Isn’t it great? I mean, I think it just satisfies my deep desire to take random people that would never interact in real-life and lock them in a room, then observe what they do. It’s like The SIMS, but way less work.

Him: *blinks slowly* Ummmm, how long have you been a kidnapping psychopath?

Me: I’m not a psychopath. I’m a writer. I like to people watch, but I hate leaving home. Reality television is just people watching for introverts.

Deadline Post-Mortem

The minute the clock struck midnight on June 1, 2015, I failed. I had set a deadline for Heart Stone to be completed by that point and instead of the first draft being done and ready to rest over the summer I had a half-done novel and a sinking feeling that it might stay that way for awhile.

So, the first thing to do – a post-mortem (#4, mentioned in my deadline post). Let’s ask some hard questions and figure out how to avoid my mistake in the future.

Pre-Writing Planning

1. Does/Did this project have a plot/plot points/general plan?


I mentioned before that I had used Alexandra Sokoloff’s book Screenwriting Tricks for Author’s to plan this novel. I also mentioned that I am a bit of a plantser (cross between plotter and pantser). What this means is that I plotted out all of the major points in the story, but left the movement in between these points open. My challenge as a writer is to move the characters between the major plot points in a believeable way.

That being said, I grossly underestimated how much work it is to get characters from point A to point B without turning them into paper dolls and forcing them to just do what I say already! Their movements and decisions have to be believable, or all my work is for nothing.

I think this is a rookie mistake. Bottom line – I need to give myself more of a map or more time. I think which I choose depends on the project. If the deadline is external, then the map becomes necessary. If I have the luxury of time, them great. I can skimp a bit on the map.

2. Does/Did this project have main characters in place?


I also mentioned that I used Chuck Wendig’s method of developing characters to assist in that. I answered the questions for each of my main characters. Secondary characters don’t get that treatment and often I just name them randomly and move on. I may go back and fill in info for them if they turn into more than a one-off kind of character.

3. Does/Did this project have a word count goal (measurable & achievable)?


50,000 words (this was a goal and probably will end up longer). Measurable and achievable are important here as you set goals. This count was both. I still missed it, but I’ll get to that in a second.

4. Does/Did this project have checkpoints (smaller goals)?

Sort of.

Here’s where I think I went wrong. I had an overall word count goal of 50,000 words. I was able to figure out what I needed to write every day to meet that goal. For me, that meant writing 834 words every weekday for about 12 weeks. It’s completely do-able on paper.

But, my schedule can be weird at times. Some days I may be able to squeeze in a couple of hours or more to write and I may knock out 3,000+ words in a day. Other days I may get no time to write. Zero word days are not abnormal around here. I just shrugged them off. No biggie, I’ll make up the words on another day. Only, because I was only doing daily tracking I didn’t necessarily make up the words. And I didn’t realize how far behind I was until it was too late.

Solution: Weekly and monthly goals and tracking in addition to daily tracking.

Zero word days are going to be a reality, but I have to have a way to make sure that I make up the count and stay on track. By adding a weekly word goal and a monthly word goal I’ll be able to catch deficiencies faster, before they become too overwhelming.

5. What role did/do distractions play in missing this goal?

Let’s be honest for a second. This was a problem too. There’s a million things competing for my attention online that can be way more fun than pushing through a sticky mess in my book.

Solution: I have Scrivener set to full-screen mode. Nothing else shows, although notifications will still pop up. This helps once I choose to open it! So, instead of mindlessly walking away from computer at the end of the day I plan to leave Scrivener open so that when I get on my computer the next day, my novel is what I see first thing. The idea here is to write first, browse later. I know I can’t write for 8 hours straight. I have to break that up, but I can handle an hour or two and in that time I should be able to meet my daily goal. Then I can browse Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

The second part of that solution is to list everything that I need to do, daily, weekly, and monthly. If I want to tweet 20 times per month, then I can schedule some tweets in advance and meet that goal. If I am aiming for 3 blog posts per week then I need an editorial calendar and to work ahead – time that needs to be calendared separate from writing time. And so on.

Next Steps

Now that I’ve taken the time to evaluate what went wrong I can set new goals and plan accordingly.

Deadline 2.0 – October 31, 2015

Daily word goal – 417
Weekly – 2,085
August – 6,255 words (total count 33,790)
September – 8,340 words (total count 42,130)
October – 7,870 words (total count 50,000)

Meeting this goal means setting the book aside here, assuming that the plot has played out. If it has I will break from this and focus on book two for NaNoWriMo (means I have to pull double-duty in October – planning book 2 while writing book 1). If I need to continue working on this book, that will be my NaNo goal – finishing this work completely.

Editing commences in mid-January, with a goal of getting outside input in March. Would love to have it query ready by June 1, 2016. We’ll see.

Please note: I’m an unpublished, kinda newbie at this. All of this post is just based on my own personal experience and journey. It’s helpful to me to break things down like this in an attempt to do better going forward. The only advice I can offer if you miss an external deadline with you publisher, editor, agent, etc. would be to pick up the phone and call them. Better to come clean and develop a plan than to make them chase you down.

Novel Writing Deadlines

My vision, if I was asked to describe the ultimate writer, would probably be a man (shocker) wearing khakis, a button-down shirt, and a cardigan. He’d be older, probably middle aged. He’s in a room facing a big window that looks over the countryside at his big solid desk, where he’s pecking away at an old typewriter for hours every day. After a few weeks, he stacks his completed pages, smiles, and tucks the pages into a big manila envelope.

That’s the writer that lives in my head.

And, (shocker) that’s not how writers really work! Can you believe it?

At least, that’s not how this writer works. This writer wears mostly shorts and t-shirts. This writer is usually barefoot. This writer is not a man. This writer may or may not be middle-aged. This writer doesn’t work at a typewriter, has no stack of completed pages, and most definitely does not get hours a day to work.

And this writer, unlike my prolific imaginary writer, needs to work with deadlines.

setting deadlines

Here’s what I’ve learned about deadlines in the last year of writing:

1. Every month can’t be NaNoWriMo.
I wrote 50,000+ words in November. I wrote 30,000+ words in April for Camp NaNoWriMo. I know I am capable. But the sheer volume of time required is too much to do on a daily basis for me.

Look, I know that there are people that can churn out that volume of words every month. I am not that person and I am here to say it’s okay. It’s okay if your monthly word count doesn’t live up to the record that you set that one NaNo. Life happens, family happens, work happens (because bills…). It’s Okay.

2. Aim high.
When I started this current book in February it looked nothing like what I am writing now. The characters were similar, but the plot has changed tremendously. So, in March, when I stepped back to plan better I set a goal of completing the book (roughly 50,000 words) by June 1, 2015. That was a lofty goal for me. It meant buckling down and writing in the free spaces in my day. I homeschool my kids and that has to come first, so writing has to be a fringe project.

I didn’t make it.

3. Acknowledge your seasons.
The reality is that sometimes you’re going to be busier than other times. You have to acknowledge that and work with it.

During the school year, we’re home most of the day. I can slip into the office and write during lunch or between the end of the school day and the start of dinner prep. It’s easy to get in 1,000 words or more if I’m on a roll (and not procrastinating).

During the summer we are on the go, go, go. It starts in the morning and doesn’t end ’til late at night. The kids have daytime activities and friend dates and so on. I spend a good deal of my day in the car. While it would be great if I could perch the laptop in the dashboard and keep writing, it’s not practical. So, I didn’t write much at all this summer. It’s the sad truth that my calendar took over.

4. Do a post-mortem.
I’m not a crime writer. Yet. Heh. But, seriously, do a post-mortem and figure out why you missed that deadline. This is especially important when you’re new. Stay with me.

I hope to be a professional (read: paid) writer someday. That means there will be deadlines for everything under the sun – draft deadlines, editing deadlines, and so on. And they will be externally imposed deadlines from publishers, editors, and the like. Because of my personality, I know that I will want to hit those deadlines. To do that I need to know my own limitations.

Which is where this post-mortem comes in. Why did I miss that June 1 deadline? What could I have done differently? Will it be different next time? For the record, I’ll be doing my own post-mortem in another post. But, the key is that I can negotiate deadlines in the future from a place of education, rather than a place of cross your fingers and hope for the best.

5. Crunch the numbers.
I wrote 25,000 words on this book in three months. These were 25,000 good, pre-plotted words. If that sounds weird, you have to understand that previous “novels” lacked a crucial element. Plot.

Anyway, if I can reasonably hit 25,000 words in three months (not summer months) then I should reasonably be able to write 50,000 words in six months. Easy. This helps me set a new deadline for this book and can be used as a baseline for future novels.

6. No deadline = no work.
That June 1 deadline passed and I hadn’t finished. But, instead of setting another deadline I just figured I’d write the rest of the book as I had time.

I didn’t.

Even though summer is busy in a way that the rest of the year isn’t, I am positive that I spent way too much time with the Real Housewives and way too little time writing.

7. Planning makes the process easier.
A lot of novelists are planners. A lot of novelists are pantsers.

I like to think that I am a hybrid. Plantser?

This is the first of three attempts that I sat down and really created a framework for the story. I wrote up a 6 line character sketch for everyone. I spent about 2 weeks looking at the big picture. Then I dove in.

I planned, but now I do a lot of pantsing because my plans aren’t super detailed. I have a hit this mark, then hit this mark, then hit this mark kind of sketch. I pants what happens between the marks.

What’s important is knowing that there’s room for both styles in every process.

8. Use all of your tools.
I’m not talking about your word processor of choice. Although that’s important.

Get out your calendar. Paper, electronic. It doesn’t matter.

Now pencil in everything you have to do for the next week, month, quarter, whatever.

I do this weekly. Every Saturday I look at my calendar and see what’s coming up. What obligations do I have out of the house that could affect my writing time? Then I schedule my writing time.

Some days that means I am at my computer bleary-eyed and nursing a mega cup of coffee at 6 a.m. Other days I stay up a little later at night. But I have to plan when I can write. If I wait for “inspiration” to strike then I might as well throw in the towel. It doesn’t work that way for me. (See: writing in the fringe hours).

9. Bribe your inner editor.
You know, there’s super popular advice out there about silencing your inner editor. You know, that little voice that thinks that everything you write is stupid and dumb and you should just quit writing? Yeah, shut him up.

Only, my guy won’t be quiet. Even as I duct taped his mouth shut and tied him to a chair in the corner he thrashed around. Broke a lamp. It was a mess.

I turned him loose, but then we were both miserable.

So, I decided to bribe him instead. If he stays quiet I’ll go back and re-read stuff that I wrote weeks ago. It serves two purposes: First, my inner editor is always surprised at how not awful the writing actually is. I mean, there’s usable stuff in there! Second, I’m able to look for story threads that have been dropped and can bring them forward. Things like a forgotten character quirk, a turn of phrase, etc. It’s a small way to add a bit of continuity without editing a WIP.

10. Treat writing like a job.
This only applies if you want it to be your job. If this is a hobby, something you do for fun, then carry on. I want to write for a living. I’d like to sell a book someday. So, I’m starting now.

What this means is that I have a target word count to hit every week. I know it will vary. I’m not making any money from this right now, so even though I make it as high a priority as I can, sometimes it has to take a back seat. That’s okay. But I no longer will allow myself to shrug about not making targets or missing deadlines. Obviously, I won’t fire myself, but I may have to make myself make double my daily word count if I miss a day.

I don’t know what the next three months hold, but I do hope that by October 31 I can come back here and proudly report that I finished my novel.