Get to Do

Jessie: In NH where it is finally warm enough to wear

I am on deadline. June 1 to be exact. I love deadlines and I hate them. The constant pressure of the clock ticking away in my ear, the calendar pages that seem to whip by in a whirl feel oppressive half the time. The other half of the time it feels like the universe has taken me firmly in hand and demanded I behave like a professional adult.

I have always been at my writerly best when under time pressure. As a high school student I would often write papers due in the afternoon during the lunch period. It clarified and focused my thoughts and I think I enjoyed the frenzied pace such a strategy demanded.

Now although my writing projects are far more complex and cannot be left to the day before I still find I thrive on writing at a rapid clip. I love to set audacious writing goals and to challenge myself to reach them each day. I love dashing each morning into the story and galloping furiously along until I’ve met my projected word count, especially if I am worried that I can’t do it.

But despite the pleasure I take from working that way there are some unexpected consequences. My usually tidy office is heaped and piled with delayed decisions and unfinished tasks. Emails go unanswered. I switch off my phone. The interior of my fridge is a sad, echoing sort of place. I don’t always make it out of my pajamas before noon. Which brings me to the final pleasure of writing with single-minded focus: the get to do list. 

Every time a deadline is drawing near I start keeping a list of all the things I am itching to do just as soon as it passes. The fact that I cannot seem to get to some things makes them seem all the more interesting. The trip to the grocer, steaming the wrinkles out of the new duvet, updating my website. All these things and more take on the air of forbidden fruit. Not only do I get to write the way I prefer but I end up looking forward to those tasks I would consider mundane under most circumstances and would likely put off doing them. It is all a little crazy. It is a little slice of heaven.

Readers and writers, do you love or hate deadlines? Do you keep get to do lists?



Wicked Wednesday: You Know You’re In Book Jail When

Book Jail (1)On Wednesdays the Wickeds all weigh in on a topic. This week, a topic that is near and dear to our hearts–the realities of Book Jail. Book Jail is the crunch time before a book deadline. Wickeds, how do you know when you are in book jail, and that the deadline is looming, aside from the calendar?

Liz: Having recently been liberated from Book Jail, I can speak with authority on this topic! I know I’m in Book Jail when…the whole world seems to blow up at once. Usually, a couple of cats get sick and at least one needs to go to the vet. A special project inevitably comes up at work. Often, a personal crisis is thrown in. The computer may or may not have an issue (hopefully not fatal, but very definitely a close call). And when you go to drown your sorrows or chase them away with potato chips or sweets, we’re out of wine and the cupboards are bare. You can’t even go out to get more because ALL the clothes are dirty (of course you haven’t kept up with laundry), and you can’t spare the 20 minutes anyway to drive to the nearest liquor store. It’s truly a desperate time!

Liz in book jail on one of our retreats.

Liz in book jail on one of our retreats.

Sherry: I’m in book jail! I know it because when anyone asks me to do anything my answer is: After May 15th. While in book jail I decide my hair looks okay in it’s natural state (it doesn’t) and makeup isn’t necessary (it is, trust me on that one). And when my daughter asked me what I wanted for Mother’s Day I said: for everyone to pretend I’m not here for the next two weeks (fortunately they ignored that comment). I also know I’m in book jail because I make grandiose plans for after. I’m going to clean out every closet. I’m going to organize the storeroom in the basement. I’ll put the hundreds of loose photos into albums. Any bets on how much of that will really take place?

Edith: I know I’m in book jail when I’m casting about for guidance on revision. The book is done, but have I polished it enough? Have I eliminated all those superfluous words, those trite phrasings, those unnecessary descriptions? Have I used all the senses without being stupid about it? Is there another book on revision I could consult? I keep looking for a lifeline, sure that I could make the story better – but how? And then, of course, just when I need full attention on the book, I get proofs in on another series, an event I need to attend, or copyedits on yet another series. Gah! Just send me to somebody’s empty house for a week and don’t talk to me.

IMG_9007Jessie: For me book jail usually is about head games. And bags of baby carrots.  Lots of bags of carrots. This year marks my fourth time in five years that I have a September 1 deadline. My stints in book jail usually coincide with the weeks I’m at the beach and I use my fervent desire to get onto the sand to get the day’s work done early. But I can’t always seem to make it work and that’s where the carrots come in. If I end up spending the whole day at the desk, listening to the sounds of beach carts rolling past and smelling the salt air, I have a tendency to hop up from my desk and make unnecesary trip to the refrigerator. I’ve trained myself to grab the baby carrots instead of more tempting options since I wear my jaw out before I eat enough of them to turn orange.

Barb: I’m embarrassed to tell you I am very whiny when I’m in book jail. “Why is everyone outside playing except me?” (They’re not.) “Why is everyone at that movie/concert/play except me?” (They’re not.) By the same token, I love finishing things and I love revising. I love it when I can read the book through in a day or two and really get a sense of the pacing and overall coherence of the story. And I love being in a position to focus on just one thing, instead of spending half the day on a to-do list that pulls me hither and yon. So the truth is, I actually love book jail.

Julie: I’m heading into book jail soon. I know because the first bag of Fritoes has been purchased. (Fritoes, chocolate and end of day Malbec are my book jail foods.) I am being asked to do things on weekends, and defaulting to “no”. I am also rereading my plotting cards every day, and Ruth, Ben, Bezel and the gang are with me most waking hours. My challenge with book jail is that the rest of my life continues without sympathy.

Readers: Do you have deadlines that make you ignore all the other things in your life? Writers: What happens to when you are in book jail? Have any of you managed to avoid it?


Creative Recovery

By Liz, still wishing she’d missed that plane home from Key West

I don’t know about the rest of you, but sometimes it feels like my creative spark has been doused by an ocean wave.

This usually happens when my deadline is looming somewhere between 60 and 30 days away (like right now) and I’m feeling those first stages of panic (How will I ever get this book done?). The panic attracts the inner critic, and then it becomes a whole host of self doubt and procrastination.

In the past, I would beat myself up abut this situation. Berate my slacker tendencies that put me in this position every deadline. Curse the wretched day job that prevented me from putting the lion’s share of my time into writing. Deprive myself of anything good until I finished the book, which I was still convinced would be horrible, even if it was finished.

But that doesn’t work so well. While I may manage to slog through and claim victory, I feel like I’ve been through a war. I don’t want to look at or talk about the book. I want to watch Gilmore Girls reruns for a week. It takes a bit to get back into the writing habit.

So this time I’m trying something different. I’m trying to be kinder to myself. To “be” with the book wherever it is in the process and have faith it will get done. And I’m trying new tactics to get my mojo back.

Here are a few of them: IMG_0878

  • Morning pages – Anyone who’s done The Artist’s Way is familiar with this journaling practice – 3 pages right after you wake up. I’ve been doing them for years, but in the last few, not consistently. I’ve made a concerted effort to get back into the habit. It gets the juices flowing and gets all the extraneous stuff out of your head so you can get back to the important work.
  • Coloring – Yep, I’m a colorer. And I’ve totally given myself permission to stop and pull out the crayons for a bit if I’m too stuck.
  • Playing with the dog – Of course, this is my favorite. A game of fetch with Finn or aFinny Ball game of tug with Shaggy and all is well.
  • Reading creativity books – Sometimes reading other fiction isn’t a good idea when you’re in a writing rut. I’ve been returning to books about harnessing your creativity. I just finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, and I’m in the process of re-reading some of my SARK collection. Big-time inspiration.
  • Visit Key West or other island paradise – This one is a no-brainer, right? I definitely came back from my vacation itching to get back to the computer. Sometimes your batteries really do just need a recharge.


And hopefully, that deadline won’t come too soon….

Readers, what do you do to get your creative mojo back?

Unsolicited Advice

Jessie: Delighted to be at the seaside in Maine.

This summer, I am finishing my fifth novel. Fifth. Five actual novels. Every now and again that thought moves to the front of my mind and I stop dead in my tracks. A wave of astonished disbelief washes over me which is quickly followed by a fit of joyful giddiness. It seems like the shine ought to rub off the apple at some point but so far, it hasn’t. If anything ,that gleam just gets brighter with every book.

I’ve been asking myself lately why that might be and it has occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, it’s because I learn something new during the creation of each and every one. It’s sort of like parenting in that respect. Just like each new child in the family brings quirks and strengths and desires, so does each story.

Writers, like parents, love to share advice and tips from the trenches. Even if the advice is unsolicited. Here, in no particular order, are a few of the things I’ve learned along the way:

-Start working even when you don’t feel like it.The words will rise up to meet you.

-All you have of unique value to bring to your writing is yourself. Try not to worry that you aren’t something or someone else.

-Your writing is not as bad as you fear. It will probably never be as good as you’d like.

-Treat yourself to pens and notebooks you feel are a joy to use.

-Deadlines are your friends. Without them you will sink into the dreaded swamp of someday.

-Writing is work. Schedule time for it like you would anything else that is important. Stick to it.

-Typing is not considered exercise. Get up and move sometimes. Trips to the fridge don’t count.

-Be grateful for all your experiences, even the ugly ones. They create your particular lens on the world.

-You will always feel better at the end of the day if some of it has been spent writing.

Readers, do you have any words of wisdom to share from your own walk of life? Other writers, any tips of your own to apply to the craft?

Wicked Dealing with Deadlines: Short-Term

Two weeks ago we discussed strategies for dealing with deadlines that are far in the

"Double-Bell Alarm Clock" by Anonymous illustrator - Eaton’s Spring and Summer Catalogue, 1917

“Double-Bell Alarm Clock” by Anonymous illustrator – Eaton’s Spring and Summer Catalogue, 1917

future. Today we’ll talk about the deadlines that suddenly are on top of us. Do you stay up all night to finish something? Go to bed at ten but set the alarm for three in the morning? Make lists? What about when short-term deadlines stack up like planes waiting to land?

Liz: Oh, boy. This happens to me all the time. I don’t usually stay up all night because I’m way too cranky the next day, but I have been known to have marathon sessions in the evenings or on weekends to get a bunch of things done. I try really hard to be a better planner, but alas, it doesn’t always work!

Jessie: I make lists. I make one at the beginning of the month for projects that require a bit of time and one each day for more immediate tasks. I like seeing what needs doing laid out in black and white. Getting things on paper gets them out of my head and makes room for me to be more creative about how to accomplish what’s on the list.

Julie: I am a big fan of the Franklin Covey system. (Would that it was an app, or a Google plug-in, but I digress.) I have big deadlines (book #2 due to my editor, book #1 proofs need to be read, a grant application for work, etc.), middle sized deadlines (birthdays and other occasions that require attention, social media updates) and small deadlines that require some attention (parking permit updates, bills that need to be paid, subscriptions that need to be updated). I have lists of them all, and am trying to get in the habit of choosing what I can do that day, and prioritizing.

Sherry: I put reminders in my phone for short term deadlines and set alarms to help remind me when something is due. My husband and I also share a calendar which helps keep track of events we are both involved in.

Barb: I have a to-do list that I update frequently, sometimes weekly, sometimes every few days, sometimes every few weeks. My to-do list has categories –MCM (Maine Clambake Mysteries), LBB (Level Best Books), WCA (Wicked Cozy Authors), MCW (Maine Crime Writers), CB (Crime Bake) and personal. All the to-dos get divided up among them. I would say it helps me keep balanced, but that’s not my nature. I usually dive deep into stuff. So mostly, it reminds me what hanging out there while I’m on one of my deep dives. The to-dos in my running chronological notes in my Levenger Junior Notebook, which also contains my calendar and is never far from my side.

Edith: I love all these different strategies! I keep a daily short-term to-do list next to my ToDoListlaptop. After Ramona DeFelice Long posted about the ten-item to-do list last week, I went back and counted up how many items I normally have on the list, and it turns out to be about ten. I have two priority items on the top every day, and I cross them off every day: Write (or Edits/Revise, depending), and Walk. The day after we got back from our Old Orchard retreat, I had twenty things on the list, but seven didn’t get done, and some were very tiny…like “shower.” Think I needed a boost of confidence that day or what?

Readers: How do you deal with things that have to get done right now, pretty soon, all at once?

Wicked Dealing with Deadlines: Long Term

A past retreat.

A past retreat.

As the Wickeds head out to a weekend retreat together, we thought we’d share how we deal with deadlines that might loom on the distant horizon. We all have multi-book contracts, and they usually come with built-in due dates. Wickeds, do you set daily word count goals? Take a week off the day job to pound out the story? Ignore the deadline and  then work furiously for the last month? Or?

Edith: Back in my high school days, I preferred to procrastinate as long as possible and then do an intensive production of a report or paper. It worked pretty well for me – I got good grades, even though I was effectively turning a long-term goal into a short-term one. But I can’t do that with three contracts. I simply have to work ahead as fast as I can.

The book I’m writing now? Isn’t due until January. But I also have books due in March and May, 2016, which is a first for me. Gulp. No more procrastination for this girl! It’s working for me so far. But when I get the “Yikes, I have no idea where this book is going,” kind of feeling, I confess to some panic. A long solo walk nearly always lets the plot emerge, though. So far, so good.

IMG_3397Jessie: Over time I’ve learned to trust my process. I let an idea rattle and percolate by asking myself questions in a notebook and then answering them until I get an unrelenting itch to start the actual writing. I make quick sketches of as many scenes in the book as I can manage ahead of time and then I dive in and write an average of 1200-1500 words a day, usually five days a week until I have created a first draft. Some days it’s harder to get to the word count and some days it is easier but I find if I just keep picking away, a word at a time, I end up with something worth revising. Once I get that first draft done I feel an enormous light-heartedness wash over me  and I no longer need to set goals the same way. Revising is my reward for getting through the thicket that is first draft and once I’ve entered that phase I mostly have fun until the deadline rolls around.

Sherry: My contract was to submit a book every nine months. So ideally I should sent one book in and start immediately on the next. But I find my brain needs a break so I usually wait a month before plunging in again. I’ve found during that month ideas are swirling around and come out when I start writing. In a perfect world I write 1000 words a day for the first draft. And since I’m a procrastinator the last month is usually filled with long days of polishing and rewriting.

Liz: Sherry, I have the same experience with that break getting my creative juices flowing! Love that. I do try to trust the process, but with a day job and two series I have to be a bit more militant about what I’m doing and when. I try to do 1000 words every day on weekdays, then crank more out on the weekends.

Barb: After six books, I guess my best advice to finishing any long term project is to set short term goals. I use a daily word count goal through the first draft, then I go by number of pages or scenes per day for the revisions. There are numerous other tasks, mostly problem-solving and figuring stuff out–like who knows what, when and scene order–and I’ve learned to allow time for those. I am trusting my process more these days. The first draft of my novels will always be too short, but I know now not to panic. The words will come.

Readers: How do you deal with deadlines that loom out a few weeks or months, or even a year? Strategies to share?

Guest Post by Tuffy the Maine Coon

By Tuffy, standing in for Liz who’s desperately trying to make her deadlines. Tuffy

Greetings! Mom asked me to step in for her and cover today’s blog, since she’s kind of swamped right now. Actually, she told me I had a choice—write a couple of chapters for the book, or write a blog. Since I’m a fan of instant gratification, I decided to write the blog. I’d rather revel in the book when it’s done and I can get all the credit.


The cat tree casualty.

Anyway, I figured I’d tell you a little bit about what’s been going on around here. Mom’s been kind of busy, as I mentioned. I’m hoping she hasn’t been busy enough to not notice the ceiling is falling down in my sunroom because of this wretched winter and all the ice dams. We even had to throw out my favorite cat tree because it was right under the leaks. I am displeased about this, because it was my bird-watching post. I’ve been promised a new one, but have not seen it yet.

It could be for the best, though. I have to take a break from looking out the window, because I’m so depressed at these never-ending mounds of white stuff. I need spring! Warm air! I’ve put in my request to move, but no one has granted it yet.

A bird's eye view of my pants, in case anyone needs a visual

A bird’s eye view of my pants, in case anyone needs a visual

Also, I’m told I need to visit the vet for a “grooming” session. I know what these entail. It’s a diabolical plan to take my pants. I’m a Maine coon, you know. I have very nice pants. Unfortunately sometimes they get, er, dirty, and then I’m forced to undergo this humiliating experience. So far, I’ve dodged the bullet. Could be because of all the snow banks in the driveway, which make it hard to go anywhere, but I’m not complaining.

What else can I tell you? Well, my foster brother The Count is still looking for a home. He’s very handsome – he looks a bit like me, if you couldn’t tell. He has someone who might be interested, so let’s all cross our fingers! I’ll miss the big lug when he goes, but it’s for the best. He hates my canine friends and Lord knows they aren’t leaving. 11002593_1007417812621306_7162049793313453157_n

Oh, and in case you missed it, I have some exciting news to share! My very own story has been published in a book. Yes, you heard that right! I wrote a story for the book Rescued: The Stories of 12 Cats, Through Their Eyes, which came out in January. I’m super excited about this, although Mom hasn’t yet set up any book signings for me. If you guys see her, you may want to mention that, okay?

11043050_629380750542181_4334301557887058889_nAnyway, the proceeds go to different rescue groups chosen by each author. I chose Friends of Feral Cheshire Cats, a great place here in Connecticut that takes care of ferals like my old friend Lion, who I talked about in my story.

So, that’s pretty much all the news from my perspective. Thanks for letting me visit with you today, Wicked Cozy Authors! Here’s hoping for spring, melting ice and intact ceilings for all!

Readers, leave a comment about what’s new in your world. Tuffy wants to know.