Writers Talk About Writing
Emergency! Seven Ways to Avert a Writing Crisis
A few months ago, I ended up in Emergency for 15 hours. (Long story; it was nothing serious.) But the debacle caused me to miss a deadline. The client was the picture of understanding but for me, a former daily newspaper editor, it was deeply embarrassing.
I've always believed that writers, like performers, need to operate by the code "the show must go on" -- illness, broken limbs, mechanical failure notwithstanding. I may be late for lunch, but I typically never miss a writing deadline. Here are seven ways you can do the same:
1) Divide your writing job into small parts and do a little bit at a time. We delay and procrastinate because writing jobs frequently overwhelm. Instead, divide the job into smaller pieces. Researching is one task, thinking is another, producing a mindmap is yet a third. Broken up in this manner, any writing job will seem less intimidating and you will be more likely to get started sooner. Furthermore, once you start putting fingers to the keyboard, don't feel you have to devote great gobs of time to it. Write in dribs and drabs, here and there. Eventually those words will add up and your work will be complete.
2) Always build extra time in to your schedule. Never ever leave writing to the last minute. Instead, give yourself a schedule that builds in lots of "wiggle room." When working with freelancers, I always give firm but fake deadlines -- a few days before I really need the work, just in case the writer runs into a problem. But don't depend on your boss or editor to do that for you -- do it yourself.
3) Back into your writing. Instead of starting with the "point" you want to make, start with a story or anecdote. This will almost always make the job of writing faster and easier -- allowing you to meet your deadline with greater ease.
4) Find a framework into which you can "pour" your writing. When I had the concept for this column, for example, I didn't start with seven ideas and count them up -- I started with the goal of identifying seven and then rose to meet that challenge. Having a framework will make your writing faster and you'll be more likely to finish ahead of schedule.
5) Keep an "idea" file and a "slush pile." The best writers are always pack rats. But organized ones. An idea file is a list of topics that you want to write about; a slush pile is material that you've deleted from other pieces of writing. Both are extremely useful tools as you're working to meet a deadline. Look to software to help you organize this stuff. OneNote from Microsoft is a good PC solution; I'm told that Notebook by Circus Ponies is slick for Mac, although I'm currently busy testing ShoveBox.
6) Understand that writing is a "formula." With the possible exception of experimental fiction, writing follows well-established conventions. Whether you are producing reports, sales letters or e-zines, select some examples of "excellent writing" in your genre and re-read them regularly -- particularly just before writing. Imitation is not only flattery -- it's also a smart way to help you write faster.
7) Always have some "evergreen" material on hand. This last tip is especially useful for anyone who produces an e-zine or newsletter. Of course you want to be timely but recognize that you might get stuck and have some "timeless" material as a backup. Perhaps it's a book review, maybe it's a "how-to" list, but if you keep something with a long shelf-life at hand, you'll always be ready for any emergency.