Up until about an hour ago, I thought I was going to completely blow a deadline so thoroughly that the project I’ve been working on for most of a year would be canceled.
But I had this great conversation with my team (and indirectly with my editor, via his comments) that showed me a clear and surprisingly simple path to completing this thing by that very same deadline. There’s nothing tricky about it; it’s just a little trick! The Brad Jacobs … something or other …. references aside, the trick was helping me recognize what was important, what could be cut, and what could be finished at a point in the Mysterious Future, in another book.This means that, instead of having around 20,000 new words to write and edit, I only have 182 pages to edit and rewrite. I did about 94 pages today, which sounds like a lot more than it is, due to the nature of the work, but still feels pretty good. I am totally going to finish this thing! It’s going to come out next year! Hooray!
So, I did the remaining 94 pages, and turned them all in. That left me with these two short things that will bookend the entire text, you could call them an intro and an outro, if you wanted. They’re important. They carry a lot more weight per word than any other part of the book. I have to get them right. I knew that each part would be around 1200 words, so I had two days to do about 2400 words if I was going to make my deadline tomorrow.
This isn’t a regular deadline I can blow through. This is it. If I miss this one, the whole project will be delayed by at least a year. So 2400 words separate me from success or what I will absolutely categorize as a failure. Over a year’s worth of work hangs on those 2400 words.
Those words just refused to come. You know how you try to hold something really still and your hand just trembles harder, because all your fine micro muscle movements are working really hard to do their best work, and they can’t quite figure out how to work together? So you get exactly the opposite of what you’re trying for? It was like that.
Yesterday, I sat down with my brain, and I was, like, “dude, come on. You gotta work with me.” And my brain went, “LOL nope.”
So I emailed my editor and told him that it just wasn’t going to happen. I’d worked so hard for so long, but I just couldn’t get this last bit, which is extremely important, onto the page. I accepted that this thing would be delayed by a year, and … well, the next little bit is basically [SCENE MISSING] because sometime after I wrote that e-mail, I fell into the gravity well of my Writer’s Brain without realizing it, and everything I needed to say came out as if by magic.
Well, one of the two bookends, anyway. The second one, if it matters. I still couldn’t find my way into what will likely be the very first sentence of this whole thing. Just a little bit of pressure.
I did not sleep well last night. I kept waking up, too hot or too cold. My brain seized each opportunity to helpfully throw out ideas at me. None of them were good, but I appreciated that it was doing the work.
When I woke up this morning, about 1200 words and 24 hours away from ultimate success or complete failure, my brain was even less cooperative than it was yesterday. “Come on, man, I just need to find my way in. Once I find my way in, it’ll all come together and I can do something that’s good enough to turn in. Let’s do this together, brain!” And my brain just said, “Bro. I stayed up all night working on ideas for you, and you rejected all of them.” Then it just crossed its little arms, which is a weird image but also kind of adorable, and refused to help.
If you’re going to be a writer, you have to use tools to help you when you run into things like this. You have to work through the total refusal of your brain to be a team player, over and over again. Each time is different, each trick a surprise to me as much as it’s a surprise to my brain. But where to start? What’s going to trick my brain into letting me have the last little bit that I need, the most important bit, the bit that’s shorter than all the words I’ve written and cut already.
I learned a thing in drama school that was intended to be applied to acting. I find that it applies to all creative work: keep it simple. Keep it simple and the nuances will arrive on their own, in their own time. Keep it simple, and stay out of your own way.
Keep it simple. Okay. Let’s try that.
I went all the way back to the basics, from probably middle school, and I made an outline. For 1200 words. A few beats, broken down into a beginning, middle, and end. Not entirely perfect — oh except that phrase, that’s a nice one that’s absolutely going into it — but good enough to get started.
I opened a new text editor and started where my outline said to start.
About fifty words into it, I realized it was all wrong. It was all horribly wrong. I hate this. This isn’t where this thing starts. Oh! Shit! I know! This thing starts at
And then it was done. It’s not final, but it’s good enough.
A completed first draft, 24 hours before the drop dead deadline. Success!
You bet your life I’m going to celebrate. I’ll be taking my brain out for ice cream.