Writing To Deadlines

I’ve always worked best when there’s a deadline involved, so this spring has been extremely productive for me. For just over a year, I’ve been working with The Ubergroup, a developmental editing program that works in six weeks cycles with a week off in between. It’s been incredibly helpful to have those cycles to help me plan and organize my writing, but it’s also a bit too easy to kick the can down the road and not push myself to finish by a specific date. The revision I’ve been working on has lingered in my To Do list as I’ve dealt with writer’s block, other commitments, and a health scare that left me emotionally and physically exhausted.

Then I applied for Futurescapes.

Then I found out about Fractured Literary’s microfiction Legends, Myths, and Allegories Prize.


In February I had to turn in the first chapter of the novel I wanted to work on in the Futurescapes workshop if I got in. No problem, right? Well, it wouldn’t have been a problem if the manuscript had existed. I’d been bouncing around an idea and talking it through with the Ubergroupers, but aside from the short story I wrote years ago and was planning to flesh out into a novel, I had written zero words. And yeah, I technically had 4-5K words in that story, but they were written in the wrong tense and from the wrong POV for the project I was planning. I ended up drafting the first chapter and posting it for feedback, then submitting it thinking A – I might not even get into the workshop and B – if I did, I only needed to have the first 10K words for a workshop that didn’t start until May. If nothing else, it was definitely one of my faster turnarounds, and I was really proud of how it came out given my timeline. I was getting faster, which was a win in and of itself.

While I waited to find out whether or not I got into the workshop, I revised a different short story for the Fractured Lit contest. I didn’t have to draft that one from scratch, but the story I was revising started out at 1,500 words, so I basically had to chop a third of it off. While I was working on it, I found out that I’d gotten into Futurescapes and had to go ahead and write the rest of those 10K words . . . by April 15th, the day before the Fractured Lit submission deadline. Oops! I apparently forgot that reading takes time, so of course they would need the excerpts before the actual workshop. DUH.

Needless to say, I got that microfiction polished and submitted in record time so I could focus all my attention on drafting. None of this would have been possible without my critique partners in the Ubergroup. They gamely read my short pieces and gave me excellent feedback so I could make informed revisions and go into those submissions feeling good about the work. More importantly, the group’s focus on learning developmental editing skills gave me the ability write the synopsis and use it to figure out the overall plot so I knew what I was writing toward. As a pantser, I’ve never liked plotting techniques. I always feel like I’m exploring as I go, and even if I put a plot down on paper, there’s a good chance it’s all going to change once the characters get their hands on it. The entire idea of writing a synopsis before finishing the draft was a foreign concept a year ago, and one that I resisted adopting.

But damned if it doesn’t work, even for a pantser like me. I was able to write the broad strokes out as I saw them, and got stuck until I wrote more of the first few chapters, but that was mostly because I was trying to decide which POVs to include. Once I figured that out, I was able to flesh out the story in the synopsis before I continued drafting the chapters, which did change from the synopsis a bit. As I continue to write the story, I’m sure the synopsis will change still more. But it was so much easier to write those seven chapters than it’s been for me to draft anything since those early days when I was just blissfully vomiting words onto a screen because I was too broke to pay for internet service and it was too goddamned cold to do anything outside. I wrote for several weeks almost nonstop and am STILL—eight years later—trying to beat that hot mess of a manuscript into shape.


The synopsis is more than likely going to change as I work on the project during Futurescapes, too. After all, that’s the whole point . . . to turn in what I have and let them teach me how to make it better. Fingers crossed, by the end of the year I’ll have a manuscript that’s ready to query instead a pile of words that need tons and tons of work, and that will be a very welcome change, indeed.