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Thursday, May 7, 2015

MIA or 6 things I learned from a book deadline...

Firstly I must issue an apology for my recent absence from the blogosphere ... I have just crawled out of the tangled jungle of a contracted 'book deadline' -  (without the assistance of Humphrey Bogart...)

This is the first time I have encountered this beast before and it all seemed fairly straightforward when I put my signature to a contract around July last year that said 'Thou shalt deliver unto us a completed manuscript by no later than 30 April 2015'

I blithely tossed my hair... 'Oodles of time', thought I. 'I've published 6 books. Loads of my friends do it on a regular basis. It can't be too hard...'

HOWEVER what with one thing and another... I did not get to sit down to even consider the concept of the book until September - giving me seven months to write the book from a standing start. 

There I hit my first snag.

I had a hero, a historical time span but no earthly idea where to go from there. I resorted to Tarot Cards (no kidding) - as a mind kicking exercise it is brilliant, by the end of that session with my Writers Group, I had a heroine, an antagonist and motivations etc. etc. 

Next step, said I, let's PLOT the story. I have stated on many occasions I am not a plotter but I thought on this occasion something more than just 'a vague idea' was needed, so I plotted - or thought I did. I then sat down to write and, you guessed it, the plot went out of the window... Of the 7 months I had available to me it took me 5 months to write the rough draft.

Throw into this mix, two weddings (I have now officially run out of children to marry off), Christmas, the fact I still work, edits on other books... and time began to disappear from underneath me. Extraneous activities (such as keeping up with my blog went out of the window) but I am pleased to say I fell across the finish line with the duly finished story delivered up to my publisher on the due date.

So what have I learned from this exercise?

1. I can write a book to a deadline but at a cost to my life, my health, my family and my sanity. Next time there will have to be an enormous 6 figure advance attached to it!
2. I can write a book to a deadline and still be a pantser but at a cost to my life, my health etc etc...(see 1 above)
3. I cannot plot (see 2 above).
4. In order to reach the deadline with something that looks vaguely book shaped, I had to write SOMETHING every day... even if some days it felt like I was carving every word from stone with my thumbnail. 
5. I could not have done it without someone keeping me accountable and that someone was a Facebook group set up by my friend Monique McDonell #1000wordsaday. Only by checking in my word count on a daily basis did I get across that line. Some days were woeful some were good, but word by word I got across that line and I don't think I could have done it without the support of that group and the accountability of having to check in daily. Actually I had 2 'someones' because standing behind me with their shoulders against my back when it looked like my steps might falter, were the wonderful ladies of my Writers' Group to whom I am completely accountable for my goals...
6. When in doubt... resort to Tarot Cards...

Of course it remains to be seen whether the book I delivered passes muster with my editor, but any rewrites will be welcome and only improve the story.

So how did I eventually do it? In this photograph, the sheet of paper with the sticky notes is my first attempt at plotting. The picture of the white board (expunged the day I handed the story in!) is how I actually got it over the line, using the 4 Act method of writing. The black writing was where I had got in the plot and the red was what was needed to bring it home. 

Plotting for pantsers... Alison style
THAT worked well but I had to be halfway through the book before it even started to work. 

Oh... and Scrivener... I couldn't have done it without Scrivener (or my Writers' Group or my husband...)

(I am just about to go AWOL again as I head off on a 6 week vacation... but once I am back in June I have some very exciting projects to get my teeth stuck into - and the deadlines will be of my own choosing!)  WATCH THIS SPACE....


  1. This is the part of writing a book that can be a 'community' effort. That wonderful writing community that keeps us going. Well done, Alison!

    1. I have such a fantastic writing community around me, Susanne. I really do!

  2. Yay, Alison!! Congratulations on getting out the other side in one piece. I'm intrigued by the tarot cards. Must chat to you about that :-)

  3. Congrats on making the deadline, Alison. Funny thing about deadlines - they seem to be an invitation to Fate to throw obstacles in the way of accomplishing them. Glad to hear you're being rewarded with a holiday :-)

    1. One thing I also learned that writing the sort of books I do, which do require extensive research, I need twelve months minimum!

  4. I can relate to this Alison. I wish I could plot, I've tried everything, and it seems so attractive to have those little cards, or some other means to plan the story out, but no, the brain won't do it! I do my best work in fear of failing a deadline.

    1. I suspect that is how I have always worked, Maggi... essays that got written in the last few days!

  5. Congratulations... welcome to my every day life,,. but I wouldn't have it any other way...I love this writing life and the wonderful community that comes with it. Enjoy your well deserved vacation!

    1. Thanks, Annie. I love the writing life too but this last few months have had an extra dimension of stress on the domestic front :-)