Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Un-Deadly Deadlines

I have been thumbing through Chris Baty's No Plot? No Problem ! book.  Chris is the founder of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which formed back in 1999 when he was working as a writer in the San Francisco Bay area. During this time, he decided to write a novel. He had no idea how to write a novel but that didn't stop him. His plan was to write a novel of 50,000 words in  a month. He decided on 50,000 words after pulling the shortest book from his bookshelf, doing the math and coming up with the magical figure of 50,000. The book was Huxley's Brave New World. Quite a serendipitous title, given that NaNoWriMo is all about creating brave new worlds - all in a month. 
"We were in our mid twenties, and had no idea what we were doing. But we knew we loved books. And so we set out to write them," he says.

During the first year that NaNoWriMo ran, twenty one people signed up to undertake the task. NaNoWriMo is now celebrating 10 years with 1,643,343,993 as a total collective word count for 2008. In his book, Chris highlights a quote by writer and champion figure-skater, Ralph Waldo Emerson, "In skating over thin ice, our safety is in our speed." 
And speed is the thing Chris swears by. Speed underpins the NaNoWriMo concept. You see, it's all about deadlines. 

He proved this theory by taking three months off work, to live that dream we all dream of - to write full time and uninterrupted by the vexations of work. He failed miserably.
With nothing to do all day but write, he found himself doing everything but writing. He had no deadline. He claims a rough draft is "best written in the steam cooker of an already busy life." He also points out Isaac Newton's observation; things in motion tend to stay in motion.

I glance back over my own writing journey and I can see there is validity in his claims. I perform best when there is a deadline to beat. Over the past several Tuesday evenings, I have been heading into the Australian Writer's Marketplace online.
AWM run a friendly and supportive writing race from 8pm - 9pm and often have special guests along for the ride. It's not so much about racing against each other. It's more about setting a writing goal and for an hour, going flat out to achieve. 

During that hour, I can crank out between 1200-2000 words. And I am coming to realise, it's all because of the deadline. I have an hour to perform so it's lights camera action. For one hour, I can block out the world and focus fully on words pouring forth. I have worked on my novel in progress during this time and I have also written first drafts of short stories.  The short stories would probably never have surfaced had a deadline not been in place that made me think fast and write furiously, trusting that stream of consciousness writing that our inner critic loves to bully into submission. During a writing race, that kick boxing critic just doesn't have time to get a leg in. 

The beauty of racing is that you can do it anytime. Whilst it's nice to do it with friends and it's nice to have that support, there really is no excuse not to do it anyway. All you need is a clock, some time telling ability, a notepad or computer, a realistic writing goal and of course that all important ingredient - the deadline- be it an hour, 30 minutes or whatever time you can spare. For me, an hour works really well. Longer sessions see my mind wandering and my fingers itching to click on that time sucking icon that leads me into that wicked wide web. 

An hour gives me the chance to follow Emerson's lead; to skate over thin ice, knowing my safety is in the speed that I go. If I stop, the weight of my hesitation will sink me. And, I have to agree with Newton - things in motion really do stay in motion. Racing, either alone or with friends is a sure way to get black on white. The once dreaded deadline is now an exciting and brave new world in which to create. 

To join in the fun at AWMonline, follow this link;
Subscriptions start at $19.95 and you will be rewarded with a wealth of support and information to help you along on your writing journey.

NaNoWriMo runs from November 1st -30th. 
Details can be found at


Meg said...

chris baty is an awesome guy - so inspiring!

i love the writing races too, especially the chats at the end - everyone's fave bits or current angsts.

ps. you're blog is v beautiful, lynn, nice work!

Anonymous said...

So glad to hear the writing races are working for you! Sounds like you're getting heaps done at the moment, and that the next draft is coming along well. Great work!

I find the more time I have for my writing, the more structured I've had to become. Luckily this suits my personality style, so I've actually found I'm much more productive as my work commitments reduce. I set myself deadlines to meet each and every day, and I'm not allowed to do anything else until they're done! Works for me :)

Zen Quill said...

I admire your discipline, Kath. I know I am most productive when I have a strict schedule and I stick to it. It's the 'sticking to it' bit that's often difficult for me! But I'm getting there...slowly. It's good to have people around who inspire me.

Joanne Schoenwald said...

I agree. I think there's tremendous freedom in 'not thinking' while you write. Just flying with the wind... that's when we tap into magic!

Zen Quill said...

Absolutely agree with that. And when I let go, I am always amazed at what comes out.