Sunday, April 4, 2010

Deadlines: The Best Diet Ever

One thing I've learned since beginning my thesis in January (aka finishing TANGO, then editing it) is that deadlines are the Best Diet Ever.


Since January, I've lost close to ten pounds.

Some authors like to have food around when they're writing. A drawer devoted to chocolate. A stash of jellybeans nearby. A bag of chips. Me, I like to have bottled water or Gatorade. I can't eat while I write, because I hate it when crumbs fall on my keyboard and get lost beneath my keys. (This happens entirely too often, despite my protests.)

I've never been much for deadlines. I like to write at my own pace, and deadlines always scared me. Nate, however, made sure to set deadlines over the course of the semester. Every two weeks I'd have to turn in a chunk of pages, and I'd usually be scrambling a few days before hand, trying to edit everything so it didn't suck when I turned it in.

That's how it started, anyway. Because I was sending chapters in order, and I'd already written the first two sections of the book, I didn't have a whole lot of editing to do. I'd check for typos, maybe change a few words, but that was about it. Still, I'd fuss over those pages to the point that I'd forget to eat. I'd spend hours in front of my computer, debating whether or not to change a comma to a semicolon, or vice versa.

As the semester progressed, I realized I had a lot more work ahead of me than I'd thought. So, when I met with Nate at the end of February, I really started heeding his deadlines. I'd work on TANGO every day. I'd spend an hour or two looking over a chapter, or writing bits of new material. Again, I'd get so caught up in this that I would forget to eat.

As February turned into March, and I was told of the Eudora Welty Fiction Thesis Prize, I was given a new deadline. THE deadline. April 21st, 2010. That was the day I needed to turn in my story, and it had to be done. I was terrified, considering the fact I had at least five chapters to write (I believe it turned out to be seven or eight, actually). That night, after my meeting, I sat down in front of my computer, sans dinner, and began typing.

By 3am, I'd knocked off one of those remaining chapters. And so the pattern continued. I'd write late into the night, forget to eat dinner. Eventually, I think I gave up on even trying to remember. I had a deadline, and I was going to meet it, goddamnit.

Spring break rolled around, and I left my house maybe twice. For 12-18 hours a day, I sat and worked on revising my story. I'd finished it the week before, and had three weeks until everything was due. It wasn't a lot of time, but I was determined to have my thesis in Nate's hands on April 21st if it killed me. So I'd wake up and write/revise for a few hours, eat lunch, and write/revise until 2 or 3am. It was fun some of the time, to be honest. I got even closer to my characters, and I spent a good deal of time deleting huge chunks of text, then filling them with better things. I probably cut nearly half the story, and rewrote it. And as much as I deleted, I still ended up with a second draft that was 3000 words longer than the original.

And I'm still not done. I have one more week of revisions before I send TANGO to Kinkos to be printed and bound. But I have a schedule to follow, which has made everything so much easier. I should add a line for 'eat dinner' on it because, even now, I still forget to eat. Right now, as I type this, I'm reminding myself that I need to eat dinner (a glass or orange juice doesn't cut it, I'm afraid). When you love your story, you get sucked into it. The real world doesn't exist. All that exists are your characters, and they probably aren't eating (I've realized I have very few scenes in my story where the characters are actually interacting with food, which would have been a good reminder to me...). I hear that doctors performing surgery have a similar experience. They forget how tired they are, or that they're hungry, or have to pee. To me, that's what writing a good story is like.

I hope that means TANGO is a good story.

Some advice: When you're writing (and revising, especially), make sure to keep food nearby. Unless you want to lose weight. In which case, make sure you lock yourself in your room and don't see the sun for two weeks.

I should coin this diet. I really should.


  1. Haha :)
    I'm like that with reading. When I read a bottle of water and my music can come near me.. and that's about it.

    Reading stuff online-same thing. food+ computer= bad idea.

    Or even with books, I've pretty much destroyed my version of "The Canterbury Tales" by taking it with me to uni every other day (I need to finish it XD). And there might be some suspicious chocolate stains on one page.. because I may or may not have been eating a chocolate muffin at that time. facepalm*

    xxx erika

  2. hahahaha that's the best diet i've ever heard of.

    nice work. ;)

  3. Erika, I agree. Water is a writer's best friend. Besides a thesaurus, naturally!

    Tahereh, thanks!