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Writery: Burning the Dynamite at Both Ends

Crunch time is a natural state for writers.  The clock is ticking down, deadlines are looming, schedules are growing short, things are piling up—and you just have to crank out the last few thousand words hell or high water.  It’s an exciting, even melodramatic time, filled with ups and downs, bright epiphanies and the darkest of unexpected revelations.  We’ve all been there, struggling to make those last words come together like a box of jigsaw puzzle pieces with no edge pieces or corners in the lot.  In the beginning of your writing career, when your muse is just starting to instruct you how to beg, sit up, and refill the paper tray on command, you have to learn how to push yourself effectively, how to really make those hours count or you’re going to end up being your muse’s plaything for life. 

We all know that it’s a natural instinct for writers to aggressively attack a great story until they’ve arrived at a near-frenetic state of mind.  While the things that a writer can do while in this enlightened state of being is impressive, it’s also very inefficient.  You’ve run yourself to the end of your rope, exhausted your internal resources and made it difficult for you to continue on if the situation suddenly demands it. 

In time, with practice, instead of letting the wild horse ride on out of control, you can learn to rein your mount in and still learn to keep up good speed and good writing quality as you approach deadline.  To that end, here are some tips I’d offer for both new writers that might be of help:

Life happens.  Schedule in the fact that you’re going to be distracted or dragged away from your writing by a number of strange or unplanned sources.  Just be ready to dive back in when the distraction is tidied up and don’t give in to petty temptation.   

Daydream frequently.  Take advantage of the gaps in your daily life.  When a small amount of time opens up, say while waiting to pick up a prescription or brushing your teeth in the morning, give yourself permission to daydream, and even to run through character conversations or scene descriptions in your head.  When you do get back to the keyboard, you’ll find that the tough sections you were grinding on will open up with ease because you’ve already been rehearsing your lines.

Caffeine happens - don’t depend on it.  Yes, coffee, soda and Red Bull gives you boosts and inspires creativity spikes.  But eventually the doses you’re guzzling are going to start to put you in more of an agitated state than in a mindset conducive to channeling your inner muse.  Schedule your habit and use it to your advantage rather than just cracking open a cold soda whenever things start to look sketchy.

Build your buffers.  Know that the amount of work required to finish a project generally increases by 10% as you approach deadline.  Schedule in this buffer time from the beginning and count yourself lucky if you don’t have to use it.   In more dire cases, this buffer can cover power outages or overheated CPU’s – and in more normal cases, it can be used on revisions, typing in scene notes you just discovered underneath the couch, and supporting shocking character revelations that you hadn’t fully considered until page 393…

Trust yourself.  Longhand notes and napkin scribbling can often lead to the development of great plots and character conversations.  But when you come back to your computer to transcribe days later, don’t go haring off on other dialogue tangents or scene bits as you are laboring with the transcription.  Be sure to finish the data entry like a monastic monk, save your work, and then go tearing into the things you want to replace and rebuild when the original work is safe.  More often than not I’ve come to the end of a long row of typing and discovered that instead of finishing my data entry, I’d written myself into a corner and was suddenly mired in a rat’s nest of story threads and strangling vines.

Overall, whether writing novels, designing game documentation, writing dialogue for computer games or working out storylines for a client’s product, the lessons all still apply.  The less you give in to the manic adrenaline rush of chasing a deadline, the more quality work you’ll be able to develop in shorter and shorter times.  As we all know, sometimes you just have to light the dynamite at both ends and go for it - but if you’re learned to get yourself in the right frame of mind and follow these simple lessons, the better your story will be for the effort. 

  -Scott Hungerford