Thursday, June 3, 2010

Meeting Deadlines - Part 2

Here's part 2 of Barbara's Ardinger's article on "Meeting Deadlines."  Part 1 was posted on Tuesday, June 1.

At the same time, I was also talking to another author about deadlines. He’s a lawyer who took my novel-writing class at a local university three years ago, then hired me to edit his novel—which I love—about angels and demons in Brooklyn. He had deadlines to meet in his legal practice and was putting off work on the novel. I want him to rewrite the last several chapters to a more satisfactory ending, so I send him noodges from time to time. He’s promising me now that he’s going to reset his deadlines.

How do these authors meet deadlines? How do I help them? We start by adapting a technique I learned when I was a secretary to five psychologists: learning by successive approximations. That means you take your best shot at something and get a little bit done. Then you take another best shot and get a little bit more done. You keep pecking at it (to change the metaphor) until you’ve eaten the whole thing. You can’t take one giant bite and finish it. You go at it a bite at a time. As a writer facing a deadline, you write a sentence at a time. Two sentences. Three. A paragraph. Two paragraphs. It’s not a new concept, of course. There’s a wonderful, hilarious movie, What About Bob? (1991), starring Richard Dreyfus and Bill Murray, that illustrates the process of learning by successive approximations: they call it taking baby steps. And of course the twelve-step programs tell us to take it one day or one step at a time. It also helps if you have a daily planner and write a goal—one paragraph, one chapter—to meet every day. Or you do what my author did an set preliminary (self-imposed) deadlines that impel you step by step toward the big deadline. That’s how you finish your book in time to drive across three states to deliver it to the publisher at eight o’clock on a Monday morning. (My author did it! I was glad to hear that she took someone with her to keep her awake on the freeways.)

And me? I edit one sentence at a time. Sometimes one word, one misplaced (or missing) comma, one well-turned phrase, one misused semicolon or clich√© at a time. And when I have a deadline of my own—hey, is this blog late??—I also do it one step at a time. My first step is composing the first couple paragraphs in my head in the middle of the night and remembering my golden words long enough to get to my computer and get them out through my fingers. At which time I see that they’re merely brass. I rewrite them. Edit my own work. Rewrite a lot. (Which is what I’m doing right now.) So far, I have never missed a deadline.