How do you make it work?
Think of Project Runway — the TV reality show where designers are given a challenge for each show, an ungodly short deadline, a very tight budget (usually), competitive working conditions, an experienced adviser (Tim Gunn, who intones ‘make it work’ several times each show), and the ultimate opportunity to be completely humiliated in front of prestigious judges and a national audience.
It’s the writing world in microcosm.
When you’re under deadline, you don’t always have the luxury of having the time to set the manuscript down for a while (a week, a month, etc.) and then come back to it fresh, able to re-read and make sure that you’ve nailed down the vision you had for the story. It’s a simple truth–good writing is often in the polishing, the editing, the rewriting. There is a scary balance to maintain: trying to improve with each book and yet, get the next book out on a schedule that’s probably a lot tighter than what you had for the first book, when you were writing in the hope of selling. To make matters more difficult, each book is different, (well, it should be), so the lessons learned on the first book aren’t necessarily going to completely cover everything you need to know for the second and so on.
All of the little decisions add up to the final result, and some of the wrong turns can be corrected with experience or objectivity.
A friend of mine (a very talented writer in her own right) wrote to me recently after I’d finished the second book and asked me if there was a point when it felt easier than "gee, there’s this whole alphabet thing, and it makes letters and wow, words." Does experience solve everything?
Unfortunately, no. I think I learned more on the second book than on the previous one and probably half of the other things I wrote, all put together. I have so much more to learn. But there are a few things I try to do when completing a project to double-check the work and make sure it’s as polished as I can make it, in spite of the pressure. So when the stress is high, when there are expectations (both self-imposed and inherent in the publishing process), what do you do to double-check your efforts, to try to turn in the best project possible? What are some of your tricks or tips?
Here are some (very) random items on my checklist:
One of the last things I’ll do with a manuscript, when I have the time, is work backward; this helps me cull extra verbiage, and makes sure that I’m not "reading into" the sentences more than what’s there because I’m reading out-of-order. (This is difficult to do, I’ll admit, but extremely effective when I force myself.) I’ll also break the manuscript down by acts, once it’s done, and check the turning points to see if the pacing works. Another thing I’ll check on is to make sure that every secondary character had a reason to be in the story: did they affect the outcome? did they matter? If not, they don’t need to be in there.
What’s on your checklist? How do you "make it work?" (I’d love to see anything you do project-wise, and if you’re not a writer, how you help mitigate the stress of deadlines in your own line of work.)