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Writing a NF Book - Process and Deadlines

I'm not a procratinator, really. But sometimes I don't push myself hard enough with my writing schedule. Writing a nonfiction book with a publisher deadline has certainly taught me that I have to push myself the entire time so I can get to the finish line with not just a complete project, but also one that's of excellent quality.

When I was in high school, I got my papers written long before anyone else even started. Same thing with college. In graduate school I had to learn to stop doing that, because when my classmates started asking questions of the professor, the assignment would sometimes morph into something else. Which meant I had to rewrite it.

But when I had 9 months to write an entire nonfiction manuscript, I was like "aw, no problem." I mean, 50,000 words in 9 months? Come on, I wrote that many for NaNoWriMo in one month!

Turns out that writing the sort of nonfiction I'm writing is just a teeeeensy weensy bit different from NaNoWriMo. Whodathunk?

As you all know by now, my nonfiction project, which is going to be published by Quill Driver Books, is to teach writers--especially fiction writers--to use psychology accurately in their stories in far more depth than my website on the same topic. (Don't worry, I'll let you all know the publication date the instant I find out!) So, writers won't embarrass themselves anymore by confusing schizophrenia with multiple personalities, or by showing people having actual full-body convulsions during electroconvulsive therapy.

The trick to all of this is that I have to do a lot of research to make sure I'm getting things accurate. In other words, it's not good enough that I "know" something in my head -- I had to find written evidence to back everything up. Not because this is going to be like a peer-reviewed journal article with a million citations, but because I'm supposed to be the expert here, and I'd darn well better have my expert information straight. I have two full 4" binders full of journal articles, and then shelves and shelves of books I've referenced. At any given time over the past few months, you could walk into my writing room and find towers of reference books.

Anyway, so I started writing back in February, before the contract with Quill Driver was completely hammered out, because I wanted a head start. I did some great interviews with people who worked in mental hospitals and pounded out about half the chapters (unedited).

In May, my awesome agent Kate, who's reading over my chapters after I finish each one (never, ever let anyone badmouth a boutique agency to you--getting that kind of personal attention is such a help), suggested I create a schedule for when I would complete the remaining chapters so she'd know when to look forward to each batch.  (I also have to mention my fantastic readers here, who are looking at my chapters before I send them to Kate and helping me clear up anything that's confusing.)

So here's the schedule I sent her:

June 1 - Ch 1-5 (5 ch -- these were attached)
July 1 - ch 6-8 (3 ch)
August 1 - ch 9-10 (2 ch)
September 1- ch 11-12 (2 ch)
September 15: TOC, index, etc.
October 1, 2009: publisher due date

July nearly killed me, with 3 chapters. I mean, I wrote more than half of what I'd gotten done so far (ie 5 chapters) that month. I may not be a procrastinator, but I'd been far too lackadaisical about my writing schedule. Still, somehow I got it all done. This month was kind of rough, too, especially because I burned myself out a bit last month, but I managed. Now I just have to get through August and get my final chapters done.

When everything's written, I'm going to print the whole thing out and read through it with a red pen, trying to clean up any rough edges. I believe in having everything as polished as possible before it goes to an editor. I know that when I edit someone else's work, if I'm dealing with big things I ignore the small things. So when I edit my own work, I try to get all the big things so the editor can teach me new ways to be a better writer with her edits.

Oh...and my contract also says that the book will be published within x months of me submitting the manuscript...assuming the manuscript is satisfactory. If a writer submits a rotten manuscript, it can negate the entire deal. No pressure, right?

So what are you working on, dear Reader?  How do you keep yourself on track with your writing?


  1. Christine Fonseca said...
    Sounds like you have good plan...and BTW - love the picture/graphic thing
    Annie Louden said...
    This is kind of horrifying to me. I was not like you in HS or college and procrastinated on everything. As you know, I'm so stuck in procrastinating.
    This post is really informative and tells me that I need to work on goals and working hard now, to make it a habit, if I ever hope to be published.
    Difficult advice for a slacker, but very much appreciated!

    Also, I'm exhausted just reading about all the constant research and fact-checking you've had to do.
    Deborah Talmadge said...
    Summers -- the bane of writers. It seems like life just piles on when you start thinking you have all that free time. I have to work in the morning. I view the day like a pile of pancakes. In the morning the stack is very short (the pancakes being the interruptions that need to be taken care of, not the ones you can ignore; its not so hard to get the writing done. But as the stack gets taller (the child who broke his thumb, the accidentally locking yourself out of the house, the flat tire on the way to the store) there's no getting back to the computer.
    Cynde L. Hammond said...
    Dear Carolyn--

    I'm working on my very first novel, and I do not have a schedule. I have been adding to it almost every day, but I have also started on another project as well. (I think it's going to be just a short story.)

    In the past, I was always a procrastinator--so much so that my father gave me the nickname of "Ben", for "Ben-puttin'-it-off"...but lately, I have been doing very well at not falling back in to that old habit again. I am really proud of myself.

    Do you have any suggestions on how I should schedule myself? What does a normal schedule look like?

    I sure do appreciate your help, Carolyn. If you're too busy to get in to this, just say so and I'll understand, OK? No problem.

    By the way...would you ever consider being on my blog for a Guest Interview and/or as a Guest Blogger? I would be so honored if you would! Think about it and let me know when you decide, OK? Thanks.

    Have a great day,
    Cynde's Got The Write Stuff

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