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?