Tag Archives: deadline

Deadlines & Rocket Surgery: Lessons Learned from a Lil’ Ball O’ Hate

16 Jun

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” — Douglas Adams

So, the big Caged Sparrow debut date came and went, and I’m still staring at a not-quite finished project. I tried so hard to make the promised deadline, but life had other plans. Good plans, mind you…purposeful and fruitful disruptions, but disruptions nonetheless.

I am reminded of something Carrie, my former boss and now great friend, used to say whenever someone would complain that we’d missed an arbitrary deadline because of changing priorities. Usually some self-appointed informant would storm into her office all purple and blustery and announce, “That document! It’s LATE!”

As if we didn’t know.

Carrie would calmly look him in the eyes and ask, “Late for what?”

Best boss ever.

Lil' Ball O' Hate

Tony-the-illustrator’s rendition of Ms Carrie in Mother Hen mode

Carrie has more common sense than anyone I know. She’s a tiny thing, who can tie a belt around an NFL jersey and still look ready for a Vogue cover shoot (not an exaggeration—I’ve seen her do it), yet she packs a lot of spitfire in that little frame, particularly if someone tries to strong-arm one of her Quality and Dissemination chicks. You’ve never seen a more effective mother hen. (Heheh,that’s why we lovingly nicknamed her Lil’ Ball O’ Hate.)

I loved working for Carrie for many reasons; she’s not only wise, but also funny, brilliant, calm in the face of (our) perceived calamity, and she can do some amazing things with chicken and a can of Cheez Whiz. Working with Carrie taught me to focus on the larger picture—what’s really important here? That may be why so many of her words of wisdom are echoing around my brain this week.

Carrie is full of…wisdom. (Missed opportunity, Q&D Gang, I know.) My favorite Carrie-ism, although least relevant to this post is, “It’s not rocket surgery, you know.” Logically, I should have omitted that for the sake of flow here, but I couldn’t NOT share. So there you go.

Carrie also taught me that one of the most important steps in a project is the final “quality control” check. I was so tempted to skip this step in Joe’s book, because I was THAT close to making the deadline, and I’d told so many people it would be ready. I didn’t want the book to be late.

Then I heard, “Late for what?”

…and I realized I’m only shooting for June 15th because I set a June 15th deadline.

Yes, I could actually hit the “go live” button right now if I really wanted to. All the parts are there. Joe has given his final thumbs up; Tony, the illustrator, has patiently tweaked the cover so often the words, “just one more time, I swear” no longer carry meaning (but it’s exactly the right cover now!); and I’ve received excellent feedback from my beta readers, Mary, Becky, and Michele, who noticed a few missing words, some awkward phrasing, and one extremely improbable juxtaposition in the space-time continuum.

Which brings me to another Carrie-ism. Having people find mistakes in my writing doesn’t bother me as much as it used to, particularly mistakes found before final print. I think of the beta readers as angels who, knowing what a klutz I am, walk ahead of me clearing tree branches and stones from path so I don’t fall on my face. At the office, on the rare occasion when a typo did slip through the cracks and make it to print, we could count on some arrogant know-it-all to toss a copy of the manuscript on her desk, offending typo circled thirty times in thick black marker.

“Sure, I see it,” she’d say, and then grin. “But did ya happen to notice the seven thousand words here that we got right?”

So, yes, I could have rushed through the last few steps and uploaded the final version, but as my hand hovered over that button, I thought of Carrie again.

I remembered her more than once staring down a petulant customer, usually someone who thought an editor can zip through a 75-page passive-voice nightmare between the two-hour staff meeting and the mandatory pot luck luncheon and have enough time left over to design a cover for it. After all, editing is just reading, right?

“Look, Bud,” Carrie would say, “you can have it right or you can have it right now, but not both.”

Page One edits

One day when I’m famous, I’ll tell the story of how I rewrote the first page of Caged Sparrow a gazillion times and it will be funny, somehow.

So I’m not going to rush this. I’m going to finish these last changes unhurried, and then get one more proof copy so I can see for myself that the cover looks exactly the same in hand as it does on the screen, and THEN, I’ll hit the button.

New arbitrary deadline: 27 June.

Carrie would be proud of me, I think. If she’s still talking to me, that is…

You see, Carrie is such a great boss, she once left a card on my desk that posed the question, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”

…at which time I decided to quit my editing job.

So, essentially, this book is pretty much her fault

Best boss ever.


The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. – Psalm 145:15

Real Freelancers Don’t Wear Flannel: ADD and Other Time-sucking Distractions

24 Apr

I’m learning some valuable lessons about working from home.

First and foremost, it’s nothing like the pictures in the brochures.

You know what I mean, all those things we imagined back when we were thinking about quitting that Day Job to start our own business—hanging out in pjs and slippers, tossing down the bon-bons and sipping from a glass of Chateau Morrisette’s Sweet Mountain Laurel while somehow creating reams upon reams of productivity every day.

Well I’m here today to tell you, that’s all rather bunk-ish.

Thinking of taking the leap? It’s not for the faint-hearted, my friends. And by faint-hearted I mean people who like to eat…anything other than Ramen noodles. Right off the bat I can tell you that bon-bons and Sweet Mountain Laurel are NOT in the budget. Nor are they conducive to prolific prose (although I do believe that some of my greatest work was—no, never mind…I just re-read it).

Sadly, I realized almost from Day One that the pajamas would have to go. It’s difficult to take work seriously when dressed in flannel strawberries. Also, there seems to be some strange subliminal connection between pajamas and sleeping that makes it impossible to stay awake for any great length of time. In fact, the first reams of production that this writer produced consisted of 24 forehead-induced pages of the letter “h,” in seemingly endless rows. When I awoke and tried to read it, my first thought was, “How cool, church pews!”

And, of course, to keep you from breaking away to type a bunch of “h” rows on your computer, I shall provide:


And then, of course, I had to type 25 other letter rows to be sure the “h” has the coolest character. I decided the “m” is rather intriguing as well, because it looked like something I could fall asleep on…


…which brings me to the second giant oak tree of a barrier that has fallen across the road ahead of me: Attention Deficit Disorder.

I’m learning that I will break for anything.

  • I break to watch the cat bathe. It’s mesmerizing how he can move his leg like that. I can verify that it’s not a feat humans should attempt to replicate because I gave it a shot (ADD at its finest moment) and nearly had to call 911. Fortunately, I was in my pajamas so I just slept it off until my limbs unfolded.
  • I break to check my blog traffic…every fifteen minutes. (By the way, whoever you are in Brazil, boa tarde and thanks for noticing me. Your visits make me feel like an international star!) Watching blog stats can be addicting if you aren’t careful. Every time someone views my pages, I know it. Sadly, that’s all I know: someone was there. I just wish the data could tell me if you read it all, if you liked it, if you hated it, if I made you giggle at least once, and if right now you ‘re lifting my words for some motivational poster that’s going to come to me on the next social media mass-mailing, or worse, to be used in a class on how NOT to write. For the most part, checking stats makes me smile. Plus, I’m still so new at this blog thing that every time someone “shares” a post rather than just “like” it, I do a grateful little happy dance, which, for someone with ADD, could also lead to a 911 call.
  • Even the food mocks me

    You Rack Diciprine!

    I break for food. Sometimes when I’m not at all hungry. The fridge has a telepathic ability to serenade me from the kitchen, and, as with any other earworm, I cannot get its song out of my head. The avocado will go bad in three minutes if you don’t eat it! …Chicken, I got some chicken heah! And the worst: Ahh, sweet, velvety chocolate; Easter is over, you can’t leave this stuff lying around!

  • I break for email. Even e-mail from stranded Sudanese princes who need to put millions in my bank account to protect it from Somali pirates.

OK, that last isn’t true. Everyone knows even the Somali pirates have my account numbers.

My point is, I still haven’t mastered the art of what I’ve heard writer (and probably quip-lifter) Alton Gansky call “butt-in-seat” focus. I’m averaging about five hours of real writing each day.

On the helpful side, I’m fortunate in that my current project, Joe’s story, still fascinates me, and that some days he’s my greatest distraction—I really want to see how this book is going to end. I keep the pages open on my computer so whenever I DO untangle myself and sit down, I’m immediately drawn into them and start typing.


  • Get dressed: check.
  • Turn off the computer sound, so the email ding doesn’t: check.
  • Keep sitting back down: check.

I’m sure there are many other words of wisdom my fellow ADD freelancers can share that will help us all up our game. Care to share? We’re all ears…what are your tricks for keeping at it?

(Ha! I just realized how mean that question is. I’ll understand if you don’t answer…but you can’t not, can you?)

Fire and Water: Wrestling with Doubt #739

30 Oct

The fire crackled with life as it swept its way across a stack of manuscripts, greedily consuming page after page. Through tears I watched the pristine white papers transform into thin, black feathery curls that peeled off, danced momentarily with the updraft and then drifted resignedly down into the ashes.

Fire consumes a life's work

Death of a Dream

I thought I might be able to rescue a scrap or two by pushing some of the charred lumps to the side of the fireplace, but my mother must have read my mind. She grabbed the metal poker and stabbed at the carbon-coated mass to separate the blackened pages; she was determined to destroy every remnant. I could smell the words in the stench of burnt ink that wafted around me. I was 14, and newly enamored with the life and writings of Laura Ingalls Wilder. This was my first experience with death.

“Writing is a waste of time,” she spat, her breath so laden with alcohol I worried the fire might flare if she got too close. Her eyes were bloodshot and her hair was matted against her head with the sweat from days of neglect. She pointed the poker at my chest and slurred, “Don’t you dare tell me you want to be a writer.  It’s a pointless dream that will amount to nothing, and 40 years from now you’ll be a sorry loser, wishing you’d never started.”

She flung the poker wildly, just missing my head, and staggered from the room. I stayed there for hours, sobbing and staring at the black pit long after the fire died, trying to come to grips with the idea that every word, every sentence, and every page of every story my mother had ever written, was gone forever.

Today, nearly 40 years later, I am profoundly aware of the significance that moment has had in my journey. Somewhere in my heart, I believed her. I’ve spent the past 40 years skipping along the edge of the sea, yearning. Occasionally I’ve ventured ankle-deep, savoring the warmth and trying to imagine what’s “out there.” But I’ve never leapt with abandon. People ask me what I’m afraid of, and I remember the charred remains of dreams and the scent of unread words. It is my image of hopelessness.

That was the image in my heart this morning after I missed yet another self-imposed writing goal. I could hear my mother mocking me, reminding me that I have no business dreaming when there’s work to be done. Another failure. Who am I fooling?

But I cannot quell that constant, gentle song of unwritten words that calls to me above the din of the world’s demands. As is my habit, rather than follow the call, I tend to lash myself to the Siren of perceived obligation that is my “real job.” How did things get so backward?

Then this morning I read a familiar verse in the book of Jeremiah (29:11), and it spoke to me anew:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

I’m reminded that I can start again and again, as often as I wish to, because I have hope and a future. There’s a whole big ocean of possibility out there and I’ve not even dared to snorkel across the top. The only thing stopping me is me. I can choose whether to listen to voices past or the voice of the future. It’s not a waste of time. It’s His plan.

And He says, “C’mon in, the water is fine!”


“Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it” Bill Cosby

I am not a-mused

23 Jul

I’m waging a valiant, but losing battle Spoon on the keyboardagainst the demons of distraction—those self-centered brain sprites who care not a whit that I have a writing deadline to meet today. I will NOT go online, I say to them, I’m writing! At least, I would be if you’d just hush.

But they dance noisily through my brain, screaming like late-night infomercial salesmen…

“Why so serious? Writer’s what? Well that sounds boring. Hey, you know what was fun? That movie…the one with that guy in it? You know, the dopey one with the girl who did that thing? Who WAS that? Perhaps you should look it up!”

No, I say firmly. No online. None. It’s just me, my muse, and my Word doc—hey, how did that screen open? Well, as long as it’s here I’ll just type it in. Yes, Richard Gere. I thought so. Now if you would just—

I look across the room and notice the sprites have lured my muse away with a quart of jamoca fudge ice cream. Useless ditz. Usually I keep her close with a box of chocolate chip cookies. I couldn’t get her attention now if I piped in chocolate direct from Pennsylvania. . .but that makes me think of—oh, what’s that place we used to go to for that incredible chocolate Easter candy? I’ll just search it really quick. Criminy! Who knew there were so many chocolatiers in Pennsylvania? Oh, my, that one has tours; and this one is right across the border. How far is that from Woodbridge?

Stop it, stop it, STOP IT!

My muse is now in a jamoca fudge stupor, dancing around the room like a wood nymph while the sprites clap with delight. She’s oblivious to the cascade of ideas trailing behind her, tumbling across the floor like dry leaves in the breeze and disappearing behind the furniture.

Hey, those were MY ideas, I shout. Pull yourself together! I race to save a precious few but they seem to disintegrate the moment they’re out of sight.

Speaking of leaves, did anyone from the north east notice that the ends of nearly all the trees are blighted with dead leaves? I did, and yep, I looked it up. See here, it says that’s called flagging. Those are the last traces of our recent cicada visit. The trees will be fine next spring.

Dash it! That was a 30-minute detour. And while we’re at it, I absolutely abhor the sound of sprite giggle.

I decide I’ve got to do something about that low-wattage nitwit before she loses everything, so I quickly start typing: “It was a dark and stormy, um, um…”

She can’t help herself; she twirls by to see where I’m going with it. Quick as a wink, I lasso her with a noun string and tie her to the chair beside me. She rolls her eyes, or perhaps she’s trying to focus. She starts patting her now-empty pockets and looks up all wide-eyed and innocent, but I have no sympathy for her fudge-faced self. I hold my hand out, palm up, and give her my sternest no-nonsense look.

She pulls out a crumpled, cocoa-stained, barely legible morsel of thought—the last measly scrap of idea she has left. I snatch at it and read it hungrily, but it contains only two disappointing words:

“Writer’s Block.”

I can’t write about writer’s block, I sputter. What kind of idea is that?

But my question goes unanswered; my muse is now slumped over and snoring with abandon. It’s pointless to wake her. She’s going to hate herself in the morning.

So now it’s just me. Even the sprites have gone to bed. I look back down at the paper and then return to my keyboard, because I have to post something

And so I do. Take THAT, my muse-less salad spinner.

. . .And because I just know you’re wondering, the search engine brought up 11,600,000 results for “Writer’s Block.”