Ignore that deadline behind the curtain!

This Saturday begins “70 Days of Sweat,”a happy exercise in masochism developed by writers for writers. It’s like NaNoWriMo—so many pages a day, in this case 4-6, with an end goal of 60K-100K words. A shorter novel, or a pretty significant chunk of an average one. I learned about it on Diana Pharaoh Francis’ blog, and decided to sign up because I have a book due at year’s end, and my brain is telling me that “year’s end” is really about 2-3 years from now. No worries, mate. Plenty of time. Dexter is on network TV now—time to see what all the fuss is about. I have rooms to clean and cupboards to refinish. A yard to landscape once the weather starts to cooperate. Spring training has started, which means soon there will be Baseball. World enough and time.

Except it’s not true. I know from experience that months fly by, that a week’s worth of free evenings can be so quickly frittered away. That unless I start pushing now, September will find me with a couple hundred pages of messy first draft and a realization that I have entered the “-ber”months as I have so many times in the past, with too much book to write in too little time. But my mind isn’t listening to that experience. It’s stretched out in the tall grass by the babbling brook, napping, enjoying the feeling of the sun on its frontal lobes. It needs an immediate deadline. A sense of panic that can feed it adrenaline. It needs to hear that imaginary clock, the days ticking away.


Runners call it “dissociation.” “Mind over mind over body,” as discussed in this New York Times article:


In their case, they’re tricking the mind into ignoring the body’s fatigue by concentrating on something else—the number of steps in a mile, the shadow of the runner ahead. I’m using 70 Days in the same way, as a trick, a cheat. An artificial deadline, complete with public postings of word counts and the promise of mockery if I don’t hit my goals. It’s my hope that at the end, I will have a healthy chunk of draft, and that with another month’s worth of effort, I’ll have a first draft fit for beta-reading. Not thinking about revisions yet, even though I’m a rewriter rather than a writer and revising more often than not leads to my rewriting the bulk of the book. Not thinking about my editor’s comments, and the work that usually results. Just thinking about the numbers of steps in a mile. Listening to the pound of my shoes on the pavement. Chasing the shadow ahead of me.

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  1. 1. bev hale

    I need to sign up for this. I have 2 books I need to get done with in a short time. Maybe this will help. Thanks for mentioning it.

    I know what you mean about having time slip out from under you. It does to me as well. Maybe this year we can make deadlines.

  2. 2. S.C. Butler

    Hmm. I’m a former runner (and 10 foot pole vaulter, hardly even Ivy League potential), and I’m not sure I believe that NYTimes article. Lots of athletes leave it all on the field. Most good athletes tend to do much better during competition than in practice.

    But I agree with you about writing. How do you get your head around the fact that you have to start today what’s due six months from now? For me the answer is to think of none of it as training – it’s all with the finish line in sight all the time. Only then will I stop checking my email and doing unneeded laundry.

    I also find myself wondering how Paula Radcliffe can think she’s running a mile in 300 strides. Even if she’s only counting every other step, that’s still an average of about 2.67 meters per stride. 400 meter hurdle runners average about 2.5 meters a stride, and there’s no way Radcliffe’s strides in a marathon are as long as a 400 meter hurdler’s.

  3. 3. Elizabeth Moon

    The wild plums and the redbuds are blooming here. I have only a week and a half before I have to leave on a long trip. Stuff needs to get to the cleaner’s. Packing should start now too.

    Work on the book due in December??? How???

    But, like you, I do not want to be up against the deadline again, frantically trying to write half again or twice as much as is comfortable.

    So I guess I’d better get offline and back to work.

  4. 4. Kristine Smith

    Sam–well, the Times article made sense to me. I run, but I’m not very good at it, and there are times when I just need to stare into space/concentrate on the song streaming into my ears/do anything but think about the fact that I’m only halfway through my run. I would consider writing a book more everyday running rather than competition–I just don’t get that adrenaline push until the end is in sight, and before I get to that end, there’s a hell of a lot of beginning and middle that needs to be set down.

    So, I agree that yes, in competition, most good athletes leave it all on the field. But to me, writing is mostly practice/warm-up/scales/stretching.

  5. 5. Kristine Smith

    Bev–I need to make this deadline. To make it with time to spare would bring me no end of joy.

  6. 6. Kristine Smith

    Elizabeth–December seems so far away, doesn’t it?

    Except that we’re almost in March…

  7. 7. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    Yeah, well, I wish this deadline was artificial. But mine is due in June. But I just figured out one of the major issues that has been giving me fits with this novel, so now just to write the damned thing . . .

    Ain’t it fun?


  8. 8. Michelle Sagara

    I almost signed up for this, but I’m still in the “reread everything and make sure the time-lines are fixed in my head before I start” stage of the book, and I’m pretty sure I won’t make it out of that in time to lay down new words in this section of the novel =/

  9. 9. Kristine Smith

    But I just figured out one of the major issues that has been giving me fits with this novel, so now just to write the damned thing . . .

    Once I didn’t figure out a POV character until one month before the book was due. I think those panic tracks have been permanently etched in my brain.

    Ain’t it fun?

    Oh yeah…

  10. 10. Melanie Fletcher

    And I have a half-finished novel sticking its tongue out at me, too. 70 Days of Sweat — sounds like a good idea to me.

  11. 11. S.C. Butler

    Kristine – Comparing everyday writing to competition was a bit of a stretch. But sometimes I feel I have to summon vast amounts of energy before I can get started, kind of like you do before a race. The problem is, as you point out, that you have to do it every day.

    Which can be exhausting

  12. 12. Mike

    I think I’m going to go for it. I decided to put a few major tasks, like starting the draft of the new novel, until after my marathon (which took a lot of spare time to train for and I finished Sunday). 1000 words a day, or about 4 pages, is what I normally can manage while working full time. I’m going to be happy to get the new book finished by August. Finished a first draft early would let me apply myself to the revisions in a more timely manner than I normally do.

  13. 13. Patricia Bray

    I’m much the same way, in that I’m much more productive with a deadline, even if it’s artificial.

    Wishing you the best of luck, and high word counts!


Author Information

Kristine Smith

I'm a scientist by day, spec fic writer by nights and weekends. Author of the Jani Kilian SF series. Owned by two overgrown puppies. Visit site.



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