Thursday, February 9, 2017

How to stay sane and meet your deadline - 3 ax sharpening tips for writers

I'm writing this post instead of working on my current WIP, book 2 of the Spirit Walker series for Pelican / Watershed. I'm currently 700 words short of 70K, aiming at about 80K when complete. My deadline is the end of February. 

This is totally do-able, unless (like me) you write at the speed of tortoise.

In that case, you have a legitimate excuse to freak out. (Pats you on the head and hands you a cookie.)

But, fear not! I have discovered some handy tips that will help us.

You remember the old story of two lumberjacks who were having a little manly-I-have-more-hair-on-my-chest-than-you tree felling competition? The smart one stops to sharpen his ax, the less smart one is delighted because he just keeps going and is obviously going to win. Until smarty gets back into action with a sharpened blade and annihilates his buddy's tree score completely. That didn't end too well for less-smarty.

This is how I've sharpened my writing ax over the past few weeks.

Get Organised (Unless you started out organised, in which case skip ahead to number 2.)

I've been using The Box (as pictured above) for a while now, but it got a little shabby and disarrayed and I ended up with little clumps of notecards in my handbag or in a pile next to my bed, or doubling up as bookmarks. Not really the best way of tracking a story. So I took an hour last week and made some new dividers. I also decided to keep all three of the books that I'm brooding on in there. This is useful as I can jot down thoughts and ideas even for those that are on the back-burner.

As you can see, I've kept it uber-simple. Each book gets four sections:

  • Plot - one card with notes for each scene or major plot point.  
  • People - characters in the story
  • People Groups - racial, organisational, teams, families etc.
  • Theme / message / verses / symbolism - story backbone, theme, any symbolic things that are included
Just having my notes sorted has done wonders for the spaghetti state of my brain.

Boring Manual Labour (Gardening, dishes, hanging laundry, vacuuming floors)

If you are stuck in your story, the best plot-laxative is to put aside your writing for a short while and do something practical that doesn't really need your brain to get involved. While you are up to your elbows in soap suds, your mind will be running free and spitting out ideas faster than you can say New York Times Bestseller. 

Read, Pray, Worship

Jesus has the best ideas. I write because He created me to be a writer and told me to get on with it. So when I'm stuck, where do you think is the best place to go? God has given us access to His glorious Holy Spirit oil to get our writing cogs unstuck. Sometimes I find the light-switch in the Bible, or when I'm talking to Him. Some of my most profound moments of inspiration have come during moments of loving Him and being loved in return. Those have happened on Sunday's in church, or in my car while driving, quietly at home in my room or even smack in the middle of a month-end grocery shop surrounded by people on their own missions.

Take time to sharpen your ax and watch the deadlines fall all around you. How do you manage deadlines and low inspiration?

Dianne J. Wilson writes novels from her hometown in East London, South Africa, where she lives with her husband and three daughters. She is neck-deep in a three book contract for a YA series, Spirit Walker, with Pelican / Watershed.

Finding Mia is available from AmazonPelican / Harbourlight, Barnes & Noble and other bookstores.

Shackles is available as a free ebook from Amazon & Smashwords.

Find her on FacebookTwitter and her sporadic blog Doodles.


  1. I always love your posts Di. I recognised your writing before I saw your name. Super post and so true. Just the thought of washing dishes does wonders for my creativity. LOL!

    1. Shirl, that's so funny - you being able to pick out my writing. I'm not sure if that's good or bad! :D I always grumble before tackling the pile, but I honestly love what it does for my brain. Do you think that stops me grumbling next time? Er, no....

  2. Such great tips! I definitely find that manual labor (or walk or car time) helps to unstick me. I also like that early morning not-quite-awake time to think about where my story is going.

    1. LeAnne - that super early morning before one is properly awake thing... that is amazing time! It's almost like ones brain isn't yet tied up into the rigid logic structured thought processes and can be free to let it all go wild. :)

  3. Super post, Diane, with ideas which I can apply. One question though. When you say "one card with notes for each scene or major plot point" do you mean a card as a section divider? Then do you use a separate card for each scene or plot twist. Same with characters- do you have a card for each character?

    1. Glad it is useful to you Ruth! Each character gets their own card (or more than one if needed.) As I learn more about them, I add notes to their card. By card I mean a single cardboard index card that I buy in packs of 100 at the stationery shop. Regarding scenes - when I start plotting, I write one for the beginning and one for the end. Then I write one for any major events I know need to happen. The nice thing is - being on separate cards, you can move them around as you plan. Unlike if you'd planned on a single sheet of paper for example. Does that make sense?

  4. Your term "plot-laxative" is hilarious. No more comments on that!

    I absolutely love the reminder that "God has given us access to His glorious Holy Spirit..." So true. Thanks for the reminder.