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Livelines, not Deadlines

Writing, like everything else, is filled with deadlines. Things have to be done by a certain date or you might as well not even have started them. It's easy to fall into the trap of scrambling from deadline to deadline, working late into the night and frantically struggling to get things done by their due date. We've all done it. For some of us it's a lifestyle.

But today I want to talk about something different: a liveline. This is a (typically self-imposed) date before which you may not start a project (or a phase of a project). Everyone who does NaNoWriMo knows the deadline of November 30, by which you must have written 50,000 words of new prose in order to be declared a "winner." But there's a liveline, too, November the first. If you do NaNoWriMo by the rules (I was really tempted to say "by the book"), you don't write anything that appears in the actual draft before that date. You can plan, make notes, do character studies, write throw-away chapters to find your novel's voice; but nothing that actually appears in the 50,000 words of draft you produce in November. Those words start at midnight Halloween night, and that is your liveline.

I have learned to love that liveline. I start planning early, typically six months or so before the liveline. That gives me time to develop the premise into an actual story, to fill out my list of characters and get to know them, find their voices. I can research all the subjects I need to just know when I write. I can study the geography of the location(s) in the book. I can imagine how I want the novel to open.I get filled with a sweet anticipation. By mid-September, I feel like I could start, but I can't, of course. The liveline won't let me. By mid-October (if I'm doing things right), I'm starting to get frenzied, the words building up inside me, filling me like a water balloon. By the last week of October I feel like that balloon is about to burst. I usually know what my first sentences are going to be, but I haven't written them down yet. That damned liveline, again.

Then when the liveline finally arrives, it's like releasing the pinched off neck of the water balloon. Everything comes rushing out in a great rushing stream, and it's glorious to feel my story get drenched at long last in the sweet flow of words. I could have started earlier, but then I wouldn't have the push to get the words out. I wouldn't have everything researched to a T, and I'd end up taking time off from writing to learn more about some subject. I still do some of that, but research is a rabbit hole for me, and the more I can avoid disappearing down it, the better off I am. The pressure that has built up to write let's me coast through the inevitable doldrums that come mid-story. That part of the narrative where things are still building to the top of the story arc, and you feel like you may never get there.

If your writing suffers from these doldrums, if you find it impossible to keep the story going long enough to where it gets fun again, I suggest you try giving yourself a liveline. Devote your writing time to planning and research, but don't let yourself write. Get to know your story inside and out. Build the anticipation. No matter how much you want to start, hold off. Let the pressure grow. Then when the liveline arrives, sit back and watch that pressure drive a steady flow of words. It's sweet, I promise you.

Maybe I'm crazy. (Ok, I'm almost definitely crazy, I'm a writer, after all. I should say maybe this is indicative of my particular insanity.) But this works for me. Maybe it will work for you, too. Give a liveline a try!


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