Tag Archives: deadline

Why Deadlines Are Your Best Friends

by Lillian Csernica on October 24, 2016


Yesterday I kept thinking I need to blog. Gotta blog today. Must write an original blog post.

And then I’d push on with the scene I was writing for my latest short story.

Between writing, research, more writing, and a few breaks to loosen up mind and body, before I knew it midnight was fast approaching.

So here I am today, showered, caffeinated, and making this blog post Item Number One on my To Do list.


I have a story deadline coming up. In fact, for this particular anthology I’m committed to delivering two short stories that relate to each other. I know I absolutely must get these stories written, edited, polished, and delivered before NaNoWriMo  begins. Once the starter gun fires and we race toward the 50,000 word finish line, I want to be focused on pouring all my writing time and energy into my NaNo novel.

People often think deadlines come at the end, when you have to hand in the homework, the article, the novel manuscript. A deadline can also mark the beginning of a project. This is why there’s #NaNoPrep, along with lots of advice on the Internet about everything you need to accomplish before November 1.


Deadlines also create accountability. If you know you’d better have something to read at your next writer’s group meeting, you’re more likely to get it written. Never underestimate the power of potential embarrassment as a motivational tool.

Deadlines keep me organized. Deadlines help me prioritize. Deadlines help me generate the creative pressure that makes the words keep coming. For me, deadlines are the surest protection against writer’s block.



Filed under Blog challenges, creativity, editing, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, Lillian Csernica, perspective, publication, research, steampunk, worry, Writing

Drink from a Different Well

by Lillian Csernica on October 14, 2015

I’ve been working hard lately on two short stories that will appear in 30 Days Later, the follow-up anthology to 12 Hours Later.  The stories are set in the same milieu, Kyoto 1880.  My main characters, Dr. William Harrington, his wife Constance, his daughter Madelaine, and Nurse Danforth, are all upstanding subjects of Queen Victoria adjusting to life in a foreign country.  Two factors make this adjustment even more challenging.  One, Madelaine has taken an interest in clockwork and other machinery.  Two, the Harrington household keeps attracting the attention of various Japanese supernatural beings.

Does it sound like a strange mix?  It is, and that means research.  Lots and lots of research.  One minute I’m reading up on Victorian fashions, and the next I’m learning exactly why two pulleys are better than one.  I have to stop thinking of Madelaine’s bedroom as being “upstairs.”  Victorian mansions had two floors, sometimes more.  Japanese houses are typically one floor.  I have to load my brain with the correct information.  Facts + imagination are the warp and weft of historical writing.

Unfortunately, a frequent side effect of writing that requires a lot of research under the pressure of a looming deadline is mental fatigue.

I have just discovered a new way to cure mental fatigue that brings with it an additional bonus.

Before the boys came along, I cooked all the time.  I invented my own variations on the recipes in my cookbooks.  Now, Michael is on a liquid diet.  John has the ASD trait of being very finicky about what he will and won’t eat.  Chris works swing shift.  Thanks to insomnia, the boys, and my writing, I never know what my schedule will be like.  Bottom line, cooking and I have become strangers.  I love to eat, but I’m more gourmand than gourmet.

The mental fatigue hit me hard a few days ago. Out of curiosity I started watching “Food Network Star,” the reality TV show where three established Food Network experts mentor fourteen hopefuls through the competition to acquire what it takes to be the new Food Network Star.  Every week some of the hopefuls are eliminated until it comes down to the final three.

I like game shows.  I like cheering on my favorite players.  I like the way reality TV works (most of the time).  So watching this show is fun, entertaining, and relaxing.  It does not require the attention, the focus, and the retention of information that research demands of me, to say nothing of the hard work of actual writing.  Fresh input.  Stimulating another area of the brain.  Taking the pressure off.  All of that is important.

Now here’s the bonus: the process of becoming a Food Network Star is all about finding what is unique about you and what you bring to the entertainment marketplace.  The particular slant here is food and cooking, but we all know that today branding is the name of the game.

One of the biggest challenges for the competitors is learning how to describe a meal in thirty seconds.  Words.  It’s all about vocabulary.  Another challenge is to show the real you, your personal flair.  A big priority is to make a connection with the audience.  On TV that’s done through the camera.  For writers, it’s done on paper, but that connection is still essential.  Hook your reader.  Establish sympathy for your main character.  Make your customer CARE!

See what I’m saying?  There I was, watching this elaborate game show about cooks hoping to become media stars.  Suddenly I realized I was hearing advice and learning skills that could do me a lot of good as a professional writer.

When you hit the wall of mental fatigue, when you can’t stand another moment of what you’re doing but you have to keep on keeping on, go drink from a different well.  Go listen to NPR.  Go watch an expert talk about resurfacing a road, childproofing a house, or bathing an elephant.  Who knows what gems of information or inspiration you might discover?

How do you deal with it when you’re tired of writing?  How do you keep going when the clock is ticking and there’s no time to waste?

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Filed under creativity, editing, fantasy, Fiction, historical fiction, Japan, research

Meanwhile, Back at The Idea Factory….

By Lillian Csernica on December 16, 2014

Idea Factory

Many writers believe the secret to success is a strong deadline.  I agree.  A deadline forces me to get the story written, get the editing done, then cut and polish with ruthless efficiency.  I have two stories due on Dec. 31st.  Not just two stories, but two stories that have to fit the theme and word limit of the anthology project.  Each story has to take place within a one hour time limit.  What’s more, the two stories must relate to each other.  Does this sound like an impossible task?  I didn’t think so until I had to write the second story.  The first one was a lot of fun and wrote itself with a fair amount of ease.  Hah.  Never trust what you’re writing when it seems to be going too well.

Little did I realize I would find myself bound by my own worldbuilding rules.

Of course I know how this works.  I wrote The Writer’s Spellbook because magic as an element of worldbuilding is such a huge subject.  See, the tricky part here is the convergence between the anthology’s guidelines and the fantasy world in which my stories take place.  This is also my first real effort at steampunk, so that added another layer of research and complexity.  What’s that, you say?  Why on earth do I keep making this harder and harder on myself?

Because I am starting to accumulate a number of works that take place in the same historical period and involve some combination of the same countries and cultures.  There may come a time when I want to gather these works into a collection.  They might even blend together into one or more novels.  That means attention to detail now.  Besides, it’s just a matter of professional pride to do the absolute best work I possibly can.  I was invited to submit to this anthology.  To me that means working twice as hard to show my appreciation for the opportunity I’m being given.


Does it sound like I’m being rather hush-hush about this project?  I am.  The work is going well.  I wrote the second story all in one go last night.  Took me a good week to figure out the plot.  I created two entire storylines, then had to discard each as pieces did not quite line up with the first story or with the overall thematic elements of the anthology.  I have in fact painted myself into a corner more than once.  Had to change paint, had to pick a new room, had to get out of that building entirely.  It’s painful to toss out what might be a perfectly valid idea, but “good enough” is not what I’m going for here.

The more rules the better, says I.  When I have very clear and specific guidelines from an editor and/or publisher, then several of the choices are already made.  Now I have to dream up the story elements that not only meet those requirements, they transcend them by avoiding the obvious, the predictable, the familiar.  Every other story in the anthology will follow the same guidelines I’ve been given.  I have to reach farther for something fresh, for colors and flavors and pain and discord that set my stories apart from the rest.

Time for me to go have a look at what I wrote last night.  There’s a whole lot of pressure.  I have fifteen days to make these two stories the best they can possibly be.  I normally go through five drafts on a short story.  I do not have that luxury, not on one story, and certainly not on two.  To say nothing of minor little tasks like making sure I get Christmas gifts bought and wrapped for my family, put up our tree, do the grocery shopping, and figure out plans for my sister’s birthday (Jan. 1) and my mother’s birthday (Jan.3).  If I’m lucky, I might even get some sleep!

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Filed under Christmas, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, history, science fiction, Writing

Pop Quiz

by Lillian Csernica on March 14, 2013

Time for a little audience participation. I’ve got this 600 page manuscript sitting here next to me. My agent does not want it anywhere near her until I cut it down to the marketable length of 400 pages. paperstack4
So here’s The Question: Do I set myself a deadline of, oh, Memorial Day to get this monster whittled down to size?

Sully and Boo


March 14, 2013 · 3:53 am